It has finally happened: a U.S. broadcaster, the Logo Network, is about to confuse millions of Americans by broadcasting the Eurovision Song Contest finals. You will probably be one of them.
On the surface, the Eurovision Song Contest is exactly what it sounds like: a competition in which European nations (and Asian post-Soviet states, Israel, Australia, and Justin Timberlake) perform original compositions and the best song wins. What began as an attempt to stave off World War III, however, has evolved into an outlandish spectacle of booming voices, pyrotechnics, and some of the best-worst English language lyrics anywhere.
Yet Eurovision, like soccer and the metric system, has only made a niche dent in America. Sure, Americans have heard of acts like Abba and Conchita Wurst, but the full extent of the madness of Eurovision has yet to descend upon us. So for those willing to take the plunge and watch the Eurovision finals Saturday night (Saturday afternoon in the States), here are a few key facts regarding the modern history of Eurovision to help make sense of it all.
When people say something is “so Eurovision,” this is what they mean:
They mean this Romanian entry from 2013, “It’s My Life,” an opera-dubstep hybrid piece featuring the countertenor Cezar. You’ve been warned.
Eurovision is the birthplace of “Epic Sax Guy”:
You know the one.
The greatest drag queen in modern Eurovision history is not Conchita Wurst:
In 2007, a travesty of justice occurred when Ukrainian drag queen Verka Serduchka came in second to Marija Šerifović, the debut contestant from Serbia. In a frenetic performance of a dance song consisting of bits and pieces of four languages (and widely rumored to be anti-Russia, but more on Russia later), Serduchka brought the house down wearing what appeared to be exclusively aluminum foil and Brett Somers’ sunglasses. An instant Eurovision classic.
Everyone is always trying to break the “no politics” rule, mostly to protest genocide/Russia:
Eurovision has a strict rule about their lyrics: no political messages allowed. Verka Serduchka flaunted that rule, some say, by hiding her message in gibberish. Others have tried to go the overt way with mixed success. Georgia’s 2009 entry “We Don’t Wanna Put In” (Get it? “Put-in?”) was barred from participating due to the obvious vocalization of the president of Russia’s name, who was busy invading Georgia at the time. In 2015, Armenia was forced to change the name of their entry “Don’t Deny” to “Face the Shadow,” deemed a less obvious demand for Turkey and Azerbaijan to lift its policy of pretending the Armenian genocide never happened.
Ukraine has always been a strong participant in Eurovision and have only missed one contest: in 2015, due to invasion by Russia. Their entry this year is a song called “1944” by Crimean Tatar singer Jamala. Eurovision has only allowed it because Jamala insists that it is a personal and family story; that the story is the Russian genocide of Crimean Tatars is surely incidental.
Russia is the Duke basketball of Eurovision:
Pompous, full of talent, and critical of President Obama’s performance fighting ISIS, Russia enters Eurovision every year simultaneously as a threat to take the crown and leave many of its fans disgusted (Ukraine has already vowed to boycott Eurovision 2017 if it is held in Moscow). Throughout its 61 years of existence, Russia has consistently been the biggest threat to everyone having a good time at Eurovision. From the Soviet Union’s rival “Intervision Song Contest” to protests from Putinist lawmakers that Conchita Wurst had turned the contest into a “Europe-wide gay parade” to the consistent efforts by Vladimir Putin to invade Eurovision contestant countries, many fear that the greater influence the Kremlin has over the show, the less creative it will get. 2016 Russian contestant Sergey Lazarev has already issued statements asking LGBT fans of Eurovision not to abandon the show if he wins.
The problem for critics is that Russia is consistently good at Eurovision. It has won the title once and taken the silver (like Duke) four times. Bookmakers have given Lazarev’s “You Are the Only One” the best odds of winning this year after Russia came in second a year ago. And Russia knows it is good: check out Russia’s representative in the 2015 point-counting ceremony referring to the nation as “Mother Russia” and pretending to give 12 points – the maximum amount – to himself:
Greece has used the last few Eurovisions as a venue for bragging about how bad they are at finances:
Greece has won Eurovision once: in 2005, when the rest of the continent united to cheer on the underdog in taking on a major financial crisis. While that victory allowed the world to enjoy a Eurovision hosted by Sakis Rouvas (you’re welcome), it broke a dam in Greek Eurovision entry lyrics and led to a series of performances about how not up to the task of fixing their state finances Greece is. The most flagrant and amusing of these was the song “Alcohol is Free,” a story about a man who drinks “a sea of whisky” and subsequently has no idea where he is.
There is no such thing as free alcohol.
Western Europe is really bad at Eurovision:
It is a running joke in British media how awful the nation’s Eurovision entries are, despite possessing one of the world’s most formidable stables of talented musicians (none of whom appear remotely interested in participating in Eurovision, of course). But this is an epidemic throughout Western Europe. Ireland gave the world a turkey puppet and not one, but two years of Jedward. The best French effort of the 21st century is something called “Moustache.” And as an ethnic Spaniard, may I humbly submit this as the worst Eurovision entry of all time:
Australia is in it for some reason:
This is confusing to everyone, not just Americans. Australian ratings for the Eurovision Song Contest were so high – Australians’ passion for the sport so large – that contest organizers decided to indulge them. And, of course, being new to Eurovision last year, they submitted a good song.