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Is Brexit going to mean nil points at Eurovision? Probably...


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Since the new millennium, the UK hasn’t fared well in the Eurovision Song Contest. But is this due to some really odd choices of entries, or is there a political undercurrent beneath our lacklustre performance?

Conchita Wurst, Austria's Eurovision winner for 2014

Over the course of the competition’s history, the United Kingdom has won the Eurovision Song Contest five times. This may sound like a lot, but it’s worth bearing in mind that these five wins occurred between 1967 and 1997, so it’s been a while since we’ve done particularly well.

Since 1997, we have regularly placed towards the bottom of the entries, even gaining (put on your best French accent) “nul points” in 2003, and were it not for the fact that we’re one of the Big Five then we likely wouldn’t have made it to the finals at all (a rule which was created in 1999). Let’s be honest, our entries over the past couple of decades have been embarrassingly bad, and we wouldn’t have voted for them even if we were allowed to.

But was that “null points” result in 2003 really deserved? Did our political situation affect the results? Well for one, Tony Blair’s government was deciding whether to join the EU’s single currency (funnily enough, the Euro), so Britain-EU relations weren’t at their best. There’s also the decidedly nasty situation of the Iraq War, with the Hutton Inquiry into the death of arms expert David Kelly taking place in the months prior to the competition, but let’s leave that in the past.

Really, it all comes down to the British entry into the contest, Jemini’s ‘Cry Baby’, which everyone can agree is truly awful. No amount of political pandering could have won Eurovision for us that year. (Sidenote: the British after-show, “Liquid Eurovision… a Little Bit More 2003”, is hilariously scathing and well worth a watch on YouTube)

So where does that leave us in 2017? Britain-EU relations are the worst they’ve been since we joined the EEC in the 1970s. It is a well-established fact that politics plays a part in the voting patterns of Eurovision, with many Eastern European countries sending a good chunk of their points towards Russia come the grand finale. This year’s host country Ukraine won 2016’s contest with ‘1944’, a song about the deportation of the Crimean Tatars by the Soviet Union in a time when Russia has annexed Crimea once more. You can’t get more political than that, right?

But surely Eurovision must be more than just politics – it is a singing competition, after all. What about the performers? When young viewers of Eurovision think back on contestants from within their lifetime, they might think of music veterans like Engelbert Humperdinck and Bonnie Tyler (of ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’ fame), or of random singers picked from obscurity like 2016’s Joe and Jake, or Molly Smitten-Downes (who competed as ‘Molly’ in 2014). Compared to decades gone past, it seems as if the BBC has no idea what they’re doing, as the acts we won with pre-1997 included Katrina & the Waves and Lulu, who already had careers before Eurovision and who were still fairly close to the spotlight when they competed for the UK. Would it be so hard to encourage some mainstream British acts to compete on our behalf?

Though having good acts and doing well in the competition hardly seems like the point any more for the UK in Eurovision. With Graham Norton commentating and many of us attending Eurovision parties across the country, much fun can be had without rooting for your national entry. The flair and dramatics are well worth tuning in for, and Eurovision is our glittery oasis in a sea of exam stress and anxiety.

The Eurovision 2017 Final starts at 8pm on Saturday 13th May, and will air on BBC One.

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