10 January 2016
Only two years ago I wrote a scathing critique on Australia’s chances of ever competing in the Eurovision Song Contest, citing our disrespect and mockery of the contest, problems of timezone and that Australia was not part the European Broadcasting Union and unlikely to ever be. How times change. Now it seems Europe cannot get rid of us. After the successful guest appearance in 2015 in which Australia finished 5th in the final, Australia are back for 2016, this time with a spot in the semi finals. There’s no direct spot to the final like for the 60th anniversary celebrations.
As is typical – and wonderful – about Eurovision, the reaction to the news of Australia’s return has been wild and polarising. Each side has made a good case about the return, as did the European Broadcasting Union itself. So let’s analyse the pros and cons and ask should Australia be in the Eurovision Song Contest?
1) Australia want to be there.
This was the key reason offered by the EBU, saying the return was a result of the “overwhelmingly positive” response to the appearance in 2015. Also, Australia had shown so much passion and were “incredibly enthusiastic” to be a part of ESC, that it made another invitation too compelling to ignore. Something was definitely brewing for a return when Australia were belatedly invited to the 2015 Junior Eurovision. As speculated in the JESC preview, that if moves were afoot for Australia to be permanent participants at Eurovision, then participating in JESC not only made sense, it might have been part of the deal. Whether it is permanent, it seems likely. If the goodwill and enthusiasm continues each year, why would ESC ever deny Australia?
2) Australians love Eurovision
While the level of fanaticism is often way over-stated, facts are Australia does have a 30-year relationship with ESC and a dedicated following. Even though the general population continues to deride it as a joke, everyone knows about it, and everyone might have watched the odd bit here and there. SBS, the host broadcaster, has been sending its own commentary team since 2009, and built the television audience to a level that they now regard ESC as their showpiece TV event of the year. This loyalty played a big part in gaining another invitation.
3) Europe loved Australia in 2015
Australia were an overwhelming success in last year’s ESC, with a quality song and performance, and enthusiasm, and were universally embraced by those in the arena, the broadcaster and the other artists. The outrage against Australia is almost exclusive to social media and public forums, which are haven for attracting the most virulent and aggressive people. Why even bother listen to those people when we should listen to those directly experiencing the shows?
4) Australia is a European nation even if it’s not in Europe
Before the recent wave of Vietnamese, Indian, Chinese and Arab immigration, the population of Australia was almost entirely European. Modern Australia would not exist today without the initial colonisation by the British and then the massive immigration wave from mainland Europe after World War 2. Even though many European roots are so distant that current generations identify more as Australian than from the countries of their ancestors, European culture still pervades much of Australia’s and we still occasionally like to cheer for those old homelands, like football and Eurovision.
5) The more the merrier!
Why shut the doors on other countries that want to attend? After all, ESC has expanded many times before, both physically and geographically, and the EBU have already indicated they’d like ESC to expand further into a more global event, and making it “bigger and better”. With associate members including Brazil, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, South Africa and the USA, it would certainly be a bigger, more global ESC if all were involved. Would it be better?
1) Australia is not part of the EBU
This should be the key disqualification. Since Australia is outside the European broadcasting area, it can never be a full member of the EBU and therefore never eligible for ESC. The EBU has obviously relaxed this membership requirement and Australia compete by virtue of its associate member status and as an invited guest.
2) 2015 was meant to be a “one-off” appearance
This reassurance from organisers was a key factor that placated many fans against Australia’s role in 2015. Now the EBU has reversed their decision, which no doubt factors more in the criticism against Australia than the participation itself. People don’t like being betrayed, and their resentment is perfectly understandable.
3) Australia is not in Europe
While proponents for Australia argue neither is Israel in Europe, Israel do lie within the European broadcasting area, so are eligible for ESC. As, too, are the northern most African countries and some Arab states. ESC eligibility depends on EBU membership, which depends on being in the EBA, not being part of the European continent.
4) Australia can’t host Eurovision if they win
Don’t bet on it! Despite claims Australia would join with a European broadcaster and host in Europe, watch SBS petition heavily to host Eurovision in Australia. After all, they’ve put all this time and financial investment into it and petitioned successfully for another invitation, so as long as the broadcast times suit the European timezone, there really is no argument against it. Broadcasts would start at 6am Australian eastern time, which won’t deter local fans and the many visitors from attending this very rare event.
5) Eurovision will risk losing its “Europeanness”
This is the most valid reason. A big part of the reason Australians like Eurovision is because of its quirky European appeal. There’s no Australians there for one, nor Americans, nor anyone except those crazy Europeans. That gives ESC its special appeal and joie de vivre, and to lose that, by expanding so far beyond its borders and culture, it will be selling out its soul. I love that quaint microcosm of European goodness that is Eurovision and observing it fondly from this great distance. Leave it alone. It’s perfect!
The idea scenario is that Eurovision offer one or two wildcards to associate members each year. Entry would be on a rotational basis, and if a country declines its chance, the next country in line can accept. If it’s two wildcards offered, then one goes into each semi final. This keeps the selection transparent and fair, and ends the squabbling that’s being caused by the current ad hoc approach. Since Australia is lucky that no other countries are expressing interest to be involved in Eurovision, the wildcard situation is a permanent spot, at least for the short term.
Wouldn’t it be great to have a national final? Even if it’s only 5 candidates, something is better than nothing. It’s unlikely because, like last year, SBS will probably align with a record company to help defray the costs and use Eurovision to promote the selected artist into the European music scene. If that is the case, maybe that artist can perform 3 songs at a selection for the public to pick. This would obviously raise excitement, and be another television event for SBS.
As for the names, if it’s Sony involved again, Delta Goodrem is the obvious candidate, particular with a new album due. The risk is, like Guy Sebastian last year, that with the public’s opinion already formed about her, the response will be polarised. In Delta’s favour, her profile is at its peak, especially with the public warming to her as a coach for several seasons on The Voice.
The other option is someone untried, and more curious, that might excite. Dami Im was the common name tossed about last year. I’d never heard of her until then, and she’d be a great choice. She wouldn’t need a new record either, because re-releasing an older record with the Eurovision song added would suffice for Europe.
Ignoring record companies, Kylie Minogue is the most frequent and prominent name mentioned, and would draw the greatest publicity. If SBS want to go bigger and better themselves, she’s it.
Personally, I don’t care, as long as it’s a serious artist and a good song.