The world is split into two distinct kinds of people: those who don’t see the point of Eurovision and those who adore it with every shred of their sequinned being. I fall into the latter category.
I’m not sure why I love it so much. My obsession with Eurovision is not a logical thing – it belongs to the realms of those irrational, instinctive, gut-punch emotions that defy all reason.
Eurovision is that eccentric friend from school everyone has – the one you hardly ever see but for whom you retain a disproportionate amount of nostalgic affection. The one who turns up at weddings and birthday parties dressed in a neon kimono or a gold lurex jumpsuit and is always the most fun to be around. The one who is loud and occasionally obnoxious but who you tolerate because they’re the first and last person on the dance floor and they crack the best jokes and order the best cocktails. When they inevitably pass out on a sofa, someone will draw a moustache on their face in permanent marker and they won’t even mind because they just want everyone else to have fun. That’s Eurovision.
I started watching it in the pre-Netflix ’80s, when the box-set hadn’t been invented and event television was still a thing. I grew up in the middle of the Irish countryside and when the TV beamed Eurovision into my living room, I was drawn into this exotic, offbeat world of glitter and glamour and foreign accents that seemed alien to everything I knew.
The music was of secondary importance. What struck me most was the celebration of difference – difference between nations (the Eastern European states can always be relied upon to put on something completely over-the-top involving lashings of dry ice and Moldovan backing dancers) but also a healthy disregard for the mainstream.
The performers on-stage at Eurovision were different from anyone I saw on Top of the Pops (yes kids, back then Top of the Pops still existed and I used to tape it on VHS and play it back so I could write down the lyrics of my favourite chart-topping tunes. WITH A PEN AND ACTUAL PAPER).
The Eurovision contestants didn’t seem to care that their pop tunes were naff and out-of-step with the current trends or that they were wearing terrible costumes and Terry Wogan was brilliantly taking the piss out of them in his commentary. They were all just doing the thing they loved and doing it with complete commitment.
The Eurovision contestants didn’t seem to care that their pop tunes were naff and out-of-step with the current trends or that they were wearing terrible costumes and Terry Wogan was brilliantly taking the piss out of them
It is a noble tradition and one that has continued to this day. For much of the noughties, as The X Factor and various other talent shows reached their peak, it felt as if the music industry was becoming one homogenised blob of manufactured commercialism. Eurovision remained delightfully unchanged and unhinged.
There was Verka Serdyuchka for Ukraine in 2007 who appeared on stage dressed in what can only be described as “silver lamé dictatorial chic”, complete with fake breasts and a huge star attached to his head. There were the Russian babushkas singing in clogs in 2012. There was Cezar, who sang dressed as Dracula in a strangulated falsetto for Romania the following year. There was Conchita Wurst, a drag queen with a beard who won in 2014 with the song Rise Like A Phoenix.
In the world of Eurovision, being different is something to be cherished.
Even the voting seems delightfully retro. First of all: it takes so long! I mean, it takes hours! Eurovision doesn’t care about dwindling attention spans and a hyper-digitised culture where we’re all too busy to think beyond 140 characters. No. Eurovision will jolly well take its time if it wants to.
And although there are the perennial accusations of horse-trading (Greece always gives “douze points” to Turkey and vice versa) even this is rather sweet. They take it so seriously! They really, really care! And there’s no need to translate into French anymore, but everyone just carries on doing it anyway because it sounds a bit funny and that’s what they’ve always done, so why change?
Change. It’s overrated. I hope Eurovision never, ever does.
P.s. – I still maintain that Love City Groove’s 1995 rap anthem UK entry is one of the most underrated songs of all time and should have won rather than languishing in 15th place.