Why sending Bonnie Tyler to Eurovision says we're not taking it seriously
Nobody’s going to vote for a country that looks like it doesn't care
The morning when we find out who is to represent the UK at Eurovision is like mini Christmas, a sparkly surprise waiting to be unwrapped when we wake up. But evidently, for the last two years, we’ve been on the ‘naughty’ list, being allocated once-great acts with tired songs that jar with the fresh, exuberant spirit of the contest. If we want to win the prize, we need to start picking music that people might actually want to listen to now.
Bonnie Tyler would have been a wonderful choice to represent the UK at Eurovision, if it was still 1984 and she was singing ‘Holding Out for a Hero’. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. It’s 2013, and she’s singing the kind of countrified soft rock B-side ballad that hasn’t seen the business end of the Top 40 since Natalie Imbruglia’s heyday. I don’t much fancy our chances.
There’s a simple reason why the UK never wins Eurovision, and it’s this: there is no point sending Bonnie Tyler when the rest of Europe knows that we have Adele. It’s no use hiding her. Come out from behind the curtains, Adele. The game’s up.
Adele has sold so many copies of her album that the middle classes have started to use them as coasters. People buy Adele’s albums because they can’t remember a time before they bought them. They are a weekly household essential, like milk. If album sales were votes, Adele would crash Eurovision’s phone lines.
The people of Europe know this. And they know we have One Direction. We have Emeli Sande. They know that, in a pinch, we have Ellie Goulding. So why, they ask us, in a language we haven’t bothered to learn (the language of nil points), do we insist on sending someone whose music is 30 years out of date?
It’s so obvious that Britain has an internationally thriving music industry that when we don’t send our freshest and brightest to Eurovision, it looks like we’re not taking it seriously. It comes across as selfish. And nobody’s going to vote for a country that doesn’t look like it cares.
The problem’s got worse since it was decided that the best way to pick a winner was for a faceless BBC committee to meet under cover of darkness and then announce their decree to the nation one cold March morning. In other countries there are weeks of X Factor-style sing-offs, rounds of voting and live TV shows offering a choice of songs. In Britain, we just have a team of suits ringing through the Yellow Pages to see if anyone has a free afternoon.
We used to vote on our own Euro rep too, of course, and mostly we didn’t do a whole lot better back then. But that was because ‘Making Your Mind Up’, the UK’s Eurovision selection show, was on for one night only, with voting closing at the same time as the pubs. Most voters were looking at the contest through the fug of several Saturday night pints, and went for whatever seemed funniest or most ridiculous at the time.
And then, when the chosen act actually pitched up at Eurovision HQ weeks later, we realised - fully sober, the hilarity worn off - the full horror of what we’d done. It was like being forced to relive the most embarrassing moments of your last wild night out, while still in the clutches of its deadly hangover. Remember Daz Sampson? Scooch? Jemini? Yeah. I wish I didn’t.
You can see why Auntie Beeb decided she should take matters into her own hands. But, in picking Engelbert Humperdinck (who came a resounding second-from-last in 2012) and Bonnie Tyler, she’s gone completely the wrong way. You’ll hear lots of cries of ‘But Bonnie is popular in Europe!’ in the run up to the contest, and that’s partly true - but she’s mostly popular with audiences of a certain age in rural France, Germany and Spain. That’s a limited voter base, and not one that tends to turn out in huge numbers for Eurovision.
And anyway, the big Western European countries are outnumbered by those in Scandinavia and Eastern Europe. We should be looking at what might play well there, and with younger audiences who have their phone votes at the ready, if we really want to win. We should be looking at something that sounds like it might actually top the charts in 2013.
Eurovision is a celebration of the state of European music now, in all its varied, spangly, bass-pumping glory. We’re never going to capture its heart if we keep failing to engage with it, and then acting furious when we lose. No offence to Bonnie herself, but in terms of Britain’s Eurovision hopefuls, I’m still holding out for a hero.