Ever since Israel joined Eurovision in 1973, the singing competition has represented the fluidity of European borders and the instability of European identity. Participation in Eurovision is based on membership of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), which is in no way linked to the European Union or other political structures. The biggest identity crisis this year came from Australia, which continues to deny that it is at the arse end of Asia, and like an 18 year old after their first Contiki bus trip wishes to return to the comforting womb of mother Europe. Having paid an undisclosed amount to the EBU to participate, the broke Europeans were happy to take our money and humour our novelty act. We didn’t even embarrass ourselves too much.
It was a big year for ladies with power ballads, big metallic hair ornaments, and naff male/female duets. But of course, it’s not our job here at Fully (Sic) to actually reflect on the quality of the music, or to remind Australians that they live in the Antipodes. We’re interested in who spoke what.
And that’s a bit of a problem, because Eurovision continues the inexorable grind towards English domination. This year a record 27 acts were in the grand final, with all but five singing in English. Three of those were Spain, France and Italy, members of the “big five” who receive automatic entry to the grand final (because they pay so much more to enter), and therefore couldn’t be culled in the semis. Whatever the topic of France’s song, it always sounds to the rest of Europe like a lament for the time everyone spoke French. Germany and the UK are the other members of the big five, Germany got zero points, probably less because the song was bad and more that the rest of Europe is annoyed with their economic dominance of the region.
The other two countries to deliver their song in languages other than English were Romania and Montenegro. Montenegrin is a variety of Serbo-Croatian, meaning that their song would have been understandable to many in the southern Slavic nations. The Romanians used the old trick of singing their song with both Romanian and English lyrics, which is useful to get the message across, but led to some awkward syllable squishing in the English translation. Finland and Portugal deserve a mention for having entries in their national languages, even though they didn’t make it through to the grand final.
The voting was by-and-large a boringly English-dominated affair. Given the hosts demonstrated proficiency in Italian, German and French, they weren’t called upon to use them much. The usual Franco-bloc of France/Switzerland/Belgium all delivered their votes in French, the other 37 all gave theirs in English. Even the Austrians. We do have to commend Romania and Cyprus for giving extensive greetings and congratulations in German, and a nod to those who bothered to look up guten Abend and danke in a phrase book. We’re a bit disappointed Lee Lin Chin didn’t break out some Cantonese or Mandarin to welcome the Chinese to their first live broadcast, but she did a good job anyway. Those countries that voted strongly for Australia were overwhelmingly wealthier Western European countries, demonstrating that trading backpackers appears to be a reliable way to win votes.
There were some other nice moments. The interview with the winner of Junior Eurovision Vincenzo Cantiello was a lovely mix of English and Italian, demonstrating that with competent hosts a multilingual event doesn’t have to feel alienating (Junior Eurovision is of course a superior event because participants must sing the majority of their song in their national language). We also appreciated that for every live cross the digital map gave Vienna in the calling country’s language (Vjenna, Bécs, Wien, etc).
This was also the first year that Eurovision included sign language interpretation. Viewers could stream live interpretation of the songs, performed in International Sign. This is a limited communication form, used when people from different sign language communities come together. Not all deaf people can understand International Sign, but as an alternative for those whose countries do not provide sign language interpretation it’s better than nothing.
With a bit of deja vu (there’s some French for you), Sweden has won again. We have a new mental health dance track smash hit (“We are the heroes of our time/ But we’re dancing with the demons in our minds…”) and the continued Scandinavian domination we saw in 2012 and 2013.