- Georg Gauger
Germany: 0 Points
Ground fog, ballads, fire, folklore, often ridiculed, yet unsurpassed: The Eurovision Song Contest. Why Germany often does so poorly at the ESC and why it is perhaps exactly what we need in Europe right now.
"Apart from sports, Eurovision is the biggest TV show in the world," says Peter Stettmann, who wants to bring the ESC to the American market. Once a year, the continent comes together to celebrate its singers and songwriters. It's a competition in which countries compete against each other, but the fans can't vote for their own country at the decisive moment. Music connects cultures and people. The ESC celebrates diversity and builds bridges.
The Eurovision Song Contest is an irony-free space. Those who represent their country take their own music seriously, whether circling in the air on a pole like a feather duster (AUS, Kate Miller-Heidke - "Zero Gravity", 2019, 9th place) or singing in a made-up language (BE, Urban Trad - "Sanomi", 2003, 2nd place: NEL, Treble - "Amanbanda", 2006, semi-final 20th place). And the diversity of the music surprises every year. At the ESC there is room for all artists and every genre. The group of Russian grandmothers singing in Udmurt and English (RU, Buranovskiye Babushki - "Party For Everybody", 2012, 2nd place) stands next to the Finnish hard rock band (FIN, Lordi - "Hard Rock Hallelujah", 2006, 1st place) and the Romanian opera singer (ROU, Cezar - "It's my life", 2013, 13th place). Eurovision shows how diverse Europe's culture is and this excites the international audience. No national event could manage anything remotely similar on its own.
Not only the genres are diverse. "The gay Olympics" is what Dr Catherine Baker called the ESC in an article in the European Journal of International Relations. And this has a reason.. Those who compete in the ESC do not have to conform to social norms. "In a mix of so many cultures, an environment is automatically created where it is accepted to be a little different, where differences don't matter," Sietse Bakker, event producer of the ESC, told FRANCE 24 in an interview.
But what makes a good Eurovision entry? "It has to motivate people to pick up the phone and call for the song," says Nando (@nando_aze1), who writes about the ESC and gaming on Twitter. The whole package has to be right: "If the song manages to build up a certain emotionality, if people can connect something to it or if the song is particularly funny and, this is very important, authentic". With that, Nando hits a sore spot: authenticity. Last year, Germany came second to last and "S!sters" was the only entry not to receive points from the audience in any country for "Sister". Ironically, this begins with "I'm tired, Tired of always losing". But is that really surprising? Two former "The Voice of Germany" contestants who were cast for a song duet that was actually written as a contribution for Switzerland, which is then called almost exactly like the duo itself. Could it be any less authentic?
"There are a lot of good entries every year, but many neglect that something also has to happen on stage," says Nando. He only decides on his favourites after he has seen the first stage rehearsals. And anyone who has seen Eurovision knows the big, imposing stage that needs to be filled with a show. Nando criticises the NDR and the creative team responsible for the German contribution: "It often looks as if elements from the former 'Wetten, dass...' stage are combined. But this is not a normal studio stage, it’s the ESC stage!
Michael Schulte recently showed that the German artistic landscape is definitely ESC-competitive with "You Let Me Walk Alone". This reached 4th place in 2018 with the self-written ballad about the death of his father.
But Nando also criticises NDR's arrogance in selling its own entry as the clear winner every year. "Germany can afford to risk more," he says in reference to the fact that Germany, as part of the Big 5, has a secure place in the final, "especially after last year's fail, that would be appropriate for once."
For 65 years, the ESC has brought countries together that are often not that close. At least for one evening. Nando also sees it that way: "Music is a common denominator that puts politics in the background".
What to do at a time where Europe is falling apart, when nationalists are on the rise across Europe, when human rights are being trampled underfoot? Is a TV show the solution? Certainly not. The ESC doesn't take refugees out of camps, doesn't provide humanitarian aid and doesn't make right-wing extremists disappear from Europe's parliaments. But for one evening it does not give them a stage and for this evening it brings openness and diversity into the programmes that are otherwise not (or no longer) broadcast there.
ABBA's Björn Ulvaeus sums it up: "For me the Eurovision Song Contest is a powerful symbol and I would say, even a weapon in the fight against the dark forces that want to drag us back to the middle ages again. It is the one show where people feel connected."
This year the ESC will not take place, at least not as planned. The EBU has announced the replacement show "Europe Shine a Light". On the original broadcast date, the EBU is now no longer alone: Stefan Raab has proclaimed the "Free European Song Contest".