Where did the good songs go?
Eurovision is a shadow of its old self and that’s before it got to the UK entrance
By Alper Ali Riza
For the UK losing a Eurovision Song Contest with zero points once was a misfortune, losing twice with zero points smacks of reckless variety. Apologies to Oscar Wilde for twisting his famous saying, but how else to explain the UK’s horrific song and its sad performance at Eurovision 2021?
It is an obvious paradox that the UK does not get any points. Most entries for the Eurovision Song Contest are sung in English, and pop music has been associated with the English pop scene since the Beatles and Rolling Stones in the 1960s.
The Beatles disintegrated into acrimony in 1970, but the Rolling Stones were still going strong in the 1970s before the pandemic. Someone has to tell Mick Jagger that there is something grotesque about a 70-year-old jumping up and down on stage screaming into a microphone. Apparently he learned languages to kill time during the lockdown, which is calmer and a good antidote to gaga.
There were also other English pop hits: bands like The Who, Pink Floyd and Queen; and many singers including David Bowie, Eric Clapton, Elton John and George Michael to name a few. “Punk Rock” and “Heavy Metal” have proliferated, and I can say without fear of contradiction that the British pop scene belies the draws the UK has had to endure in recent times.
Some have attributed the UK’s dismal performance to Brexit, but it’s not like UK entries are big songs unfairly discriminated against. The bitter truth is that the British entrees deserved no points.
The problem is that the BBC puts forward the songs from which the public is invited to choose, whereas it should be the other way around because the charts are the best barometer of popular taste. For the UK, the way back to winning ways is to let the market decide which two new songs from young singers go ahead and then have the audience choose between them.
Back in my day in the 60s there were a lot of new songs every year that almost all of them could have won Eurovision with flying colors.
With one exception, the best pop music since the 1960s has been either English or American. The exception is the Swedish group Abba which marked the trend among European pop groups to sing in English. Abba’s songs are a bit schmaltzy, but they were very popular in their day. They won Eurovision in 1974 with “Waterloo” and produced “Dancing Queen,” which is probably the best beat to dance to if you’re feeling energetic and letting edgy tangos out of the equation.
Abba sang in English and it worked for them. But why did the Greeks start singing English-style pop songs in English? I guess because the Eurovision Song Contest is all about earning points all over Europe, and since English is the lingua franca of pop, the Philistines who choose the national entries threw authenticity out the window for the garbage. that we heard last Saturday.
This was when Greece was producing great songs set to music by composers like Mikis Theodorakis, Manos Hadjidakis and Stavros Xarhakos, all sung in Greek. What the Philistines do not know is that there is a lot of music in the sound of some languages.
It is true that Melina Mercouri sang “Never on a Sunday” in English but the Greek version was much softer. And yes, Demis Roussos and Nana Mouskouri sang in English but the songs they sang lent themselves to be sung in English.
I would have given most of their songs twelve points purely on merit. These days we have the robotic twelve point allocation of Cyprus to Greece and vice versa, even though there is nothing about being culturally patriotic. It infuriated the dean of popular music the late Terry Wogan, who scorned the inability of some nations to keep politics out of a song contest.
The winner this year was Maneskin’s “Zitti e Buoni” (Quiet and Good), but there was nothing calm or good about the song. All I could make out was a half-naked youth screaming into a microphone in Italian. Italians are probably the greatest musical nation in the world. All they have to do to make music is sing along in Italian, but even a soft tongue like theirs creaks when you shout angrily into a microphone. There must be something wrong when Italy which produced operas by Puccini and chants by the majestic Luciano Pavarotti repeats the screams we heard last Saturday.
Maybe I don’t compare like with like, but even so I’m sure Italy can do infinitely better than “ Zitti e Buoni ”. At least the offer from France was genuine even if it was not very original; the singer and song were reminiscent of the most quintessentially French singer, Edith Piaf, but without the characteristic challenge of her classic “No, Je Ne Regrette Rien”.
Here is! by Barabara Pravi was very French. The lyrics don’t compare to ‘No, Je Ne Regrette Rien’ but the title ‘Voila’ was typically French. Graham Norton, who took over from Terry Wogan as the Eurovision Song Contest presenter on UK television, said something heartfelt after Pravi finished singing, when he said sotto voce: ‘That’s the kind of song that wins Eurovision Song Contest ”. Alas ‘Voila’ came in second but what was refreshing was that juries in UK, Germany, Spain and Switzerland gave him full marks precisely because he was very French.
Alper Ali Riza is a Queen’s Advocate in the UK and a part-time retired judge