Eurovision is almost upon us again. Few things are more mocked than the Eurovision Song Contest! Yet it’s appeal to millions of Europeans (and millions further afield) continues to endure – why so? How so?! Let’s take a closer peek at the campfest that is the Eurovision Song Contest.
For one thing, why all the hate? Seriously! For a music festival that has for years been done very much tongue in cheek, it’s amazing just how much hate Eurovision gets. Yet it continues to thrive. As this year’s contest in Stockholm looms, just look at the figures: 197-million people in 40 countries tuned in to watch the 2015 Eurovision Song Contest’s two semi-finals and Grand Final held in Vienna. Host country Austria had 1.7-million of its citizens watching on TV, its largest viewing audience of the spectacle in a decade. A mind-boggling 95.5% of people in Iceland watching TV on that Saturday night were watching the Grand Final – and Iceland hadn’t even qualified for the final! Bless them. Can you imagine how lonely it was being a Eurovision-hater in Reykjavik that night?
Very tellingly, an average of 44.5% of people aged 15-24 in the 40 countries that were watching TV that night were watching the Grand Final in Vienna. It’s well-known how the digitally-saturated Millennials love irony, and heaven knows Eurovision can be deliciously ironic to the hilt, but those are some serious numbers. Ask any marketer about how a brand can expect to survive, and they will tell you it’s all about getting the youth on board – they are the future brand loyalists, and they are a tough bunch to crack. And Eurovision, somehow, has done that. It’s clear to see how, as contests of the past were polite, very well mannered affairs. Everyone sat the whole time and the clapping by the audience was restrained. Even the cheering was polite! Now, politeness has gone out the window, with fans nearly all standing and shouting and screaming, with demented flag-waving that puts the Olympics to shame. Eurovision today is drenched in vivid colours, strobing lights and all-out cacophony. No wonder the youth love it.
A lot of the hate (perhaps hate is too strong a word for something so light and so slight?) and derision seems to emanate from the UK. We can thank Terry Wogan for that. Bless him, and may he rest in peace, but Terry did a lot to damage whatever goodwill there may have been in the UK regarding Eurovision, however talented a broadcaster and brilliant with a sarcastic quip he may have been. Odd that, since the UK had 6.6-million people viewing last year’s contest. Hmmmm, that’s a lot of closet…ahem…British lovers of Eurovision. Surely not all of them could have been sitting there getting drunk with friends and slagging off the proceeding? But all the songs are terrible and musically devoid of any merit, right? Wrong. That’s just a cop-out by people who are too cynical or trying too hard to be ‘cool’ about dismissing Eurovision. There are good Eurovision years and pretty bad ones, yet invariably from time to time there are some genuinely good songs or great voices to be enjoyed, sometimes from really surprising places. And that can make it all worthwhile.
Even more attuned than the youth to the fun and camp of Eurovision are gay men. Just scan those audiences year after year at a contest and it’s blatantly obvious that Eurovision is gay, very gay! Who better than us to appreciate camp for the sake of camp, and not get all boring and existential about it? Yes, some of the songs are absolute drivel. Yes, the tactical voting, especially by the Eastern European and Scandinavian countries, is beyond appalling and totally unfair. Yes, it can get incredibly naff! And, yes, music powerhouse countries like the United Kingdom and France have about as much chance these days of winning Eurovision as Donald Trump has of becoming a sexy man. We know that. But that’s simply not the point, as any person who appreciates the camparama that is Eurovision will attest to.
So what is the ‘value’ of Eurovision, if any? It’s actually very simple – it’s a guilty pleasure that for millions, many gay men included, is not even that guilty. It’s fun and it does what it sets out to do every year – create hope of really great music (as if!), infuriates, entertains and, mostly, makes one laugh and enjoy oneself. At a time of so much global gloom and when even the Oscars have become a drab, boring affair, then the bit of fun and kitsch glam that the Eurovision provides is most welcome. So, screw the haters, bring it on, Stockholm!