Explaining the Eurovision Song Contest

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By Yesenia Coello
Campus News

It’s a shame that the European music scene is obscure in American society. Innovative and talented, European artists offer a refreshing yet modern take on 21st century music. Stromae’s lyrics are incisive critiques of modern society. Daft Punk takes you on an electronica-fueled acid trip. And we all know about ABBA. The rudimentary elements of western music were developed in Europe long before the birth of the United States.

Unfortunately, the Eurovision Song Contest offers none of this.

First held in 1956, the Eurovision Song Contest (colloquially known as simply Eurovision) was founded to test the limits of live television broadcasting. Popular myth, however, claims that the contest was a cobbled attempt to unite Europe after World War II. Whatever the case, at least Europeans are now expressing their grievances with each other through mediocre talent and shade instead of artillery and warfare.

Eurovision, which is slowly starting to receive attention on an international level, is seen by outsiders as an incomprehensible enigma. Its existence is known, but no one really has a flipping clue what it’s about. With the end of the semester just around the corner, it might be just be the right time to invest your time in this over-the-top contest.

1.    The Basics
Eurovision is held yearly in May and is organized by the European Broadcasting Union. Its location changes on a yearly basis and is traditionally hosted by the previous year’s winner. The opening ceremony is held Sunday evening (afternoon for Pan-American viewers), with two semi-finals on the following Tuesday and Thursday. During these semi-finals, the weaker artists are weeded out via televoting and countries with the highest scores are qualified to compete in the finale. Exempt from the semifinals are the “Big Five,” which collectively consist of the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Spain, and Germany. Since these nations carry the burden of paying most of the expenses, they get a free pass and automatically qualify for the grand finale. Which goes to show what exactly money can buy.

The finale is held on the Saturday after the semifinals. Aside from the Olympics, the final contest is the most extravagant event held in Europe. Chock full of celebrity hosts and guest performances such as the likes of Justin Timberlake, it’s almost like a European version of Coachella. Just with more imagination.

As with the semifinals, the country that receives the most amount of points is declared the winner and host for the following year.

2.    It’s so bad you can’t help but watch it
Europeans watch Eurovision for the same reasons Americans used to watch American Idol. In previous years, only a handful of artists were considered “talented.” Since most European artists are busy bustling their way into mainstream media, it left a gap that was eventually filled by anyone who wanted to test their singing chops.

Not that anyone really minds. Since the turn of the century Eurovision has devolved into a comedic form of entertainment.

3.    The craziest things you’ll see in your life will happen at Eurovision
Among them include crossdressers, singing puppets, dubstep opera singing vampires, and burning pianos. And this is just the beginning. Ever since the mid-2000s there’s at least one act each year that makes you feel better about your existence. These performances are the first images to come to mind when people think of Eurovision.

4.    But sometimes the talented weasel their way in
By contrast, in the recent decade the contest has begun to take itself seriously with Billboard worthy songs and emotionally stirring lyrics. This stems from the recent ascension of powerhouses like Belgium, Italy, Bulgaria, Latvia, and France. These nations had moderate success in previous years (in the case of France, lately it’s been all about beating the UK) but have recently produced talent that have had a good degree of international success.

5.    The Political
As a contest for nations that have been tearing each other apart since the formation of the current geopolitical order, it’s no surprise that politics can play a huge role in Eurovision. Today, the most common source of these grievances is Russia. Due to its inclusive and LGBT friendly atmosphere, it’s easy to see why some fans are adamantly opposed Russia’s involvement in the contest. Since the Russian annexation of Crimea, Russia has become the friend that nobody likes of Europe. What used to be limited to booing live performances and filing complaints has finally reached a climax – Russia’s proposed artist for 2017, Julia Samoylova, was barred from entering this year’s hosting nation (Ukraine), prompting Russia to withdraw from this year’s contest.
Politics also predicts who will receive points. Allies and neighbors tend to give each other the most generous amount of points, usually regardless of musical quality (as much as the EBU denies this).

While forbidden, politically charged songs have been known to appear in the contest. Much to the chagrin of some nations. While a healthy majority of these songs are pleasant to the ear, they necessarily haven’t been promoting Eurovision’s tradition of valuing music over political grudges.

At its core, most recognize Eurovision for what it really is: a glittery, light-hearted celebration of unity reminds us that it’s okay to let loose and savor the simple enjoyments of life. And in this day in age, this is a message that needs to be resonated.
Still don’t understand what Eurovision is? Look up “Love, Love, Peace, Peace” on Youtube when you get the chance. It’s worth the time.

The Eurovision Song Contest 2017 will be hosted in Kyiv, Ukraine. The first semi-final will be held on May 9 with the finale following suit on May 13. Americans can view the contest via Logo TV and can be streamed online through the Eurovision website.

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