On Saturday, SBS asked TV viewers to decide who would represent Australia at the upcoming Eurovision Song Contest. Kate Miller-Heidke won the race, but it may be just the beginning for South Australia’s Electric Fields.
On its surface, the decision to open up the Eurovision selection process was a transparently commercial move; SBS would get its own Idol-esque publicly voted singing contest while also devoting weeks of promotion and national media coverage to its broadcast of the main event later in the year.
But it also served to highlight a few different visions of modern Australia to present to the world. There was OG Australian Idol contestant, RuPaul’s Drag Race queen and UK Celebrity Big Brother winner Courtney Act. There were no less than two survivors of late-90s Australian pop in Bachelor Girl’s Tania Doko and Killing Heidi’s Ella Hooper. There was a kid called Ayden, who at just 18 has now appeared in four different reality TV talent search franchises.
Then there’s Sheppard, a sibling pop group whose middle of the road, ad sync-ready sound and alleged familial ties to offshore detention (the group’s father, manager and initial bankroller was Director of Wilson Protective Services, a controversial security subcontractor on Manus Island) would make them an appropriate choice to represent Scott Morrison’s Australia.
As a proudly queer and multicultural duo, Zaachariaha Lowah Fielding and Michael Ross offered a compelling alternative. Their song, 2000 and Whatever also looked to be a perfect choice for Eurovision, from its pulsating electronic beat and big, pitch shifting pop chorus to its theme of millennial empowerment. It would also be the only entry to include lyrics in an Indigenous language, in this case Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara.
Miller-Heidke however, was a tough performer to beat. With an operatic chorus and uplifting message, her entry Zero Gravity in many ways marks the culmination of the singer’s pop-meets-classical career. She also proved a savvy competitor, stumping up for a giant stilt-dress hybrid, a piece of gimmicky staging perfect for Eurovision, the Olympics of gimmicky staging.
Nevertheless, the duo polled exceedingly well, snaring second place with 114 points to Miller-Heidke’s 135 despite lacking the existing celebrity that others benefited from. For a group still building a national profile such a platform is invaluable, winning praise from influential music industry tastemakers and Swedish Twitter alike.
Electric Fields all the way!
— Zan Rowe (@zanrowe) February 9, 2019
— Bridget Hustwaite (@BHustwaite) February 9, 2019
I’m so excited that everyone gets so witness Electric Fields they’re so amazing :’’’) #AusDecides
— Sally Rugg (@sallyrugg) February 9, 2019
— Джен ✨ (@jenxesc) February 9, 2019
Losing the competition may have prevented them from reaching an international audience on the Eurovision stage, but it also spares the pair from confronting the inevitably difficult questions posed by the 2019 contest’s location in Tel Aviv, Israel. As protests at the weekend proved, the unifying value of Eurovision remains slightly undercut by the controversy of this year’s host nation. While artists like Nick Cave have been able to wave away the concerns of the BDS movement, questions of solidarity would inevitably have followed their appearance and final placement in the competition.
Come May, Miller-Heidke will have the chance to test whether her ambitious staging, acrobatic vocals and Fifth Element influences will have the same impact in front of a European audience that has presumably heard of Kate Bush.
Electric Fields might not represent Australia in Eurovision, but they may benefit the most from the weekend.
Amy Pysden / Ninti Media