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UK viewers torn on glam Eurovision

Associated Press Associated Press 13/05/2016 Jill Lawless

Britons are about to vote in a poll that cuts to the heart of their country's conflicted relationship with Europe.

The issue is not the UK's membership in the European Union - subject of a June 23 referendum - but this week's Eurovision Song Contest, an annual celebration of bling, baubles and bubblegum pop that pits nation against nation for the continent's musical crown.

Saturday's grand final - which follows a semi-final on Thursday - is likely to be watched by almost 200 million viewers across Europe, but in pop as in politics, Britain stands apart.

UK viewers will tune in, too - but with sarcastic commentary, guilty pleasure at all the cheesy Euro-pop, and the suspicion Britain is not going to emerge on top.

John Kennedy O'Connor, author of the competition's official history, said many Britons regard Eurovision "as kitsch, camp, a bad show for novelty songs," while other countries are more willing to give praise.

"It's not that they take it deathly seriously," he said.

"It's that they have an eye for what is ridiculous and a respect for what is good."

First staged in 1956, Eurovision helped launch the careers of ABBA - 1974 winners with Waterloo - and Canadian chanteuse Celine Dion, who won under a Swiss flag in 1988.

Britain is a five-time Eurovision champion, and in the 1960s sent big names including Lulu and Cliff Richard to fly the Union Jack.

But the UK has not won the contest since 1997, when Love Shine a Light by Katrina and the Waves took the prize.

In recent years, Britain has tended to languish in the bottom half of the rankings - and many in the UK blame politics for their poor showing.

This year's UK entry is Joe and Jake, two likable but untested lads who teamed up after appearing on The Voice, a TV talent show.

Few expect them to triumph over slick performers including French singer Amir and Russian former boyband star Sergey Lazarev. The Russian is bookies' favourite to win with You Are the Only One, a pulsing techno-anthem staged with dazzling visual effects.

For all their grumbling, few Britons want to drop out of Eurovision, whose BBC broadcast attracts more than eight million viewers.

Prime Minister David Cameron was even asked in the House of Commons whether a vote to leave the EU would imperil membership in the contest, whose participants include countries outside the 28-nation EU - and even outside Europe.

"Given that Israel and Azerbaijan and anyone anywhere near Europe seems to be able to enter - and Australia - then I think we're pretty safe from that one," Cameron said.

But O'Connor said another defeat could reinforce Britain's sense of drifting apart from the rest of Europe - just as Eurovision is setting its sights even wider. This year's final will be broadcast in the US for the first time, on Viacom's Logo! network, and will feature a half-time performance from Justin Timberlake.

"My fear is on Saturday night when the UK gets another kicking, it's going to be 'You see? Everyone in Europe hates us,"' O'Connor said.

"We hear that every year. They don't ever say, 'Actually, you know what? We sent another rotten song."'

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