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National Finals through the Looking Glass Written by on March 2, 2011 | 4 Comments

This past weekend was a busy one in the various broadcasting schedules of Europe, being the height of the national final season where countries across the continent select their Eurovision entry. There are currently no strictly enforced rules from the European Broadcasting Union regarding how a song is selected. The United Kingdom and Turkey having opted for an internal selection this year where as most countries tend to have some form of televised national selection, usually with a public vote (and Ukraine seemingly make it up as they go along).

What is interesting is the way in which different countries approach their selection show; it would appear that those national selections which are increasingly successful at home are not necessarily the ones which constantly flag the Eurovision tag.

If we start by using the UK as an example, with the exception of 2009 and 2010 (where the song itself had previously been selected), the BBC has tended to use the same format. Despite its many incarnations (A Song for Europe, The Great British Song Contest, Eurovision Making Your Mind Up, etc) the show was essentially the same thing. A programme dedicated to selecting a Eurovision song. Nothing more, nothing less. Essentially the BBC and the UK were looking outwards – what song would be a “Eurovision” song?

It wasn’t always this way though – there were attempts in the 1990s to turn the UK selection into a hit-making machine. Whilst there were some minor successes (Deuce, Samantha Fox et al) the format didn’t really catch on and despite the global success of Gina G, the UK procedure reverted back to familiar form. It seems that for the BBC, the UK audience is really just interested in Eurovision itself and not the journey.

What of other countries then? If we look at two case studies – Sweden and Estonia – we can see a new trend emerging which seems to suggest that the show has been internalised, made for the home audience and the winning song is just that that, a favourite song, which as a by-product of that victory, will go to Eurovision. Maybe this is the way forward?

The success of this format is plain to see – the Swedish Melodifestivalen is the most popular programme in the entire year in Sweden. It generates musical hit after hit and as a consequence the viewing figures for Eurovision itself are healthy. Swedish TV have managed to turn a selection format into a real money-spinner. The programme packs out stadiums during the semi final stages (one of which hosted the 1985 Eurovision Song Contest itself!).

Love Generation, Melodifestivalen 2011

Love Generation, Melodifestivalen 2011

By the time the final comes around (this year on the12th March in Stockholm) the show essentially represents a contemporary Greatest Hits show of modern Swedish music. It is almost bigger than Eurovision itself. It’s not necessarily about Eurovision and what the people of Europe will like, it’s about what the Swedes like. Whilst Sweden have had mixed fortunes at Eurovision recently, surely the fact that the selection show is so successful in terms of revenue and viewing figures means that it almost doesn’t matter. The event is credible and as a by-product so is the Swedish Eurovision entry in the eyes of the public.

Estonia changed their national selection programme in 2009 after a string of disastrous results. Previously the Estonian selection, Eurolaul, was very much looking towards the other for approval. This can be seen in the fact that the entries in the late 1990s and early 2000s were chosen by international jurors. Televoting was introduced in 2004 however the idea behind the format stayed the same; it was a show for selecting a Eurovision song (Eurolaul meaning Eurosong).

In 2009 Estonian Television brought in a dynamic radio DJ, Heidy Purga to overhaul the selection show. The result was Eesti Laul. A clue to the new approach is in the title, it’s no longer all about Europe, it is about Estonia. Divided up into semi finals leading towards a main event, the format appears to have worked – it has rejuvenated interest in the Estonian music scene and produced credible hits.

In terms of Eurovision it’s also been a success – Estonia qualified for the final in 2009 and came 6th overall and despite narrowly missing out on the final in 2010 with a very post-modern piece of music, the viewing figures still represented at triumph for Estonian television.

The winner from 2011, Getter Jaani with her song “Rockefeller Street” is already widely tipped to do well at the contest in Germany. Again this is almost irrelevant as the perception in Estonia is one of success – a fresh show with credible hits, the selection format can perhaps be seen as a metaphor for Estonia itself. Previously the country looked to others as evidenced in the political “return to Europe” discourses in the 1990s and also the international juries in Eurolaul. Now Estonia is a fully fledged European Union member, part of the Euro zone and confident, maybe if the Estonian public are happy then that’s what really matters.

Getter Jaani

Getter Jaani

As one respondent, Mart, from ETV remarked, “The focus point is not so much on spectacle than it is on creative content. We have opened the competition to different musical genres, new talents […] we do not believe in a genre called Eurosong. We believe in good music […] it [Eesti Laul] has become a real song competition with fresh ideas and perspectives that shoots out real airplay and chart hits for the whole year”.

Similarly in the UK this year, Blue are going to be performing their comeback song “I Can”, as opposed to a specially comissioned Eurovision song. Whilst it’s described as “anthemic” (weren’t all their hits?) it’s unlikely that it will be a “typical Eurovision song” as seen by the UK media, ie camp and cheesy. It might, just might have an element of credibility to it.

Of course it’s Eurovision and there’s always a plethora of opinion and room for different musical styles. However maybe the approach adopted by Sweden and Estonia (and other) might just be the saving grace needed to help make Eurovision that little bit more credible. If countries enter simple “good songs” rather than “Eurovision songs” then maybe it could just inject a little bit more excitement and longevity into the 56 year old format…

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4 responses to “National Finals through the Looking Glass”

  1. DavidG says:

    Once again this author misses the point with his article. Plus the content again contains errors which could have been avoided had he actually watched the ESC or the NF’s mentioned.

    The Melodifestivalen is actually actively looking for a ‘Eurovision’ song each year according to the invite sent to music publishers. The backing of a large music publisher is then attracting artists who may not even get to record one of their songs. The artist is then either approved or ‘made’ to appeal to an ESC audience. The song is then submitted for inclusion or rejection.

    Estonia is using the same formula, but not wanting an ESC clone (they will not appeal to Estonian’s in the same way as a Swedish audience). So their brief is a song that will appeal to ESC but will also make the public proud of their entry. This approach was used by the UK up until the late 80’s and then again 1995-1998.

    The UK approach is the same as the last two years – just get a big name involved. The difference this year is it will be the artist and not the composer. This means all sides win, the broadcaster has positive press coverage and a competant artist, the public are proud of their representative and an increased interest in the competition and the artists get the publicity and exposure which their record company was not willing to risk paying for.

    There are a number of articles available on the different approaches taken to NF’s this year. All basically asking whether the BBC (as broadcasters) are right to take the decision away from Music Publishers again or follow others in Europe and use the people closest to the industry.

  2. Paul Jordan says:

    Firstly thank you for reading the article and for taking the time to comment. Melodifestivalen is absolutely looking for a Swedish Eurovision song, that is not a matter of dispute. What I was trying to get across was that it is an event which is huge in itself. Having previously attended the event I saw how massive it is and how most of the entries become chart hits in Sweden regardless of whether they go to Eurovision or not.

    As for Estonia, the respondent quoted in the article works on the Eesti Laul show and was kind enough to give me his insight. Whilst again like in Sweden the point of the show is of course to find a song for Eurovision, it is an event which is focussing more on the Estonian domestic audience and as I quoted, provides hits and airplay for the year. This is a marked change from the previous Estonian Eurovision selections which gave the power to individuals from abroad. Indeed the Estonian public did not have a direct say until 2004. The Eesti Laul show is therefore a showcase of Estonian pop music, the winner of which goes to Eurovision but the point of the show as I hope my article showed is also to provide a platform for artists regardless of whether they go to Eurovision or not.

    The article was not calling the BBC’s judgement into question, it was merely posing the question of whether there should be a re-think in the way Eurovision as a musical genre is represented. Perhaps entering a simple “pop song” like Germany did last year is the way forward? I think that is what we will see from Blue when their song is debuted next week. As the article highlighted, Eurovision is a subject on which there is a diversity of opinion which in turn makes it a fascinating event.

  3. Chris K says:

    I love national final season. I love the fact that in two seperate countries (Greece and Portugal) there have been perfectly credible songs in a perfectly credible song contest, two songs were selected that are great in the country, but lousy for Eurovision. Or that Poli of Bulgaria sprung with a ripper of a song. The interesting thing is that there is no exact science to what you can choose as a Eurovision entrant anymore for many reasons – Lordi being the perfect example, who knew that monsters could sing a Europe unifying song.

    Melodifestivalen is an interesting animal and I am probably one of the few people who hate it. It’s old, its tired, its transparent what will win, and this year things seem manipulated for it to happen. [how did Popular score last place draws in both semi and final is curious].

    The Uk seems to have gone back to an old sampler: choosing a known act with a sing to sing. Bad thing about all that is they did well, but did not win – Olivia Newton John, Shadows, Cliff Richards are examples. Personally, good for them.

    I do wish to add one more comment though and that is the situation of Denmark. How can a song be in a final then be discovered to be a rip off? Each year we have at least two songs with that allegation against them? Do countries need to use new methods to select songs that go into the final national final selection (an international jury as an example)? Should the EBU create a ruling that if the song selected is a copy, that country is out? Something to ponder.

    In all, it is a lottery. Internal selections are an interesting surprise; long drawn out song contests are not. And even if we like the song now, we may not like it in May. When it reached the ESC stage, for reasons no one understands, the artists will decided to add cardboard animals or nonsensical dance routine. Even then, the voting blocks will shoot the song down and it’ll end up 15th in the semi final. Welcome to the life of Switzerland in late 2000s.

  4. Hi Chris
    Thanks for your comments on ESC Insight.
    My understanding regarding ‘Popular’ by Eric Saade is that because it features breaking glass (and thus a danger to other contestants) its scheduled to perform last. Whether if its a conscience decision by the artist to do it on purpose is a whoooole other matter. Not to spark an argument or controversy or anything 😉

    Both the national broadcaster and EBU have the right to disqualify an artist or song if its found to be blatantly plagarised, released prior to the 1st September or contains a political message. If Denmark is a rip-off, rest assured something will happen. I have heard the complaints about it, but you’ll find people always see similiarities in other songs every year but later aren’t found to genuinely be plagrised.

    The interesting one in the lineup for this year that could be disqualified is the song for Belarus. First it was changed lyrically due to ‘political’ content, but its been uncovered to have been released before 1st September… we await further comments…

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