Late winter, early spring across Europe and Saturday night audiences huddle up to watch their national broadcasters to choose their singer and song for Europe. From Sweden's six-week Melodifestivalen to Portugal's Festival da Cançāo, the song competitions in each of these countries are national, popular events. Except of course for a handful of countries and broadcasters.
This year, the Azerbaijani broadcaster İctimai Television once again opted for an internal selection procedure. As did the UK's BBC. Yes, we're as open in our song selection process as ex-Soviet Azerbaijan (for the record, placed at 160 out of 180 in the Press Freedom Index). To be fair to Azerbaijan, they've had a stonking record in Eurovision - top 5 in all but two years of entering. Sadly, we can't say the same - and the point remains that internal selection procedures have no place in a modern democratic country. Audience participation is so ingrained in our psyche that millions vote to pick which Z-list celebrity they want to eat kangaroo testicles. Should we not vote for a Song for Europe?
On Saturday night, the BBC revealed its choice of song and artist in a 5 minute programme available to watch on the Red Button. The entry is the 1920s-inspired electro swing "Still in Love with You", performed by the newly-formed Electro Velvet. Eurovision's parent - the European Broadcasting Union - does not get involved with national selections except to stipulate that the national selections should be "fair and transparent".
It goes without saying that the UK's process passes neither of these tests. So much so, that it's genuinely worth looking into whether it is possible to get some kind of judicial review into the process. As licence-fee payers, shouldn't we have a say in the artist and song that represents our country in an international competition? As consistently one of the highest-rated programes on television in the country in the whole year, shouldn't the lead-up programme be shown on a mainstream channel (rather than hidden behind the Red Button)? It's no excuse to say Eurovision's culturally irrelevant (can you name the winners of The Voice? Hum any of the records they have released? No, thought not). It's no excuse to say there is no budget (how much do we pay Tom Jones?!). It's no excuse to say there's no interest (see ratings).
Despite its detractors, Eurovision remains the single largest televised annual cultural event in the world. Whether or not we feel it is beneath us - there are 180million people watching what we choose to be representative of British music in 2015. Of course, the UK doesn't exactly need the soft power nor is it lacking in cultural power outside Eurovision; Ed Sheeran, Sam Smith and BBC News attest to that. But is this a good enough reason for the BBC to not care about Eurovision? Or more importantly, should the right to make that decision vest with a handful of television producers paid for out of the public purse?
Accountability, transparency, meritocracy, democracy, fairness - these concepts seem utterly lost on Guy Freeman and the BBC Eurovision team. You can imagine the meetings of this cabal of arbiters (oh they must be interminable) - "Downton's doing well across Europe; audiences love the Charleston on Strictly; this guy's done loads of jingles - and catchiness is what we want for Eurovision."
This year's UK entry has been quickly and decisively derided by the mainstream press and a significant majority of hardcore British fans. The song isn't terrible per se (and isn't the worst UK entry of late: Jemini and Daz Sampson probably share that dubious honour) - but the component parts are questionable. Lyrics such as "Don't go out in the pouring rain, You might get wet I'd be upset, You're bound to get sneezes or nasty diseases" are frankly, just dreadful. The song goes on to be alarmingly misogynist: "Because you're so gorgeous, you need to be cautious... you have a fun time... but don't drink too much wine, just one or two will have to do". Perhaps the lyrics are deliberately throwing back to the 1920s but considering they are being sung by a man to his female lover - and not a father to his daughter - they are certainly anachronistic. You almost expect the next verse to continue: "and if anything bad should happen to you, you've only yourself to blame". If I were the female singer, I'd reply, "Feck off, I'll do what I want - I'm a sensible, responsible adult with free will and independent means - stick your "love" up your arse you mysoginistic twit, I'm off." Personally, I think a song with those lyrics would be infinitely better.
As for the songwriters themselves - they've worked with Barry Manilow, The Shadows and Musical Youth and written the themetunes for BBC1's National Lottery and Euromillions shows. So that's nice and modern then. And not at all incestuous.
As for the (undoubted) catchiness - for anyone over 30, there is a strong resemblance to a mid-80s ad for a certain potato-based meal accompaniment.
None of this is the fault of the plucky singers Alex Larke and Bianca Nicholas - they are about to experience the most intense period of exposure, fun, craziness, criticism and intrusion that they will probably ever have in their lives. I hope they appreciate what they've let themselves in for.
Fraser Nelson of the Spectator and Telegraph (and plenty of others) have been petitioning for Eurovision to be taken out of the BBC's hands.
Frankly, with the disdain it's treated with by the Beeb and despite misgivings about a Cowell-isation of the whole thing, you can't help thinking that ITV might make it a bit more fun with a bit of production value. The home of world-class singer-songwriters and producers and the licence-fee paying British public certainly deserves more.Suggest a correction