Australia has long had a reputation as a nation of cringers. Whether it’s the tyranny of distance brought on by our geographic isolation or just a basic sense of inferiority, we are constantly trying to boost our esteem by asserting ourselves on the international stage. When it comes to achievement in sport and the arts, local recognition is often not good enough and we constantly look to global success and recognition to bolster our ego and nationalistic pride.
Which all begs the question, how the hell did we end up in Eurovision 2022? The widely promoted story is that the super glitzy song contest has always attracted a large number of Australian fans, largely thanks to the local broadcaster SBS who have televised the event since 1983. As a reward for our devotion the good folks at Eurovision invited Jessica Mauboy to perform as a so called ‘interval act’ in 2014, upgraded to full blown participation the following year with Guy Sebastian. The current agreement, with some voting restrictions, extends to 2023 and all indications are that it’s likely to be extended.
There’s no question that Australian performers have done exceptionally well at Eurovision in their six appearances there but are we still perceived as interlopers? After all the intrinsic appeal of the contest has always been its Eurocentric nature with the political intrigue of the voting process and the sheer kitschiness of the songs and performers, for which certain European countries excel. Most of the Australian participants to date have come from the carefully manicured ‘Australian Idol’ mould, often supported by large corporate record companies. They might be good singers but they lack the flamboyant, over the top, shameless theatricality of their European counterparts.
I have spoken to a number of hardcore Australian Eurovision devotees and they simply hate the idea of any country outside of Europe being involved. They see SBS as bludgeoning the Australian public by orchestrating our involvement and long for the days when comedian Mary Coustas provided a tongue in cheek commentary as her character Effie. That was a time when an atrocious song was elevated to almost cult status, performances often bordered on the grotesque and you thrived on the absurdity of the event. Who wants to make it a serious deal – seems we do!
This Saturday SBS will throw a ton of money at a much hyped event from the Gold Coast, billed as ‘Eurovision – Australia Decides’ in which you will supposedly get to vote for your choice of Australia’s entrant in Eurovision 2022. There’s the usual list of suspects who always seem to surface in these talent shows, along with a number of number of hopeful newcomers. I assume the list of finalists was decided by a committee or some sorts, but where is the democracy there if it’s billed as ‘Australia Decides’?
Again I have surveyed local hardcore Eurovision fans and many of them are adverse to all the finalists who will battle it out on Saturday. They all look a bit too serious for me and I suspect a number of them will be singing the national anthem at a football final or major public event in the years to come. Where’s the death metal contingent for example – like the superb Finish band Lordi who romped away with Eurovision in 2006 with their witty Leonard Cohen tribute ‘Hard Rock Hallelujah’.
If we are to continue this cultural cringe, let’s do it with a bit of outrage and grunt. Scrap all the safe choices and throw it open to every unsung singer or garage band in this country, prepared to make a total fool (and tool) of themselves at this annual circus of the song. Disqualify all large record companies from nominating their artists and run community talent shows in every city and country town to find the ultimate winner.
There is of course one dark shadow that hangs over this year’s Eurovision and that’s the conflict between Russian and Ukraine. At the time of writing Russia has not invaded Ukraine but what if they do and what will the ramifications be for the event scheduled in May in Turin, Italy. It’s highly unlikely Russia and Belarus would compete and with a war raging, would it be an appropriate celebration for other European nations? Suddenly the kitsch element seems totally irrelevant!