This past weekend was a busy one in the various broadcasting schedules of Europe, being the height of the national final season where countries across the continent select their Eurovision entry. There are currently no strictly enforced rules from the European Broadcasting Union regarding how a song is selected. The United Kingdom and Turkey having opted for an internal selection this year where as most countries tend to have some form of televised national selection, usually with a public vote (and Ukraine seemingly make it up as they go along).
What is interesting is the way in which different countries approach their selection show; it would appear that those national selections which are increasingly successful at home are not necessarily the ones which constantly flag the Eurovision tag.
If we start by using the UK as an example, with the exception of 2009 and 2010 (where the song itself had previously been selected), the BBC has tended to use the same format. Despite its many incarnations (A Song for Europe, The Great British Song Contest, Eurovision Making Your Mind Up, etc) the show was essentially the same thing. A programme dedicated to selecting a Eurovision song. Nothing more, nothing less. Essentially the BBC and the UK were looking outwards – what song would be a “Eurovision” song?
It wasn’t always this way though – there were attempts in the 1990s to turn the UK selection into a hit-making machine. Whilst there were some minor successes (Deuce, Samantha Fox et al) the format didn’t really catch on and despite the global success of Gina G, the UK procedure reverted back to familiar form. It seems that for the BBC, the UK audience is really just interested in Eurovision itself and not the journey.
What of other countries then? If we look at two case studies – Sweden and Estonia – we can see a new trend emerging which seems to suggest that the show has been internalised, made for the home audience and the winning song is just that that, a favourite song, which as a by-product of that victory, will go to Eurovision. Maybe this is the way forward?
The success of this format is plain to see – the Swedish Melodifestivalen is the most popular programme in the entire year in Sweden. It generates musical hit after hit and as a consequence the viewing figures for Eurovision itself are healthy. Swedish TV have managed to turn a selection format into a real money-spinner. The programme packs out stadiums during the semi final stages (one of which hosted the 1985 Eurovision Song Contest itself!).
By the time the final comes around (this year on the12th March in Stockholm) the show essentially represents a contemporary Greatest Hits show of modern Swedish music. It is almost bigger than Eurovision itself. It’s not necessarily about Eurovision and what the people of Europe will like, it’s about what the Swedes like. Whilst Sweden have had mixed fortunes at Eurovision recently, surely the fact that the selection show is so successful in terms of revenue and viewing figures means that it almost doesn’t matter. The event is credible and as a by-product so is the Swedish Eurovision entry in the eyes of the public.
Estonia changed their national selection programme in 2009 after a string of disastrous results. Previously the Estonian selection, Eurolaul, was very much looking towards the other for approval. This can be seen in the fact that the entries in the late 1990s and early 2000s were chosen by international jurors. Televoting was introduced in 2004 however the idea behind the format stayed the same; it was a show for selecting a Eurovision song (Eurolaul meaning Eurosong).
In 2009 Estonian Television brought in a dynamic radio DJ, Heidy Purga to overhaul the selection show. The result was Eesti Laul. A clue to the new approach is in the title, it’s no longer all about Europe, it is about Estonia. Divided up into semi finals leading towards a main event, the format appears to have worked – it has rejuvenated interest in the Estonian music scene and produced credible hits.
In terms of Eurovision it’s also been a success – Estonia qualified for the final in 2009 and came 6th overall and despite narrowly missing out on the final in 2010 with a very post-modern piece of music, the viewing figures still represented at triumph for Estonian television.
The winner from 2011, Getter Jaani with her song “Rockefeller Street” is already widely tipped to do well at the contest in Germany. Again this is almost irrelevant as the perception in Estonia is one of success – a fresh show with credible hits, the selection format can perhaps be seen as a metaphor for Estonia itself. Previously the country looked to others as evidenced in the political “return to Europe” discourses in the 1990s and also the international juries in Eurolaul. Now Estonia is a fully fledged European Union member, part of the Euro zone and confident, maybe if the Estonian public are happy then that’s what really matters.
As one respondent, Mart, from ETV remarked, “The focus point is not so much on spectacle than it is on creative content. We have opened the competition to different musical genres, new talents […] we do not believe in a genre called Eurosong. We believe in good music […] it [Eesti Laul] has become a real song competition with fresh ideas and perspectives that shoots out real airplay and chart hits for the whole year”.
Similarly in the UK this year, Blue are going to be performing their comeback song “I Can”, as opposed to a specially comissioned Eurovision song. Whilst it’s described as “anthemic” (weren’t all their hits?) it’s unlikely that it will be a “typical Eurovision song” as seen by the UK media, ie camp and cheesy. It might, just might have an element of credibility to it.
Of course it’s Eurovision and there’s always a plethora of opinion and room for different musical styles. However maybe the approach adopted by Sweden and Estonia (and other) might just be the saving grace needed to help make Eurovision that little bit more credible. If countries enter simple “good songs” rather than “Eurovision songs” then maybe it could just inject a little bit more excitement and longevity into the 56 year old format…