Why Austria Winning Was the Best Thing That Could Happen to the ESC
Two weeks have passed since the final of the Eurovision Song Contest 2014, where we all got to witness Austria take the first prize with the amazing and «controversial» drag artist, Conchita Wurst, and her ballad «Rise Like A Phoenix».
The Austrian victory came as a surprise to many and has caused a massive amount of disturb throughout Europe as people seem to be very divided in the opinion of if it was the right song to won, or not. The one sure thing about this particular victory, when looking at the aftermath of the contest, is that Austria winning was probably the best thing that could have happened to the contest in recent years. Let me tell you why.
Introduction of semifinals
After semifinals were introduced to the Eurovision Song Contest in 2004, every country who desired to take part in the contest was allowed to enter, as long as they were members of the EBU, of course. At the same time, all countries taking part were allowed to televote for the songs in the final, including those that did not qualify from the semifinals. With these new introductions, there was an increase of participating countries in the contest, raising the number from 26 in 2003, to 36 in 2004, and up to as many as 43 participating countries in both the 2008 and 2011 editions, which is the record highest to date. These introductions brought a huge change in the voting sequence, as we suddenly once and for all would discover diaspora voting and neighborly voting, also known as bloc voting.
West losing ground….
The concept of diaspora voting pretty much means that citizens in a given country with a foreign national/ethnic origin vote for their “mother” country, regardless of the quality of the song. Bloc voting on the other hand is the phenomena of televoters voting for their neighboring countries, despite the quality of the respective songs. At one point, it all seemed to turn into a contest based on cultural backgrounds and friendship rather than an actual song contest where the quality of songs would be taken into measure. This caused countries without friendly neighbors or a massive diaspora to do poorly for many years in a row.
If it wasn’t hard enough before to win the Eurovision Song Contest, it suddenly seemed impossible now. The worst affected seemed to be the «old» countries, the countries of Western Europe and Central Europe, who once were the champions of the Eurovision Song Contest. They lost out on behalf of the new arrivals to the contest – the Eastern European countries, who seem to benefit a lot from having many neighbors and a large diaspora spread around Europe.
Introduction of juries…
With all this in mind, the European Broadcasting Union changed the rules in 2008 and introduced a professional jury, which would make up 50% of the total score of a country’s result, in hopes of evening out the effect of diaspora and bloc voting. The other 50% of the score would still be made up by the televote.
Despite these changes, another Eastern European country won the contest in 2008, as Russia won for the first time ever. In 2009, the «changes» began to happen as Norway won, bringing the contest back to Northern part of Europe. In 2010, Germany (Central Europe) won the contest, followed by Azerbaijan (far-eastern Europe) the following year. Sweden and Denmark won back-to-back in 2012 and 2013, making the contest return back to Northern Europe yet again. Finally, this year, we saw another Central European country take the victory as Austria won it all.
The elephant in the room is though hard to avoid – as the fact is, all these countries would have won even without the implementation of the professional juries. The winner of this year would have been the same and The Netherlands would still have been top 3. But the juries have had something to say for the overall results, and therefore, probably brought back some hope of doing better for some of those countries that had lost all hope, countries like Austria and Netherlands.
In a way, one can say that the introduction of professional juries is probably the reason why some countries chose to stay in the competition. Also, the introductions of juries was probably one of the reasons why Italy chose to return to the contest as well. So even though the juries as of today have become a question of “to keep or not to keep,” they have, for sure, helped countries with few neighbors and less diaspora bring some kind of hope and avoided them from pulling out totally.
West re-gaining ground…
By 2010, no one pretty much believed that a Big 4 country or a Western or Central European country could ever win the contest again before Germany did so. People were asking as who would vote for a country that’s always pre-qualified for the final? Or, who would be voting for Germany, or France, or UK, or Spain… or Austria, The Netherlands, Belgium or any of these friendless/neighborless countries who are lacking the diaspora votes as well.
People, especially Western Europeans, were blaming politics and Eastern European conspiracies for the poor results, and did not even consider that the only true fact might have been that the songs did not live up to the once upon quality standard they used to be. The German victory in 2010 caused all western European countries to regain hope of the possibility of being able to win again.
Now, don’t get me wrong – Norway already won the year before – but it has to be said that Norway won with a Belarusian-born singer, who spoke Russian fluently, who therefore felt very «at home» in Eastern Europe, and who was playing heavily on the folk sound – all elements VERY appealing to Eastern Europe. As well as the Norwegian song, «Fairytale», that year pretty much was a once-in-a-decade-catchy-type of song. Germany, though, a country with «no» friends or diaspora, won with a well-produced, but non-ethnic, but still pretty regular pop song – something which had not happened for many many years.
A Phoenix Rises
Austria’s win is even more exceptional than the wins of Norway, Germany, Sweden, or Denmark though. The previous time Austria won was as far back as in 1966. That’s an impressive gap of 48 years between the two victories – the second-longest run of no-wins measured in years, only beaten by Portugal, who debuted 50 years ago in 1964 – and whom are therefore unfortunately still awaiting their first victory ever. Austria has not even been top 5 since 1989, and have been top 10 overall only twice the past 15 years prior to 2014.
These statistics would have given reason for many countries to completely lose hope of ever winning the competition again. Austria withdrew in 2008 as a result of coming second last in the semifinals in 2007 and probably therefore as of losing the hope of ever doing well in the competition again. They chose do a comeback in 2011, after discovering that the introduction of the juries actually did have an impact on the overall results. For the first time since 2004 and the introduction of the semifinals, Austria actually managed to qualify for the finals in 2011. Despite failing to qualify again both in 2012 and 2013, they still chose to stay in the competition for the 2014 edition, and this time it was finally their turn to take home the victory. Therefore, the victory of Austria truly lives up to the theme of their 2014 winning song…
The same goes for The Netherlands, a country that’s been in the competition every year but have had a run of severe poor results – failing to qualify from the semifinals every year from 2005 to 2012 – that’s eight years – before finally qualifying in 2013, and again in 2014 – even scoring a second place overall. An amazing achievement for sure – not expected at all. Both Austria and The Netherlands have become the real proof to Eurovision that as long as you don’t give up, there is always hope.
Why Austria Won ESC 2014
The Austrian win came as a huge surprise to many as Austria was not even considered among the top 15 favorites to take the win by the betting companies before the live shows took place. Not even after the rehearsals had started many believed it – and even before the second semifinal was aired many were skeptical. It was only just after Austria had been revealed as the final country to qualify from the second semifinal people started to believe Austria could go all the way this year. Some foul voices claim though the Austrian victory was merely a result of the «gimmick», which Conchita Wurst had been described as, because of her choice to keep the beard.
The truth is that there was no massive pre-contest favorite this year – and it was said that anyone could really win this year – and we would probably be up for a surprise as well. People were even told to put money on the underdogs – so we were all in for a exciting year for sure. No one could have ever predicted Austria and The Netherlands coming first and second a month before the contest, two countries that have done extremely poor in recent years – but surprises would not have been surprises if they had not been unexpected.
Of course, some might have voted for Conchita Wurst because of the beard, but if a gimmick like this was enough to win Eurovision, why haven’t the previous drag acts won Eurovision then? To win Eurovision, a country needs to be represented with a somewhat decent song, a memorable stage performance and a likable performer – in terms of personality. Austria was represented by Conchita Wurst, a somewhat strange and unusual, but still a very beautiful «woman». She turned out to be a very likable performer who even went on to win the Marcel Bezençon Press Award, and award given by the press to the artist/performer they like the best, in other words, the artist with the best personality. This award is even decided just before the final takes place.
Onstage, Conchita Wurst looked stunning in an amazing dress which was perfect for both her image and the type of song that she was performing, The song was a James Bond-themeish ballad, a type of ballad we have never heard in Eurovision before, and very often nowadays, the winning song brings something that’s not been heard in the contest before. The lyrics of the song were also very good – and for anyone who could understand English, it was very easy to relate the lyrics to the performer singing them. In this way, the song therefore felt genuine. The visual performance with the amazing backdrop as well had a matter to say in the victory for sure. The moment when Conchita was given her «phoenix wings» of flames was pretty much amazing and just got stuck in memory, just like we all remember back in 2009 and the amazing backdrop for the Icelandic entry and the amazing dolphin diving into the clouds.
Some things JUST WORK! The most important feature was though Conchita’s vocals, which were spot on throughout the whole performance, and probably the absolute most impressive of the whole evening. All these elements make up a Eurovision winner and Austria was the only one to come up with this complete package this year. Conchita Wurst and Austria was therefore a very well-deserving winner.
…but did the right SONG win?
Austria presented a complete package, but still many are arguing if it was the actual right song that won. Especially as it seems like the runner up, the Dutch entry «Calm After the Storm», seems to do better on the European charts than what «Rise Like A Phoenix» does. I have to admit. «RLAP» was never a favorite song of mine. I did not even have it in my top 15 before the live shows of the contest. I do think though that Conchita Wurst performed her song in a spectacular way. Her performance was so good it kind of disguised the actual overall qualities of the song. I don’t think «Rise Like A Phoenix» will become a classic and remembered for decades in the same way as for example «Waterloo», «Halleluja», «Hold Me Now», «Love Shine A Light», or «Fairytale» and «Euphoria» will be. Eurovision is though about presenting a complete package on the night. You have one chance to impress all the viewers across Europe – and that’s what Conchita did.
The runner up song is though more of my liking. I though have to admit I was shocked to see even The Netherlands qualify for the final in the first place, as I had thought of their entry as being «too good for Eurovision». What I mean with this is that «Calm After the Storm» is such a proper song without ANY Eurovision-clichés and in total lack of immediate catchyness. I really did not expect it to make an impact at all, but I am very happy that I was proven wrong. The overall performance of this song was, just like Conchita’s performance, a very well-produced package. As a song I think it’s a greater chance «Calm After the Storm» will become the «classic» of this year’s Eurovision edition, but as Austria presented a way more memorable package on the night, they won, and that’s why The Netherlands had to settle with second place only. Still, «Calm After the Storm» seems to be winning the charts – which is great in its own way as it proves for other countries that it is even possible to make an international impact, even without having to win the contest.
It’s not about the politics, or….
The fact that Austria’s win have brought such a political spectacle in Europe, especially in Eastern Europe, just proves that Eurovision is well and alive – so anyone who ever doubted that Eurovision still is not able to make an impact have been proven wrong. Russian politicians are furious about the final results and they are now even suggesting a separate Eurovision-like contest for the Russian-speaking part of Europe. This would not even be an unlikely scenario either, as Turkey already withdrew from the contest in protest of the introduction of the professional juries, which resulted the country not to qualify for the final for the first time ever in 2011. Instead Turkey decided to make their own Eurovision-like contest called Turkvision.
The reason for the political spectacle this time around is of course caused by Conchita’s openess regarding her sexuality and her obvious breach with the typical gender-norms. There’s even been campaigns on Facebook of Russian men shaving off their beards in protest of Conchita’s win, as having a beard is now suddenly perceived as a «gay» thing. Highly-positioned people in the Balkans have even cast blame on Conchita for the massive floods the Balkans have experienced recently, and these claims come from «countries» that did not even take part in the contest this year. It’s even claimed that bearded ladies belong to the circus, which they did like 100 years ago, but the fact is that research has shown that at least 10% of North American women have a condition which make them have to shave on a regular basis. It would have been pretty hilarious if we were to put 10% of all North American women in circuses because of some facial hair, well that’s my opinion at least.
A winner which causes this much political debate is always a worthy winner, as it can only bring awareness to the table.
Universal support for Austria
Conchita and Austria received an average score of 8,06 points from all the countries taking part this year – which is the third highest average score after the introduction of the semifinals (the new Eurovision era). Only Norway 2009 (avg. score: 9,44) and Sweden 2012 (avg. score: 9,07) scored a higher average score in their respective years. If only televotes had been taken into consideration, the average score would have been even higher, as well as Austria would have received points from all the countries taking part. It was basically the juries that leveled the score a bit for Austria. Especially the juries in Eastern part of Europe, the countries where the political spectacle is at its most at the moment.
Regarding the televotes of the eastern European countries and the respective countries stand on questions regarding homosexuality, it doesn’t seem that the public agrees with the opinion of their respective authorities. Though, then again, one cannot really judge or determine a whole country’s popular opinion of a matter based on Eurovision televotes (I wish though). I’m sure the represented sample is by far not sufficient enough. Even though – the victory of a bearded woman has indeed raised questions in Eastern part of Europe – and hopefully this one victory can bring hope to those in this part of the world who are suffering from abuse, pain, and rejection just because of the simple fact that they fall in love with someone of their same gender.
ANYONE can win Eurovision!
This year’s result has proven in every way, more than ever, that ANY country can win the Eurovision Song Contest as long as they send a complete package. When Austria and The Netherlands, two countries with no diaspora or many neighbors, or so called «friends», are able to come first and second with televoters, then everything is possible. It has taken Portugal 47 entries and 50 years – but WILL they be able to do it on their 48th try? Or what about Spain, who’s not won for 45 years now? Or even Malta who made their debut in the contest 43 years ago? Or will The Netherlands next year finally take its long awaited sixth victory, 40 years after their previous one? As long as there is a complete package of song, artist, vocals, charm/charisma, something “innovative”, and presentation – then anyone can win for sure. So hopefully the usual blames of politics and conspiracies, bloc voting, and diaspora voting will find it’s demise with this year’s results, and instead every country would make a real effort by sending proper songs by proper capable performers instead. Nothing would make me happier, for sure.
Nothing political about gay…
The best thing of all are now the questions rising over the east at the moment, as all eyes are now turned towards Russia in this aftermath of the contest. Russia, the country of the notorious anti-gay laws forbidding the so-called exposure of «homosexual propaganda» toward minors. We all witnessed how horrible the winter Olympics degenerated, where Russian authorities and the IOC struck down on any attempt of someone giving their support to the gay liberation. The Russian anti-gay laws would actually forbid any gay-like act to take place in a live broadcast as it would be seen as a political statement and also as propaganda directed toward minors, but what would happen if Russia is ever to win the Eurovision Song Contest again? Thankfully unlike the IOC the EBU cannot refuse any country to choose a «gay-like» act to send to a contest held in, for example, Russia, as they cannot claim it is a political act. We all know EBU refuses political performances in Eurovision, but if the gay-like acts that took place in the 1986, 2002, 2007, and 2014 contests were not political, then a gay-like act in a future contest will not be considered a political act either. One thing is for sure: Many gay people love Eurovision, and no one is going to be able to take Eurovision away from us, as we are many, and we are everywhere.
Let’s march ahead and sing like the Russian Eurovision darlings t.A.T.u once did, and which the Russians even included in both their Eurovision broadcast back in 2009 and in the winter Olympics of this year: “(Nothing can stop this, not now, I love you.) They’re not gonna get us. They’re not gonna get us. They’re not gonna get us.”
I am actually starting to think there is a reason why Conchita Wurst kind of resembles Jesus Christ himself… or was it Kim Kardashian, oh who cares really. The only thing of matter is that Conchita seems to have risen above, proud and mighty, and saved Eurovision for all of us for many many more years to come.
Hooray hooray for Austria 2014 !!!!