Liverpool by the riverside

Liverpool? Nil Points!

Nicola Biggerstaff

Last Saturday, the Eurovision Song Contest took place in Liverpool. I have previously written about my love for the competition, the large, camp display a welcome respite from the everyday. However, I found myself this year, for the first time ever, trudging straight to bed following the announcement of the winner, in a bad mood. How is that even possible?

This year’s theme, United by Music, was intended to ‘demonstrate the unique partnership between the United Kingdom, Ukraine, and Host City Liverpool to bring the Eurovision Song Contest to audiences across the globe and the incredible power of music to bring communities together’. It also reflects the very origins of the Contest, developed to bring Europe closer together through a shared television experience across different countries.’

The show itself was indeed poignant, with tributes to Ukraine peppered throughout the evening in the form of themed postcards, regular interludes spoken entirely in Ukrainian by co-host Julia Sanina, and an opening medley of hits from previous popular Ukrainian entrants including Go_A from 2021, winner Jamala from 2016, and the infamous Verka Serduchka from 2007.

However, as I had also previously warned, the show also just had to include references to the musical history of Merseyside, with an interval medley of songs, dubbed the Liverpool Songbook, performed by previous Eurovision contestants including Israel’s Netta, Iceland’s Daði Freyr and of course, the UK’s very own Sonia, who won the competition in 1993. The act ended with an emotional rendition of Gerry and the Pacemakers’ You Will Never Walk Alone performed by Duncan Laurence, joined on stage by the entire interval cast and presenters which, although my football knowledge is limited, I’m sure was much to the chagrin of any Everton fans watching. Obviously marketed as a show of solidarity, but with the British ego still very much present in the undercurrents.

Some other subtle and not-so-subtle hints of Ukrainian solidarity were also present through the finalists’ song choices. Czechia’s entry, the female folk group Vesna, was a personal favourite of mine and a controversial choice since they were announced in February. Their song, My Sister’s Crown, was a tribute to the Slavic female identity, with verses in multiple languages dedicated to the bonds of sisterhood being above that of nationhood. It ended up as a rather muted, toned down affair onstage involving choreographed, floor-length hair braids, perhaps since their accompanying music video caused more outcry as it depicted the Russian member of their group being spoon-fed propaganda. We also had Switzerland’s Remo Forrer sing about how he ‘didn’t want to be a soldier’ in his song Watergun, to the amusement of anyone with a working knowledge of European history.

There were other acts through the evening that certainly weren’t for the faint-hearted. Let 3, the Croatian satirical rock band, left many viewers baffled with their performance of Mama ŠČ!, involving some not-so-subtle choreographed digs at Putin’s war machine, with prop missiles and frog marches aplenty, all while dressed in long gowns and comically large fake moustaches that would make Freddie Mercury proud.

Of course, none of this western provocation went unnoticed, as Russian forces bombedthe city of Ternopil, hometown of this year’s Ukrainian entry, Tvorchi, on the night of the contest, just ten minutes before they took to the stage.

While our suspicions have been raised through the years that the results of the contest may be pre-determined, such as the first time the UK received nul points following the invasion of Iraq in 2003, or last year’s winners, Ukraine’s Kalush Orchestra, being propelled to fame in a show of solidarity against the Russian invasion, this year it was more apparent than ever, threaded throughout the evening.

Firm fan favourite, Käärijä, with his iconic neon green sleeves capturing the hearts of the people of Finland, received an overwhelming 376 points from the public vote, propelling him from fourth place after the Jury vote to second. However, it still wasn’t enough to beat Sweden’s Loreen, whose popularity with the juries with her single Tattoo made her the first woman, and only the second act ever, to win the contest twice after Johnny Logan for Ireland, having previously won in 2012 with her smash-hit Euphoria.

Almost as soon as the winner was announced, it was a point of celebration that the contest would be returning to Sweden for the 50th anniversary of Abba’s win with Waterloo. Now, I consider myself fairly tech savvy, but even I could never Google something so quickly. It felt convenient, almost too convenient.

It also did not go over our heads that the two Scandinavian nations left vying for the top spot at the end of the night happened to be the two who applied for NATO membership in the wake of Ukraine’s invasion. Perhaps another convenient coincidence, then, that the victorious of the two is a further degree of separation from the aggressor state, having not been recently threatened with military countermeasures, and able to host the contest away from the bloc border?

This outcome would not have happened without the sway of the jury vote. In the eyes of the viewer, Finland was the runaway favourite and while certainly not to everyone’s taste, was the chosen winner by the voting public. Five people per nation having 50% of the vote share, the unfairness of the jury process is blatantly obvious. Having the same amount of influence as the people who have to pay to vote is a gross abuse of power and, even if these people are industry experts, they simply cannot encapsulate the moods or preferences of an entire nation. Eurovision is about putting on a performance for the continent, not about who has the best song. It would be a rather boring contest otherwise, and not the raucous display of camp and chaos we know and love.

Anyone who still believes the contest is not a political event by now is, frankly, living in a dream world. As much as we don’t want it to be, politics is present everywhere. It dictates almost everything we do and everything that exists around us, including our cultural output. It was inevitable that such a widely popular event would eventually succumb to political whims. Solidarity with Ukraine is considered to be such a logical step that it should evade or ‘be above’ politics when that is simply not the case. As outsiders, we can never claim to fully understand the complex geopolitical history and cultural nuances between the two nations, and until we can accept this, we will never be able to envision a peace which is acceptable to all.

Did you watch Eurovision this year? What did you think? Who was your favourite? Do you see a future in which an independent Scotland could, or should, participate in the contest?

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