Thursday, May 21, 2015

Ukrainian robots, Latvian pirates, so many wacky hats: The American’s guide to the Eurovision Song Contest By Noah Charney

ABBA skyrocketed to fame with their '74 win for "Waterloo" — but the politics of the contest are as fun as the acts. Pop quiz: What annual European-based televised event, the longest-running in world history, is viewed by nearly twice as many people as the Super Bowl? Need a clue? It may feature Moldovans with giant black cones on their heads, Latvians dressed as pirates, yodeling, Amazonian Scandinavians in breastplates, and is casually referred to by some as “the gay Olympics.” The answer is the Eurovision Song Contest, which last year drew 195 million viewers (and that statistic is just from 41 countries monitored—several hundred million more may have watched from elsewhere in the world), blowing the Super Bowl, with its measly 114.4 million viewers, out of the water. Never heard of it? I can’t say I blame you. I’d never heard of Eurovision either, before I married a Slovene and settled in as a European expat. Now I’m hooked, but not so much for the quality of the contest (more on that later), but because of the truly bizarre spectacle. The Eurovision Song Contest began in 1956, founded by the Swiss European Broadcasting Union, with the goal of providing “light entertainment” that would bring together the nations of Europe for a friendly competition. It features 52 countries (for some reason Israel and Azerbaijan and newly Australia are considered sufficiently “European” to be included), each of which send an act to perform an original three-minute song. For logistical reasons, the music is on playback, so the only thing live is the singing and dancing, which makes it more like an extremely high-end karaoke event than a proper concert. Last year’s winner, Conchita Wurst, an Austrian drag queen singing a straightforward, if melodramatic, diva song (that’s not the surprising part, as drag queens have appeared not infrequently), but wearing a pronounced beard to offset the elegant feminine glamour of her manner and outfit. Europe voted her the winner by a landslide, and hats off for such overt liberal open-mindedness. But the effect of watching Ms. Wurst was undeniably surreal. SALON Logo