Eurovision: It’s Not Personal, It’s Political

After the UK finished in second place in the Eurovision Song Contest last weekend, Sarina Kiayani argues that Eurovision results are politically motivated. 

As I sat down for my friendship group’s annual gathering on what we know as the best night of the year, I did not anticipate what was to come.

Looking at the scoreboard as each country’s jury repeatedly gave points to the United Kingdom, I could not quite believe my eyes. How did the UK go from receiving 0 points last year to finishing as runner-up, winning the jury vote and receiving a significant portion of the public vote, too?

Not to mention that, if it were not for Putin invading Ukraine, the UK may have won the 2022 Eurovision Song Contest entirely.

The UK’s position as runner-up to Ukraine, amongst key other aspects of the voting process, highlight how the winners and losers in Eurovision are decided on a political rather than a personal basis. Ukraine’s song, heard without purely any context, was undoubtedly not strong enough to win against the entries from the UK, Sweden, Spain and other countries who scored highly. Yet the context of Ukraine’s performance – which featured traditional Ukrainian woodwind instruments at a time when the country was having its sovereignty compromised by an illegal Russian invasion – made them strong favourites in the public’s eyes. Before the acts even performed this year, widespread public discourse circulated around Ukraine being the likely winners of the contest, as a collective protest from Europe against Putin’s horrific actions.

The votes from both juries and the public were testament to this, with Ukraine receiving the highest public vote figure to date, with votes coming from every country eligible. Ukraine also finished 4th in the jury vote, showing how, even though its song was not the strongest, juries were also willing to stand in solidarity with the Ukrainian people by voting for their Eurovision song. It is somewhat unfortunate that the UK, which has failed to win the contest since 1997 (before I was born!), chose a year doomed by geopolitics to really shoot for the win.

And how did the UK shoot for the win? I always believed that the UK was doomed to do badly in Eurovision, due to both Brexit and the UK being an island with no neighbours in a contest where juries voting for neighbours is commonplace and predictable. “Ah, look, there’s Portugal about to give their 12 points to Spain. Cyprus are up next, that’s 12 points to Greece coming up”. Yet Sam Ryder’s successful selection proved all the dissenters wrong.

Choosing an act who seemed very “Eurovision” in appearance, with a song popular on TikTok, a platform widely used across Europe, displayed a renewed push from the UK to play to the unspoken rules of the contest. The more popular the song prior to the contest, and the less conventional the act, the more likely they are to win. Remember Conchita Wurst from Austria and Netta (the clucking lady) from Israel? For too long, the UK submitted “conventional” entries, featuring talented singers but “boring” music compared to the eclectic tunes performed by its European neighbours. The latest victim of  this losing formula was Germany, who scored very few points after submitting a talented singer who was simply not right for Eurovision. The UK’s second-place finish showed that it had bypassed its political context by finally following the winning the Eurovision formula, and should continue to do so in selecting its next entry. However, as outlined above, wider geopolitics can still triumph over even the best acts.

As much as I would have loved to have been first in line for Eurovision 2023 final tickets at the O2 Arena with Union Jack flags in abundance, if we can take one silver lining from Sam Ryder’s loss, it is that we have not done badly in Eurovision because we are hated in Europe. After all, both Ukraine’s first and the UK’s second place finishes show that the results of the Eurovision Song Contest are political, not personal.

Sarina Kiayani is the Communications Officer of the Young Fabians and an Executive Member for Labour in Communications. She tweets at @SarinaKiayani.

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