WATCH EUROVISION AND ALL YOUR DREAMS WILL COME TRUE
The Eurovision Song Contest—a competition that’s part American Idol, part Olympic opening ceremony, part nothing you’ve ever seen before—began in 1956 but started breaking through to the American pop culture consciousness in the 2010s, and became accessible to a wider audience when Logo carried the Grand Final (the main event) live in 2016. It’s back on Logo this weekend (you might have seen the commercials during Drag Race!), with Michelle Visage and Ross Mathews doing commentary for the American audience.
To the uninitiated or Eurovision-skeptical, let me explain why you should fully embrace this important annual tradition.
1. The *spectacle*
Let me tell you, this World Cup of Euro Pop has some high production values and a sensibility all its own. 26 countries make the Grand Final each year, and it’s like watching one song pulled at random from 26 musicals whose caliber ranges from Broadway to summer stock. Over the course of two hours, we’ll see ballads about genocide performed right after Eastern European EDM. It’s confusing and exhilarating and I don’t envy European viewers who have to judge them against each other.
The 2014 winner, a bearded Austrian drag queen named Conchita Wurst, singing a wannabe Bond theme called “Rise Like A Phoenix” with ample pyrotechnics neatly captures the Eurovision aesthetic.
This Finnish heavy metal band won in 2006.
These Russian babushkas came in 2nd (!) in 2012 with a song called “Party for Everybody.”
2. Greater cultural and diplomatic understanding
Eurovision was created by a coalition of national broadcasters about a decade after the end of World War II, and it serves as a tiny, imperfect but interesting reflection of Europe’s evolution. Only seven countries participated in the first contest, but the roster gradually built up, with a huge influx of first-time participants in the 1990s following the end of the Cold War. Current participants even include countries that have close cultural ties to Europe but are definitely not part of the continent, like Australia and Israel.
The voting can often be revealing. Each of the 40+ participating countries has a jury that awards points to their top ten entries and the televoting public does the same. They’ve changed this in recent years, adding the entire televote total at the end, to make the reveal more suspenseful. To get the juries’ votes, the hosts go live to a representative in each of the voting countries—a great opportunity to learn your world capitals—and there are always awkward jokes or technical difficulties. You can see—especially in the jury votes—where traditional cultural and political alliances lie. The Scandinavian countries always rate each other high, as do the Baltics, the Balkans, etc. The U.K. insists their horrible 21st century performance is backlash for their support for the Iraq War.
You can also get a sense of the economic situation in certain countries, who want to participate but definitely don’t want to win. The winning country hosts the following year’s contest and it is EXPENSIVE.
This was Greece’s 2013 entry, “Alcohol is Free.” Likely intended as a sabotage entry, it ended up in 6th place, because DUH.
3. Timely political DRAMA
Building upon the aforementioned long-standing alliances and long-simmering tensions, current political events are present in a BIG way and this year is particularly messy. Ukraine won last year’s contest, despite Russia’s entry winning the televote [insert electoral college joke here], with a song about the deportation of Crimean Tatars under Stalin. That mean’s this year’s contest is in Kiev and Ukrainian authorities have barred Russia’s entry, Yulia Samoylova, from entering the country because she performed in Crimea in violation of Ukrainian law after Russia annexed the region. Russia refused proposed compromises and is boycotting and there have been lots of HOT TAKES about this violation of the sanctity of Eurovision.
The U.K. supposedly has a real contender this year, but it’s unclear how juries and the public will respond in light of Brexit. Or how they’ll treat France, who just saved the EU!
In 2014, the audience viciously BOOED these teenage Russian twins doing weird hair choreography over Russia’s anti-gay propaganda law.
4. Day drinking!
Eurovision begins at 8pm in most of Europe, which means it’s the afternoon over here in the States. The contestants get drunk in the giant green room after they perform, and so should you. There are endless possibilities for drinking games and country-inspired cocktails. If you were looking for an excuse to drink Absinthe in the middle of a spring day, here it is!
At last year’s Eurovision watch party, I made little flag cards for each country and we each drew a few out of a hat. I don’t remember our specific drinking rules, but I do remember that I was more invested in Azerbaijan than in years past. Also that I drew THE STATE FLAG OF GEORGIA instead of Georgia-the-country’s flag. Oops.
5. The occasional legit banger
Many Eurovision songs are not traditionally *good,* or don’t stand up on their own outside the context of Eurovision, without the staging and pageantry. I have listened to Ukraine’s winning song from last year exactly zero times since the broadcast. However, every year there are a few that make their way onto my roommate’s* epic playlists and every now and then there’s a real gem. 2012 winner “Euphoria,” by Sweden’s Loreen, is fantastic pop single, ABBA (!) won in 1974 with “Waterloo,” and Gina G first performed classic 90s club hit “Ooh Ahh...Just A Little Bit” at Eurovision wearing a dress Cher rejected.
*He’s a playlist-curating artist and I can’t even manage to regularly update iTunes.
This is just a surface dive into the deep, glorious history of the Eurovision Song Contest, but hopefully I’ve piqued your interest. Grab some friends, raise a glass, and enjoy this weird and wonderful ritual from halfway across the world.
Eurovision airs on Logo this Saturday, May 13 at 2pm CDT.