Why I love Eurovision
As a very young child, in the mid 1970s, my favourite albums to listen to were those of ABBA and Nana Mouskouri. A few years later I heard talk of a song contest on the other side of the world which was, in part, responsible for the discovery and success of both the Swedish megastars and the Greek goddess. (As an aside, Mouskouri actually represented Luxembourg, and not Greece, in 1963.) As it was apparently the source of my favourite childhood music, the legend of Eurovision became a beacon of wonder and magic to me from a very young age. When SBS first broadcast The Eurovision Song Contest in Australia in 1983 I watched and listened, as a nine year old, simply spellbound. It must have been around Easter time as I distinctly remember munching on my Elegant Rabbit as I swooned over the plethora of exotic languages, place names and music styles. Oh, and I fell head over heels in love with Carola Häggkvist (known simply as Carola — you know, like Madonna) … and not just because she was from the same mythical land as ABBA!
As with many things when I was growing up I didn’t realise that, unlike me, most people in Australia didn’t watch or care about Eurovision. Even today, despite Australia’s ever growing multicultural diversity and our inclusion in the event itself since 2015, Eurovision has what may be described as a minor cult following at best. There seems to be some old fashioned conservative misconceptions about what is, in reality, a time honoured and much loved annual television event. Eurovision began in 1956 and in 2021 the final was watched live by 183 million people. Ask many Australians what they know about it and you’ll often hear words like “quirky”, “weird”, “obscure” or “gay”. Some won’t be aware of the fact that Australia now participates and quite a few will automatically default to the opinion that we should not be allowed to.
An important point of clarification here, if I may. When people argue that Australia has no place in Eurovision they are focusing on the “Euro” and not so much on the “vision” and are clearly unaware of the criteria involved. To enter the contest you simply need to have a domestic television network that is a member of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), which is made up of more than 70 broadcasters from more than 50 countries around the world. Australia’s SBS is such a broadcaster. By the same method both Israel (Asia) and Azerbaijan (Asia AND Europe) are also regular participants despite not being European nations.
There have been some barriers, in the past, to Eurovision becoming popular Down Under. Watching it used to require either getting out of bed at 3am or remembering to set your VCR. Now you can watch on demand and the only challenge is to avoid the spoilers on social media. Additionally, apart from some rare exceptions, Eurovision artists and songs throughout history have largely remained just that — Eurovision music. These days, with streaming music services, Eurovision songs are now freely accessible to all and more likely to enter the mainstream … if there even is such a thing anymore. Throw in the global village, a new shared experience of a worldwide pandemic, improving acceptance of different cultures and inclusiveness in general, and surely the path is open for Australians to finally embrace the magnificence of Eurovision.
Eurovision gave the world ABBA and Celine Dion, and now it has unearthed Maneskin, Efendi and Stefania. Many other luminaries have participated over the years including Cliff Richard, Engelbert Humperdinck and Olivia Newton-John; the latter represented the United Kingdom the year that ABBA were the winners (1974). Whilst Eurovision may have slightly lost its way a few years back with everyone singing in English and a smattering of political disputes, it is now back with a vengeance. More contestants are singing in their native tongue again and there is a sense of positivity, togetherness and community after the global strain of 2020. In 2021 Eurovision, in my opinion, witnessed the strongest and most talented cohort since the star-studded lineup 1994 … the climax of the contest’s early 90s golden age.
True to form I have never picked the winner of Eurovision in the 39 years that it has been broadcast in Australia. My old favourite from Sweden, Carola, won in 1991 but I agonisingly went for Finland (20th) that year. In 2005 I just couldn’t split Israel and Greece. In the end I went with Israel and, you guessed it, Greece’s Helena Paparizou romped home with Israel finishing in 4th spot. Four times my favourite song has come in second (1994, 1995, 2007 and 2018) … I am yet to taste victory!
My job as a parent, however, is a tremendous success. The evidence of this is my 6 year old son’s Spotify playlist. Alongside the hits of Disney, 1970s rock and 1980s pop sits a large selection of Eurovision luminaries. What a way to introduce children to geography, language, joy, music and dance. Not to mention the positive messaging in the music and the bravery and trailblazing of the contestants — to wit Conchita Wurst.
For anyone who is interested, check out my own Spotify playlist of favourite Eurovision songs, stretching all the way back to 1956. Give it a spin (on shuffle!) and see what you think. And, just a heads up — next year I plan to host a Eurovision party. In honour of this year’s winner the theme will be Italian so let the coffee, chianti and calzones flow free!