The Eurovision song contest was on last night. It has become something of a standing joke to mock the Eurovision song contest, with its predictable parade of cookie cut music, bizarre acts and gimmicks. It’s what we expect. We expect that every country will put forth its own national brand of eccentricity and that we’ll be subject to a cavalcade of kitsch, poor taste and tackiness. Eurovision never fails to disappoint in its clockwork predictability to deliver these and that’s why a sub culture of cynical mockery has grown up around it.
When Eurovision throws up an objectively fine musical performance, or presents to us a song so un-Eurovision in its style and approach, we have a tendency to predict grave failure within the contest and obscurity for the artists concerned. We think that those kinds of songs will never do well at the Eurovision song contest, because they are not following the unstated conventions and customs of the Eurovision song contest. Nobody will vote for them, because they break the rules.
How refreshing and encouraging it is then, when instead of the dreary block voting patterns we see every year, the general public of Europe opts to support the best music. It is a song contest, after all. Last night, it appeared to me that two acts – one that gave an extremely strong vocal performance against a well orchestrated and arranged song structure and another that put a soft, almost country and western style of song into play, came first and second. It’s as if the music really matters.
The message I take away from this, my own interpretation of the result, is that the general public, having grown accustomed to a particular style and format of song contest, while enjoying the opportunity to mock it for its sheer predictability and lack of taste, embraced the outliers. While enjoying the sheer awfulness that is served up with monotonous regularity annually, they paradoxically put their votes behind the outstanding songs, performances and artists that were most unlike the usual flow of mediocrity.
Have the rules changed forever? Probably not. Eurovision will stay Eurovision, with all its bombast and overblown stage and lighting effects. However, it has shown us, this year, that people still care about the art of the song and at heart, when presented with something of genuine quality or difference from the predictable, it will be supported. Diversity will get a look in.
It was also nice to see the win being dedicated to peace and freedom, in what could have been a stomach churning, cynical, insincere display of mawkishness, but somehow wasn’t at all. If war mongers were watching, they would have also noted a clear vote against military aggression from the public of Europe. Votes for Russia, despite their song being presented by two sweet, twin girls who were the epitome of innocent bystanders, were met with vociferous disapproval. That’s as strong a referendum on actions that could lead to widespread war in Europe as you need.
The lesson for artists is that conformance with the norms is not the route to success. Unspoken rules are there to be changed. Moving the game on to something else requires diversity, imagination, originality and a willingness to operate outside the unwritten rules. Ultimately, the quality and integrity of what you do have a bearing on whether or not it will find acceptance. Conforming to trends and fashion won’t. Sticking to the formula won’t either. You have to go it alone.
Make your own mark, your own way.