For those unfamiliar with the term, Eurovision, simply put, is the world’s largest live music contest. For a more realistic description, it is the marmite of Europe, dividing people by their love or hate of it; it is like X Factor on drugs, spanning most European countries and, randomly, Israel and Australia; it is wonderfully unique, defined by its glittery glamour, fake pianos on fire, epic sax guys, giant hamster wheels, polish milkmaids, Russian grannies, massive costumes, incredible dancing, some truly awful songs, and (for British audiences) the voice of Graham Norton lovingly mocking the entire event. Forbes describes Eurovision as “an annual tradition that consumes the region in an enthusiastic fervour culminating in a high-energy musical extravaganza so utterly bizarre in nature that it leaves the rest of the world scratching its head.” For those still confused, look up the video ‘Love Love Peace Peace’ for the 2016 Swedish hosts summing up Eurovision in the most Eurovision-y way possible.
In under two months I envision happy people excited for an evening of high-spirited shenanigans at loud parties with even louder singing. This vision isn’t just for the students of post-exam St Andrews — the whole of the UK is going to have one hell of a party, so you’d better start preing (I’d recommend watching the recent film ‘Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga’ for a taste of what the contest is about). May 13th is the date for the diaries of the grand final when the UK is going to host this iconic event, the first time since 1998. The contest will be hosted in Liverpool Arena (sadly for Scots, Glasgow was eventually runner up to hosting). Alesha Dixon, Hannah Waddingham, and Ukrainian singer Julia Sanina will host, with Graham Norton jumping in for the final.
Traditionally, the winning country hosts the contest the consecutive year. However, the UK did not win Eurovision 2022— the UK’s Sam Ryder came second to Ukraine’s Kalush Orchestra with their song ‘Stefania’. Unfortunately, Ukraine was deemed unable to host due to the Russian invasion. Perhaps encouraged by Europe’s solidarity with Ukraine, the slogan for the contest is ‘United by Music’. It can be questioned, however, does Eurovision actually unite people?
Eurovision must be the most politically ‘unpolitical’ event ever: TV screens show glitzed up superfans waving massive flags, the most patriotic some people will ever be, and the Jury undisputedly vote for countries they wish to keep in good terms with, such as neighbours Sweden and Norway, or Greece and Cyprus. Other countries have more unfriendly relationships that are reflected in the contest such as Russia and Ukraine, especially after Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014. In 2016, Ukraine won the contest with Jamala’s song ‘1944’. This was controversial as the song was about the deportation of the Crimean Tatars by the Soviet Union, despite political statements not generally being allowed in the contest. Last year, Russia was banned from Eurovision after they invaded Ukraine. There have been other political disagreements, such as some contenders showing Palestinian flags when Israel hosted in 2019, amongst the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. Is this contest uniting or further dividing countries?
I’d argue that, overall, Eurovision brings people together. The contest was first created to unite and enhance relations between European countries in the period after the Second World War through their mutual love of music. Eurovision is about so much more than just music; it is a community. It brings countries and people together year after year in a glorious show of togetherness. Last year I dragged my flatmates to a random Irish pub a 20-minute walk outside Florence just so we could watch the contest on a TV screen, and lo and behold we met an eclectic mix of Europeans to bond and fangirl with. Cultures are woven together whilst remaining wonderfully independent; on the televised final, pre-song postcards are shown depicting the cities and cultures of the performers or host’s country.
Besides this, the music slaps. Many mock some performances being classed as music, but I’d be impressed if you can manage to get through cult classics like Conchita Wurst’s ‘Rise like a Phoenix’ (Austria 2014), or the iconic ‘Dancing Lasha Tumbai’ (Ukraine 2007) without a smile or foot tap. Many forget Eurovision’s impact on music — it has hosted the beginnings of some of the best of mainstream music; ABBA, Celine Dion, Måneskin, and Olivia Newton John, whilst songs such as ‘Snap’ (Rosa Linn, Armenia, 2022) and ‘Arcade’ (Duncan Laurence, The Netherlands, 2019) have gone viral on TikTok.
The music itself is a melting pot of every genre possible; rock, pop, indie folk, electronic, and some songs that can only be described as the ‘eurovisiony’ genre, as well as a mix of languages— some countries sing in their home language, such as Salvador Sobral’s winning song ‘Amar Pelos Dois’ (Portugal, 2017). Eurovision also stands with the LGBTQ+ community, which is a large fan base for the contest, and many openly gay or trans singers have competed. Some conservative countries are critical of this LGBTQ+ visibility but Eurovision remains openly welcoming; differences are celebrated, love is loved, humour is everything, and there are quite often some banger songs.
So sure, Eurovision can be political, but this isn’t necessarily bad; showing support for a country by voting for them on a music contest can be a simple show of solidarity. Eurovision at the end of the day is just about boosting each other up.
The true spirit of Eurovision is summed up for me when in 2021 the UK’s James Newman scored, not uncommonly, a spectacular ‘nul points’, and, to the crowds’ supportive cheers, swigged his beer victoriously.
St Andrews revision week in the library? Sounds like an excuse to listen to 2023’s Eurovision entries whilst ‘revising’…