26 nations battle it out in the final of the Eurovision Song Contest, but should you bother watching it?
Tonight, the 63rd Eurovision Song Contest will take place in Lisbon. “All Aboard!”, proclaims this year’s slogan, like a cruise-ship holiday rep struggling to stay awake through a tramadol-induced haze while goading geriatric couples forward on a hellishly sterile jaunt around the Mediterranean.
Eurovision is a global phenomenon, a garish supra-parody of ‘mainstream’ culture, and by far the Least Cool Thing That Could Possibly Exist. There’s absolutely nothing to recommend it, and therefore absolutely every reason to pay attention. But should you actually sit down and watch it?
Eurovision is a concept that’s so emotionally and experientially complex that it somehow feels difficult to look directly at it. Like David Spikey’s social-club compere in ‘Phoenix Nights’, or like karaoke at a wedding, or like a child seeing an uncle they used to idolise being drunk and leery at a family barbecue, Eurovision is a gateway into that sublime terrain of bittersweet feelings exclusive to the best Tragicomedies.
It’s so profoundly depressing that it somehow flips inside-out and becomes affirming, uplifting, beautiful.
Clara Guiborg, data journalist at the BBC, wondered yesterday whether happier or sadder songs tend to succeed at Eurovision, concluding that the “gloom factor” might actually be the “secret to a winning song”.
The language of ‘secrets’ and the traditional suspicions of political subterfuge are testament to the competition’s unique blend of espionage and pageantry. But, more this year than perhaps ever before, what people hope to ‘uncover’ through Eurovision is something internal and emotional.
Guiborg cites data concerning a song’s ‘valence’, a measure of its ‘musical positivity’. The process looks at a song’s waveform, its beats and keys, to achieve a measure of its happiness. It may or may not come as a surprise to hear that 2018’s entries are a full 30% sadder than those from 2006. We are now, after all, on the brink of nuclear obliteration.
By these measures, if you want a bizarre and hilarious experience of humanity’s almost total inability to reckon with its own state as an emotionally-experiencing, collective being, you should definitely watch the Eurovision Song Contest.
Are this year’s songs good?
No. Obviously. Nowhere near as good as ‘My Lovely Horse’, Father Ted Krilly and Father Dougal MacGuire’s fictional entry on behalf of Ireland in 90s sitcom ‘Father Ted’, anyway. This is indisputably the quintessential Eurovision song, perfect in every way, from the awkwardly sexualised lyrics to the blaring saxophone solo.
The songs hoping to emulate such brilliance this year include bookies’ favourite, ‘Fuego’, performed by Cypriot Eleni Foureira (a colossally derivative and awkward R ‘n’ B track), ‘Toy’, by Israel’s Netta (chicken-noises and beatboxing performed over a kind of bubblegum dub-beat), and the UK’s doomed ballad, ‘Storm’, by SuRie. You can, if you’re so inclined, watch them being performed in the earlier rounds here.
If you want to see good music being performed, don’t watch the Eurovision Song Contest. Obviously. But you knew that already.
It may seem totally pointless to exert such time effort thinking about all of this. It may seem that there are far more pressing socio-political issues near at hand. It may seem that the current and timeless aspects of the human condition are met and explored much more adequately and with more substance in almost any other part of the aesthetic spectrum.
Correct. But Eurovision is going to happen, and keep happening, whether you like it or not.
The ridiculousness of it all ends up being a kind of safe-space where we can collectively, in an awkward, bashful, but celebratory way, approach the Big Questions of life, the universe, and everything. It’s a tipsy, half-reluctant conga-line to the centre of the soul. It’s totally meaningless, and so it’s profoundly existentially meaningful.
You should definitely watch it. Or, you should definitely not watch it. Either way, go and find that episode of Father Ted. You’ve got to hear that sax solo.