Words | Madi Scott
Eurovision has crept up on us, with the announcement of Australia’s representative as none other than 24-year-old Montaigne. Yet, once again we find ourselves asking the collective question: why is Australia in the contest?
The world has been blessed with Eurovision and its many offbeat and amusing contestants since 1956. Giving the people what they want, with national treasures such as ABBA, Celine Dion, and the very underrated Buranovskiye Babushki – aka the old Russian grandmas who sang Party for Everybody.
The history of Eurovision is a complex one. Created by Marcel Bexençon, it was one of the earliest live broadcasted events for large international audiences. The contest has come a long way since the early years which included a live orchestra with simplistic sing-a-long performances. Now over 60 years later, the event has become synonymous with over the top musical numbers and the overuse of pyrotechnics and wind machines. Looking back at contestants such as Jedward and Latvia’s Pirates of the Caribbean themed entry Pirates of the Sea, it’s clear that Eurovision is a unique event which unites a broad number of countries through a fun and competitive annual competition. Yet behind the over the top musical entries is a history of tense political commentary and a voting system which provides a very high school clique-like spin to diplomatic tensions and yet Australia loves it.
Australia-like-really-likes-Eurovision. So much so that in past years the percentage of Australian viewers who have tuned in to watch the televised event has surpassed some of the countries who actually participated in it. SBS has had a significant role in developing Australia’s love for Eurovision, dutifully broadcasting the event every year since 1983. This apparently is the answer to why Australia was invited to the 2015 Eurovision contest. Celebrating the 60th anniversary of the event, the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) invited Australia to participate in honor of our country’s commitment to the competition.
To many in 2015, this seemed like a very excessive way to thank Australia for broadcasting the contest. Its timing suspiciously coincided with SBS’s attempt to get a legislation passed which ultimately allowed more advertising slots during prime time. News that Australia would be competing in the 2015 contest was met with an excessive amount of backlash by a country that claimed to love the show, with one question on everybody’s mind – isn’t Eurovision only for European countries?
Short version: no, it isn’t. For a country that is deeply invested in the event we seem to quickly forget that Israel competes every year, as does Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Georgia – all countries which lie outside the continental borders. Basically the ‘Euro’ in Eurovision does not necessarily mean only European nations can compete, it was created by the EBU who is more focused on membership rather than geography. Any country which is a member of the European Broadcasting Union is eligible for the contest, and to join the EBU a country must fall within the European Broadcasting area. Again, Australia doesn’t really fit this criteria. However SBS is an associate member of the EBU, a status they retain by paying a fee. So really, Australia competing in Eurovision isn’t that far left of center that everybody makes it out to be. It’s definitely not the first non-European country to compete in a Eurovision Contest, that title is given to Canada who in 1987 competed in the Eurovision Dancer’s contest held in Germany. Besides, it’s not like Australia is that bad when competing. Over the past four years we have competed, Australia has seen pretty impressive results, with Dami Im coming second place in 2016 and Guy Sebastian finishing fifth in 2015. We’ve done pretty good for ourselves, so good that instead of just performing for the 60th anniversary as a one off, we have been invited back year after year. Eurovision has invited Australia to participate up until 2023, a decision which should be met with enthusiasm by a country that claims to love the competition so much.
Instead of arguing over whether Australia deserves to be competing or not, we should instead focus on the alarmingly normal contestants which have been making their way through to the grand finals. For a competition which has always been synonymous with overly dramatic performances and a celebration of each nations’ unique culture, the competition is becoming scarily boring with many of the contestants singing in English. This isn’t what the people want, we want more Verka Serdyuchka singing in head to toe tin foil, not a large scale version of the X-factor. The question around language is a historic one. Whilst it was expected for contestants to sing in their native language, Sweden was the first to break the mold and perform a English entry in 1965. Strict laws were quickly introduced by the EBU which saw entrants only allowed to sing in their national language. These language laws would only be reversed in 1977.
Australia competing in Eurovision isn’t really the most pressing issue in the competition’s history. Eurovision has a very tumultuous past that brings trans-European tensions to the forefront. Scandals have included the expulsion of Romania due to unpaid debt owed to the EBU in 2016, Austria boycotting the 1969 contest in Madrid due to Francesco Franco’s ruling, and Russia’s withdrawal in 2017 after their contestant was banned from the host country, Ukraine. Eurovision has always been a very public platform for political statements as seen in Turkey’s emphasis on the importance of integration between themselves and the EU during their turn at hosting in 2004 as well as the criticism drawn to Azerbaijan’s human rights record when they hosted the competition in 2012.
So as Australia gets ready to once again mock themselves in this year’s Eurovision, let’s remember that it’s not that strange for us to be performing. Instead let’s start planning our Eurovision parties, demand Julia and Sam host the SBS coverage again, and pray there will be some weird and wacky contestants to make Eurovision great again.