Friday, 15 January 2010

Who wants an EU Grammy?

I’ve just been alerted via a press release to the existence of something called the “European Border Breaker Awards”, which is apparently an award show put on by the European Commission for European music acts that “cross borders”. It’s an interesting idea but taking a look at it , I think the way its structured is kind of silly. It seems to ignore a fairly obvious fact – if they were being honest about the awards, almost all of them would go to British acts.

Apparently this award show has been going since 2004, and previous winners include France’s Carla Bruni, Germany’s Tokio Hotel, Italy’s Tiziano Ferro and Benito Benasi, Sweden’s Basshunter and Britain’s The Ting Tings. This year’s awards took place last night in the Netherlands, hosted by the BBC’s Jools Holland.

Intrigued by the concept, I did a little basic esearch and found that the objective of the awards, sponsored by the Commission and the European Broadcasting Union, is to “highlight the success of 10 debuting European artists in selling albums and touring outside their home territory” to “stimulate the cross-border circulation of artists' works”.

It’s a cool idea, but it appears to ignore the awkward fact that the vast majority of songs that can claim to reach a truly pan-European saturation are in the English language, and the majority of those are from the US or the UK. The next runner-up would probably be Sweden, but only because so much of their pop music is sung in English (even that which is intended solely for a domestic audience). There are a few examples of artists having many hits across continental Europe in a non-English language – Tiziano Ferro is one of them. However Ferro is unknown in the British Isles, where foreign language pop hits are about as common as wild tigers. Across Europe, almost all the songs on the radio that are not in the native language are in English, and the vast majority of those are from the US or the UK.

Yet looking at the winners from the past 4 shows, UK awards seem to have been limited to one per year (with the exception of last year when they won two). In addition to the Ting Tings, past winners have included The Darkness, Katie Melua (who?), Corinne Bailey Rae, and the Fratellis. Seems to me a rather arbitrary list. How were these acts decided on? The best I can tell by the listed criteria is that perhaps they performed more on the continent than other British acts who maybe went to the US instead.

At the same time, French artists have won an award each year as well. Yet French artists are notoriously unwilling to do English-language versions of their albums, and I rarely hear French artists outside France, Belgium and Switzerland. (In fact I learned while living in France that the country has the bizarre tradition of redoing current English language pop songs in French, leaving people the impression that they are actually French songs. You can thank the French language requirements on radio for that!) The idea that France would have as many “border-crossing” artists as the UK is rather absurd. Unless the Belgian and Swiss borders count more than others!

I guess my point is that while I think this is a cool idea, it really needs to somehow acknowledge the reality that the vast majority of cross-border songs in Europe are in English, and any contest truly awarding the most “border-crossing” European artists would be awarded to mostly British acts. So perhaps they should institute a “one per country” limit, or remove English-speaking countries from the contest entirely. Right now it seems unclear exactly what they’re awarding here. I mean, I’ve never heard of most of these winners, and I pride myself on having a pretty continental taste in music.

That being said, I’ve never actually seen the show. Unfortunately, I see it’s not being aired anywhere in the UK (big shock that one). It is airing in Ireland, those good Europeans them. If anyone knows where I can watch this show online or can give me more information about it, I’d love to learn more.

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