It’s almost spring and that means Europe is preparing for the best non-sporting tournament in the world: the Eurovision Song Contest! While not a fan of any of the American song or music competitions, to say I look forward to Eurovision every year is a massive understatement. I’m straight up obsessed with it.
This is the contest that launched the career of ABBA and helped bring Celine Dion to the attention of non-Francophones the world over when she performed for Switzerland, which in 1988 was part of Quebec (jk). I have no idea how I got into Eurovision. Was it a European friend? Is it because I listen to a lot of Russian pop music? Regardless, it is a cult that I am really passionate about and I want you to be too. So I’ve selected some highlights and some fails from this year’s contest and I invite you to learn more and get really, really into some silly pop music with me. Even if you hate the songs, it makes a good drinking game.
WTF Is Eurovision?
It’s the greatest show you’ve never seen! Eurovision is an annual song contest open to and televised by members of the European Broadcasting Union (which also happens to include countries outside Europe like Israel, Azerbaijan, and Armenia). It’s kinda like American Idol but each contestant represents a country, only sings one song, and 40 countries compete. The vast majority of the entries sound like a James Bond movie theme, traditional music of their region, bad rapping, or some combination of the three. They all seem to take it very, very seriously–except Finland. Take a drink if you see someone from a Finnish metal band.
Despite being around since 1958, Eurovision hasn’t caught on in the US–it’s criminal, I know. What this country needs is more things that are weird, cheesy, fun, and devoid of cynicism. Americans will compete if it’s for a record deal or a large sum of money, but we think we’re too cool to be cheesy. The winner of the Eurovision contest receives only glory, hosting duties of the next year’s event, maybe a small trophy representing their victory. And confetti!!
Rules & Stuff
Songs have to be new, contain music and lyrics, and be sung live. They don’t have to be good, because sometimes bad songs win. Six musicians or singers can be onstage at once, and absolutely no live animals, political gestures, or children under 16 permitted.
The contest shows consists of two semi finals and a finale, all broadcast simultaneously in each country represented (and to some other lucky ones, but not America). I am guessing that people plan for weeks in advance what they are going to wear and serve at their Eurovision parties, like Oscar parties but with more dancing and flag-waving. In each semi-final round, the artists perform their songs live and then viewers vote for their favourites to proceed to the final event. The UK, Italy, France, Germany and Spain are automatically go to the final since they pretty much fund the entire competition–totally not corrupt at all. You’d think the UK would buy a good song instead, but noooo.
The voting situation far too complex and European for my American brain to explain, but I’ll try: Each country gives their top ten songs points; 12 points for the best, 10 for second best, 8 for third, and so on for a total of ten songs, and the song with the most points at the end of the finale wins. As this is a multilingual event, an announcer usually confirms each country’s vote in French, ie “England gives 12 points to Sweden” is confirmed as “Swede–douze points!”. Take a shot whenever douze points are awarded. The more you drink, the more this all makes sense.
Though not explicitly written into the rules, every song must feature one key change following the second chorus. This adds drama because the songs are usually too short for a real bridge or like, depth. Obviously, take a drink when you hear the key change. Douze points if you stand up and sing along in this new key.
What Part of Europe is Australia?
This year Austria is hosting 39 other countries, including this year’s guest and first time contestant…Australia. Already rabid fans of the contest, the Aussies are allowed to participate and could even win–but if they do, they have to choose a European city to host next year’s contest instead of taking it home with them. As I mentioned before, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Turkey and a few other non-European countries are members of the EBU and thus get to compete in Eurovision.
2015’s BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENTS
Greece: In years past, Greece has brought stomping dudes in leather vests, a punk/ska/Greek folk band, and who can forget the year they rhymed ‘capricious’ and ‘vicious’ in the first verse? Last year they brought a trampoline and rapped. Greece has mad Eurovision game–you never know when some fun Greek dancing is going to appear in the middle of their pop song. But this year’s entry did something many countries attempted this year: 2 minutes of a ballad followed by 1 minute of key changes and crescendos–and no dancing. Stapling some fun to the end of a lackluster ballad and then not dancing does not make me want to party, Maria Elena. I like that you filmed your video in the carpark at the Athens mall, but you have made me the Greek word for sad, whatever that is. So I’m going to watch “Alcohol is Free” again and hope that next year’s song is better. Take a drink if a neighbouring or Orthodox country votes for Greece anyway (Cyprus and Malta usually do).
Russia: Nothing will ever be better than when platinum medalist Evgeni Plushenko ice skated at the Eurovision finals alongside Dima Bilan. Or the two Jedi sisters sharing one braid of hair and played on a see-saw before doing Beyonce impressions. This year’s ballad is unoriginal and boring, albeit high in the drama factor and Russians love that. My boy Johnny Weir is pulling for Russia, but I want Dima & the Jedi Sisters (please make that happen next year, Russia).
Ukraine: Due to political and financial reasons, Ukraine–who can usually be counted on for some cool hair, at the very least–was forced to withdraw from the competition. They are down but not out: you may recall Ukraine hosted the 2005 contest in Kiev, just months after that country’s Orange Revolution. Ukraine will bounce back and hopefully they come back with their disco robot act from 2007.
United Kingdom: SO BAD. They suck at this game, and I don’t get why. The musical talent in England is an embarrassment of riches, but again they send something that is too kitschy and overdone, with word salad for lyrics.
Poland: My guess is that the writer for this song heard Cat Stevens “Wild World” and said “let’s just put that piano in the background but leave out like two notes”. Where is Cleo and her scarf skirt from last year?? Let’s just watch that again.
Other: Last year the Netherlands entry was a country rearrangement of “Every Breath You Take”, and this year’s song from Cyprus sounds like Damien Rice covering Mr. Big’s “To Be With You” with different lyrics. Those songs are always a disappointment because they don’t feel very original. Take a drink if you can sing the lyrics to another song over the melody to the Eurovision one.
Estonia: This is my favourite song and the most attractive twosome of the competition by far. That guy is called Stig Rästa (he kinda reminds me of Rhett Miller from the Old 97s) who was in bands called Traffic and Outloudz (the latter have a song called “I Wanna Meet Bob Dylan”). I guess this is an Estonian take on country, as they’ve added a slightly twangy “girl” to the end of a few verses. Did you see his hair? And the old Benz? Girl.
Portugal: Portugal is one of the countries that rarely produces a Eurovision entry in English, which has held them back; most of the entries are in English these days, and since the majority of the voting public doesn’t speak all of the other languages, they don’t vote for a song they don’t understand. Leonor Andrade is a veteran of the Portuguese version of The Voice, where she was a big fan of Nina Simone covers. I want to hear more from her. Overall I dig the Michelle Branch/vintage Natalie Imbruglia vibe from the production, and I really hope that all of Europe suddenly learns Portuguese and votes Leonor to the final.
Germany: One of my favourite Eurovision songs ever is Germany’s 2010 entry and contest winner by Lena Meyer-Landrut, “Satellite”. I even bought her album when it came out. This year Germany is represented by runner-up Ann Sophie since the actual winner declined to participate and offered her his spot on live television, taking Ann Sophie from wild card to world stage. Before hearing all of the songs, I considered hers to be contender because of two things: 1) the Giants were a wildcard to the MLB postseason last year and they won the big show, and 2) the 90s are very in right now. Both the music and Ann Sophie’s vocals sound inspired by and styled after some of the sassy chanteuses of that era, right down to the very last note (wait for it). This song could have been written for an American R&B diva 20 years ago, or win Eurovision 2015.
Lithuania: There are more people in Santa Clara county than in the whole of Lithuania. But that won’t stop them! They have catchy music this year (lyrics are a little iffy, but better than last year) and the super cheesy kiss is pretty endearing. Europe may love this one.
Iceland, Norway and Denmark also have chances at winning with their songs. Reigning champ Austria’s song isn’t bad, but the singer just doesn’t do it for me–but people love stuff like this kind of stuff so I reckon it will do well among voters in addition to the host’s automatic pass to the finals.
Israel: Singing to your mom is super trendy in Eurovision (remember this Mother Boy from Belgium last year?). This year Israel starts out singing to mom, then a dance party breaks out–is mom clubbing with you? The only good part is the intermittent shots of Golden Boy and his crew getting their Bernie lean on.
Italy: This video has so much cheese: drama, Spiderman kisses, an homage to Ghost, and a well-placed wink (take a drink when he winks). I can’t have this cheese, man. It’s just too much for me. It is also one of 3 videos featuring someone or something getting punched!
Moldova: This song and it’s video are so bad. I wish you could dock points for future years.
Spain: Is that one of the Property Brothers?
Belgium: Have you ever found yourself wishing Lorde was a boy? Boy Lorde is Loïc Nottet. The song isn’t great but how fun is it to say “Boy Lorde”? Boy Lorde.
Finland: Like usual, Finland has come to rock. The country that brought the metal vibes in 2006 with “Hard Rock Hallelujah” has returned with “Aina mun pitää” from Pertti Kurikan Nimipäivät. The band consists of adults with developmental or learning disabilities. Bassist Sami Helle stated “We don’t want people to vote for us to feel sorry for us, we are not that different from everybody else – just normal guys with a mental handicap.” This is kinda Eurovision’s first punk song.
Australia: Okay, confession time: I listened to/watched all 39 of the other entries to Eurovision within hours of them hitting the contest’s official YouTube. The one holdout was Australia, which had already committed to sending Guy Sebastian. Wikipedia said the song would be released 16 March in Australia. This was one of those days I am grateful for my insomnia, as I was able to catch the Aussie’s entry 15 minutes after it hit the web.
Guy Sebastian won the first iteration of Australian Idol in 2003 and wrote Australia’s first Eurovision entry “Tonight Again” in less than a week. As he sings “This is one tough act to follow”, I realised Guy Sebastian is the dinner guest that brought better wine than the host.
Australia is going to win this one, hands down. I give it my douze points. That song is ridiculously catchy. Since they’re guests, a win for Australia doesn’t mean the contest moves next year–Australia gets to choose someone as a stand-in. I would guess either Paris or Rome would be selected, as both are sister cities to Sydney (capital Canberra has no European sister cities). I believe Estonia and Germany will come in with the second and third most votes respectively.
If you cannot get enough of this musical nonsense, I have made a playlist of the top ten songs from Eurovision 2015. Take a listen to mine, or check out the Eurovision channel for all of this year’s contestants and those from years past. What is your favourite song from this year, or years past? Leave your predictions or favs in a comment!