Eurovision: The Best Music Competition You’re Not Watching

ESC logo

It’s that time of year again, when the weather turns warm, music fills the air, and colorful, sometimes outlandish performers compete for adoration and a slice of immortality.

Well, yeah, spring, but I actually meant Eurovision.

What do you mean, “what’s Eurovision?”

Oh, you’re probably from the U.S., aren’t you?

Regardless of your country of origin, if you, like me pre-2005, don’t know what the Eurovision Song Contest (ESC) is, then picture this: musical acts from all across Europe (and beyond!) descending on one city for a week of camaraderie, eclectic song performances, and nail-biting scoring systems as artists vie for the chance to be the next big thing on the music scene. It’s like American Idol (caveat: I’ve never watched an episode of American Idol), but condensed into two semi-finals and a grand final in a city of the previous winner’s home country. It’s also got Idol beat by 45 seasons – ESC began in 1956 as a way to bring together a continent still rebuilding from the devastation of World War Two.

That first friendly competition boasted a mere seven countries. Since then, it’s grown to include not only most of Europe, but also several west Asian countries and, as of 2015, Australia. This widespread participation has broadened the palette of national and ethnic influences on the musical entries, in addition to the musical genres evolving from the original vocalist-and-orchestra format. In the relatively few annual competitions I’ve experienced, I’ve heard Montenegrin rap, Armenian dubstep, and Dutch country music. Recent winners of the contest include Finnish shock rock, understated German pop, a Serbian ballad, and atmospheric Swedish techno. And my personal ESC favorites include Greek electronica, Romanian piano pop #1 and #2, Turkish hard rock, Latvian retro-popretro-pop and R&B, and brassy Moldovan folk. I could keep going, but I think I’ve made my point on the diversity of the ESC phenomenon.

Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that the competition (and indeed, most of the community) is an enormous celebration of kitsch. Since it’s a visual spectacle as much as an aural one, contestants employ any and all means at their disposal to tug at the heartstrings of fans. Flamboyant costumes, daring choreography, and spectacular (in that they are spectacles) set designs enhance (or distract from, depending on your point of view) the often melodramatic lyrics and extravagant instrumentals in order to garner the adoration of the most voters and jury members. Tack, cheese, kitsch—call it what you will, but it is an essential and guaranteed aspect of ESC, as much as France almost never fielding an English-language entry, or Britain placing abysmally. And of course, there are the occasional joke entries that poke fun at the Eurovision craze, as well as controversies over the scoring system, bloc voting among geographically, politically, or ethnically similar countries, and politicization of what should be a unifying celebration. Still, by and large, the artists toil endlessly to perfect their performances and put forth genuine and heartfelt efforts, which I think is evident in many of the selections I’ve linked to above.

So if you’re in the U.S. and interested in checking out this year’s contest in Kiev, head over to the Logo channel on TV or their live stream of the final. The semifinals are on Tuesday and Thursday, May 9 and 11, and the final is on Saturday, May 13. All shows begin at 9PM Kiev time (GMT+2hrs; 3PM EDT). And if you’re so inclined, drop me a line on Twitter (@christopheresl2) during the streams and let me know your impressions!

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