The 2021 Eurovision Song Contest had one foot in the future, and the other aimed at foes and challenges of yesteryear.
The 2021 Eurovision Song Contest hosted by the Dutch city of Rotterdam this past weekend will be remembered as consequential. In an environment that still eludes post-pandemic status, the event organisers, set builders, creatives and attendees put on a show of defiant spectacle and raised a giant middle finger to the virus, which they also extended to the United Kingdom.
Rattling at the very bottom of the scoreboard with a miserable “0” next to its name, Britain was left shivering with Dickensian exclusion, staring into the window of warmth and ribaldry of what was undoubtedly the biggest party of the last fourteen months.
No amount of cynicism for the kitschy naff-ness of Eurovision could lift the veil of incredulity at the score and, to be frank, the sadness that settled on those watching from British shores.
Because this year it felt personal. Like finding oneself at an awesome jamboree with Covid symptoms, it was clear that many Europeans dislike Brexit Britain even more than Russia (204 points), and Israel (93 points), past poisonings and recent missile attacks notwithstanding.
It was hard not to conclude that a combination of Brexit, vaccines and irritation at British smugness over its unilateralism, stripped any goodwill from the national juries, who practised some EU unilateralism of their own and resoundingly rejected the British contribution even from their lowest scores.
This was expulsion, like Adam and Eve from the garden of collective solidarity, having survived the pandemic devil. And it hurt.
The UK’s cheesy enthusiasm for the show in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s has grown into perceptible detachment from the event. As a leading creative talent with a legacy of some of the best bands in the history of modern music and a spin-off industry worth billions, it has always been difficult for the Brits to join the Butlin’s parade of mostly sub-optimal acts that is the Eurovision song contest.
And as a result, the U.K.over the last few years has peddled total unknowns or has-beens with terrible songs, including this year, in spite of James Newman’s best efforts to deliver a catchy tune. Even Ireland and Australia passed on allocating a single vote.
But, given the usual number of shockers in this year’s Eurovision line-up, it was hard not to conclude that a combination of Brexit, vaccines and irritation at British smugness over its unilateralism, stripped any goodwill from the national juries, who practised some EU unilateralism of their own and resoundingly rejected the British contribution even from their lowest scores.
What to do next in light of the monumental sleight is hard. The natural reaction is to lift the middle finger back, or paint it red like the Finnish entrants, Blind Channel, in protest at having the gesture banned from their act by the event organisers.
The U.K. has been in this quandary for a while now; it has never really been at one with the yearning for European unity and need to support nascent musical industries. And European attitudes have turned sour.
But something else has happened in 2021. The contest joined the era of Instagram.
After the official national juries cast their often politically motivated votes – symbolised by mutual twelve-point love-fests between Greece and Cyprus or Azerbaijan and Russia – the public joined in and completely altered the result.
Italy’s entry – a ballsy, angry, dystopian nonsense of Covid zeitgeist by heavy metal rap group, Måneskin – was languishing in third place after the jury votes.
But, unbeknownst to traditional punters, the song had been previously streamed 30 million times across European social media. And as a result, its performance was greeted with instant public recognition.
When the popular votes came in, the Italian group was catapulted to victory.
In contrast, a nervous British songwriter and his formulaic song struggled to leave any imprint on the Eurovision audience. The UK entry received zero in the popular vote also.
So what should the United Kingdom do? As one of Eurovision’s main funders, its songs gain automatic entry. But with repeated lacklustre attempts, the UK’s participation feels increasingly marginal.
Daring mega-successful British bands to throw their hat in the ring is unrealistic. For starters, how would the likes of Cold Play or Elbow hob-knob with wannabes in regular hotel rooms, organised sightseeing and backstage camaraderie? And what if, God forbid, they didn’t win? Just ask Flo Rida rapping for San Marino this year.
However, re-purposing a nationwide competition such as the XFactor or The Voice UK could work. Incentivising the British public, and by way of YouTube and Instagram, the broader world to vote every week for singers rising through the ranks of the unknown, would allow performers to occupy a place in the hearts of those watching and listening.
Offering the winner not just a record deal but also a song of their own making/choosing to represent their country at Eurovision would put an end to the days of waiting to hear an unknown’s unfamiliar tune frantically trying to capture Europe’s attention and loyalty in three minutes flat. It would also add to the quality of songwriting.
Instagram influencers and followers, as well as the general public across the Internet, could then stick their own metaphorical finger to the political voting of their national juries and plump for an artist who had fought their way through the Darwinian process of natural selection that is a talent competition show.