Korea to compete in the Eurovision Song Contest next year?

Bright lights, beautiful people, campy songs, memorable dance moves: just a few things that K-pop and the annual globally-televised Eurovision Song Contest have in common. Despite the similarities, the idea that Korea could compete in a competition which is traditionally held in, clue’s in the title, Europe may seem a little crazy.

But no less crazy than Eurovision’s latest new contestant: Australia. Yes, Australia. That country on the opposite side of the opposite hemisphere to Europe. And although they are the furthest away, they’re far from being the only country outside of Europe in Eurovision. Unless Europe has suddenly been expanded to include large swathes of Central Asia – Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia and Israel all exist outside the continent’s border.

However the largest hint of the possibility of Korea joining Eurovision is that the organisers have said that they want to get Korea involved. In an interview with BBC Radio 4’s Media Show, the Director General of the European Broadcasting Union, the organisation that runs Eurovision, Ingrid Deltenre mentioned South Korea as a potential future contender. She said:

“We have here an event which is worth sharing with an even larger audience and we are very, very excited that Australia is now participating for the first time. I must say that Australia has a long tradition with the Eurovision. They’ve broadcasted and aired it for thirty years. There’s a big enthusiasm in Australia. But honestly, if you ask me, I would appreciate if maybe next year you would have Japan or Korea or any other country asking if they are allowed to participate.”

It’s a fairly non-committal and open-ended statement which hints at possibility but lacks intention. Her later response gives much more indication that they may be seeking to engage with East Asian countries:

It’s not only about Europe, it’s about bringing the world together. I think the world is becoming smaller and flatter as some people say. And again it would be great to have the Eurovision Song Contest that has its origin definitely in Europe. But bringing the world together? As Director General of this organisation, that is definitely an ambition I would have.

So if we take from this that the EBU definitely think Korea could participate in Eurovision, the question we’re left with is: Should Korea participate in Eurovision?

As a keen enthusiast of all thing K-pop and Eurovision, this makes my little fan heart sing but would it be a good move for the Korean entertainment industry?

As of yet Europe remains a mostly untapped market for K-pop beyond the three or four European tours that happen every year. There is potential here. Unlike Americans, with the exception of the mostly English-speaking UK and Ireland, Europeans are more used to listening to music in another language. There are also significant fanbases for other Asian music genres such as J-Rock in parts of Western Europe and K-pop has seen significant growth across the continent over the past few years.

On the other hand, we’re yet to see how Eurovision voters react to contestants outside of the EBU’s broadcasting zone. Luckily Guy Sebastian’s incredibly strong entry for Australia will be a good test for that.

The other hurdle for a Korean entry would be Eurovision’s race problem. Historically, European countries have often chosen candidates from ethnic and cultural minorities but they often underperform in the contest. An example of this is Norway’s 2011 entry Haba Haba by Stella Mwangi sung in both English and Swahili.

The song was very catchy and yet it couldn’t even gain enough support from the Eurovision juries to make it through to the final. (Since 2008, each country’s votes is based half on a jury made up of music and broadcast professionals and half on public vote.)  Although based purely on televoting it would have just scraped through. Likewise Jessy Matador’s earworm Allez Ola Ole just managed to get on to the top half of the scoreboard at 12th out of 24 but based on the jury vote he would only have come 20th.This indicates some level of institutional racial bias which could work against non-white people from non-European countries.

Whether racism at Eurovision will affect East Asian people representing East Asian countries is as of yet unknown but it’s a serious concern to bear in mind. Swedes, a people with some of the most progressive attitudes in Europe, didn’t respond in favour of Dolly Style’s supposedly J-pop/K-pop style bid to represent their country.

But, then again, it was terrible.

The most important deciding factor in whether Korea joins Eurovision will undoubtedly be whether it is an effective enough vehicle for the government to advance its soft power agenda. If the contest is seen to be an effective way to further the spread of Hallyu in the west, no doubt one of the major Korean broadcasters, most like KBS or MBC given their government funding, will want to get involved.

Unfortunately this is something that is almost impossible to judge before making an entry. Eurovision could light a fire in the hearts of a million new K-pop fans across Europe and Central Asia or it could make Korean music a laughing stock. Worst of all, it could do nothing.

It depends on the song. It also depends on the act and many of K-pop’s biggest groups would be disqualified due to the maximum of six people allowed on stage. More would be ruled out by the fact all vocals must be performed live on stage.

Of course they might do well not to choose a group at all. They could instead go for a more conventionally Europe-friendly route, as Australia has done with Guy Sebastian, and choose a soloist with a powerhouse vocal and massive stage presence.

Perhaps one who speaks English so they can fully engage with the European press?

Perhaps Ailee?

We’ll just have to wait and see.

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