/ Leigh Alexander / 7 am Mon, May 20 2013
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  • Eurovision 2013: An American in London

    Eurovision 2013: An American in London

    American expat Leigh Alexander has had her first Eurovision party as an embedded foreigner in London. It went well.

    It's Sunday morning in London, where I'm living as of less than a week ago. I've got a hangover and kitchen cleanup duty, and on top of that, I'm out £10. An actual live baby fox entered our house last night. Last night was Eurovision. I've had my first Eurovision party as an embedded foreigner.

    Wait, I'll tell you all about it, but let's back up a bit, first. My first Eurovision was last year in my New York home, playing host to English friends. Before that, I'm a little embarrassed to say I knew hardly anything of the pan-European song contest, and in watching it I experienced the kind of wonderment that's sadly pretty rare for us Americans: the world is so big.

    I was also fascinated to learn about European politics in the guise of a pop competition. The winning nation has to host next year's event (this year Eurovision was in Malmo, Sweden, thanks to Loreen's victory last year) – but that's an expense some countries don't want. Sometimes when a country votes for you, as Portugal is wont to do for Spain, it's less support for your song and more trying to stick you with an inconvenient expense. Eastern bloc nations or Scandinavian countries have obvious alliances, where loyalty supersedes popularity or quality. It's not so much that the best song wins, but that the best-placed song wins.

    Without a guide I might have bounced off it, but thanks to the inimitable Ste Curran – game designer, One Life Left radio show host and Eurovision Sage – I had an amazing time. This year we weren't at the same party, but his complete sincerity as regards the song contest, alongside his pure urge to immerse himself in unmitigated joy, are still with me.

    “The ‘general' opinion in Britain is that Eurovision is ridiculous, a joke: dumb, homogeneous pop music for a competition that's decided more by politics than artistry," Ste writes me, when I extend clutching fingers for emotional support by mail. “‘Eurovision' as an adjective is more a pejorative than anything: everyone knows about it, lots of people watch, but largely to laugh. Appreciation for the event is often soaked in irony, the coward's way to enjoy anything. Never commit your heart to anything, never get hurt."

    This 2007 Eurovision performance by Verka Serduchka of Ukraine is what I show my U.S. friends who don't know what Eurovision is. It's spectacular, and hilarious, and so genuinely awesome that if I'm in a bad mood I just put it on and it fixes everything. Try it.

    Yeah, the pop songs are funny whether intentionally or not, and one should laugh. But truly enjoying Eurovision is about empathy for its narratives, Ste asserts: "Every four minutes a new artist appears, does everything they can to win the hearts and votes of 125 million people," he says.

    “Think of that: for each of the performers this is their moment, as big a moment as they'll ever have, their World Cup, their Olympics, representing their country; likely the most visible they'll ever be and perhaps the single high point of their lives," he says. "They have trained and practised and dreamt and worried and oh my God here it comes, everyone is watching them, it is happening right now."

    When I asked him what I should do at my first Eurovision party in London – a recently-blooded Eurovision fan (who still dances to Loreen's “Euphoria" and Tooji's “Stay") – his main piece of advice was to turn off the commentary. That and to watch out for regular, if ill-advised, dubstep breakdowns among all the songs.

    UK commentator Graham Norton can get a bit derisive at times, right? When each contestant was introduced with a little visual montage of their home life, Norton called the framing convention “a bit banal." On Russia's singer's creatiive background, he said “she loves paintings, and... things."

    “People often mistake the British allergy to taking anything at all seriously for cynicism," friend and British writer Laurie Penny explains to me. There are only a very few things, like Doctor Who and binge drinking, that we allow ourselves to enjoy unironically. Eurovision isn't one of them, particularly because we consider ourselves culturally and creatively superior to almost every other national entrant, despite our terrible food, horrible weather, Tracey Emin and Coldplay."

    “We're also poor team players and worse losers; whoever invented the idea that it's the taking part that counts was not from the Home Counties," she adds. “So, we're only allowed to have fun watching Eurovision as long as we pretend to hate it and groan all the way through, and then console ourselves after another unsuccessful year with the idea that we're not really part of Europe anyway. Despite all of that, I imagine the growing xenophobic consensus in the screaming bear pit that passes for political debate in Britain right now would be blown wide open were anyone to suggest withdrawing from Eurovision."

    Interesting! Now, on the big night my housemates made snacks – chips, oven pizza, and crusty things with meat in them that I've yet to fully understand. We went to the “American" section at Tesco, a shelf that had Aunt Jemima maple syrup (England has perfectly fine maple syrup and there is no reason to spend £6, or, like, $9, on the Aunt), and Lucky Charms, and strawberry-flavored marshmallow Fluff. We bought the Fluff. Everyone was surprised to like it on white bread with peanut butter. Yeah, that was my contribution to our Eurovision party. I'm sorry.

    London is a place where people are fine with dipping Pringles in guacamole, and where guacamole is an odd, sour treacle resembling an avocado in color alone. It was good, though. Our housemates are wonderful, our friends are wonderful. There was some really nice liquor, and I think even Ste would agree with me that's all it takes to have a Eurovision party. Last year Ste brought me a bottle of cranberry Finlandia vodka as a house gift. I can't even tell you what all we drank this year.

    Properly watching Eurovision requires a little research – there are semi-finals and eliminations rounds ahead of last night's Grand Final, and it's best to educate oneself ahead of time so that you know who you want to root for in the main event, whom to tell your friends about, when you can take a cigarette break and when you need to tell the whole room to quiet down and pay attention.

    Last year there were a lot of songs we liked. This year I hitched my star to only one nation: Romania, and the incredible operatic acrobatics of Cezar Ouatu – a spangled, handsome Dracula accompanied by lyrical dance renditions of romantic blood rituals. My friend commented that songs called “It's my life" or including the lyrics “it's my life" generally represent a sort of tough everyman aesthetic, but in this case, the Romanian life is ballet blood sacrifices.

    There's even a dubstep breakdown halfway through the performance that serves to remind what dubstep breakdowns can actually be good for. Oh man. Standout superstar of Eurovision 2013.

    I couldn't wait for our friends to see Romania's entry. France was up first of all, with a blonde chanteuse in a fringed dress who reminded us all of Tina Turner (Graham Norton snarked about her being a little bit like Courtney Love). Her last name is “Bourgeois". No, really, it is.

    Our friend Paul couldn't wait for us to see Lithuania's entry, a Morrisey-ish guy who used to be in a band called “Hetero," if we heard correctly, and sang a song about being in love because of one's shoes. Seriously.

    Next up was Moldova's entry, who had a La Roux-ish coif and a massive dress that slowly elevated her taller and taller into the air. A Hunger Games-ish pattern of flames evolved across the dress; she was a real Girl on Fire, and I remember liking the song, but nothing else about it. Oh, but Finland's though, we'd already heard about – a cheerleader sort of lady in a saucy wedding dress singing a song called “Marry Me," which was more than a little misogynistic lyrically.

    To address that criticism, “Marry Me" employed a trite sort of “surprise reveal": The tuxedo-ed backup dancers were actually women, and the singer kissed one of the women at the end of the song, which offended Turkey and threatened to interrupt the Eurovision broadcast in that country. Powerful gay marriage anthem this wasn't; I also heard rumors the singer wrote the song to enjoin her boyfriend to propose.

    Belgium's was the sort of entry that reminds me of my friend Ste's encouraging us all to remember that for every silly pop act on that stage we might be tempted to have a laugh at, for those performers, this is their momentous big day on the world stage. Belgium's song itself wasn't especially remarkable, but the way the singer cupped his face at the end and hopped up and down to all of the applause was one of those touching Eurovision moments.

    All I remember about Belarus is how much the song made me wish there were a “best legs" prize in Eurovision, is that a horrible thing to say, she came out of a disco ball, it was incredible. There's an interesting war going on in Eurovision between showmanship and actual excellent pop song, and a lot of times stunning showmanship lets people forget it's a song contest, and could you dance to it in a club and so forth.

    Ah, there was the Maltese Doctor (Malta's entry was fronted by an actual adorable young doctor), with a sort of strummy twee jam band song that set everyone in the room to abrupt and fevered swaying. Think the Plain White Ts and their grating marshmallow-Fluff “Hey Delilah," that sort of thing. A collective awwww went up around the room here, and as much as any of us would gag to hear such a thing on the radio, the band looked so familial, so cheerful and sweet, it was hard not to like their performance.

    Russia's performance last year was a set of dancing grannies, either an earnest subversion or an ironic cop-out (probably the latter, let's be real). This year Russia brought something more sincere, a balladeer that might have been even a little too dour, a little too restrained – aside from some lovely luminescent technology toward the end that saw audience members' glow bracelets glimmer on in convincing ripples as light-jellyfish seemed to rise through the air.

    Germany came with “Glorious," an absolutely blatant rip-off of winning song “Euphoria" from Sweden's Loreen last year. I kind of liked Netherlands' Anouk and her patently un-Eurovision, minor key-heavy “Birds." Her odd voice put me a bit in mind of a Janis Ian or Melanie Safka kind of singer. Ukraine's act got voted very highly in the end, but she reminded me of a listless Rebecca Black-alike.

    Erm. Okay. So. Here's where we got drunk and preoccupied, suddenly deciding that we would register with an online betting site and place £10 on Romania to win Eurovision. Not that we thought they would, really. We'd seen the odds sheet. But I was carried away with Eurovision fever, and thought if one is going to bet on Eurovision, why not do so in commitment to SPIRITUAL RIGHTNESS? The least opportunistic, least-cynical bet I could make?

    It all degenerates from there, really. A baby fox broke into our house. A REAL LIVE BABY FOX. It was quite distracting. Then, our neighbor one house over yelled at us to be quiet because it was “ten minutes to one" (in New York, if someone tells you to quiet down on a Saturday night you yell even louder). People got into deep dialogues on the carpet and couldn't remember which member of Black Sabbath wrote Armenia's song (it was Tommy Iommi).

    Azerbaijan had A SHADOW MAN DOING DANCE POSES IN A GLASS BOX. Seriously, that staging was brilliant. I heard one of the acts had a newly-nationalized American singing for them and that she was awful, but I never got to see her.

    And yeah, my last note on Eurovision has to do with Graham Norton comparing the representative Ukraine had elected to announce its votes “Sideshow Bob." Tooji, who sang my favorite song last year, gave out the votes on his home Norway's behalf. It was nice to see him again. Denmark won, overall, as most people predicted they would going into the Grand Final.

    Denmark's song was fine. The tinny drums and panpipes were a bit too Celine Dion for my taste, but the performers were captivating, the gold confetti was transporting, and I have to admit the tune is catchy. I'm still humming it a day later. It's no Romania, but it's all right.

    At the time, by the end of Eurovision 2013, I was so busy drunk-Tweeting and trying to force the hashtag #RomaniaWasRobbed to trend that I hardly remember it. Denmark's singer looked like Isla Fisher and had a white dress, if I remember correctly. This year a good Eurovision drinking game would have been to drink whenever one sees a white dress (as Ste and his friends did), or whenever there was a dubstep breakdown, or whenever the TV marquee warned of seizure risk from flashing strobes.

    Oh, Eurovision. Next year I aim to be in Denmark. Bet on it.

    Photo: Montenegro's “Who See feat. Nina Zizic" [REUTERS/Janerik Henriksson/Scanpix Sweden]

    / / COMMENTS

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    1. We in the UK used to think we would win. After getting down about losing (once thanks to General Franco fixing the voting) throughout the 1970s and 1980s, we decided to forget about trying to win and just enjoy it. It’s a post-colonial thing: accept we’re not as great as we thought we were, and get pleasure from not winning. 

      ESC is subsidised by the BBC, ARD and two other TV stations, so if a small country wins, they don’t have to foot the whole bill. At least it’s not Country and Western.

        1. But Cliff was better 

          How Franco cheated Cliff out of Eurovision title http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/celebritynews/1926993/How-General-Franco-cheated-Cliff-Richard-out-of-Eurovision-title.html

          1. He’s the cutest androgynous, cap-toothed, nose-jobbed lip-syncher I’ve seen this week.

      1. I still dont get why there where wearing kilts/dresees I dont know what the greek name for a mans dress is, looked like they where off to play football in the park.

        1. Just don’t start talking about how big your fanny’s gotten from eating all those crisps.

    2. I think Portugal votes for Spain for a much simpler reason – they are our neighbourghs, they understand the lyrics, they probably know the signers too, and there was no Portugal entry this year.

      The voting goes mainly by blocks – nordics are a powerful block, Eastern Europe another. Spain & Portugal is a miniblock that sometimes stretches to Italy but not consistently.

      In any case you didnt even mention Spain’s entry this year, which is no surprise as we keep sending absolutely forgettable songs. 

      This year sucked, frankly. Too many ballads, not enough craziness, and all around mediocrity. I wanted Greece to win :-/

      1. I don’t remember Spain’s song, no. I do remember the singer’s yellow dress though, beautiful and flowing! Remembering the fashions is worth something, right? 

        1. That reminds me that the Romanian guy (Caesar?) went to the semifinals with the same song but not the whole act. So actually seeing him in that Glitter Dracula open coat thing was quite the surprise, same as the bloody homunculus and … whatever the golden girl was meant to represent.

          So fashion counts, yes :-)

      2.  The same actually goes for the Nordics, we understand each others languages and we have much the same culture, so to some extent we like the same things.

        1. I think it all gets quite complex. In the UK we often hear the Irish entry a lot on the radio before the competition, so it’s familiar to us when the competition comes around, which gives it an edge. I expect the same thing happens in some of the other blocks. But then, there’s a significant Irish population in the UK, and they can take advantage of being able to vote for their home country, and that sort of thing is likely to apply to other blocks too (and could account for Germany’s traditional support of Turkey despite their not being neighbours, for example).

    3. “There are only a very few things, like Doctor Who and binge drinking, that we allow ourselves to enjoy unironically. ”

      So, so true. This made me laugh SO hard. My Scottish better half and I watched the last episode of Doctor Who 2 times through because he wanted to make sure that he actually grasped all the twists in this confusing and somewhat layered episode. The first time ’round, we’d had “a bit” of cider. Ahem.

    4. One of the best American-in-Eurovision-land articles I’ve read. Thanks.

      The “Awful” American represented Slovenia. She actually wasn’t that bad IMO, but she didn’t make it to the final. Austria’s representative was also born in America, and also got knocked out in the semis, due to a bland song and having to go first. 

      The nearly 8-foot-tall guy who carried the Ukrainian girl onto the stage and plonked her on her rock was an American. Google “world’s biggest Obama supporter” to see one of his previous gigs. Yes, really.

    5. I ‘m not ashamed to admit that I love the show. It’s not the kind of music I normally listen to but as a once-a-year event that the whole family can join in on I think it has its merit. Eurovision fan and proud!

    6. Don’t know derisive commentators that is all part of the tradition. Wogan.. (sorry Sir Terrance) was fabulous at it and after a few years of culture shock I am getting to like Grahams take. I particularly liked “This performance contains a same sex kiss. If you are offended by such things well just grown up!” 

      Oddly I thought this years crop of songs was a bit lacking but that was made up for my the Swedish Smorgasbord put on by the hosts.

      Watching, as I was, with a Pan European chat going in at least 5 countries with about 30 people on board and a bottle of bubbles was the perfect way to enjoy the evening.

      Sadly I don’t think I heard the Romanian entry as I was laughing too much.

      All good fun until you win.

      1. The derisive comments were not always part of the competition; it’s one of the many terrible things Wogan has done for UK TV and Radio (I find him so annoying that now I change channel if he comes on the air). Although I’m glad Graham Norton has toned it back a bit, I wish he’d tone it back a lot more (the comment about the same-sex kiss was fair game, though — that sort of thing can stay). I reckon Wogan making Eurovision a joke is one of the main reasons we won’t put in a decent entry.

    7. As a Lithuanian, I feel the need to point out that no, we don’t normally give names to our shoes and no,  that was not something that was lost in translation, but rather an unfortunate choice of metaphor (what one metaphorically wears when metaphorically walking the metaphorical road) that is much too easy to make fun of. Though I still think this should have been our last performance in Eurovision.

    8. The German preliminary was a total farce. Instead of Cascada this should have been the competing song:

      Yes, it looks like Blasmusik and Lederhosen, but it is as far from that as it can get…

      1. Meh. Looking like Blasmusik and Lederhosen would’ve gotten Germany a low finish as well. This is not your daddy’s Eurovision. Certain countries have lots of friends and merely need to be competent to do well, but the Big 5 and others have to send a plausible CURRENT pan-European hit song to have any shot at winning. LaBrassBanda was not that.

        Cascada also blew it with a ragged performance and a lack of interesting staging. Standing there waving your arms doesn’t count for so much anymore. Neither does getting noticeably ahead of your track. 

        1. Hmm sounds familiar – Everyone hates Germany after having lots of fun at a party where Germany footed half of the bill.

        2.  Well, unlike most of the other stuff played, Labrassbanda IS already a a successful European act

          1. Perhaps, but I think if there’s one hard and steadfast rule about Eurovision (well, besides NO RAP!), it would be that you don’t get points just for being famous.

            It’s amazing how many times some countries have to get clobbered in the results before they figure this out. Right, UK?

      2.  Well, this American liked it. And frankly, there’s no style of music that can’t be improved by the addition of a helicon, the second-most awesome brass bass, after the rarely heard cimbasso.

    9. Laurie Penny is close, but doesn’t *quite* say it. Us English don’t take anything seriously. We laugh at things. We laugh *with* things. But that doesn’t mean we don’t like it or don’t enjoy it. And don’t mistake sarcasm with irony. Most people don’t watch it ironically, we watch it sarcastically. There’s a huge difference.

      Graham Norton is sharp, clever and hilarious, as good as the previous host Terry Wogan who got slowly drunk off Bailey’s Irish Cream through the show as his will to live started to ebb away. But don’t confuse Norton’s sarcasm with not liking it. He wouldn’t be there if he didn’t. He loves it. But it’s a great big, petty, silly, outrageous, weirdly political camp, funny and brilliant telly show.  It shows us exactly why a United States of Europe can’t happen, because we’re culturally miles apart and yet share so much. You can’t possibly take it seriously.

      1. “Most people don’t watch it ironically, we watch it sarcastically. There’s a huge difference.”

        It seems to me that this is one of the things the UK and the rest of the world are culturally miles apart on. Is all the complaining about it “all being political” part of the sarcasm? Is Bonnie Tyler?

        My favorite thing about this article is that it describes the general UK attitude toward the contest without endorsing it. 

        Keep in mind that I’m coming to you from America, where our collective lack of interest in (and access to) the Contest is largely a result of the UK’s relentless “sarcasm”. (Note the ironic use of sarcastic quotes. Very meta, if I do say so myself.)

        The UK is our primary source of info about the contest, and your take on it just doesn’t interest us very much. To fly here, the contest needs to be more than just a target for sarcasm.

        That’s why I don’t send out links to this year’s Romania video without also including Denmark, Netherlands, and Malta.

        1. I think it’s a difference in sense of humour. In the UK, we often disparagingly say that Americans “don’t get” sarcasm. But actually, we just have different cultural attitudes to it and definitions of it. And I do genuinely find this area fascinating.

          In the UK, our sarcasm isn’t a bad thing and that’s the point I was trying to make – that’s why we can simultaneously laugh at, love and enjoy Eurovision. We may find it hysterical, but we wouldn’t actually change it very much and millions of us watch it. 

          I think if the US did the same competition (yeah, I know, not actually possible, but hopefully you’ll get my point) we’d find it po-faced and earnest and, well, not silly enough. Because it IS silly. Very, very silly. There’s something slightly Pythonesque about the whole thing, singing lyrics in languages no-one else can understand with metaphors that simply don’t translate. That’s if the Pythons had worn more metallic fabrics and had camp backing dancers and a wind machine. I love how we’re all here on this continent and yet so far apart in musical directions, and still expect Romanian goth-opera-dub to be judged alongside Greek Madness-meets-Gogol-Bordello. The last part of that sentence is funny, and is the key to why the song competition could only work in Europe with such widely differing cultures yet a common undercurrent of glitz and pop music.  Anywhere else, it would just be bland with each region submitting similar takes on pop.

          As for the politics, it can be annoying. But to me, that’s also funny. Ancient enemies simply won’t vote for each other. Best friends always do. That’s funny.

          Bonnie Tyler was an entirely serious entry – just because we find it funny, doesn’t mean we don’t take it seriously (as seriously as you can for a big pointless song competition, I mean). Her song was good, it just wasn’t that good – too much of a grower, not enough of a Bonnie-style climax. We forget that the people voting will only hear the song once and have to love it right then. It’s sad that it’s seen as a bit of a career-ending thing so very few songwriters will enter now. That is a bad thing, because, well it’s just a big stupid competition.

          This is not at all an insult to Americans, it’s just another of those things that make us two cultures split apart by a common language :)

      1.  Singing Alcohol is Free goes a long way to explaining the Greek Debt Crisis :-)

    10. Here in France, the last time we won the Eurovision goes back to 1977 ! (Marie Myriam with “L’oiseau et l’enfant”).
      Needless to say, the fact that we NEVER win the Eurovision is the main meme associated with the contest here.
      This led to some crazy theories, about how we are boycotted for not singing in English like 99% of the contestants, how we are left out of the blocks politics (not latin enough for the south, not anglo enough for the north) or that we should stop sending female solo artists with good voices but zero stage presence and just go with the crazy vibe and force the Daft Punks to participate.

      The public broadcast channel France 2, in charge of the retransmission also tends to make ill-advised jokes about the “gay-ness” of the contest. Recently, commenting the Eurovision almost became a coming-out equivalent for the hosts.
      This year, it was referenced by pairing a young game-show male talent with a much older female talk-show host, as a deliberate “you’re gay ? watch the Eurovision with your mother, then” nudge-nudge type of joke.

      1. Or Rinôçérôse…send them!  I love them.  =)  Maybe someone could talk Swayzak into going then.  I really need to try and catch this when it’s on.  I’m sure I could find it somehow.

      2. Well, if it’s any consolation, France’s was my favourite in this year’s contest. Enough that I tried to vote for it, but despite my dialling the number shown to vote for France, the phone system said that it had recorded my vote as being for Malta. Oh well, the Maltese entry was my second choice.

    11. To put you in a bit of perspective, here’s a Russian music video that’s doing rounds in Facebook: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pz7jOry30f4
      It’s called “На мою девушку упал космодесантник” (“A Space Marine Fell on my Girl”)

    12. My favourite was the entertainment by the hosts (not an entry) – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nwgcivdWnUA – Sweedish Smorgasboard. We couldn’t stop laughing…

    13. In Australia, Eurovision is hugely popular. Probably due to the large numbers of European ex-patriots. We can’t vote, we can’t enter, but we enjoy the cheez factor of it all.

      1. You could if you want, as all you have to do to enter is pay for memember ship of the EU broadcasting board, hence why russia and israel take part. Auastralia could if it paid to join.

        1. I’m too lazy to go find links, but IIRC, there ARE geographical limitations to full membership. Australia and the USA aren’t invited.

          1.  http://www.eurovision.tv/page/about/which-countries-can-take-part#Where%20do%20they%20have%20to%20be?

            It would apear you are correct.

    14. “Russia’s performance last year was a set of dancing grannies, either an earnest subversion or an ironic cop-out (probably the latter, let’s be real)”
      Nah, rejoice, it was the former.

    15.  Without question, this should have won in 2006. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tRLwHxbcR7c There is a definite voting weight/tilt toward Eastern European countries, and when Norway finally did win in 2009 in MOCKBA, its performer was Aleksandr Rybak, a Belorussian kid. His own original song and performance *was* OUTSTANDING, though: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fBFFlL58UTM 
      Neither Christine Gulbrandsen nor Aleksandr have maintained their entertainment momentum after their Eurovision zeniths. And Aleksandr’s Norwegian girlfriend still won’t reunite with him.

      1. Without question?

        Wait, are we talking about the same thing? The 14th place song? The one with the Jew’s harp boinging along on the track?

        The one from the same year that those “Eastern European” monsters from FINLAND won the contest?

        Sheesh. Everybody thinks their poop don’t stink ….

    16. A very enjoyable piece and true in so many ways.
      In Sweden we tried to be ironic about the whole thing and “view it to mock it” for many years, but for the last ten years I would say that we have stoped pretending not to care.  The gloves have come off.  In the land of the vikings the Eurovision is as serious as ice hockey. A place outside the finals is a source of national shame and any position outside of the top three is a failure. This year Robin gave it a good shot but as he didn’t even make it inte the top ten I guess he will get to feed the fishes outside Slussen if he dares to come back to Stockholm … Swedish light weight pop is a huge article of export, though – I think that maybe five of the other finalist songs in this years Eurovision were written an composed by swedes.

    17. About 10 years ago, I was sitting in a bar in Ohio with about 7-9 friends, most of whom were, like me, Americans, but we had two Euro expats in our circle, one from Slovenia and one Russian. We were all pretty deep in our cups, and my Slovenian friend decides that now is the time to share his opinion of America. “You know, I’ve been living in the U.S. for several years now, and I love it. I wouldn’t leave for anything. My only complaint is that Americans have no appreciation for their own culture. They take everything that makes American culture exciting, and they commercialize it, strip it of everything interesting, until it becomes bland self-parody.”

      I leaned in toward him and said, “One word, Sasha . . . Eurovision.”

      The Russian choked on his drink and started laughing uproariously.

      Sasha, chastened, replied, “Fair enough. I’ll stop now.”

      The other Americans were completely baffled by the exchange. I confess that I first learned about Eurovision from Monty Python (“Bing, Tiddle Tiddle Bang”) and that one awful episode of “Are You Being Served.”

    18. I am consistently disappointed to hear the typically British whine about “political” voting simply because neighboring countries tend to vote for each other rather than Britain. There are several factors that lead to this pattern, and none of them are the conspiracy it seems so many British viewers, including Graham Norton and Terry Wogan, think. 

      1. Neighboring cultures tend to have similar tastes. When Ukraine’s Ruslana won with “Wild Dances” back in 2004, she integrated traditional sounds from the Hutsul ethnic group into her pop song–sounds that are not so different from the traditional music of places like Russia, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Greece and other Eastern countries, but less common in the West. So is it any wonder that it would resonate more with those nearby nations? Similarly, Britain generally likes Irish music and vice versa, partly because of a shared cultural palate. 

      2. Neighboring countries usually have a diaspora from their neighbors. You can’t vote for the country you’re in, but you can vote for the country you’re from if you live elsewhere. I would argue the votes Germany usually gives Turkey is not because Germans love Turkish music, but because they have such a large Turkish diaspora in their country. The same can be said for the votes Britain usually gets from Spain. Even despite Bonnie Tyler’s tired and strained sounding performance, Spain gave Britain four points. I’d wager those were largely thanks to the British communities who have found their homes in the sun on the Iberian Peninsula. Just imagine how diaspora voting effects countries like Serbia, Russia and other former centers of larger States. 

      3. Musicians often already have regional followings. Most Western countries view Eurovision as a chance for unknown groups to get a break. The Eastern countries usually send their top stars who already have an international fan base. Once upon a time when I taught English in Ukraine, I remember a Russian pop star on the local MTV: Dima Bilan. I was not at all surprised when he won Eurovision four years later with overwhelming support from countries that already viewed him as a superstar. Britain has tried to harness this effect in the last few years, starting with Andrew Lloyd Webber appearing on stage with Jade, sending Blue, Englebert Humperdinck and Bonnie Tyler. But the Beeb doesn’t seem to quite understand that the performers sent by the other countries are popular now, not 10-30 years ago. 

      4. Other than possibly Ireland, no country in Europe truly doesn’t want to win. I haven’t been to Portugal, so I can’t speak to the theory presented about why they vote for Spain (though I suspect the three reasons I listed above are bigger factors than potential costs). In the places where I’ve visited and have friends, which are many, it seems everyone wants the Eurovision stage to come to their country and showcase their nation. When countries as cash strapped as Ukraine and Serbia are willing to pour millions into hosting, I think that demonstrates just how much of an honor they feel it is. The only reason I mention Ireland as an exception is because they’ve won more times than any other country, and there was a “Father Ted” episode about it. 

      I just get rather worked up by the Anglo-centric coverage that so seldom turns a critical eye to its own assumptions. I think a lot of the criticism of Eurovision I hear from British sources is filled with mental gymnastics trying to resolve the cognitive dissonance resulting from their ideology of cultural superiority butting heads with their very real failure to attract Europe’s votes. 

      I’m an American who loves Eurovision. I was in Ukraine when Ruslana won, and I’ve watched every year since. For the past five years, I’ve hosted a party to introduce my fellow Nebraskans to the phenomenon, and I’ve never had a guest who fail to fall in love. We adore the colorful commentary edged with cynicism on the BBC’s broadcast, all the while embracing the spectacle un-ironically. Generally speaking, the winner of our party’s voting does very poorly, demonstrating a clear difference in tastes (though Denmark did take our party’s second place spot this year, right behind Sweden and ahead of Malta). 

      1. I’m British and for me and my friends Eurovision has always been an event that our media attempts to make us give a hoot about but we are hugely indifferent to.  Parties are held by folks keen to enjoy the ironic and campy nature of the competition but honestly, no one here takes it seriously, no one wants to win and no British musician worth a hoot would enter. 

        Thanks for the throwaway comment about our ideology of cultural superiority, I do have to say every country I have visited or lived in tends to have the same feeling about themselves so I can’t claim it to be unique to the Brits. 

        1. Don’t dismiss the cultural superiority comment. I find that nearly all (non-British) American Eurovision followers have come to the same conclusion about the UK and its attitude toward the Contest.

          As you say, “no one here takes it seriously, no one wants to win and no British musician worth a hoot would enter.” Yet look at the comments under this article:
          That’s a mighty strange sort of indifference! It’s reminiscent of the “indifference” our Fox News viewers feel about President Obama. And just as rational.

          The UK should be raising the bar in the Contest, yet they don’t even bother approaching it. And then they react to the inevitable skunking by furiously slagging the contest under a HuffPo article that isn’t even about them. Apparently “it’s all political” because their beloved superstar from the 1980s didn’t get 1000 points just for showing up? And of course those horrible Eastern Europeans (Swedenistan, Germanystan and Denmarkistan) keep stealing the contest with their block voting ….

          Sorry to unload on you like this, but I believe the entire reason the ESC is so utterly unknown here is that most media people hear about it from the UK … and of course they aren’t interested in a cheesefest that “no one takes seriously”. If we could just sit ’em down, make ’em watch it, and let ’em see for themselves that Cesar and Bonnie Tyler weren’t the only entries this year.

          1. Thanks for the reply and I found it really interesting and it honestly made me think about the whole institution.

            However, I would say if you look at a society from the same cultural filter it tends to reenforce your existing precepts.  I’m not surprised your friends would agree with you, I know loads of people who would say exactly the same thing about the US.  We can’t both be right, but we can both be wrong.  Perhaps our cultures simply think that about the other?

            The Huffpo article was interesting, but honestly you can find the same sort of impassioned debate about anything on the internet.  Archers plotlines, iOS vs everyone else, the re-introduction of Gnomes into the Chelsea flower show.  If there is a comment board there are people interested enough to comment, as they have the opinions.  The ones who don’t, usually don’t.  Can you measure something by the absence of something?  I don’t know, but the one article (and argy bargy) is interesting but not conclusive.

            I can’t see any musician of artistic or commercial note entering, I can only assume Bonnie got poor advice as I wouldn’t rated her chances in the 80s let alone now.  However, you can do a GIS for notable comments about entering the ESC by musos’, bet you a monkey none are interested.

            Is the voting political?  I have no idea, I am sure someone can run a query which analyses voting patterns against political events to give an indication.  I do think not watching it is a political act, as its really really not very good.  I usually fix something or read a book.

            I can’t say if the Huffpo comments are racist and show an endemic fear of others which is unique to the British – which is what you’re suggesting, but I think you should be careful what you say.  Its a lucky person who lives somewhere where everyone is treated equally, regardless of creed, colour, faith and sexuality without any past history of exploitation or violence to others.  I can’t think of anywhere, can you?

            There could be any number of reasons why the ESC is unknown where you are (sorry I don’t know where that is), but I would guess its due to a hard boiled economic reckoning on the likely appeal of a pan national song contest, people are really quick to use other money making formats.  Is there a celebrated annual cheese fest full of beautiful people, intrigue and drama celebrated already?  Do people have sardonic parties on that night instead?

            I’m sorry, but whatever the reason for it not being known in your country, it has nothing to do with the ‘cultural superiority’ of a small insignificant island bobbing off the coast of France.

            Thanks for reading!.

            1. For the record, I’m not saying the British are alone in their cultural superiority complex. We Americans certainly have one, compounded by rampant xenophobia. Many of the French fans seem to share this trait, too. While my French is pretty bad, I do recall seeing some similar complaints about “political” voting coming from their side of the channel to explain why they never win anymore. None of that negates my theory. 

    19. For the record, I appreciate your qualification of the statement about the British cultural superiority complex, but you say it doesn’t negate your theory. 

      Thats odd, I lived for years in the US and Canada, I would never claim to be an expert on their cultures as they are not my own.

      What do you base your theory on?

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