Why I love Eurovision

More than anything, it’s a time to come together once a year and appreciate the incredible cultural diversity that exists within Europe.

By GABY PELL
May 13, 2019 10:20
4 minute read.
Why I love Eurovision

Glitz and glamour – Participants during the opening ceremony of the 60th annual Eurovision Song Contest in Vienna, Austria, in 2015.. (photo credit: LEONHARD FOEGER / REUTERS)

It was 2000, just after I moved from London to New York. Micki, my newlywed American better half, hadn’t yet heard of the Eurovision Song Contest or my admiration of it. I had kind of figured during the dating process that it would probably be in my best interests to keep it to myself. The USA may be an enlightened nation in many respects, but when it comes to the Eurovision songfest, it knows little of the Balkan ballads, nil points, and petty intra-European rivalries that play out during the voting.

So that year, I had all but given up any hope of even seeing the contest. But as luck would have it, we both found ourselves traveling overseas at the last minute in early May. A frantic phone call to the travel agent, followed by a complicated rerouting of our return flight via London, and we were watching the contest at our best mate’s pad, just like the old times. After the opening sequence of that show in Stockholm (find it on YouTube, you won’t be disappointed), and a classic Danish winning song, even my wife was hooked. Literally, we were “Flying on the Wings of Love.” Priceless!

At first glance, the Eurovision Song Contest as a concept does not have much in its favor. The songs are lame, the lyrics are ridiculous (“And you walk along with your ding-dang-dong,” Netherlands 1975), the voting is patently biased, its goal of uniting Europe through song is so overreaching, the staging is so over-the-top (pyro and wind machines), and how can anyone objectively judge art anyway? But these are exactly the reasons why I love it!

More than anything, it’s a time to come together once a year and appreciate the incredible cultural diversity that exists within Europe. And if some historical rivalries or politics get in the way to color the voting, that’s still got to be far better than how these issues would have been sorted out in the past. Make music, not war.

My first memory of the contest was watching it along with my mum when Israel won with "Hallelujah" in 1979. I was nine years old and living in northwest London. It was probably the first time I heard a key change. From that moment I was hooked. The contest in those days was rather old-fashioned. In fact, the show has consistently remained a few years behind the latest musical trends, but that is also part of its charm.

Some of my personal favorite highlights during my school days in the ‘80s were Bucks Fizz with their magically disappearing skirts, Johnny Logan with his series of heartfelt ballads, and Celine Dione announcing herself to the world in a cream suit and tutu as if she was an executive ballerina. The late, great UK radio personality Terry Wogan was the soundtrack for these years and beyond, as he commentated on the contest with his mix of Irish whimsy and general incredulity. A highlight of the ‘90s was an interval act rather than a song, with Riverdance announcing itself to the world in that slot in Dublin, 1994. Ireland seemed to win every year back then. Eurovision finally “came out” in 1998 with Dana International, and it hasn’t really looked back since then, with the energy that these new fans brought to the show.

The post-millennium brought an explosion of the novelty acts (rubber turkeys, Russian babushkas, bearded ladies, milk churners, tin men) with the craziest winner of them all in 2006, the shock-metal band Lordi from Finland, which appeared to have modeled its appearance on a cross between Klingons and White Walkers. By the way, that entry notwithstanding, Scandinavia properly digs the Eurovision and they seem to get it like nobody else.

By 2002, our family had moved from the barren Eurovision-wasteland of the USA to the far more Eurovision-friendly land of Australia (it now even sends a representative to the contest each year, which takes the pressure away from Israel as the most absurd entrant to an ostensibly European competition). Melbourne was where we started to host Eurovision parties with our friends. We made aliyah in 2008, and the parties with our friends continue every year. Our children have grown up fed on a diet of Eurovision (our eldest is now 15) and each year, they start listening to the songs several weeks before the contest. These are crucial life skills; you never know when Montenegrin may come in handy later on in life. What nachas!

So as the contest comes to Israel this year after Netta Barzilai’s inspiring performance 12 months ago, I hope it will be one for the ages. I plan to experience it with my kids at one of the semi-finals. It's harmless, unadulterated, crazy, colorful energetic entertainment that I look forward to every year, and feel a little emptiness inside when it is all over (well, for about two hours, at any rate). It’s the Super Bowl of Song, the Champions League of Absurd Lyrics, the Ryder Cup of Ridiculous Political Voting – but above all it’s a hell of a lot of fun.

@pell_gaby


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