Embrace the Europop-y glory.
I am almost certain there are three groups into which I could sort the readership of this article, the fans, the apathetic and the haters. For obvious reasons I fall into the first, my love for Eurovision is unbridled, overwhelming and frankly often a hindrance to my everyday life. However, this linguistic effort is not aimed at preaching to the choir, instead, it is a concerted effort at conversion to my cause. This is my love letter to those of you who have either never thought twice about or actively bash this fantastic festival of frippery and flamboyance. But before my diatribe ensues, for the uninitiated – an overview: the Eurovision song contest originated in 1956, in part as a daring attempt to push the bounds of live television, the contest became a unifying force for post-conflict Europe. Its concept is simple: participant countries send a musical act to represent them on the European stage. The efforts of these delegates are voted on by professional juries and the public alike, eventually anointing a winner. This simplistic form has blossomed over the last 70 years with participation increasing from seven countries in its inaugural year to 41 participants in 2021.
You may be wondering upon reading that description how anyone could be so callous as to hate such a vocal display of unity and good fun? Well, to that I say there are three claims often levelled at this bespangled broadcasting behemoth and I shall dispense with each one shortly.
The first argument that is often hurled headlong at me when I express my love for the dulcet tones of Alexander Rybak (Norway’s winner from 2009) is a challenge to the quality of music. Friends and acquaintances alike shout “But the music is awful... it’s just outdated Europop”. In the first place, I see no issues with outdated Europop and if that was all Eurovision had to offer I would still love it dearly. After all surely everyone enjoys revelling in some level of musical nostalgia? There’s a reason we all still scream when Cascada comes on, or lose our minds over the Venagaboys. However, I still want to challenge the idea that Europop is all that Eurovision has to offer. Firstly, this is a competition which has given us some of the greatest acts of our time: ABBA, Celine Dion, Cliff Richard, Olivia Newton-John, Lulu, Baccara, Katrina and the Waves, have all graced the Eurovision stage. The veritable pedigree of those who have performed, I would claim, is testament to the unparalleled talent, fame, and variety of this great competition. If you choose to turn on the Eurovision song contest this year you will find a vast array of acts, not just cookie cutter productions. Eurovision has seen Russian grannies, an Irish turkey, Finnish rock monsters, and even Dschingis Khan make appearances. These acts perform any number of lyrical and melodic variations - from rock to folk to rap to opera to screamo - there really is something for everyone. So the next time you contest Eurovision on the grounds of artistic merit, I invite you to watch some acts and reconsider.
Despite this, detractors still find fault. Their discordant cries claim that the true fault is “It’s too political!” Here I must once again object. I am not fool enough to say the competition is devoid of politics. Of course Greece and Cyprus will always bestow a nepotistic “douze points” upon one another and any number of regional and cultural ties may influence voting patterns. However, it is the implications of a superlative too that I take exception to. The same individuals who contest the politics of Eurovision are those who may revel in the drama of reality TV, the regionalism that fuels national talent shows, or even those who enjoy watching major sporting events. Hosts of matches, need I remind you, are often embroiled in major international political discourses before the first player can even set foot on the pitch. As such I would say Eurovision is just as political as any number of other events which we find joy in. The only difference is it is more honest about it. Instead of heckling and adversary behaviour for 90 minutes on the grounds of usual sporting practice, you vote for your favourite act or the national delegation you have the most affinity for. These actions may be driven by the same intention, but Eurovision chooses to revel in national identity - celebrating culture, difference, and even sometimes national shortcomings with acts often satirising themselves. None of this is to say that Eurovision is perfect, it does make mistakes in terms of its dealings with tense political issues, but no more I would say than any other international event. As such I think to level this claim at Eurovision uniquely is unfair and a vast oversimplification of the contest itself.
The final thing I often hear people say is that Eurovision “is just too over the top and ridiculous”. While this may appear the most benign, it is the challenge I take the most exception to. If your main claim for why you can’t enjoy something is that it is too absurd, then I’m inclined to suggest you are taking yourself too seriously. The joy of Eurovision is its encouragement of unbridled child-like happiness - a sense of celebration without caveat and even to some extent a suspension of disbelief. It is self-aware enough to know exactly what it is. It has no pretensions, makes no claim on high art. Yet, every year we are given a show with immense production value, community spirit, and just the right amount of self deprecating humour. In times such as these (more than ever) I think it is essential that we learn to give ourselves respite from the monotony and drudgery of everyday life and I can truly not think of any way better to get some much needed escapism than through a sparkly spectacle such as this.
If after all of this, you are still resolved to dismiss Eurovision as a pointless trifle then I am afraid to say you are a lost cause. But for those of you whose interest I have piqued, I invite you to join 180 million others this May and tune in to the greatest show on earth. I promise you won’t regret it!
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