In my house there is no other live television event as hallowed, as cherished and as worthy of decanting a sharing bag of posh crisps into a big bowl than the Eurovision Song Contest. My wife being Swedish it could hardly not be – Swedes take Eurovision so seriously that their entrant selection competition, Melodifestivalen, is the most-viewed TV show in the country. But over the years I’ve become hooked in my own way. In the annual transnational bitch-fest, I derive not only premium entertainment, but hope for humankind.
I like to think of Eurovision as a yearly act of intercontinental catharsis – a safe, inclusive and tolerant forum in which to snark and laugh at our neighbours and ourselves in a camply good-natured manner that vents hostilities and finds common ground in bad taste. Hours of mainly shit music, worse banter, naff cultural posturing, exposed cleavage and the occasional stage invader, culminating with the semi-mystical voting – in which fickle opinion and capricious geo-politics play out in a protracted and arcane process that seems to last until dawn, by which point everyone is hammered drunk and has long since lost track of the scores and a winner seems to just get picked at random. How many of the world’s real problems could be solved thusly?
In the annual transnational bitch-fest, I derive not only premium entertainment, but hope for humankind
Following chicken-dancing body-positive Israeli cat-fancier Netta’s victory in Lisbon last year, the 2019 contest takes place in Tel Aviv against a backdrop of religious and political controversy, and promises to be extra spicy. Predicting a victor is often impossible, but if years of studious Eurovision watching have left me with anything, then it’s a few solid criteria by which to at least spot a contender.
1. Big personality
It’s tempting to deduce that Eurovision saw Brexit coming years ago, such is every other nation in the competition’s unwavering “nul points” disdain for our entry each year. But more likely it’s got to do with Britain’s disinterested habit of picking performers with all the personality of a soggy Digestive biscuit. Eurovision loves a character! Look at cosplay Finnish shock-rockers Lordi, or perma-smiling Norwegian fiddler Alexander Rybak, or bearded Austrian drag queen Conchita Wurst. In the personality stakes it’s go large or go home.
2. Power banger or power ballad
Rarely placing much stock on subtlety or nuance, winning Eurovision songs tend to fall firmly into one of two categories – bangers so hard they break the dancefloor, and power ballads so energy-sapping they probably earn Russian oil and gas oligarchs enough to buy a new top-flight football club. Loreen’s Euphoria being an excellent recent example of the former, and Marija Šerifović’s Molitva an example of the latter. Whether your song’s fast or slow, at least one ludicrously vaulting key change is a must.
3. Have a good visual gimmick
It’s called a song contest, but Eurovision is made for a voting TV audience, and thus good visual gimmicks – be it Måns Zelmerlöw dancing with cute animations or Dima Bilan teaming up with a world-champion Russian figure skater – can make a big difference. How Montenegro’s Slavko Kalezić never made it past the semis in 2017 with a routine involving a dramatic exotic trouser reveal followed by twirling an oversized hair braid and writhing on a video of his own face I’ll never know.
4. No guitars!
With the exception of Lordi, no Eurovision winners in recent history have played guitar on stage. And yet, mystifyingly, a handful of guitar-playing performers represent nations every year. It’s like they’ve never actually watched Eurovision and reckon they can simply sail in and dazzle everyone with their Actual Musicianship and Stuff. If they did watch Eurovision, they might realise that nothing is performed live on stage save for the vocals, and they just look a bit silly miming.
5. If in doubt, chuck the kitchen sink at it
I would put reigning Eurovision champion Netta into this final category – the marvellously batshit over-the-top contenders who just give it everything. Ultimate case in point, the greatest Eurovision winner that never was, Verka Serduchka with Dancing Lasha Tumbai – a rotund cross-dressing Ukrainian Boy George-alike, flanked by backing dancers decked out like tinfoil boy scouts singing a thrusting turbo-folk gay sex anthem in four languages. Any competition in which a song like that doesn’t even win has to be the product of a higher civilisation.
Main image: Sweden’s Eurovision entry in 2006, Lordi