Eurovision: Emmelie De Forest wins, Zlata Ognevich speaks about experience

Jérémy Bichon, translated by Laura-Lise Reymond
25 Mai 2013

The 58th Eurovision has just concluded with the victory of Danish star Emmelie De Forest. Le Journal International met with the Ukrainian candidate, who came in third, giving us her views on this multicultural singing competition.

Zlata Ognevich third in the 2013 Eurovision contest, for Ukraine
Zlata Ognevich third in the 2013 Eurovision contest, for Ukraine
Do you know the name of at least one Eurovision champion, now 50 years in the running ? These one-night stars, previously unknown, but famous in their country, are in the spotlight for three hours. 
Le Journal International had the pleasure to hear the opinions of Zlata Ognevich, Ukrainian singer who arrived third in the contest. We also spoke with our colleagues from, who were in Malmö, through Franck Thomas.

A federative music

The competition is attractive: 43 candidates battling for 25 places for the finale. The « Big five » (Germany, France, Italy, Spain, and United Kingdom), or the main contributors, always have a spot each in the finale. To this list, we add Sweden who won in 2012 and hosted the show this year.

Eurovision is the only European show to gather such a number of singers from all over the « continent ». It is one of the most watched events in the world. The Europe of Eurovision holds a geographic definition (if such exists), without forgetting the presence of Israel or Turkey, also contestants throughout the years.
The contest tends to reinforce European multiculturalism. The magic of this musical celebration lies in the journey it offers, through unknown traditional universes, as traditional Armenian chants, Albanian rock, or also
Turkish rap or German electro.

The contest is also a well-known launchpad for many up-and-coming singers. Luxembourg decided in 1965 to give its representation to a French singer, France Gall, who won with her famous song Poupée de cire poupée de son. In 1974, Sweden presented to Europe the then-unknown group, ABBA, who rose quickly to fame. The song Waterloo was soon very successful and the group became the icon of the Eurovision victory. Switzerland in 1988 endorsed young Canadian Céline Dion, whose victory led to an international success.

A national enthusiasm

Franck Thomas from  agrees on the passion that comes from Eurovision in the Scandinavian and East European countries: “the passion sparked  by Eurovision has different origins for each country. For the Scandinavian countries, and more generally Germanic ones, Eurovision is appreciated as a family entertainment. We come to the show with wife and kids. In the Eastern countries, Eurovision is more seen from a political point of view. It is seen as a showcase. It is a way to spread the word about your country, barely mediatized in the West. They don’t understand why they can’t vote for themselves”.

For Zlata Ognevich, “Eurovision is very big in Ukraine and for every artist it is an honor to represent the country in the competition. I have been asked many times by my fans in Ukraine and by the media when I would eventually go to Eurovision. And I decided to take the third chance which was the lucky one. Of course, for every artist Eurovision gives a wonderful exposure. It’s my job to use this chance.” In Ukraine and in numerous countries, the choice of the candidate is made through a national contest, with public votes.

In regards to the contest’s five biggest contributors being automatically qualified to the finale, Zlata answers frankly: “These rules have been working fine for the last many years and I do not see a problem in having the big five straight in the Final”. Without their financial support, the contest could not exist. These countries, which have been in the competition for a few years, are grateful to the contest’s founders.

English, a universal language

At the start, the Eurovision rules were clear about the choice of the language of the song. In 1966, it was imposed to the candidate to sing in one of his or her national language(s). Since 1999, the choice has been free. Unfortunately, this new rule made Eurovision the contest of mainly English songs. This evolution allowed the Scandinavian countries to win the contest. They believed that their native language were not suited to the songs.

When we talk about the anglicization of the contest, Franck Thomas establishes a simple fact: “Eurovision is not a contest of folkloric songs, but of popular, that is to say tailored to public satisfaction. The Eurovision never pretended to bring folklore to the stage but open its doors to songs that we would hear on the radio, for instance. The style of the songs could be influenced by the culture of the country represented, it is also preferable. The countries do not try the hard way to be qualified for the final and if possible to have a good position in the rankings. The freedom of the language was put in place in 1999, because Ireland had won a lot in the 90s [4 victories in 5 years], this country was of course an English-speaking one. In order to establish balance between the countries, we allowed different participants to elect their song’s language. Each year, several countries present their song in their national language, so they did not really disappear from Eurovision”.

Zlata explains her choice for English instead of Ukrainian: “The original version of the song was written in the imaginary language Nakatonka which I created myself. But for the performance we had to write the lyrics in English according to the rules of the contest. Yes, the lyrics could have been written in Ukrainian as well but I wanted a wider audience understand the message of the song (…) Gravity doesn’t belong to any specific culture and stands above any particular culture. The backing vocalists add the folklore notes to the musical composition and the magic sound of the song. I think this is what makes the song stand out (…). I hope after the Eurovision Gravity will invade the “big five” markets as well. Right now I am happy that many people like the song.”

Finance at stake

Each participant plays his or her cultural future. The Eastern European countries, big winners for about 10 years, seized the opportunity given by the media coverage of this contest to make it a springboard for tourism. The host country has the hard task to welcome all of the other countries and the audience, like for the Olympic Games or football tournaments. Dozens of millions of euros will be spent.

This year, Sweden, an avid follower of the Eurovision, spent the smallest budget in history with just 20 million dollars. Franck Thomas justifies this decision: “in fact, it is specifically the Swedish television which decided the reduction of the budget but it’s been a trend wanted by the EBU (European Broadcasting Union) since last year. In 2012, the Azeri television and the local government wanted to have a big organization. In Sweden, they did not wish to stay on the same budget, so the demands from the EBU were respected. The live stage is as large and amazing as the other years, the room is certainly smaller, but the television production is as spectacular”.

The longevity of Eurovision is at stake with the economic crisis; several countries were automatically unable to host the event. The financial model has to evolve, for example having to build a unique venue each year. It would stop the changing of host countries, which would lower tourism in European countries. Qatar or Russia could be a financial solution to this problem.

A lot of countries had to give up the idea of participating in this event for fear that they could not pay the cost to send a delegation, but above all the risk of winning (and host the show next year). Thus, Bosnia, Poland, Portugal, and Slovakia skipped out this year.

Franck Thomas defines quite simply the current financing: “the information on the participation rights are not published, so we don’t have access to them. However, what we know is that each country pays a right to participate and broadcasting fees [the last one is compulsory]. These rights are calculated by the EBU. This calculation includes several criteria, including the wealth of the country and the number of the potential audience. Following this calculation, the five countries which pay the most (Germany, Spain, France, Italy, and United Kingdom) are considered as the “Big 5” and are qualified automatically to the finale. And this to guaranty a minimum income for the organization of the Eurovision”.

Franck does not agree with the setting up of mutual assistance: “many televisions have already to chase down  sponsors to pay their participation (cost of the song selection, plus the fees to participate, and also the trip and the journey of the delegation, and the marketing expenses around the song etc.), if they also have to pay a part of the other countries’ fees, it can’t work. About the cancellation this year, we cannot forget that we are in a crisis period in Europe and several governments reduced their national television’s budget. For the cancellation of Turkey, it is not linked to financial motives, but the Turkish television wants a change in the rules about the votes and the abolition of the Big Five”.
Thanks to her victory, Zlata is optimist about her country's financial capacity  to become host: “I am pretty sure about [the capacity for Ukraine to host] it. Last year, Ukraine successfully hosted the Euros and this year we are hosting the Junior Eurovision [created in 2003, the host countries are elected after a bid, the country offering the most wins the privilege to host this contest]. In 2005 we have already hosted the show and the NTU has a great experience in organizing the show, the NNTU (National Television Company of Ukraine) organized well the contest. » 
Ignored in the West, coveted in the East, the Eurovision represents European multiculturalism in the world of media. Have the Olympic Games of Ancient Greece found their heir?