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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

question of the (holi)day: What is the big deal about Eurovision, anyway?

I know that spring bank holiday weekend in the U.K. means Eurovision Song Contest and everyone gets very excited about this, but why?

What is the big deal about Eurovision, anyway? Is it just another talent contest the likes of which are so popular these days, or is there something else at work? Is it a substitute for war? You know, a chance to trounce Germany or something without all the fuss and mess of battle? And is that why everyone in the U.K. seems so upset that the U.K. lost again this year… and Germany won?

Someone please explain it all to an ignorant American…

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTD sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)

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  • blake

    Its so bad, its good. Thats really all I can say.

  • Did you watch it? It’s incredibly fun. You can intellectualize it as an anthropological look at pop music across Europe (ie. Balkans = awesomeness), or you can just laugh at the tight pants and bad English lyrics. And stripping robots! Or, at our house, all of the above.

  • RyanT

    I love your theory about Eurovision being a substitute for war. But it’s not SO far-fetched. I mean look at the Olympics or World Cup. Granted these are sport-related events, but why would that be different than music? You have a person/team/whatever representing their country and people become invested. So while it might not mean much to the country in the long run other than bragging rights, it’s still bragging rights in the end.

  • Dan

    Oh, it’s just a ridiculously cheesy event of Euro camp and bad songs that’s been going for decades. Everyone’s grown up with its nonsense in the UK (usually with the ironic humour of Terry Wogan’s commentary, although he was replaced by Graham Norton last year).

    It’s just part of the kitsch fabric of pop-culture now — a silly piece of awful entertainment with so-bad-it’s-good status. And yes, us Brits watch with slight contempt but ingrained love for its silliness. If only to laugh at what other countries put forward as their entries, and to get upset when neighbouring countries vote for each other, or intentionally don’t vote for a country whose politics they disagree with that year. Hence why the UK’s done poorly since winning in 1997. Last place this year — woohoo!

    … but you do occasionally get some good acts from it. Like Abba.

  • Jan Willem

    I doubt that you will find many Eurovison lovers among your European readers. People I socialize with tend to like music, which almost rules out any love for this Eurovision event, except perhaps for its camp value.

    As to what it is, the name is a dead give-away: a song contest in which freshly written ditties are showcased by singers, backing singers and dancers of wildly different standards. It started out quite modestly in the fifties with a singer or a couple of singers backed by a full-blown orchestra fronted by revolving conductors (the composers, usually). In the seventies, pop and rock bands became more important. Abba ironically launched their career by scoring a victory with a song called Waterloo in 1974.

    Through the years, there has been an awful lot of friendly voting by national juries for acts from sympathetic countries. So yes, there was some nationalism going on, but of a fairly innocuous variety. When Eastern European countries joined the contest in the nineties, this rendered it extremely difficult for Western European countries to secure a win. Also there has been a steep increase of bizarre acts and outfits (goths and chickens), which upped the camp factor considerably. And the music frequently involves some pretty horrible Euro beats, to which I’m allergic.

    The huge number of participating countries necessitated the introduction of two semifinals, so fans can really indulge themselves nowadays. I have to admit my own country (the Netherlands) hasn’t contributed anything worthwhile in ages, and I haven’t watched the show for a long time.

    Hope this rambling helps to get some perspective on this weird Euro phenomenon.

  • As a Brit there was a time when the Eurovision song contest really did get everyone’s attention but these days it’s more of a joke than anything else. No one outside of the media really cares for it and generally only watch it for all the tackiness which goes on and to ridicule the biased voting system. I swear that the only reason it still gets shown by the BBC is that if they didn’t they would be lambasted by those who get some sort of sadistic pleasure from its annual showing.

  • MaSch

    I don’t watch it (and couldn’t this year, as my brother got married that same day), but I hugely enjoy the live blogging about it. And the million ways Lena Meyer-Landrut’s English accent has been described – it may sound weird, but at least it’s not generic (and it’s not the German accent, either – I would lawfe to be able to speak like her).

  • Martin

    It’s just a bit of a laugh for me, get some friends around, get a few drinks, sit back and enjoy the snarking opportunity.

    And I think that it is an apt replacement for war since there’s a lot of political voting. Without listening to the song, you know which countries will vote for each other.

    And I know I’ll get scorn from various commenters but I liked the winning song this year. It’s not a timeless classic for the ages but it’s a fun bit of pop fluff that stood above a sea of mediocrity this year.

    But the bizarre thing is that I really don’t want the UK to win. Since the winner hosts the next event, the Olympics is already a financial black hole and Europe hasn’t much money left, I wouldn’t want us lumbered with more financial dead weight.

  • Tom Harris

    The only saving grace of Eurovision to me is Britain’s inevitable woeful performance. The fact that we are unable do a garish and camp act, which is silly enough to win Eurovision is just completely and wonderfully British. We would rather have a cup of tea and moan about voter biasses.

  • TommyB

    For anyone who’s into music this event is unbearable.
    You have to listen to 24 songs and almost all of them are pretty bad.
    But it has it’s fan base and I can’t explain why.
    You have to be pretty much tone deaf to be a fan.
    But there’s an audience for it like for many things I don’t care about. So why bother?

    I haven’t seen the contest for years, but this time I visited some friends and they wanted to see it.
    I almost fell asleep during the first 12 songs. There where so many “ballads” (so much whining?) that my groaning got louder and louder.

    But what can I say, I was rewarded with our song winning, which felt really strange.
    I liked the turkish song, too. I wouldn’t have bothered if they had won.

    But the best thing was the spanish song, when “Jimmy Jump” got on stage and joined the performance. Hilarious!

    Check out this clip:


    And for all the Brits out there who can’t stand germany winning while the UK got last place I can only say:
    “Yeah, we Krauts won and your song stunk. Assimilate that, bitches!” :-)

    Next time, don’t ask Stock, Aitken and Waterman to write/produce a song for the contest!

  • Nadia

    It used to be a good way for young new artists to become famous. Now it’s just a matter of how who can be the biggest idiot and embarras your country in the procces. Of course this is just my oppinion, and I hate Eurovision with a passion, I’m just glad that this year it didn’t interfere with the Doctor Who episode.

  • Janet

    From what your other commentators said it seems to be the same reason why the American Idol audition episodes are sometimes bigger than the finals. People seem to like to watch bad musical performances for the best comedic value.

  • Tom H

    @ Janet.

    Well yes and no. Whilst American Idol is a waste of time, the winner is guaranteed at least fleeting fame. Now the winner of Eurovision is almost immediately forgotten by anyone in Britain. Hell I didn’t even know who our contestant was this year and as a music lover, nor did I care. The only exception that comes to mind is Lordi, who were so cheesy that “Hard Rock! Hallelujah” received a truly tragic amount of airplay.

    Of course this is Britain, some nations actually care about it. I remember Lordi’s homeland Finland, went absolutely barmy when they won. So each to their own, i guess.

  • Mr.Evil

    Yes, it’s so bad it’s good. I always wait for Eurovision, because it usually gives me the STRONGEST BELLY-LAUGHS OF THE YEAR! However, sometimes the songs are awesome and it’s even better to hear them between all the awful stuff. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z75mLlg4uO0 – this is propably the best Eurovision song ever. Also, the German girl was very cute. Her awful english was weirdly adorable.

  • TommyB

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z75mLlg4uO0 – this is propably the best Eurovision song ever.

    Yeah, the song is funny. But it didn’t make it to the finals.
    So you would have to watch the semi finals for that, too.
    How do you manage to listen to all those songs without drugs?

  • Les Carr

    Eurovision has been either dull and irrelevant or cheesy and fabulous depending on your point of view. Personally, I view it with a lot of affection, and our house is usually open to friends and family who come round, watch and vote with enthusiasm. None of us take it seriously, but we are quite devoted to it in its own way.

    I would like to share with the discerning ladies and gentlemen of the FlickFilosopher Cultural Salon some of my personal highlights:

    The Eurovision Song Contest has also produced some really memorable entertainment in the interval between the performances and the (interminable) voting

    • Who can forget 1994 which saw Dublin unleash Riverdanceon the world?
    • Last year’s unforgetable spectacle Fuerza Bruta in Russia
    • This year’s Flashmob. I actually found that quite moving!
  • TommyB

    I remember Lordi’s homeland Finland, went absolutely barmy when they won. So each to their own, i guess.

    That’s because Lordi is very popular in Finland.
    The band didn’t exist solely for the contest. They have been and still are making music.
    But to be honest, their song was a lame Alice Cooper ripoff.
    Turkey’s contestants this year, the band “maNga”, is also very popular at home.

    For those “bands” cast together just for the contest, I bet they’re immediately forgotten in their home countries, too.

    I can’t remember who sang for germany the last couple of years. The songs didn’t get a lot of airplay either.
    No station wanted to play them because they were too embarrassing, I guess.
    No surprise the songs totally went down in the contest.

    and in case TommyB gets too overcome by nationalistic fervour, I’d like to remind him of Germany’s 1998 entry Guildo Hat Euch Lieb!

    That was a joke, I never get overcome by nationalistic fervour.
    But you do know your newspapers (e.g.”The Sun”) when it’s about “The Krauts” so many times.
    I just had to get even :-)

    And yes, I think “Guildo hat Euch lieb” is a funny song and the guy, Guildo Horn is a true original.

    But you forgot the german song from 2000:

    Wadde hadde dudde da

  • Mr.Evil

    TommyB: I live in a really small city, so I didn’t have much to do. And I’ve had some great laughs with my friends, so I didn’t regret watching it.
    That German song is stupid, but annoyingly catchy. Just DON’T read the youtube comments – they’re terrifying.

  • Tom H

    @ Tommy B

    I do realise that Lordi are still making music, much to my own personal chagrin.

    What I was referring to were the lunatics running around with the Finland flag. That’s an act of patriotism, not an the act of a band fanatic. Now had they been running around waving plastic axes…

  • Mr. Evil

    I went everywhere for you
    I even did my hair for you
    I bought new underwear, they’re blue
    And I wore ‘em just the other day

    Love, you know I’ll fight for you
    I left on the porch light for you
    Whether you are sweet or cruel
    I’m gonna love you either way

    Love, oh, love, I gotta tell you how I feel about you
    ‘Cause I, oh, I can’t go a minute without your love
    Like a satellite, I’m in an orbit all the way around you
    And I would fall out into the night
    Can’t go a minute without your love

    Love, I got it bad for you
    I saved the best I have for you
    You sometimes make me sad and blue
    Wouldn’t have it any other way

    Love, my aim is straight and true
    Cupid’s arrow is just for you
    I even painted my toe nails for you
    I did it just the other day

    Love, oh, love, I gotta tell you how I feel about you
    ‘Cause I, oh, I can’t go a minute without your love
    Like a satellite I’m in an orbit all the way around you
    And I would fall out into the night
    Can’t go a minute without your love
    Oh, love, I gotta tell you how I feel about you
    ‘Cause I, oh, I can’t go a minute without your love

    Where you go, I’ll follow
    You set the pace, we’ll take it fast and slow
    I’ll follow in your way,
    You got me, you got me
    A force more powerful than gravity
    It’s physics, there’s no escape

    Love, my aim is straight and true
    Cupid’s arrow is just for you
    I even painted my toe nails for you
    I did it just the other day

    Love, oh, love, I gotta tell you how I feel about you
    ‘Cause I, oh, I can’t go a minute without your love
    Like a satellite I’m in orbit all the way around you
    And I would fall out into the night
    Can’t go a minute without your
    Love, oh, love, I gotta tell you how I feel about you
    ‘Cause I, oh, I can’t go a minute without your love
    Love, love, love, love, love

    Look at those lyrics. This song is obviously about Amy Pond and her obsession with Doctor :P.

  • TommyB

    What I was referring to were the lunatics running around with the Finland flag. That’s an act of patriotism, not an the act of a band fanatic. Now had they been running around waving plastic axes…

    It’s the same thing with every contest that involves countries competing with each other:
    National flags are being waved during the contest.
    And in the country of the winner, flags are often being waved long after the contest is finished.

    I wouldn’t be too dramatic about it. I’m sure, the guys from Finland felt as underdogs.
    And then they won for the first time (I think)…
    Let ’em go crazy for a while.

  • nyjm

    Possible antidote for the Eurovision silliness:


    Ignore the title; read the article.

  • RogerBW

    Eurovision was started primarily as a technical showcase: the same programme broadcast in a whole seven countries! Simultaneously! Not quite so impressive now, particularly since the cost of hosting is so huge that at least half the countries participating actively want to avoid winning so that they won’t have to host the next year’s event.

    The people I know who watch it in the UK are certainly there to poke fun, but I think most people here don’t know it’s on at all unless they happen to catch a trailer.

  • Jackie

    I went through several years of actively avoiding Eurovision, but came back in the end. It’s cheesy, strange, full of politics and incident. It was intended to be the best of European talent and has somehow ended up as the opposite. Songs without meaningful lyrics do well (one early example was a song which went “la la la” throughout). It’s a great way to spend one Saturday night a year with mates (online and off) and loads of booze whilst enjoying the spectacle and the voting.

    The Italians left some years ago on the basis that it had no artistic and cultural merit. We seem to be staying in for the same reason. The French are no longer taking it seriously either, they’ve started commentating along the Wogan template.

  • wildstrawberries

    Just from the Swedish perspective, ABBA’s win in Brighton’s 1974 Eurovision with Waterloo launched their career (the hit is on soundtrack for Muriel’s Wedding). Almost every European country had it as number 1, 2 or 3 on their hit list that year. ABBA’s clothes by today’s standard were ridiculous, but the song was very popular.
    This year for the first time in 17 years, Sweden did not make it to the finals. The rules are changing to make more contests possible, this year more semi finals than previous years and more chances to be dissed.
    Each country is supposed to send their “folk music” or pop music favorite to the city of the previous year’s Eurovision winner. Of course folk music has changed through the years and is more pop than folk.
    In Sweden one form of folk music is called “Schlager”, basically a driving “hit” , and it has a real gay following. The form includes an obligatory key refrain that goes up one octave. Veteran Pernilla Wahlgren’s Schlager gave way to a young person’s song of hope (17), Anna Bergendahl: This is My Life. This age bracket is usually sitting at home voting on their mobiles for the telecast. Wahlgren, and other established Swedish pop singers are trying to improve their ratings by going big, but the fans see through this.
    Eurovision is a national sport. a sit home event, the streets of Sweden are virtually empty, for everyone is at a “Schlagar fest”. its the music of the people, its the thrill of being young, although older programmers and promoters commercialize it with all their gimmicks and angles.
    Countries in Scandinavia usually vote for their neighbors in the Baltic area, countries in the Mediterranean for their neighbors. Its not a really accurate tally but still it is,for competition ignites the passion of the country and her allies.
    Since it is a phenomena its not possible to analyse this intellectually, popular culture is hard to dissect. Eurovision is big, yet ratings went down in Sweden since their was no winner at the final.

  • I love the Eurovision song contest.

    It’s a contest filled with cheezy over the top acts written and performed by people from whom we’ll never ever hear again. It’s the one night where you can be mercilessly mean to anyone and anything on the screen. It’s a wonderful feast of bad music, off-key singing, bad wardrobes, heinous accents, backstabbing voting, post-cold war voting, friendly neighbour voting, immigrant voting … if you happen to live in a country where the commentary is done by someone with a nice sarcastic streak the fun is doubled. It’s wonderful.

    And best bit: there are still people who take it serious. What more do you want … it’s true comedy gold.

  • wildstrawberries

    These two Eurovision winners should give you an idea of the vitality of the contest, the finely combed yet raw young talent, the uproar of the audience, and the feel for national singers that break their ass with ambition in their life’s defining moment, intoxicating!

    Elena Paparazou Number One, ( Swedish-Greek) singing for Greece 2005, Kiev.

    Torch passed from Ruslana, Ukraine, Wild Dance, 2004.

  • Leslie Carr

    Israel won in 1998 with a transexual singer called “Dana International”. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fv83u7-mNWQ.

    What memories! And the above clip has the original Eurovision Fanfare – what nostalgia!

    And if you’re not sure how Israel (or for that matter Russia) can qualify for a European song contest, it is not geography but membership of the European Broadcasting Union that is/was the criterion. Goodness knows who controls membership of the EBU.

  • t6

    I think a proxy for war is correct…but not in the way you think.

    Eurovision was started in 1956. What else is going on in 1956? American cultural invasion of the world in the form of Rock’n’Roll.

    Eurovision is a way for European countries to celebrate their own culture in absence of American cultural hegemony. This also plays into politics and anxiety over the slow decline of songs sung in not-English.

    There is a sizable body of scholarly literature surrounding Eurovision, actually.

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