by Valerie Hawkins
The Eurovision Song Contest is a long-running music competition among the nations of Europe, begun in 1955, where neither disco nor the Cold War ever died. There’d be no ABBA if there hadn’t been Eurovision. There’d be no Celine Dion if there’d been no Eurovision. There’d be no Riverdance and Michael Flatley if there’d been no Eurovision. And I personally blame Eurovision for my knowing what a Jedward is.
But by the same token, a country can have a song written by two internationally-acclaimed composers and not win Eurovision. A country can be represented by a world famous pop opera singing group and not win Eurovision. But a country’s act can have the then-reigning male figure skating Olympic Gold Medal Champion moving about on a little ice platform during performance — and win!
Eurovision is a sociopolitical feast of the Western World’s conflicting attitudes, mores, allegiances, petty vengeances, and questionable fashion choices. And music.
And there is music – that may or may not go along with all the swirling camera sweeps and cannon-shot flash pyrotechnics made to be seen a half mile away in the cheap seats of the show’s cavernous yet always-filled-to-capacity-with-thousands theaters. It is showy and expensive, which means, in these tenuous European Union times, that there are countries competing who cannot and must not win, no matter how good their song is, because the winner’s home country is obliged to host the competition the following year. A few years back, at one point, the entry from bankrupt Cyprus was leading the voting, which led to a flurry of jokes on Twitter about how German Chancellor Angela Merkel would be the one who’d have to pay for it, along with its already established financial bailout of the country; no matter, the Cyprus lead did not last.
Russia’s act was outwardly booed during the voting in 2014 not because of its song, but because of the country’s nearly hysterical homophobic reaction to eventual winner Conchita Wurst, of Austria, for being a dude with a well-manicured full beard and lengthy Scandal-worthy hair wearing out a sequined gown and singing a truly soaring anthem, “Rise Like A Phoenix”, which should have been the theme for that last Bond film instead of whatever Sam Smith and friend came up with. This controversy with Russia and a few other countries led to the 2015 Eurovision theme of “Building Bridges” expressly including images of same-sex relationships.
Therefore, it isn’t surprising that Logo will broadcast Eurovision on American television for the first time.
The competition itself isn’t any more camp than, say, Miss America and our various award shows, including and most especially the red carpets, all wrapped up together in a big glitter ball. All wrapped up together in a big nonstop glitter ball with no commercial breaks. Over two dozen acts will perform their songs live on stage in a continuous three-hour stream. There is a break of sorts, between the acts, with an intro video identifying the act’s home country in an expression of the show’s theme, but these are deliberately only seconds long. 2015’s “Building Bridges” intro videos showed each act receiving a mailed package that contains an item to help them meet and “build a bridge” to a group or activity in their home country, but these are deliberately only seconds long.
After the performances is the great European tradition of The Interval. Rarely longer than fifteen minutes, it both starts and ends with a montage of clips of the twenty-odd acts that you just watched, with a non-competing performer in between — who is sometimes better than any of the competing performers, or is interesting for reasons that have nothing to do with performing. 2012’s Eurovision was already a dicey proposition for being held in Azerbaijan, a country highly scrutinized for its reported human rights abuses; the interval singer being the President’s son-in-law, at the hire of the project manager, the President’s wife, made for even more scrutiny.
Ostensibly during the Interval, the European viewers eligible are calling/texting the assigned phone numbers and voting — and here’s where the genius of this whole thing comes in: you cannot vote for your own country! You supposedly did that during your country’s own competition to select a Eurovision act in the first place!
Voters in Eurovision have to call or text and vote for a performer from other country.
And then comes the pièce de résistance, the vote count, the most fascinating part of this entire competition, maybe because something like this would never be tolerated on an American show. For the next hour — and it really does take an entire hour — the Eurovision hosts “call” and speak via satellite to each individual country in the competition. There’s a couple of minutes of banter and vote counts for every one of the 43 countries – and don’t think the vote counts are a single number! It’s positional voting, in which the citizens’ calls and texts of each country are counted up and tiered one through 7 out to the other countries, and then the professional juries of each country get to grant the topmost 8, 10, and 12 votes – which are called out by their names in French, nuit, dix, and douze, in a very longstanding Eurovision tradition – out to the other countries. Simple math reveals the winner pretty much by the 38th call, but all 43 calls are made anyway.
This year, though, Eurovision has eliminated that possibility by changing the rules! No more are the professionals’ votes given higher placement preference over the hoi polloi!
Starting in 2016, both the citizens and the juries will be able to present the full raft of votes, both having 1-7, 8, 10, and 12, resulting in two sets of votes per country. Will this indeed make the winner harder to predict – or will it just make the vote count take even longer? On May 14, as the 2016 theme deems, we will “Come Together” and see.
Whatever other questions and further suspicions you have about Eurovision, as you watch it for the first time, can most likely be explained and/or confirmed by the competition’s most accurate source documents — its drinking games.
But overall, I must admit that there have been moments of genuine unity during Eurovision that have touched me and made me a bit weepy and hopeful. Enjoy the show!