I can’t quite express the joy that rippled through me as I watched performer after performer take to the stage. In a gloriously glittery range of out-there outfits, each tantalising glimpse of LED-soaked choreo, avant-garde Francophone balladry or even awkward green-screen gaffes had me gagging for more.
At long last, the rehearsals have begun for the delayed Eurovision Song Contest, taking place in Rotterdam this week. After two long years of pandemic-related interruption, how could I not consume every bedazzled morsel available on YouTube or Instagram?
If you ever make the mistake of asking me my Eurovision opinions, be prepared for an onslaught of over-analysis and fangirling that builds like a tidal wave as ‘Eurovision Season’ approaches (the contest takes place in May every year). The steady drip of song and artist reveals through the winter and spring is like microdosing happiness for an army of Eurofans across the world (but mostly on Twitter).
Thanks to the cancellation of Eurovision for the first time in its 65 year history, those Eurofans (myself included) have never needed a hit more.
Eurovision started life as a cultural facet of pan-European sentiment in the wake of the Second World War, dominated by sedate ballads and chanteuses. It has morphed over seven decades into a gloriously campy celebration of everything song can be (and sometimes what it shouldn’t…).
The wonderful thing about Eurovision is that to truly enjoy it you need to take it completely seriously at the same time as recognising it is joyous nonsense. It is both an incredibly state-of-the-art series of concerts and a nostalgic camp-fest; imagine that the producers of RuPaul’s Drag Race were in charge of the Olympics opening ceremony and you’re getting close.
When it was announced that Eurovision 2020 was to be cancelled, in those first chaotic months of the pandemic, it really brought home to me the reality-altering nature of the situation we found ourselves in. Of course, so many cultural and sporting events have been cancelled in the last year, and these are but the most superficial casualties of what has been a time of much mourning.
Yet I still missed the contest like an old friend. An old friend who can’t help but be a little bit outrageous on nights out. Who’ll you’ll probably end up singing ABBA with at an inappropriate volume on the bus home (ABBA being perhaps the most famous act to win Eurovision – though I’m sure Celine Dion would disagree).
With the fabric of our communities, and indeed societies more generally, having been shaken by all that’s happened, I think I missed the familiar delights of Eurovision even more. The month of May felt emptier without it. There was one less reliable date in the calendar to look forward to and build the year around (yes, I build my year around Eurovision).
Not only have our local and familial communities been damaged by the pandemic, but there is a real sense that the ‘European community’ has been further divided over the past year. Whether it’s post-Brexit ‘vaccine wars’ or just simply the fact that the borders within the European Union have been closed for the first time in a generation, pan-European sentiment has never needed a boost more.
The Eurovision Song Contest is organised by The European Broadcasting Union (EBU), a non-EU entity which includes members outside of Europe (hello Israel and Azerbaijan), which was founded with the explicit aim of bringing together Europe through television and culture. This mission seems more important than ever in the fractured world of 2021.
The contest always opens with a signature tune, the Te Deum, which has become linked in many European brains with the annual celebration of European culture that Eurovision has become. When I hear it play next week I will savour all the more the opportunity for the continent to come together around something so positive, and yes, glittery.
We’ve all missed friends and family so much, realising perhaps how much we took for granted, and I think I’ve realised that, in a sense, Eurovision was one more friend I haven’t been able to see in a long time. The anticipation I now feel that I’ll be meeting her again so soon is making me all the more excited for the more significant reunions to come.
And what a reunion it’s going to be! If you have never watched Eurovision, or even looked up some clips online, it is almost guaranteed to increase your level of serotonin, or perhaps even make you feel something deeper. Seriously, Google ‘Eurovision greatest performances’ and you might well find yourself emerging hours later, heart-warmed and stars in your eyes. I know I am being a little over-the-top, but then that is SO very Eurovision.
This year’s entries include the viral singer of the infectiously catchy ‘Think About Things’ from Iceland (…I know you’ve seen the TikToks…), the refreshingly classy and classic ‘Voila’ from France and ‘Tout l’Univers’ from Switzerland, reminding us of the Francophone ballads of the early contest, and then the absolute banger of a girl-power anthem that is ‘Je Me Casse’ from the frankly fabulous Destiny from Malta (my fave to win).
Of course, I’m also supporting the British entry James Newman, but I’m not quite convinced by his choice of giant white trumpets as props (though Eurovision wouldn’t be Eurovision without questionable taste in props…).
Whoever wins the contest, whether they are all in black singing their heart out at a mic stand, or covered in sparkles and dancing the night away, I know that I’ll be hooked. I know that my heart will be full, that, yes, I’ll be proud to be European, and that I’ll have a great night out with my campest and most outrageous old friend. I can’t wait.