On the other side of the globe, while my friends from uni were preparing for their undergrad graduation ceremony, I was taking part in a European “tradition” that up until that week I’d never heard of: Eurovision.
Eurovision Song Contest is a euro-centric singing competition in which each participating country sends their best contender(s) to perform a piece of pop music for a huge international audience. It’s a bit like the Olympics, except instead of totally ripped athletes you have an assortment of sexy pop stars, performers in crazy costumes, and even a drag queen, and instead of competing in intense sporting events to win gold medals, they sing a song of their choice, from the serious to the silly, the completely bizarre to the downright tacky, for the honor of having their country host the competition next year. And instead of a panel of judges deciding who’s the best, the audience gets to vote, American Idol-style. The catch? You’re not allowed to vote for your own country.
Last year the “bearded lady” drag queen Conchita Wurst won the contest with her song “Rise Like a Phoenix.” She was representing Austria, so this year’s show was held in Vienna.
My personal favorite from this year’s competition was Bojana Stemenov of Serbia singing “Beauty Never Lies,” a song about body positivity. Just wait for the clothes rip!
Sadly this song only scored fifth place.
I think I speak for almost everyone when I say the least favorite song of the night was England, with the most hideous, kitschy pop song ever: “Still in Love with You.” I think the intention was to sort of fuse jazz/swing with pop, but it didn’t work out in the least – especially when the lighting darkened and the performers’ clothes lit up in flashing neon colors. They looked like they belonged at an underground warehouse party with blaring techno, not bouncy swing.
As soon as the song began, a girl behind me with a thick British accent started moaning, “Oh God, please, no! Not this! Ohhh I’m so ashamed…”
The snarky Queen of England (parody) Twitter account had some nice commentary to add to the performance as well:
This has got about as much chance of winning as a Liberal Democrat. #Eurovision2015
— Elizabeth Windsor (@Queen_UK) May 23, 2015
Still, England placed third-to-last with just five points. Germany and Austria tied for last with nil points apiece.
Well. We beat Germany. As usual. #Eurovision2015
— Elizabeth Windsor (@Queen_UK) May 23, 2015
Also like the Olympics, although Eurovision Song Contest is supposed to be apolitical, people can’t resist bringing politics into it. One Tumblr commentator pointed out that the Swedish commentators said, “As you might have noticed, Ukraine isn’t part of ESC this year. Anyway, here’s Russia with a song about peace.” And it’s also a well-known fact that many former-Soviet states vote for Russia every time. This year the organizers made an anti-booing rule, because apparently last year the crowd booed the Russian contestant as soon as they came onstage. Not nice. It was fun following along on the contest on social media. It seemed like as soon as the performers took the stage, someone had already come up with a snarky comment about them on Twitter. Other highlights included Israel’s heartfelt-ballad-turned-kitschy-pop-song sung by a well-dressed boy band in shiny shoes: Armenia’s creepy cult-like performance: Georgia’s contender looking like she just escaped the Night’s Watch: And the beautiful Polina Gagarina singing “A Million Voices” representing Russia: Russia’s performance came in a close second. Cue the angry Putin memes.
— Gerry Stergiopoulos (@GerryGreek) May 23, 2015
But the winner of the whole contest was Sweden, with the oh-so-attractive Måns Zelmerlöw performing “Heroes.” His stunning good looks, tight leather pants, and easy smile made him a crowd favorite. But the best part of his performance was the interactive cartoon army behind him, perfectly synced to match his arm movements.
I watched the contest with about 100 other international students on a big projector screen at the Student House. It was so fun to be in that atmosphere, with people cheering for their own countries and their friends’ countries regardless of how good the performance was. We drank beer, clapped and cheered, and excitedly gabbed with each other about who we thought would win. As an American, I did feel a tiny bit left out of the competition, but as another student wisely pointed out, “For once in your life, it’s not about you!” Which was a fair point.
It was cool to see how this cultural event I’d never even heard of (despite being the longest-running televised music competition in history, apparently) was such a big deal in Europe. People donned fancy clothes, made bets on who they thought would win, and held pre- and after-parties. I didn’t do anything too crazy, but I did go to a little backyard cookout one beforehand one of my friends organized. People talked about Eurovisions gone past and who they thought would win, and even organized a quiz for whoever knew the most trivia about the contest. It was hard not to get into it, even for me, and I’d never even heard of it before and I wasn’t a big fan of pop music either. It was tons of fun, and I might just start following it in the future.