Break out the glitter balls, people. It’s Eurovision season.
Eurovision and I have a long and chequered history. I loved it as a child – because who wouldn’t? Explosions, shoulder pads, BIG hair, sustained warbling, all the emotion, the gallons of fake tan, the excited squealing (and that’s just the fans) – but as I grew up, I decided it was utterly passé. Then, in my early teens, I made a friend who’d grown up in the Caribbean (where, of course, the delights of Eurovision are unknown) and she was fascinated by it. She came up to my house to watch it the first year she lived in Ireland, and the mixture of horror and utter absorption on her face has pretty much defined my reaction to it ever since. I didn’t follow it properly for years, but over the past few competitions I’ve found myself extremely involved.
Oh, all right! I’m coming out. Judge me if you dare – I don’t care any more!
I love the Eurovision.
Scientifically, I shouldn’t be a fan of Eurovision. If you think about it like this: I love music, to the point where I can’t function without it; I have very powerful opinions on the kind of music I like; I don’t have any time for TV ‘talent’ shows, which the Eurovision can sometimes resemble. Yet, I still love it. I think it’s because the Eurovision is such a celebration – it’s not people competing against one another for their ‘one chance’ at a recording contract, or whatever it is. Most of the Eurovision competitors are already musicians in their own right, with successful careers in their home countries; the Eurovision is not their last chance. The desperation that can characterise other TV singing competitions is not part of their performance. It’s all about fun, and I love that.
I love the crazy traditions, too. I love that countries who are at war, in every real sense, will block-vote for one another even though it’s utterly insane. I love the fact that countries like those which made up the Former Yugoslavia will all give one another twelve points, even though they spent years tearing one another apart. I love the fact that Ireland and Great Britain will always give one another some sort of recognition, despite everything those countries have been through. It’s a sort of respectful nod, like that you give over your garden fence at the neighbour you can’t stand because he keeps sending his dog over into your property to bury his bones, and the trailing branches of his overgrown trees are blocking the light into your very expensive sunroom. You nod to keep the peace, and because you want him to know I’m watching you. It’s, in a very weird way, the most passive-aggressive form of warfare ever invented, and nobody has to get hurt, and everybody goes home singing.
I think it was when Lordi took part in the competition, in 2006, that my adoration for Eurovision reached feverish proportions, though.
I don’t think I’ve ever voted so much for any act – and I know most of the youth of Europe were doing just the same thing. A ‘metal’ band, dressed up like mummies and zombies and corpses and rotting Vikings, playing the closest thing Eurovision had ever seen to rock? They swept to victory on a wave of adulation. The reason they won (besides the fact that ‘Hard Rock Hallelujah’ was a hilariously good song) was because they were shocking – not to younger people, but to the older generation who’d been used to acts like this:
Lordi took the Eurovision from a level of hilarious irrelevance into a new world of meaningful engagement – and it showed that, truly, there’s room for everyone on the Eurovision wagon.
The competition has always had a subversive element to it, a sense that it was pretending to be a simple celebration of European music, a friendly competition between nations no longer at war and a symbol of European unity, but that underneath all that there were knowing, sly winks towards a different reality, one that perhaps the stuffy traditionalists wouldn’t like. Over the past ten years or so, we’ve seen young performers and old, slender ones and not-so-slender, people of all colours and (probably) creeds, people of all sexualities and none, and – particularly this year – a singer who defies all gender boundaries take to the Eurovision stage and show the rest of us how it’s done.
The utterly fabulous Conchita Wurst – for that is she – sang last night for Austria and performed with such power and poise that I wouldn’t be surprised if she stole the crown right out from underneath the noses of all the other acts. I love that this is what the Eurovision does, and that acts like Wurst’s can cause consternation in some circles and celebration in others. I love that performers like Conchita can sing, and be celebrated as part of what makes Europe great, and reach a huge global audience, and allow others who define themselves as gender neutral (as, I believe, Conchita does) to look to a role model and see that there is a place for them in the world.
This is what makes Eurovision great. Not the costumes, or the pyrotechnics, or the goofy but hilarious hosts. Decidedly not the music, either – but its sheer awfulness is part of the fun. What makes Eurovision great is that all humanity is on that stage, and that everyone is welcome, and that it’s a celebration which does not exclude. With every year that goes by it shakes the status quo just a little more, and I think that’s a good thing.
I can’t wait for the final tomorrow night; I know who I’ll be cheering for!