A Eurovision Expert Speaks….
Posted by Caroline on May 19, 2008
Here at Eurovision Blog we like to think of ourselves as pretty knowledgeable when it comes to all things contest-related – but even our own knowledge pales in comparison to that of Eurovision expert John Kennedy O’Connor, author of the official Eurovision Song Contest book (a veritable bible of facts, stats and not so useless information which has solved many a debate around these parts.) As Belgrade 2008 draws closer, we’ve had a chat with him about this year’s contest and, indeed, Eurovision in general. Enjoy. And John, seriously – we’re not worthy….
What do you think of this year’s songs in Eurovision? How do they compare to other recent years?
I think it gets harder to make a real assessment as the contest gets bigger and bigger. 43 songs is way too many, even for a hardened fan like myself to sit through and be objective about all of them. But I haven’t felt terribly excited by this year’s songs and I think the number of gimmick and blatantly silly entries is so much higher this year that it’s turned me off quite a bit. There are some good songs in the mix for sure, but the jokes are beginning to outnumber the serious attempts, whereas in the past, the joke entries were rare indeed.
Which are your top tips for this year (Eurovision Blog rates Sweden, Iceland, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Belgium and Slovenia, and we LOVE Bosnia….)?
Bosnia isn’t on my list I’m afraid! It’s one of the songs that I regard as a joke, but I may well be missing the cultural significance. For me, there are three contenders for first place, Ukraine, Russia and Ireland. Ukraine seem to be clearly ahead of the pack and it’s a very visual, high impact performance of a very strong song. Russia have the biggest heart-throb in the Eastern bloc and it’s a strong ballad, but I gather the stage show is rather over the top and detracts from the song. If the voters go for a blatant joke, Ireland has to be the winner. The UK will certainly give Ireland top points this year. Outside those three, I feel sure Serbia, Armenia, Sweden, Georgia are all going to score very well. I can’t see Slovenia or Belgium doing much to set the scoreboard on fire. Iceland is good indeed, but I think it will struggle to qualify.
What do you make of all this year’s ‘gimmick’ entries? Specifically Ireland, which seems to us almost like a protest song…
I have a soft spot for the Irish song, although I will be horrified if my prediciton comes true. I don’t think it’s a protest per se, but I can see where you’re coming from. I’m intrigued to see how it plays out with Sir Terry. I don’t think he’ll appreciate the direct jab at him in the lyric. I’m waiting to see if the BBC lean on RTE for a rewrite. I hope it doesn’t win, but I can see it going all the way. It would be very bad news for the contest. But these joke entries have been doing better and better every year. As for the others (Spain, Latvia, Belgium, Finland, Bosnia, Croatia) I just wish they’d all go away. The Spanish song is excrutiating. It just doesn’t work for me. What’s the joke? Maybe you have to be Spanish to get it. The Spanish selection process was hi-jacked by a rival TV network as a spoiler and this was the result. It’s a shame.
When did you first become a Eurovision fan?
About the same time I fell in love with Clodagh Rodgers when she sang the UK entry! Back in 1971. I’d been aware of the contest before then, but that’s when I really got into it. I was devastated when Clodagh didn’t win. I kept hoping for a recount for days afterwards! I haven’t missed it since.
Which is your all-time favourite Eurovision song and why?
It’s always been one of the four winners from 1969, “Un Jour, Un Enfant” by Frida Boccara from France. It’s a remarkably classy song, so unlike almost anything else in Eurovision. It’s almost classical in it’s arrangement. Just a very simple cello and piano arrangement and a powerful lyric delivered by a first class singer. I never tire of hearing it. Of the more upbeat numbers, I’m still very partial to The New Seekers “Beg, Steal Or Borrow,” which I think is the best song the UK ever sent to the contest. It’s a really good example of a song that came straight out of the charts and also struck all the right Eurovision notes. It can be done!
What do you make of the whole debate over ‘neighbourly’ voting? Do you think it exists or is it more a case of certain countries sending acts who are well known across the whole region, hence people vote for them?
You’ve hit the nail on the head. I actually get irritated by accusations that the voting is “political”. It’s got nothing to do with politics, it’s about culture. If a country sends a song similar to music being heard all around the region and by an artist they already know, it’s bound to score well and resonate with the viewers. That’s really why the UK did so well for the first 30 years of the contest. They were sending names known all over the continent, singing pop songs familiar to everyone. Hence they were in the top 4 year on year. These days, the only people voting are those with access to a phone. That’s the farmer in Bosnia, the bus driver in Barcelona, the dentist in Reykjavik, the housewife in Helsinki etc. There’s nothing politically motivated about what they like. But they’ll like what they’re familiar with and that’s what they’ll vote for. If the UK sent bigger acts with more recognisable songs, they’d be scoring much better. Look what happened when the UK sent Katrina & The Waves with a rock anthem. The result speaks for itself.
Do you think the new semi-final system will see a more even spread of countries in the final as opposed to the East European dominance of recent years?
Hard to say. It may actually have the opposite effect and we may see an even higher concentration of regional representation. But I applaud the EBU for trying to addres the neighbourly voting which has been so widely criticised. It means they’re taking on board the opinions of the viewers, which is very important. We’ll have to see how it plays out. Additionally, some of the countries that have been doing so badly in recent years have raised their game. They’re sending better songs this year. They should qualify regardless of the new system.
How do you rate the UK entry this year? Do you think we’ll get any points?
I think Andy Abraham is a very, very good singer and I think it’s actually a very good song. The sort you’d hear on the radio or on an album and quite like. But it is not a Eurovision song. It doesn’t stand out in any way at all. He’s on second, which is the worst single spot to sing in and I am afraid by the time song number three takes the stage, everyone will have forgotten “Even If”. I hope Ireland will throw a couple of points the UK’s way, but I doubt anyone else will support it, but not because it’s bad or that everyone “hates the UK”, they just won’t remember it. France are almost certain to get nul points, and I fear Andy may join them. Even if (no pun intended) he gets a couple of points, he won’t get out of the bottom three. And I hate writing that. The UK have got to raise their game. It’s no use pulling together losers from talent shows and hoping that’s going to be enough to cope with the superstars who are coming on from other countries. The UK could reign supreme in Eurovision again if only someone with a bit of clout was prepared to step up and take the mic. But while the attitude exists that the contest is just an ironic foreign joke to be sneered at, who’s going to want to stake their reputation on doing it?