I grew up part of a social world, which assessed your worth of inclusion by the clothes you wore, the music you listened to, your accomplishments and your hobbies. Although academic work was important, it was not indicative of your class status. A nicely elocuted recital of Keats or a charming rendition of The Trout Quintet, was more likely to get you a ticket to the ‘January party’, where the village elite gathered for a soiree of cultural appreciation, whilst the parochial council ‘networked’ over fine wine.
“Oh the cleaner’s left Radio 1 on again,” said Mum.
“What’s wrong with radio 1?” I asked.
“Well you know, it’s pop music dear,” said Mum. “I don’t much care for it. Radio 4 on the other hand, is food for the soul.”
It’s this attitude that I carried with me into young adulthood, as my bones grew alloyed with english decorum, my sharp middle class tongue dismissed pop music as a working class frippery. Eurovision, a celebration of bad pop music was seen as terribly amusing dear. And I wasn’t the only one. As Terry Wogan who hosted UK Eurovision for almost four decades, once defined it to nodding laughter from a British audience,
‘It’s supposed to be bad, and the worse it is the more fun it is. There is a group of people called the Eurovision song contest fan club – who are like anoraks* to a man – and they take it deeply seriously, and they have their own kiosk at all Eurovision song contests, there are thousands of them and they hate me with a passion.’
In Britain, Eurovision continues to be subtly patronised as a celebration of classless mediocrity… by foreigners. No one of any so-called standing could admit to thinking it had any worth, yet we all watched it and some of us loved it. It used to be my guilty pleasure, until I moved to Sweden and it became my unmitigated pleasure. Yes.
Here, liking Eurovision and pop music in general, is something to be proud of. And rightly so. Sweden is a veritable crucible for it’s finest cultural export – pop music. From ABBA to Neneh Cherry, The Cardigans, Basshunter, The Knife, Max Martin, RedOne, and many more.
For someone like me who grew up denying herself the pleasure of pop music, I feel finally free. Free to love the comforting regularity of rhythm, free to like the formulaic pattern which taps into our need for structure, beginning-middle-end (or rather intro, verse, pre-chorus, chorus, verse, chorus, middle eight/bridge, conclusion). As a writer who knows just how important structure is to a plot, and who happens to be going out with a pop songwriter, I have come to recognise the sheer skill and labour involved in writing it. There is nothing to look down on and everything to be proud of.
Since I arrived in Sweden four years ago, Sweden has won Eurovision twice and once been placed third.
“Isn’t it a bit of a joke?” I asked my Swedish boyfriend cautiously back in 2012 as we settled down every Saturday to watch 6 weeks worth of Eurovision pre-qualifiers.
“Sure. But it’s a joke we take seriously,” he said smiling.
The reason Sweden are so successful is that they are proud of what they like and proud of what they do. They like pop music. Their pride shines through, in their production, in the preparation they put in, in the show they put on. In the quality of their work. Compared to some choice opinions from various forums I found on the web from my British compatriots speaking about Eurovision,
‘In essence, it’s a music competition where the music isn’t important and any real talent wouldn’t been seen dead near.’
‘It’s always been a bit of a joke, and accordingly nobody with remotely serious ambitions as a recording artist has wanted to be associated with it.’
I’m proud of my British heritage for many reasons. Our desperation to socially climb through class distinction has created culture littered with great works, stunningly contortive etiquette and some amazingly complex questions like ‘who is allowed to eat that last biscuit? (Answer, no one. It has to stay on the plate as evidence of our superb ability to control our lusty desires). Britain is like a wonderfully complicated puzzle, and I love our quirks as much as I love our cooking (and will defend it to the death whilst threatening you with a large steak and ale pie). But it also frustrates the hell out of me.
Because any such struggle ‘others’. For music this means the ‘intelligent’, acceptable music and the music for the cleaner. In Sweden where class is much less of an issue, pop music has remained true to it’s original moniker. It’s music which is popular. It’s music which – as identified by the Eurovision campaign 2015 – builds bridges across culture. Eurovision is a good natured competition which like the Olympics, stands for human rights, inclusion and–this year–love. Hurrah.
I’d like Britain to be a part of that, I’d like Eurovision to become less of a guilty pleasure and more a resounding celebration of popular music for all countries. I’d like to see even more countries became involved in it (Australia please stay, you were great), for Eurovision to become a concept rather than a ‘club’ where certain member states are allowed to participate. I’d like Britain to be proud of being part of Eurovision; I wanted to be proud of her this Saturday but alas she chose instead to act according to our usual dismissive tradition and sent in a duet which as one Austrian commentator put it was a ‘three minute cry for help’.
It’s not that I didn’t have a fabulous time on Saturday cheering for my adopted country Sweden, for Måns, his song Heroes and his tight leathered magical trouser victory, just that I hope one day that I’ll be able to cheer for the UK, because for fuck’s sake, aren’t we also known for our iconic pop music? Isn’t our music just as finely tuned, and complex as our rules about when to add milk to the teacup? Isn’t it time that we moved past Terry Wogan’s forty year reign of racist bigotry and stood anoraks together? Come on Britain, give me something I can cheer at Eurovision. I’m fed up of us being the loser.
*anorak 1. British: A person obsessively interested in a thing or topic that doesn’t seem to warrant such attention. aka. geek, nerd, trainspotter.