Whether you enjoy revelling in the campy fun of its Eurotrash stylings, or view the evening with the reticence of an anxious homeowner fending off trick or treaters at Halloween (although this time the pranksters are obtuse EDM producers from the Baltics), there’s no denying its cultural impact.
Those who do tune in to the annual showcase of a music scene bent awkwardly through the lens of Europe know that it’s an event of contrasts.
For every wackadoo explosion of pop there’s a lovelorn ballad delivered at a snail’s pace around a piano, and for every participant-from-a-former-USSR-country’s politically charged paean to social justice, a song where the words just go “la la la la la”.
It’s a real mixed bag, and one of the greatest musical nights of the year. Lighten up.
Still need proof? Here are 5(ish) of the best moments from recent Eurovisions past:
There’s been enough said about Lordi – Finland’s hard rock entrant to the contest in 2006 (was it really that long ago?) – that simply poking fun at their ogre-like costumes and pyrotechnically well-endowed performance won’t cut the mustard.
Instead, let’s focus on what the non-traditional Eurovision band did for the contest. In the years since, there always seems to have been at least one or two ‘proper’ bands for musos to pay attention to, as certain countries attempt to undercut the usual Song Contest pop with a bamboozling display of – shock horror! – live music.
Actually, Finland tried this again in 2015 when they sent punk band Pertti Kurikan Nimipäivät to the contest for the shortest entry in the competition’s history. And it was… good?!
A cynical attempt at winning novelty votes? Maybe. Also a chance for fans of ‘real music’ to comment on the musicianship of a Romanian guitar hero? Undoubtedly.
Lordi’s influence lives on. But no, you won’t be checking out that Eastern European pop-punk band on Spotify in the morning.
Flying the flag
The UK has a real Eurovision identity crisis.
One year, we’ll send the dourest, po-faced singer songwriter we can find to give us some “credibility”, only to be roundly trounced by a troupe of children’s TV presenters singing about chicken dippers in Belarusian. Or something.
Our response? “That nonsense song from the continent seemed to do quite well, so we too can do quite well if we raid the Pontins Bluecoat roster for a novelty act to flash their teeth through a performance fine-tuned through last year’s summer season.” Quite.
Well, our flip-flopping between embracing Eurovision kitsch one year and eschewing it completely the next hasn’t worked for a long time, but at least Scooch’s aeronautically themed banger wiggles its way out of our brains around about this time every year.
Ironic reverence it most certainly is, but we’d take that over a stubbled man standing still in a big coat any day.
I’m not your Toy
How Israel will fare under Eurovision’s unashamedly obvious tactical voting system this year is anyone’s guess, but you’d have to respect the guts of anyone not giving them “nul points” this year. Nothing says “taking sides” like awarding a throwaway funk pop track some pity points.
But in 2018, Israel did produce one of the more memorable Eurovision winners in recent years in Netta, who loop-pedalled her way to victory with ‘Toy’, a bonkers mix of chicken clucks and references to Donald Trump.
It captured global attention unlike any winning track has in recent years, and even got included in the year’s edition of Just Dance; whether this year’s Israeli entrant will be similarly enjoyed by half-cut pre-drinkers waggling Wii joysticks around in years to come remains to be seen.
Anything Graham Norton says
What makes Eurovision is its commentary.
The Irish lineage of the British coverage’s commentators – in both the late Sir Terry Wogan, and Graham Norton – gives the two iconic voices a sort of authority over the whole competition; Ireland have won the contest a record-setting seven times, so Wozza and G-Norts? This is sort of their bag.
Since Wogan’s passing especially, Norton’s pithy narration has become a highlight of the show unto itself, mirroring the thoughts of viewers back home who can’t quite believe what they’ve just seen pulled from Estonia’s bag of tricks.
It’s like he’s there in the room with you, providing company even if you’re working your way through a Eurotrash roadtrip of Aldi lagers on your lonesome.
Whether it’s commenting on the often striking fashion choices of our European friends, a flurry of bum notes the performers had hoped we hadn’t heard, or just poking fun at the overly smiley native language hosts, Graham’s there to see you right.
Bear with us.
It’s perhaps not memorable for the right reasons, but when Eurovision 2020 became one of the earlier high-profile casualties of the Covid-19 pandemic sweeping the globe last year, fans began to realise just how much they cherish that one night a year of escapist musicality.
The show was replaced with a remote version of the ceremony, with the 41 acts “competing” in a non-competitive virtual show on the weekend the final would have taken place.
Though it was a welcome respite from a period in time in which world famous musicians were telling us things Weren’t That Bad from the comfort of their spare spare studios, it didn’t quite capture the live magic of Eurovision proper.
Thankfully, the show goes on this year, with so far only Australia the victim of an enviously sensible travel ban (they will instead send in a ‘live-to-tape’ recorded performance), and the Polish and Icelandic delegation both holed up in their hotels after positive tests for the virus.
OK, that doesn't sound very promising, but we’re crossing it all that Eurovision can be back as properly as is safe this year. We’ve missed it too much.
How can I watch Eurovision 2021?
The final of the competition, which is being held in Rotterdam in the Netherlands, will air on BBC One on Saturday 22 May at 8pm in a special programme hosted by Graham Norton.
It will also be broadcast on BBC Radio 2 in a programme hosted by Ken Bruce.
The semi-finals will be broadcast on BBC Four on 18 and 20 May in programmes hosted by presenters Rylan Clark-Neal and Scott Mills, and singer Chelcee Grimes.
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