Since World War II ended, the Europeans have been trying to find ways of channeling their mutual aggression without actually having to kill each other. Nations signed treaties and formed alliances like NATO, the European Economic Community, and the European Union, but that only kept tensions at a simmer. Playing football matches was not good enough because the fans were not known for their fine manners and their “tea with the Queen” graces. No, something else was needed to promote European peace.
The solution involved copious amounts of sequins and bad lyrics. You think I am joking? The acts can get quite comical to the point of bad karaoke meets the Gong Show meets children’s television on acid.
The Eurovision Song Contest was the brainchild of Marcel Bezençon, director general of Swiss television and chairman of the committee that the European Broadcasting Union assembled to create a light entertainment program. The first contest was held in 1956 in Switzerland. Seven countries participated and submitted two songs each. (Now it’s only one song per nation.) Switzerland won. So much for being neutral.
The contest raked in 195 million viewers last year in just the 41 countries counted. The U.S. definitely was not one of them. Chances are, there are several hundred million more viewers that are off the radar. To put that in perspective, the Super Bowl had a viewership of 160 million and about 114 million of them were in the United States. Eurovision is one of those cultural entities that elude us American types. It is a pity because this is a television highlight of the year.
The most famous tune to come from the competition is this little earworm.
ABBA’s win happened in 1974, but their launch into fame was not the most interesting thing that occurred that year. Portugal’s entry, “E depois do adeus,” was actually the first of the two signals used to start a coup against the Estado Novo regime, which eventually became the Carnation Revolution. Imagine, a song contest was used to change the course of an entire nation. Mindblowing.
If you watched the ABBA video, you would have heard the voice of Sir Terry Wogan. Taking the hosting reins for the BBC from 1971 to 2008, Sir Terry was basically Mr. Eurovision. Still, I find it still hard not to see him in his orange skinned glory, but Graham Norton is a most worthy successor. Anything that camp needs someone flippant and irreverent to go along with it, and Graham was the right choice.
I asked the Boffin, if there were one thing about Eurovision that was important to explain to the Americans, what would it be? He said that the people get to vote on songs that they don’t understand, and they can’t vote for their own countries. Yes, audience voting happened way before The Voice and the other talent shows. Apart from language differences, I countered that the politics are confusing. He summed it up like this.
“Germany and Austria vote for each other. Greece never votes for Turkey. Turkey never votes for Cyprus and Greece. Greece and Cyprus always vote for each other. What’s the problem?”
And the other countries?
Turkey and Azerbaijan always pair up. So do Norway and Sweden, Lithuania and Georgia, Serbia and Bosnia, Portugal and Spain, and Russia and Belarus.
The U.K. and Ireland can’t be arsed to the same.
So, my dear Americans, please root for the United Kingdom in their quest for Eurovision glory on Saturday. Their entry is below, and I think it is a catchy little number. It’s called “Still in Love with You” by Electro Velvet. Unfortunately, like our colonial days, we have no representation in this matter, but at least there is no taxation.
I have been getting inquiries about how to watch the contest in the States. You can watch the live stream of the finals on the official site on Saturday.
They also have been uploading the semis onto their YouTube channel, so I can imagine they would do the same with the finals.