14 February 2018
Forming one half of Australia’s commentary team for the Eurovision Song Contest between 2009 and 2016, Julia Zemiro admits Australia’s involvement made it weird, particularly in a sense that she and Sam Pang were no longer free or open to “have fun”. Using the analogy of going to a dinner party and it being impolite to criticise the food, in essence she was unable to treat the contest with mockery and disrespect that had typified their style through the years. Australia involved meant suddenly they had to take Eurovision a bit more seriously, and treat other nations seriously. The pair either couldn’t or were loathe to adjust, so suddenly were obsolete. Credit Zemiro for her honesty, as the great Australian entitlement to be involved in anything can border on feverish at times.
Julia Zemiro, courtesy of themusic.com.au:
“To be a regular member, you are taking away some other European country’s possibility of being in the final. I do think that’s weird because we aren’t a part of Europe.
“All of a sudden, as commentators, how is it when you can watch it you can be fairly free… and then all of a sudden you’re in it, it’s like going to someone’s house and going to a dinner party and saying ‘I don’t really like the food’. You’re not as free to be able to have fun with what you’re watching because you’re in it.
“And it became weird to do. It didn’t feel free, it didn’t feel open and then it just became about giving information.
“Also, maybe 5% of the songs are sung in the language of the country. Everything else is in English. We’re only adding another English song.”
Zemiro’s sentiment was already obvious from the tone in the pair’s commentary, especially in Dami Im’s year of 2016. It was all quite subdued, and even with the prospect of Australia winning, they didn’t know whether to be excited or afraid. The only interview they did was with Dami Im, as their usual jackass interviews with the contestants were handed to an even bigger jackass. Again this style, while it might appeal to the booboisie in Australia fed on the traditional SBS promotion of “frocks, shocks and wind machines”, it had long out-grown Eurovision, and was especially stale when Australia was involved and people began to view Eurovision through a different lens.
Credit Zemiro for actually liking Eurovision. Even though she mostly treated Eurovision as a self-indulgence, Pang never liked it and was only ever sent for his alleged comedic value. Especially in their early years, they were an embarrassment and a disgrace, and it’s surprising Australia were ever invited to compete with such a history. Zemiro’s first ever comments about a song were for Montenegro in 2009 and involved sexual innuendo between the singer and a chair. Eventually they grew past this crass behaviour and their almost total ignorance to become quite competent. Ultimately it’s their lack of real interest in Eurovision that brought them undone. Zemiro always seemed more interested in the cultural aspect of Eurovision, and Pang only interested in snide jokes. They rarely delved into discussing the music or performances, so information providers was about all they were good for now and obviously an unappealing prospect.
Curiously, Zemiro often agitated for Australia to be involved in Eurovision, so whether that was blind patriotism or stupidity, now we know it’s the latter. Her other “weird” problem is Australia now takes a spot from a European country, while adding nothing themselves other than another generic English language song. On this aspect, she’s spot on, although, these reasons could be more about justifying Australia’s exclusion to herself than a real problem. With so many generic songs, national context has been long lost, so to paraphrase Johnny Logan, what’s another song? That Australia is not in Europe more about the nonsensical notion of a country on the other side of the world being in “Euro”-vision than a literal one. The actual problem is that for ESC eligibility, a country must be in the EBU’s official broadcasting zone (extends only as far as the Middle East and northern Africa) and be a full member of the EBU. Australia is neither. If Australia’s involvement was only the one-off direct-to-grand-final appearance for 60th anniversary edition in 2015 as initially promised, Zemiro would be fine with that. She also said she’d return “in a heartbeat” if Australia weren’t involved. No thanks. The two new commentators of Myf Warhurst and Joel Creasey are much better. Their lower profile means they show some constraint, and deference, something Zemiro and Pang never had.
There’s other problems Zemiro missed too. Ratings are down because viewers are associating the strength of our song with their interest in the competition. A crap song like 2017 and they switch off. Even 2016 was down. Of course, like in Europe, Australians switch off in great numbers for the semi final that doesn’t involve them. So this great curiosity we had about Eurovision, that special Euro-centricity we loved and, yes, could occasionally poke fun at, it’s evaporated. No doubt Zemiro is feeling some of that. Australia involved has spoiled it for her. Yes, we don’t really add anything to contest, and it’s both wrong and unfair we can just blow in and take a grand final spot from an established Eurovision nation that’s been fulfilling all their EBU membership requirements for years. It’s an annoying Australian trait that we feel we must be involved in everything and think it will always be for the better. At times we should step aside, exert some selflessness and restraint, and realise that some things are better off without us. Eurovision is one of them, and with Eurovision Asia soon to start, let Lisbon 2018 be our last.