Culture House Daily

The Eurovision Song Contest is starting – and for once, Britain is in with a chance

4 May 2014

There are those to whom the word ‘volare’ means nothing. But for  us Eurovision enthusiasts, it’s all starting with the opening ceremony tonight. Two semi-finals this week, then the big one on Saturday. It’s transmitting live in China, New Zealand and Canada this year – making Eurovision the most-watched non-sporting television event on the planet.

The annual, spectacular clash of nations, cultures and politics is also becoming a major betting event. A friend of mine in Sweden (where Eurovision is not seen as a massive gay pride festival) usually makes a killing getting it right. To do so requires pretty good knowledge of music, European politics, trends in trading relationships, and popular (as opposed to governmental) opinion. And, of course, to judge trends better than bookmakers. This is getting harder, as bookies become more sophisticated.

The semi finals won’t matter to Britain. The BBC pays so much money to Eurovision that we’re guaranteed a place in the final. Nor does the BBC bother to run a contest to find a popular song – instead, its musical politburo decides. The BBC’s institutional snobbery and xenophobia has, hitherto, ensured the UK entry is so bad as to be an almost passive-aggressive insult to an entire continent. But this year, they’ve worked a bit harder and found a singer-songwriter: Molly Smitten-Downes, who has tried to game Eurovision formula with a varied-tempo, anthem-style number, ‘Children of the Universe’. And she’s actually in with a chance at 8/1. The others are below, with my thoughts-

1. Armenia – 13/8. The favourites, and look at the production values of the video. The Armenian broadcasters, unlike the BBC, have understood that the video makes a difference because so many voters make up their minds before the final. This tiny country is obviously out to win the whole contest, and the audacity could be self-fulfilling. 

2. Sweden – 11/4. A boringly safe option from Sweden – its ‘Melodifestivalen‘ primaries were not vintage this year, and they went for the kind of song that you hear played on Lugna Favoriter (its equivalent of Magic FM) all day. This is Sanna Neilsen’s seventh attempt at Eurovision, and listening to this, you kinda see why her first six failed. Sweden produces the best pop in the world, and I’m afraid this isn’t an example of it. Sounds like the boring bits from ‘Wrecking Ball’. That said, several bookies have Sanna as favourite to win, and the opening piano riff is catchy enough to be included in the general ESC promo material. I’m biased against her as I was rooting for another (Ace Wilder) in MelFest this year.

3. Denmark – 8/1 The hosts have laid on an upbeat number, with an easy-to-remember chorus that’ll work across nations where English isn’t widely understood. The Danes also understand the importance of choreography. Superb stage performance, and undeniably catchy tune. 

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4. UK – 8/1 And here’s our Molly. This video shows the failure to think about choreography, which could deny her the prize. As Denmark found last year, songs that tell a story prosper. This needs to be done with actions, given that millions of voters won’t understand words. Basic choreography is essential. Even the Russian grannies had the bread-out-of-the-oven narrative going on (earning 3rd place). The BBC’s tendency to view the ESC as a bad taste contest will mean, I suspect, that they won’t bother with a stage narrative. That said, Molly will pick up points for having written the song herself, and for being a debutante when so many of her rivals are established performers. 

5. Norway – 10/1 Music to slit your wrists by


Austria. A great wee number. Melodic, well-produced, plenty drama. Bond-style major-minor-7 combo chords. You can imagine Shirley Bassey covering it well. It’s Conchita Wurst’s second attempt at ESC – s/he finished second in the Austrian primaries in 2012. Dana International taught us that a drag queen singer is no bar to victory. His upsetting the Russians is a bonus.

Russia – 40/1  Russia has chosen two butter-wouldn’t-melt twins, the Tolmachevy Sisters, to perform a number that is, if anything, a bit better than Sanna Neilsen’s (they have the same light-on-a-string stage design). But for as long as Putin has his foot on the gas pipes he can expect nul points from the entire Eastern bloc.

Poland –  It’s good of the Poles to enter – they haven’t for three years, after getting bored of being knocked out in the semis. But this rather tawdry video has missed the mark (if, as I hope, it was shooting for ironic). It looks more like an advert for a stag weekend in Wrocław. But they’re right to try the traditional costumes – there’s been a return to ethnicity recently in Eurovision. A version of this without the cleavages and women with milk dribbling from their mouths would have been stronger. 


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Show comments
  • Teresa34

    When will the Western European countries see sense and say ‘enough is enough’… There is not much hope that the originators of the competition such as Ireland, U.K, France etc… have a snots chance of winning. They need to move out. I totally applaud what the ‘so called’ Eastern bloc countries have brought to the Eurovision – however, it is NOT a singing competition any more. It is a ‘performance/singing/whatever… competition. I just think that countries such as the U.K and Ireland should not subject themselves anyMORE to the re-interpreted version of the Eurovision. Change is good in most cases. However….changing a singing competition into a ‘so called’ BAD variety show.. Is a different matter…

  • Nina Dodd

    I reckon there should be more knitted versions of eurovision songs

  • Smithersjones2013

    Clearly Fraser’s taste in music is as dubious as his taste in political parties. What a turgid cliched hackneyed bovine piece of pop garbage. Once again we seer
    the results of dumbing down in action.

    We’d be better off playing a video of paint drying for 3 minutes. Seriously ‘Power To The People’? ‘Children Of The Universe’? Give me a bucket!

  • dana

    the audience will hear UK song only once in the final. It’s a disadvantage.
    Armenia has a good song but mediocre/bad vocal so is not a threat to uk.

  • br14

    A chance? If the contest was decided on musical merit perhaps. But if it was it would be a first.

  • transponder

    Sweden produces the best pop in the world
    And Norway doesn’t? No one can top A-Ha at their best, which is to say for most of their career.

    Question: Why do Swedish pop groups so often have to have names featuring the top of the alphabet? (A-Ha; Abba; Ace of Base; Alcazar, etc.).

    Speaking of Ace of Base: can anything in the contest be as delightful as this? —

    • El_Sid

      You’d have to ask Robyn, Roxette and Swedish House Mafia….

      I think the original comment stands, it’s one thing to produce a one-off international star (like Bjork or Shakira), but Sweden’s contribution to world pop is consistent over many decades.

      • transponder

        I won’t argue. For a small(ish) country they are very big in pop (and a jolly good thing, too).

  • SNapalm

    Got a feeling people complaining about political voting don’t actually watch the contest and just post negative comments for the sake of it.

    As long as the BBC gets half decent ratings, you can be damn sure the UK will still enter

  • La Fold

    Betting on Eurovision? Proof positive that some people really will gamble over anything.

  • Anthony

    I’m with Fraser Nelson on Sweden’s entry. I also wanted Ace Wilder to win this year’s Melodifestivalen. However, after seeing all of Sanna’s rehearsals so far, the more I realized I wouldn’t mind a trip back across the Oresund Bridge next year.

  • rtj1211

    Now Max Clifford’s been banged up for child lechery, which impresarios do the females have to bang to have a chance to win and what do the blokes have to do likewise to whom??

  • olivia mark

    The Eurovision Song Contest is starting – and for once, Britain is in with a chance..

    I was there when cermony
    is starting in Copenhagen’s City Hall.Amazing Night…i
    live in fulham and working in fulham minicabs…but sepecially come to see that
    ceremony…i always enjoy whatever the condition is….good work

  • Hexhamgeezer

    Shame Gerry Ad@ms isn’t competing – then perhaps we could comment on it.

  • Peter L

    Do try to get out more, Mr Nelson.

  • Eurovision Canada

    The repeated EBU announcements that The Eurovision Song Contest is being broadcast in Canada are completely unsubstantiated by anyone in Canada. There is no Canadian news outlet that is reporting this. No Canadian broadcaster has made a similar announcement, yet the Contest opened yesterday and the first semi-final is tomorrow. Reportage (and EBU announcements) should address the basics: who, what, when, where, why etc. Reports of Eurovision being broadcast in Canada are rumours, not news, until these details are provided.

  • allymax bruce

    “The Eurovision Song Contest is starting – and for once, Britain is in with a chance”

    Well, Fraser, that’s not entirely true.
    In-deed, ‘Britain’, has always been ‘in with a chance’; since it actually participated in the competition.
    Heck, ‘Britian’, has actually won it a few times!
    But, let’s not bother about facts; I mean, you’re Scottish, a Cringer, and ‘work’ for the MSM; I mean, ‘facts’ don’t really mean anything to you. Just look at the crap being spouted about the ‘pro-Russian, anti-Kiev’ protestors, women, children, and men, being burned alive by CIA operatives, (man shooting at windows)!

  • Gwangi

    The UK will get 30 points maximum. This is partly because it is a weak song with no poppy memorable chorus, and partly because it’s the little countries of the East who benefit from all the rigged voting.

    This contest really matters to them, as they haven’t produced any real pop stars as the UK has done so marvellously, so let them win the thing! They care; we don’t really, because we laugh at the thing, not with it.

    It hasn’t been fun since the 80s anyway. It has now jumped the shark into ironic post-post-post-modernism, and eaten itself from the nul points up.

    • Anthony

      “Because it’s the little countries of the East who benefit from all the rigged voting.”

      Every single ex-Yugoslavia country all crashed out of the semi-finals last year. And Norway, Germany, Sweden and Denmark, all being Western European countries, won Eurovision recently.

  • Gwangi

    My money’s on the weirdest – the Austrian bearded drag queen. No need really to listen to the song, but as a sort of B-movie travesty version of our Shirley Bassey, it’s really not bad.

  • Chingford Man

    “Music to slit your wrists by”

    I fear the journalism here from your kids is often its literary equivalent.

    • Kaine

      Who’s forcing you to read it?

      • Chingford Man

        I lack present alternatives. Hopefully Breitbart will continue to expand its UK presence.

  • BigCheddar

    Why do we enter this annual “vote against the UK’ contest?

    • Roberto Machado

      It isn’t a vote against the UK.

      • BigCheddar

        Prior to 1998 we did quite well, since then we’ve finished in the top 10 only twice. In that period we famously scorde no points one year. For the last two years we’ve finished 25th and 19th. Why we take part in this annual act of humiliation only the BBC can explain.

        • Bungee Bungalow

          In the last two years, we picked two acts that were obviously getting on a bit. In the same two years, however, you had the two young, ambitious females, Loreen and Emmelie de Forest, winning the contest for Sweden and Norway respectively.

          The BBC votes internally now, so they’re to blame.

  • Bonkim

    No match for Dean Martin’s Volare.

  • UniteAgainstSocialism

    I’d rather hang my balls over the heat of a candle than watch/listen to the Eurovision Song Contest.

    Vote UKIP and hopefully it’ll never appear on our TV screens again.

    • Bungee Bungalow

      Norway is not in the EU and still participates in it. What about Isreal, Azerbaijan or Switzerland? You don’t need to be in the EU, just in the rough area where Europe is (which, of course, we are in). Please look at the participation requirements on before typing that out.

      • UniteAgainstSocialism

        i dont give a flying monkey if Bongo Bongo land participates in it, i dont wont my country having anything to do with it, and i certainly dont want my telly poll tax paying for it. I know Britains no longer a free country like it used to be but i am still allowed an opinion aren’t i? Have a nice day comrad

        • Bungee Bungalow

          1) We are one of the five countries that fund the EBU the most, so good luck with trying to get the BBC out.
          2) Yes, you are. However, those criteria are the real thing: you need to be inside the ITU’s European area in order to be in the EBU, which runs the Eurovision Song Contest.
          3) Please do not call me “comrade”; this isn’t the Soviet Union.

          • UniteAgainstSocialism

            1. so what. Once the extreme left wing BBC is privatised, if ppl want to pay for it good luck to them. i shouldnt be forced upon the thread of jail, should i comrad?
            2. who cares comrad
            3. ditch your support for the marxist BBC and the EUSSR and its fronts like the Eurovision song contest (yes they played the so called European national anthem how many times?) and i’ll stop calling you comrad, comrad, but as things stand, you sound like a fully fedged member of the left.

            Have a nice day comrad

  • Retired Nurse

    ‘Fearing another Eurovision Song Contest defeat’ is accepted as a valid reason for requesting assisted suicide at Dignitas now …

  • ianess

    I’ve long suspected you’re gay; the strangulated, posh voice and effete manner were already a giveaway.

    • Kaine

      My sources inform me our esteemed editor prefers women. Which is sad because, being a right-wing monster aside, he’s really rather dishy.

  • NedMissingTeeth

    We have more chance of winning a referendum from the Tories.

    Vote UKIP

    • Tony Quintus

      So we’re going to win then?
      Vote INFORMED!

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