The Eurovision Song Contest began in 1956, when seven European countries competed in Switzerland to find the best original song composition. Positioned as a light entertainment event, Eurovision has since morphed into a nightmare techno bloodbath juggernaut. Tomorrow, 26 of the 43 participating countries will perform their original songs to be judged by every European with a working phone.
In Eurovision, every country in the European Broadcasting Union must compete in a two day semi-final once they decide on the song to represent their country, except for Italy, France, Germany, Spain and the United Kingdom, who automatically qualify for the finals. In both the semi finals and the finals, each country’s residents vote by calling or texting a particular number, and they aren’t allowed to vote for their own country. This year’s semi final has lead to some sad losses, especially Montenegro’s Slavko Kalezic and his floor length braid:
You see, Eurovision isn’t exactly about “good,” music, although plenty of great compositions make it through, and even win. But generally speaking, Eurovision is about the over-the-top, tacky and flamboyant songs, often accompanied by overwrought staging and glitter bombs. Last year was the first year that United States broadcast the contest, and the network that picked it up was Logo, which will also be airing it this year. It’s that kind of show. This year’s host country, Ukraine, had previously won with Ruslana’s song “Wild Dancing,” in 2004 which she performed in a fur bikini surrounded by beefcakes in leather pants and CGI flames.
While Eurovision purports to be apolitical, this year’s contest has also garnered some controversy. The winner from the previous year hosts the next year’s contest, and last year Ukraine’s contestant Jamala won with her song “1944.” The song was about the deportation of Crimean Tatars by the Soviet Union. Russia also participates in Eurovision, and they did not love this song. They had also just annexed Crimea, which Ukraine did not love either. This year’s contestant from Russia had performed in Crimea without procuring a visa, which is a violation of Ukrainian law, and she won’t be allowed in the country. Russia has since pulled out of the contest.
Like all the best pop culture monstrosities, Eurovision is the blend of the absolute naff and deeply political. While everyone is singing about wanting you tonight or bland messages of unity, the base level of nationalism on display is vicious. Of course, this is the perspective of an outsider. The United States doesn’t have any kind of similar contest, so part of the appeal for us the novelty (and learning a little bit about European countries and their pop music). To get some perspective on what it’s like to live in a country that does participate, I asked Kotaku’s Luke Plunkett.
“I’m probably the least qualified person to talk about what it’s like to be in Eurovision, since Australia’s entrance into the competition has been so late (we only started in 2015), but whatever, I’m all we’ve got,” he said. “It’s weird! Growing up, Eurovision felt like something alien, a parallel comic book universe where pop music was broken, but also beautiful. Now that we’re part of it, I don’t think that’s changed; if anything it’s just increased media coverage of the shows, especially the ‘playoffs’ that people normally overlooked. I just wished we’d stop sending actual talented artists and started sending the weird shit.”
To wit, Australia’s entry this year is a total bop, but it won’t win. They’re Australian, it would be unprecedented—it just won’t happen. I long for the year they give up and send a comedian farting into a mic or something.
But there are plenty of other absurd entries to root for at tomorrow’s ceremony. In particular, I love Romania’s entry, “Yodel It!” which features some weird sing talking and a yodeled chorus. This is not an irony fave. I legitimately love this.
I also like the child cosplaying as Gary Newman that Bulgaria sent, although ballads aren’t quite my thing.
Azerbaijan’s entry is a bit of a snoozer, though they make up for it with a completely unexplained man in a jet black horse mask that sits on top of a ladder during their live performance. He’s got nothing to do with the song. He’s just kinda there.
Bizarrely, this year’s front runner, according to The New York Times, is Italy’s entry, “Occidentali’s Karma.” It’s a song about how stupid it is when Westerners get obsessed with Eastern spiritualism. Sure!
And if that song does win, I will be happy. You see, beyond the glitter and the international conflict, Eurovision is also about disappointment. It’s why Luke is ready for Australia to send the weird shit—that stuff’s entertaining, and beyond some wild cards like Lordi, Europe at large likes safe standards. “Occidentali’s Karma,” is light and fluffy, and the singer dances with a person in a gorilla suit onstage. Better that winning than a snoozefest sung by a Celine Dion wannabe.
Tomorrow’s Eurovision final is slated to begin at 3pm Eastern US Time. Enjoy the ride, but don’t get too attached to anything.