The final of the Eurovision Song Contest will be broadcast “live” this Saturday from the Italian city of Turin. Astoundingly, the event is in its 66th year — but the standard of the entries isn’t getting any better.
For those brave, bored, or drunk enough to tune in to this annual festival of awful musical and worse costume sense, here are some words of warning.
The songs are all horrible
It’s a matter of taste, of course, but still…
It’s all about shock value
Conchita Wurst (Austria’s answer to Kenny Everett), Israeli transsexual Dana International, Ukrainian nationalists Jamala painting Second World War Nazi collaborators as victims, Finnish shock-rock act Lordi (oh, Lord!) ripping off Kiss and GWAR’s costume shtick.
The winner has to have some sort of gimmick, like Bucks Fizz tearing their skirts off half-way through their triumphant 1981 performance. Iceland’s entry this year are Systur, a group of three… sisters.
Last year’s champions Måneskin copied Steel Panther’s tongue-in-cheek parody of 80s glam rockers like Mötley Crüe. Singer Damiano David even pretended to be snorting a line of the “Devil’s Dandruff” just as the result was announced.
The rules change every year
Seriously, nobody knows what’s going on from one contest to the next. What’s more, each country has its own method for selecting the entry and the act.
The contest now has two semi-finals in the days before the main event to thin out the field, as if it was some kind of World Cup of terrible music. But in a typical stitch-up, the “Big Five” countries of France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the UK get a free pass to the final.
Is it amateur or professional?
Contestants are sometimes unknown and sometimes established stars, like Sandy Shaw winning in 1967 with Puppet on a String or Cliff Richard’s two outings (Congratulations in 1968, which came second by just one vote, and Power to All Our Friends in 1973). Cliff’s band The Shadows were the runners up in 1975 with Let Me Be The One, while 80s has-beens Katrina and the Waves made a comeback to clinch it in 1997.
Some countries can’t afford to win
They play to lose so they don’t have to pay to host the expensive event the following year — a plot point in an episode of Anglo-Irish Channel 4 comedy Father Ted as well as the more recent Will Ferrell film parody Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga.
In fact, the convention of the contest being held in the country of the previous year’s winner has been broken five times — solely for reasons of cost or the lack of a suitable venue. The UK hosted in 1960, 1963, 1971, and 1974 and the Netherlands in 1980, despite not winning the year before.
It’s totally politicised…
…But not openly and for only one side: Conchita Wurst, those Ukrainians, the ban on the Russian entry when Ukraine was the host.
But most overt is the rule against audience members waving certain flags. The banned list includes the emblems of regions of European countries with strong movements advocating independence or with territorial disputes, including the Basque Country, Scotland, Wales, Russian Crimea, and Nagorno-Karabakh — along with that of Daesh*. The Palestinian flag has also been banned since 2016.
What’s more, the result is arguably a big fix. It’s been observed repeatedly that countries band together in blocs, with their national judges giving each others’ entries top points and few or none to those outside their clique.
Ukrainian entry Stefania by the Kalush Orchestra is favourite to win it for Kiev once again this year, after garnering the virtue-signalling sympathy vote amid the hysteria over Russia’s special military operation there.
It’s about as European as the Super Bowl
Or sumo wrestling at the Budokan for that matter. The contest admits some countries outside Europe, but highly selectively and obviously in favour of majority-white nations like Israel and Australia. No African or South American countries ever get to compete.
Asia is well-represented this year by Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Cyprus in addition to Israel, although Turkey didn’t enter.
Meanwhile, some European countries don’t even bother to turn up. Last year’s winner Italy was absent for decades. Luxembourg, Monaco, and Andorra are all out. Now Russia, by far the biggest and most populous nation in Europe, has been banned.
You have been warned. Give your poor eyes and ears a break and watch Ferrell’s comedy instead. See if you can tell reality from satire.