It’s that time of year again: time for all the cool kids to point out just how biased and silly the Eurovision Song Contest is, and for all the not so cool kids to hang their heads in shame while they acknowledge that they know all of this, but will still be eagerly watching. Unfortunately, I belong to the latter group. In spite of the fact that ordinarily I am that annoying pop-music basher who shames grown ups for being fans of Justin Bieber and other artists behind modern day pop music phenomenons, I just can’t help myself when it comes to the Eurovision. I pick favourites, get disappointed when they lose, and get altogether too into it.
I’ve been trying to mentally unpack all the mental reasons why Eurovision is STILL a big deal in spite of its decades-long history, and I have concluded that it most likely comes down to the fact that there are very few chances for Europe as a geographic entity to take complete control of its entertainment experience, and at the end of the day that is some a lot of Europeans really want. Here in Europe, what we watch on TV, at the movies, and on our iPods is forever being effected by outside influences, the biggest being of course the North American entertainment scene. It is however rare still relatively rare for neighboring European nations’ native musical acts to cross national boundaries; and even when they do it’s usually from the bigger countries and already on a cross-oceanic scale. (Even Canadians and Australians have heard of Rammstein and Robyn!) For the most part, Eurovision affords an amazing platform to exhibit what you love most about your national music scene (although my British friends assure me that this year’s entry for the UK, Bonnie Tyler, has not fallen into this category for around twenty years) and share it with your European neighbors. Several countries hold their own national contests to decide on who will represent them on the big day, thus summoning national attention for the contest months before the finals. And even without such contests to find Eurovision contestants, I have yet to see a national entry that has absolutely no fanbase in their homeland – the national organizers want an audience, after all!
And to top it all off, Eurovision is a competition that even the smallest countries can win because it is based on talent and luck which anyone can access: if you and your song have what it takes to make people all around Europe love you, you get the points, simple as that. In spite of what many argue, the variety of nations is broad enough that even preferential treatment of friendly neighboring countries does not matter a whole lot once you’re in the finals. It’s been proven time and time again that the European public tends to vote for someone they like, regardless of their nationality. After all, the contestants aren’t draped in their national flags singing patriotic songs, they’re (almost always) singing cheesy pop songs designed to appeal to a mass audience (Finnish Goths “Lordi”, Russian babushkas, and Engelbert Humperdinck aside).
However, the biggest reason Eurovision is still around in spite of the odds, the political ups and downs, and the wavering economy, is that it is a competition and Europeans LOVE competing against one another. We get to employ all of our favorite national stereotypes (even when they blatantly do not apply), paint our national flags on our faces, and play drinking games – in other words, all the same things we do during the Olympics, the FIFA World Cup, the UEFA World Cup, and any other international competition we happen to care about. We get to get confused by foreign languages, make fun of foreign accents, cheer on our favorite neighbors and boo our least favorite ones – all those things that make us European whether we were born here, chose it as our adoptive homes, or are simply visiting.
This Saturday, wherever you are in Europe, find a Eurovision-friendly bar (it shouldn’t be hard!), pic a favorite contestant, and cheer along with us.