Eurovision: ‘The superbowl of singing’ returns

Monkey business: Occidentali’s Karma by Francesco Gabbani (Italy) is favourite to win. © PA

This year, the global song contest’s theme is “celebrate diversity”. It features Romanian yodelling, an Australian X-Factor winner, and a dancing Italian gorilla. Why do people like this?

“Celebrating diversity is at the heart of Eurovision values,” said Eurovision boss, Jon Ola Sand, in January. The song contest, which will stage its grand finale in Kiev tomorrow night, is all about “joining together to celebrate both our common ground and our unique differences,” he explained. “As well as some great music!”

This year it is also all about politics. Since the 2016 contest, Europe has been rocked by Britain’s decision to leave the European Union. “I’m not sure how many votes we’ll get,” admitted the prime minister, Theresa May, this week.

But Brexit is nothing compared to the row between Russia and Ukraine. The latter won the contest last year with a song about Joseph Stalin’s treatment of Crimean Tatars in 1944. Although singer Jamala said the song was purely historical, she also said that she “would not want to see history repeat itself”, while discussing Russia’s current annexation of Crimea.

This year, Ukraine is hosting — and it has banned Russia’s performer, Yuliya Samoylova, from entering the country. In response, Russia is refusing to broadcast the contest.

Then again, the event has always had an element of politics. It was first held in 1956, a year before the European Economic Community was founded. Both institutions aimed to unite Europe after the second world war. In the decades since, Eurovision has grown to include dozens of countries from Europe and beyond.

Over the years, performers have used the platform to address a range of issues, from nuclear war to gay marriage. In 1993, Bosnian performers made it to the contest after escaping a siege in Sarajevo.

Then there is the music. The contest has produced some global hits, such as ABBA’s Waterloo. But it is mostly known for bizarre pop, earnest ballads, and ironic folk music. “Every year I expect it to be less foolish, and every year it is more so,” lamented the late British host Terry Wogan in 2006.

Eurotrash?

The foolishness is what makes it so entertaining, say some Eurovision fans. It is the embodiment of “kitsch”: art which is “considered to be in poor taste because of excessive garishness or sentimentality, but sometimes appreciated in an ironic or knowing way,” as Oxford Dictionaries puts it. Or, as Wogan said in 1997: “It’s supposed to be bad. And the worse it is, the more fun it is.”

This misses the point, say others. Yes, Eurovision can be silly. But there is a genuinely inspiring message behind all the sequins. The contest allows once warring countries to celebrate each other’s differences. Meanwhile, citizens of those countries can express their nationalism without any violence. It is easy to forget how amazing that is. And it is worth celebrating — unironically.

You Decide

  1. Will you be watching Eurovision this year?
  2. Do people love Eurovision because it is bad, or because it is good?

Activities

  1. As a class, look through The Day’s slideshow of 12 key moments in Eurovision history (under Become An Expert). Vote for your favourite.
  2. Forget the Eurovision rules banning political lyrics — in groups, write a song for the contest which is inspired by a news story from the last 12 months.

Some People Say...

“Eurovision is outdated — we should get rid of it.”

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
The final of Eurovision will take place tomorrow night in Kiev, Ukraine. It will be broadcast in the UK from 8pm on BBC One. In total, 42 countries are participating — although only 20 have made it through to the final. The event is popular across Europe and around the world; last year it was watched by more than 200m people, according to official viewing figures.
What do we not know?
How the Russia-Ukraine controversy will affect this year’s figures. It is also difficult to measure the effect that Eurovision has had on Europe. Although the contest claims it has been positive, it has also fuelled resentment between certain regions of Europe — such as between eastern and western countries, which often accuse each other of voting politically.

Word Watch

Leave
According to OnePoll around 53% of people in Britain would be happy to leave Eurovision — almost the same percentage which voted out of the EU (52%).
Crimea
The peninsula was part of Ukraine until 2014, when pro-Russian demonstrations were held and Russian troops — operating without official insignia — claimed several key sites. In a hasty referendum, Crimea voted to become part of Russia, and was officially annexed.
Banned
Ukraine says that this is because she visited Crimea in 2015, after the annexation. Some believe Russia deliberately chose a performer who would be banned.
European Economic Community
The EEC was initially an economic agreement between six European nations. More members joined later, and it eventually became the European Union.
Dozens
In all, 52 nations have participated in Eurovision — including countries outside Europe, like Australia and Israel.
Sarajevo
The capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina was under siege by forces from Yugoslavia and Serbia between 1992 and 1996. Bosnia’s 1993 Eurovision song was called The Whole World’s Pain.

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