The Eurovision Song Contest is a big deal in the rest of the world, and getting bigger every year. Now with the Logo network broadcasting the event for the second year in a row, it’s getting more exposure over here. Perhaps someday everyone will know Eurovision, and maybe they’ll let America participate. Hey, they let Australia in, so anything is possible. Meet me after the jump for my thoughts on this year’s contest.
What is the Eurovision Song Contest?
Held once a year, in the nation of the previous year’s winner, this is a music and entertainment phenomenon. Between forty and fifty nations, mostly in Europe, some from Western Asia and a few from the Middle East, and as I mentioned, Australia, enter an original song performed by an artist or group representing that nation. They are each given three minutes, with a maximum of six performers to do the song during a continent-wide live broadcast.
At the end of the performances, all of the citizens of the nations involved call a special phone number to vote for the song they liked the most. The catch is you cannot vote for your own nation’s entry. This last rule makes it a bit tricky, and a little bit more fair. The winner earns bragging rights for their nation as well as the honor of hosting the event the next year. That last part brings millions to the country helping the economy and building their tourism budget.
Currently it is the most watched program in Europe, the last few years pulling in over half a billion viewers, and who knows how many more worldwide through streaming live on the internet. Now it’s broken down to three broadcasts, over the course of one week, two semi-finals and a grand final with twenty-six participants. Eurovision is big. But big is what Eurovision is about, big, crazy, and loud.
This entertainment extravaganza has been happening since 1956, started by the then-fledgling European Broadcasting Union. An international song contest broadcast live throughout all of Europe was considered the perfect concept for the network, and has gone on from there. The ambitious project is now celebrating its sixty-first year and has become a tradition.
While almost unknown (except to the cool people) in the United States, some of the winners and participants over the years may be familiar. They include ABBA, Julio Iglesias, Celine Dion, Cliff Richard, Katrina and the Waves, Lordi, Johnny Logan, Brotherhood of Man, Olivia Newton-John, Jedward, and even Engelbert Humperdinck, who competed at the ripe old age of 76.
Politics and Economics
The world being what it is, and nations having their own laws and policies different from their neighbors, sometimes politics gets involved. There have been years when nations didn’t compete because Israel was involved, or when Jordan blacked out Israel’s entry on the broadcast. It gets very nasty some years when nations are at war with each other. Let’s just say the break up of the Soviet Union made for some interesting years. Although it’s frowned upon, and Eurovision wants to be a symbol of European unity, it is frequently used as a platform for various movements.
Another frequent worry is money. Greece is effectively bankrupt. Can they afford to win? Other nations are having similar problems, yet some nations participate while others drop out. It is a major consideration. If one can’t afford to build a stadium and to house and entertain several million people, one should definitely avoid winning Eurovision. After a few withdrawals, a total of forty-two nations competed in the contest this year. Despite the political problems of late with Russia, the event was held in Kiev, Ukraine. Of note, Kyiv rhymes with leave, fun fact.
As some of you know, I haven’t had the best time the last four or five months, being sick and spending some time in the hospital, so this year I didn’t have as much time to follow Eurovision as much as I wanted to or usually do. I didn’t even cover it on my blog, and this week I didn’t even get to see the two Semi-Finals that narrow the field of forty-two entrants to the twenty-six in the Grand Final. Word on the street however is that I didn’t miss much as far as those who didn’t make the finals.
The finalists were Israel, Poland, Belarus, Austria, Armenia, The Netherlands, Moldova, Hungary, Denmark, Portugal, Azerbaijan, Croatia, Australia (their second year in the contest), Greece, Norway, Cyprus, Romania, Belgium, Sweden, and Bulgaria, joining last year’s winner Ukraine and of course the Big Five – France, Germany, Spain, Italy, and the United Kingdom – in the Grand Final. Click on the country’s name to see a video presentation of their entry.
For the second year in a row, Logo has brought Eurovision to America, and that’s probably about right as no other network could properly bring this madness to the United States. This year’s American hosts are Michelle Visage, formerly of Seduction, and Ross Mathews, probably better known as Jay Leno’s intern, and thankfully they’ve promised not to talk over the performances. They did however chatter over the introductions of each nation’s participants. Baby steps, I guess, Logo, baby steps.
The real onsite hosts of Eurovision this year are famous in Ukraine but it set a bad example when the theme this year was celebrating diversity. Twitter, always a wonderful and hilarious place to play while watching Eurovision live, was quick to point out that Ukraine had chosen three white men to host the program this year. Despite that, the three local celebrities, whose consonant-filled names are far too hard for this American to spell, did an adequate job.
One can, after years of watching Eurovision, break the acts down in categories, usually easily spotted in the first moments of a performance. There is cute boy band sensibility, divas doing runs, the subtle political anthem, as well as the obvious political anthem, the disco throwbacks, the ethnic traditional folk songs, the rockers, the dubsteppers, the okay performances that hope their dancers and special effects will kick them up a notch, and then there are acts that are simply insane.
As it began, Israel and Austria had cute boys, Poland and Armenia divas, and Belarus a bit of traditional and energetic folk insanity. I liked that last one, and it seemed the crowd did as well. Moldova’s wedding dance was catchy, but The Netherlands gave us a poor man’s Wilson Phillips. Hungary was one of my faves when I first heard it, but only because of its slow motion rap, but their stage performance was impressive – the highlight for me so far.
And So It Goes
I love Eurovision, have been following it for at least two decades, seeing it in Helsinki in 2007 was one of the best times of my life, but even I have to say that this was not a very good year for the Contest. If I had to miss a year like I almost did this time, it wouldn’t have been that bad. And even Italy having a bear on stage couldn’t have changed that.
Azerbaijan, always a Eurovision favorite, brought a performance artist on stage with an interesting blackboard background and a horse in a business suit, but the song was nowhere near as cool and quirky. Croatia gave us a big man who mixed both boy band charm and operatic skill with his bearded baby face, potentially a winner, but not a favorite.
More of the Same
Spain gave us a really catchy beach reggae tune that is a delightful earworm, that is only helped along vote-wise by the singer’s contagious smile. “Do It for Your Lover” could win. Norway weirdly mixed country and electronica, and it worked. The UK continued its streak of only putting out a half-effort with former Eurovision contestant Lucie Jones, who appeared not to have rehearsed.
From Cyprus came predictable if stunning special effects with an odd song called “Gravity.” Romania yodeled. Germany seemed to steal some of Cyprus’ special effects. Ukraine tried half-heartedly to rock. I kinda dug the hypnotic and subtle entry from Belgium, but I don’t think it will win. Sweden was a favorite among friends and I can see why with its dancey new wave vibe, and really how can a song with the line “you look so freaking beautiful” not win?
The Waiting Is the Hardest Part
Whether it’s a mediocre contest or a spectacular one, waiting for the votes to be counted and calculated is always the worst. To pass the time we’re shown the acts over and over again in short bursts, last year’s winner performs, and of course every year the voting moves more toward judges and less to the people, but I won’t comment on that, other than I don’t like it.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the performances shown while we waited were better than most of the entrants. That’s how low the bar was this year sadly. I do love watching the votes come in as we check in with each country’s show host getting their two minutes of fame, and trying to get a third.
As the votes came in, Portugal and Bulgaria, neither of which really surfaced on my radar, had early leads. In such a mediocre year it’s hard to predict the Contest as it’s anyone’s guess. Portugal’s Salvador Sobrel won that country’s Pop Idol and also pulled on some heartstrings with his ongoing health issues.
And Bulgaria’s Kristian Kostov was mentored by former Russian Eurovision winner Dima Bilan. You don’t suppose the Russians tampered with this vote as well? They do run Ukraine these days. It wouldn’t be the first election they hacked. That said, Portugal pulled ahead quickly and stayed there. But that was the people’s votes. The judges’ votes, booed by the audience several times, didn’t change the results much. The winner of the 2017 Eurovision Song Contest is Portugal – “Amar Pelos Dois” (“Love for Two” in English) by Salvador Sobrel.
See you next year! Although, after the mooning, I wonder if we’ll see Australia…