I’ve often wondered what I would wear if I were to end up performing on the Eurovision stage. Recent daydreaming about the subject ended with a vision of myself wearing a black leather jacket; white shirt, unbuttoned at the top; black jeans, rolled up at the bottom; and a customised, glittery pair of Dr. Martens 1461 Oxford Shoes. Nothing outlandish or extraordinary. I think I’d look great, others might agree while others might disagree. The only certainty would be that my outfit would be subject to an infamous Eurovision fan vote.
The newly-established You’re A Vision Award has been created out of the ashes of the Barbara Dex Award after the latter was rightly cancelled due to being horrendously outdated and mean. But that doesn’t mean the new You’re A Vision Award will change the culture of the old Barbara Dex Award.
Barbara Dex Award
The Barbara Dex Award was created by Dutch Eurovision fansite House of Eurovision 25 years ago. Named after Belgian singer Barbara Dex who represented her country at the contest in 1993 wearing a homemade translucent dress, the winner of the award was decided by volunteers at the fansite and given to whom they thought was the worst dressed participant at each contest. In 1999 the right to decide the winner was given to the public through an online vote.
The organisation of the award has been the responsibility of songfestival.be since 2017. This fansite set about an embarrassingly unsuccessful and aggressively under-the-radar rebrand of the accolade’s criteria in 2019. It decided that the winner should be the performer who wore the most notable outfit and in 2021 it changed the criteria again so that the winner would be awarded on the basis of wearing the most striking outfit.
No matter the criteria, uttering Barbara Dex’s name will throw up long-held negative connotations attached to previous winners of the award, irrespective of whether you think their outfits were bad or not.
In 2021 the award was given to Tix, a man with a history of mental health conditions and a well-publicised episode of being on the verge of suicide. His outfit contained his trademark Round Metal Ray-Ban sunglasses which he uses to hide involuntary tics synonymous with his Tourettes syndrome. To me it’s insensitive, toxic and bordering on bullying to place the Barbara Dex tag on anyone – let alone Tix – and subject them to undue ridicule for their choice of outfit.
The Eurovision Song Contest’s website describes the values of the competition as “universality and inclusivity”. It’s impossible to argue that the Barbara Dex Award fell under the definition of either of those two values.
What’s new in 2022?
After years of discomfort around the topic, songfestival.be cancelled the organisation of the Barbara Dex Award in favour of a new competition, the You’re A Vision Award. It will be handed out to the act which is voted to have the most remarkable outfit at the contest in Turin.
Songestival.be claims that “the clever pun in the You’re A Vision Award name leaves no room for negative interpretations” but I don’t agree. At best, most remarkable is a subjective piece of terminology. What defines this criteria anyway? Memorable? Impressive? Ugly? Extravagant? Colour clashing? The problem here is that it can’t be nailed down. Whoever wins the You’re A Vision Award this year will be subject to questions about whether people liked their outfit or not. Why aren’t we simply celebrating the best dressed artist?
The new jovial name of the award also devalues the whole concept. The award’s creators are trying to celebrate fashion but a more serious name might have gone further to add credibility to it.
Outfits should be celebrated
Eurovision is no longer a competition all about songs; visuals on stage play a heavily weighted part in an act’s overall package so outfits should be celebrated for being an integral part of the contest. Finding the right way to do that seems to have been difficult and it’s genuinely difficult to see why.
Christer Björkman’s Marcel Bezençon Awards celebrate other facets of Eurovision. The Composer Award, the Press Award and the Artistic Award congratulate different aspects of the competition and not in a crass, dubious way. The awards are genuine and sought after. Why a similar award celebrating the best dressed competitor hasn’t been created by now is beyond me.
The winner of the 2022 You’re A Vision Award may well be celebrated by some but there will continue to be a hangover from the award’s past and that is simply not fair on the eventual winner.
Quite simply, this new award should be cancelled before it even starts.
The lingering, outdated culture of casting votes on the Eurovision participants’ outfits under subjective criteria can’t be changed. I just hope the next time a pair of glittery Docs grace the Eurovision stage, the shoes’ owner isn’t subject to an irrelevant, outdated and mean spirited vote to find out if they’re the worst dressed. Sorry, most remarkably dressed.