The Eurovision Song Contest is the continent's favorite guilty pleasure. The televised singing competition has been happening annually since 1956. It predates "American Idol" and "The Voice" and has launched legendary acts such as ABBA and Celine Dion. In recent years the show gained a cult following for its blend of nostalgia and the cheese factor. It features outrageous costumes, sassy foreign accents and bubblegum pop that's so bad it's good.
But for a while now, Germany's performances have been scoring disastrously, and it's an outcome for Europe's biggest economy that's so embarrassing that national viewership has plummeted.
The 2017 edition held in the Ukrainian capital Kiev on Saturday was privy to Romanian yodelling, a streaker and Italian dancing gorillas. Yet it saw the German entry, sung by a 26-year-old from Bonn named Levina, finish second to last out of the 26 countries participating in the final, with just six points in the competition determined by public and jury votes. To put that into perspective, Portugal's Salvador Sobral won with a final score of 758.
Levina's barefoot performance, which has been criticized as sweet but too boring, is part of a major German losing streak in recent memory. Last year's contestant finished at the very bottom with 11 points, while 2015's faired even worse by not garnering a single point (or "nul points" as Eurovision fans would have it).
As a result, viewership in Germany struck a new low with an audience of just 7.76 million people, not even a tenth of the population. Around the world some 200 million people are estimated to tune into the contest, which is broadcast in 42 countries and has a surprising following in some far-flung countries, most notably Australia.
For Germany, the poor viewing was a far cry from 2011, one year after Germany won. In 2010, Hanover-born contestant Lena came out on top against 38 other countries with the catchy song Satellite. Over 14 million Germans tuned in again the following year when the show was hosted in Düsseldorf (the winning country always hosts the following year).
Germany has been unlucky with a few contestant controversies lately. Xavier Naidoo, a popular R&B singer, was pulled from last year's competition for homophobic and anti-Semitic past lyrics, defying Eurovision's message of unity amidst diversity. The year before that, German "The Voice" winner Andreas Kümmert received the nomination but later declined to compete.
Nonetheless, you could say that Germany's losses have still been its own fault. Residents actually vote for their own contestant in a pre-Eurovision national show, a change in recent years from when the public broadcaster ARD used to make the decision itself (in many other countries, the contestant is still chosen this way).
Germany is also known in Eurovision lingo as a "Big Four" country and along with France, Spain and the United Kingdom qualify automatically to the finals thanks to being the largest financial contributors to the European Broadcasting Union behind the event.
"Big Four" countries traditionally have a hard time winning: Germany's last triumph in 2010 was actually the first time an instant qualifier country has won since the rule was introduced in 2000. Germany's still arguably in a better position than the United Kingdom, which hasn't pulled off a win since 1997.
Germany's public broadcaster is now tasked with seeking out a new approach to talent going into 2018. If this year's winner, a poetically orchestrated ballad in a distinct triple time lilt, is any indication, it's that Eurovision is leaning more towards artistic direction and individuality.
Upon winning, Portugal's Mr. Sombral said it best: "I want to say that we live in a world of disposable music, fast food music without any content," he said. "Music is not fireworks, music is feeling."
Maybe next year Germany will take notice.
Barbara Woolsey writes for Handelsblatt Global in Berlin. Hans-Peter Siebenhaar is Handelsblatt’s Vienna correspondent specializing in media and telecommunications coverage. To contact the authors: [email protected], [email protected]