What You Need To Know About Eurovision, Humanity's Greatest Achievement

The Eurovision Song Contest began in 1956, when seven European countries competed in Switzerland to find the best original song composition. Positioned as a light entertainment event, Eurovision has since morphed into a nightmare techno bloodbath juggernaut. Tomorrow, 26 of the 43 participating countries will perform their original songs to be judged by every European with a working phone.

Image Source: Associated Press

In Eurovision, every country in the European Broadcasting Union must compete in a two day semi-final once they decide on the song to represent their country, except for Italy, France, Germany, Spain and the United Kingdom, who automatically qualify for the finals. In both the semi finals and the finals, each country's residents vote by calling or texting a particular number, and they aren't allowed to vote for their own country. This year's semi final has lead to some sad losses, especially Montenegro's Slavko Kalezic and his floor length braid:

You see, Eurovision isn't exactly about "good" music, although plenty of great compositions make it through, and even win. Generally speaking, Eurovision is about the over-the-top, tacky and flamboyant songs, often accompanied by overwrought staging and glitter bombs. Last year was the first year that the United States broadcast the contest, and the network that picked it up was the historically LGBT-focused Logo, which will also be airing it this year. It's that kind of show. This year's host country, Ukraine, had previously won with Ruslana's song "Wild Dancing" in 2004, which she performed in a fur bikini surrounded by beefcakes in leather pants and CGI flames.

While Eurovision purports to be apolitical, this year's contest has also garnered some controversy. The winner from the previous year hosts the next year's contest, and last year Ukraine's contestant Jamala won with her song "1944". The song was about the deportation of Crimean Tatars by the Soviet Union. Russia also participates in Eurovision, and they did not love this song. They had also just annexed Crimea, which Ukraine did not love either. This year's contestant from Russia had performed in Crimea without procuring a visa, which is a violation of Ukrainian law, and she won't be allowed in the country. Russia has since pulled out of the contest.

Like all the best pop culture monstrosities, Eurovision is the blend of the absolute naff and deeply political. While everyone is singing about wanting you tonight or bland messages of unity, the base level of nationalism on display is vicious. Of course, this is the perspective of an outsider. The United States doesn't have any kind of similar contest, so part of the appeal for us the novelty (and learning a little bit about European countries and their pop music). To get some perspective on what it's like to live in a country that does participate, I asked Kotaku's Luke Plunkett.

"I'm probably the least qualified person to talk about what it's like to be in Eurovision, since Australia's entrance into the competition has been so late (we only started in 2015), but whatever, I'm all we've got," he said. "It's weird! Growing up, Eurovision felt like something alien, a parallel comic book universe where pop music was broken, but also beautiful. Now that we're part of it, I don't think that's changed; if anything it's just increased media coverage of the shows, especially the 'playoffs' that people normally overlooked. I just wished we'd stop sending actual talented artists and started sending the weird shit."

Luke also told me to use this image

To wit, Australia's entry this year is a total bop, but it won't win. It's Australia, it would be unprecedented -- it just won't happen. I long for the year Australia gives up and send a comedian farting into a mic or something.

But there are plenty of other absurd entries to root for at tomorrow's ceremony. In particular, I love Romania's entry, "Yodel It!" which features some weird sing talking and a yodelled chorus. This is not an irony fave. I legitimately love this.

I also like the child cosplaying as Gary Newman that Bulgaria sent, although ballads aren't quite my thing.

Azerbaijan's entry is a bit of a snoozer, though they make up for it with a completely unexplained man in a jet black horse mask that sits on top of a ladder during their live performance. He has nothing to do with the song. He's just kinda there.

Bizarrely, this year's front runner, according to The New York Times, is Italy's entry, "Occidentali's Karma". It's a song about how stupid it is when Westerners get obsessed with Eastern spiritualism. Sure!

And if that song does win, I will be happy. You see, beyond the glitter and the international conflict, Eurovision is also about disappointment. It's why Luke is ready for Australia to send the weird shit -- that stuff's entertaining, and beyond some wild cards like Lordi, Europe at large likes safe standards. "Occidentali's Karma" is light and fluffy, and the singer dances with a person in a gorilla suit onstage. Better that winning than a snoozefest sung by a Celine Dion wannabe.

Australians can catch up on the second semi-final tonight at 7:30PM AEST on SBS. Tomorrow's Eurovision grand final is slated to begin at 5:00AM AEST if you want to watch it live, with a rerun at 7:30PM AEST. Enjoy the ride, but don't get too attached to anything.


Comments

    Growing up with Eurovision, and coming from European background, when I was a kid the best part was the extremely partisan British commentator taking the piss out of everything. Then watching the deeply partisan voting where most countries just voted for whoever was ethnically similar to their own.

    It was an amusing spectacle that kind of lost appeal when I grew older.

      Maybe it's because I was late to the game, but I still love the everloving crap out of Sir Terry Wogan's commentary. Julia and Sam or whoever's doing it now can't quite match his dry wit and sense of mirth.

        You must not have watched it for a while, because Sir Terry Wogan stopped commentating Eurovision in 2008 and stopped living in 2016. Graham Norton does the BBC commentary now.

        Julie and Sam didn't do it for SBS this year either - they've been replaced by Myf Warhurst and Joel Creasy.

          Yeah, I'm aware :(

          I was just saying my opinion of his commentary never changed. I didn't watch it this year or last but I usually do.

    I've been watching since I was a kid, and my family is European too. I legitimately, un-ironically love Eurovision, always have.If there's 6 or 7 songs in the comp that I genuinely love, then it's a good year for the comp. I've always loved Euro-pop, and a lot of it still has the catchy melodies I grew up listening to as a kid. Absolutely gutted that Estonia didn't make it into the Final this year. We truly have lost our Verona.

    The point of contests like this isn't to be good or win, it's to promote peace between the places that enter. At best we come together directly, but even if we don't it still shows us that people we don't know are people. Russia pulling out is bad, but there are so many times when this sort of stuff stops relations from getting so bad in the first place.
    When you think of it that way Australia not being likely to win doesn't matter, what's important is that we show these people that with whatever is going on in the world we still laugh and have fun. We're all just humans and stuff like this does a great job of reminding us of that.

    What I enjoy about it, other than getting together with friends and cracking jokes, is that it's a music competition that's too big. Australia's in it! We're not even in Europe! But more importantly it's across literally an entire continent, full of people with different languages and very different cultures trying to make something that's appealing to someone in a completely different culture that you don't quite understand. You either go bland and soulless, and go weird, and hope it's the right kind of weird that people love.

    I think this is why you have the partisan voting blocs, because many of the countries in that bloc have a similar culture.

    The fact that Montenegro didn't make it through is just a damn crime. I DEMAND A RECOUNT!!!!

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