IN CASE YOU had either forgotten or consciously vaporised it from your mind, it’s that time again. That time when television networks selflessly devote their primetime to the continent we (often conveniently forget we) are part of, the time when are our eyes and ears are greeted with the strangest of spectacles and the time when you probably hear of a dozen countries you’d never heard of before. I am talking about the Eurovision Song Contest, of course, and not the qualifying stages for the Euros, though I’m sure you might be able to draw certain comparisons.
It’s a big deal these days, if you didn’t know. As in, I mean countries take it seriously. Really seriously. It’s really big in Australia, so I’m told, Azerbaijan built a state-of-the-art arena especially for Eurovision when it played host a few years ago and the show is broadcast on big screens in packed-out squares across Germany. They love it, apparently. But from that high-octane hysteria do we arrive at British indifference, marked by an ‘It’s time we just bow out of it all now…’ attitude and half-baked offerings of Bonnie Tyler and Engelbert Humperdinck.
OK, OK, I get it. We don’t take really it seriously anymore, and neither do many of the other contest veterans. The old days of Eurovision, which saw a cherubic Celine Dion yowling her heart out in the name of Switzerland, are over, replaced by the likes of Russian grannies and sexy, lesbian Finnish brides. But whilst we might have realised that Eurovision is a circus in disguise, our Eastern European cousins bizarrely see this contest as both a genuine chance to show off their often-misguided talent and an even bigger chance to bag an easyJet flight’s worth of curious tourists. The attitude of the participants alone is worthy of a chortle.
Wincingly – at least, I think that’s the word – I usually look forward to watching this, this… thing. I call it a thing because it the Eurovision Song Contest is not strictly ‘European’ (did you know that Israel can enter?), to call it a just ‘song’ contest is questionable and to call it a ‘contest’ is contentious, too. Yes it’s a load of contrived and commercial claptrap and there will be the inevitable moaning about bloc voting, politics and musical quality – and I’m surprised Nigel Farage hasn’t worked Eurovision into his manifestos somehow – but if you don’t take this thing seriously in the first place, then there’s little reason to get irate. See it as Europe’s only night out of the year, letting its hair down after eleven months of a crumbling currency, civil war and Angel Merkel. With that in mind, I urge you not to shun this annual exhibition of eccentricity but just laugh at it. Laugh at the awkward attempts of foreign television presenters to present a show in English, whilst trying to be both professional and funny; laugh at the utter desperation in some of the contestants’ voices, as though their portrait is pinned to their president’s dartboard, and, if you get that far, laugh at the equally awkward time delays and conversations between results correspondents and the impatient presenters. It’s so laughable it’s hard not to. There is nowhere else on television (except those channels, perhaps) you can see a bearded Austrian drag queen with a song about phoenixes, is there?
Here’s what I thought about Conchita Wurst’s victory.