05 March 2015
Call it excessive hype and anticipation, when Australia chose its representative for the Eurovision Song Contest in Vienna this year, expectations were for a major name or someone fresh and exciting. With Guy Sebastian, we got neither. I can’t recall ever being as underwhelmed by any announcement for anything – ever. It’s like winning a holiday and being told the destination is a worm farm in Wagga Wagga. No offence to Wagga Wagga or worms, they have their place in society. Equally, no offence to Sebastian. He can perform live, and should present a decent song. It’s just all a bit ho-hum and lacks real imagination.
A big name would have been someone like Sia. Someone fresh and exciting was Dami Im. Both were the most popular suggestions going around, with Dami Im the most popular of all, and the more realist chance. Potentially she’s Australia’s Katy Perry, with the added appeal of an interesting back story and an infectious personality. Until her name began to surface, I knew little of her. Checking a few songs and performances, I was hooked. The sentiment for Dami echoed on many other Eurovision blogs – ie: the passionate fans that generally know a Eurovision star when they see one, knew Dami would be a great pick. If only Jessica Mauboy hadn’t performed last year, she’d have been a really worthy candidate too. In contrast, Sebastian’s name was barely mentioned anywhere.
Reaction to Sebastian is split. Ignoring the 30% that don’t want Australia at Eurovision at all, of the rest, 70% are happy with the decision, 30% disappointed. If you do add the resentment against Australia, it’s almost 50/50 divided. Credit that Sebastian’s talent is not being questioned, it’s merely the lacklustre nature of the decision.
More worrisome is Sony’s partnership with Australia’s ESC broadcaster, SBS, which started last year when Sony sponsored Mauboy. It severely limits the potential artists, particularly if there’s a commercial motivation in mind. Sebastian released an album recent enough that a song off it could be performed at Eurovision and he fit a specific profile that somehow saw him trump the likes of Dami Im, Delta Goodrem, the Veronicas (whoa!) and Samantha Jade. Those five artists were really the only viable options for Eurovision from the Sony stable and at least three of them would be superior choices than Sebastian.
For example, the Veronicas would have blown the Eurovision stage apart and generated a massive buzz. Delta, who might have been too divisive given the “tall poppy syndrome” hatred against her in this country, would have enchanted Europe with her sumptuous melodies and exquisite voice. We already know Dami Im would have mesmerised with her exotic style and powerful vocals. Whereas Guy? Yup, all a bit dreary. While it’s nothing unsavoury, doubts linger that purely artistic merit was not the primary selection criteria, and that’s a shame.
Sebastian has been around since 2003 when he won the first ever Australian Idol. He’s built himself into a legitimate performer, and released eight albums, precisely zero of which I could name. He’s a tried and tested formula, and that is part of the problem. Every Australian has made their mind up about him. He won’t invigorate the viewing audience unless he produces some amazing song, and is unlikely to get anyone other than rabid fans out of bed at 4am* to watch him perform.
The broader issue is whether Europe will like him. He’s certainly capable enough, has had the success, and is unlikely to embarrass Australia. It’s one of reasons he was probably chosen for Eurovision, rather than for trying to appease as many locals as possible. He’s also dull enough not to win, ensuring Australia’s “one year only” participation proves exactly that and preventing a headache for the organisers next year.
From his eight albums, I can recall precisely zero songs. Not even a melody can enter my head. The stuff I’ve seen and heard, it’s mostly that insufferable hip-hop style of stuttering pop or sleepy ballad. There’s very little melody, almost like a funky jazz style. Indeed, it seems most of his stuff is improvised gibberish. Since his Idol days, the biggest change I note is a reduced volume of hair and greater range of tattoos. Call me naive if he’s done other more interesting stuff, then I hope it surfaces on the Eurovision stage with an exciting performance that will prove me wrong. That’s the respect we should give all Eurovision artists, Guy Sebastian included.
* SBS is NOT promoting any live coverage of the Eurovision Song Contest this year, prefering to stick with its usual practice of ultra delayed time slots of Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights. It’s not time to panic, because SBS did show live last year’s SF2 with Jessica Mauboy, albeit at very late notice. While they might do the same trick again, it is a concern that a live broadcast is not being promoted at all. How can Australians be expected to vote? Or get excited? Get serious, SBS!