On May 10th I watched the Eurovision Song Contest for the first time! It was very entertaining, especially since there were so many countries represented in the room. Hurray for international communities!
The songs themselves were alright, however that’s not why people watch the contest. Instead, we cheered for interesting costumes, the backup dancers/performances, and just all around ridiculous-ness. Special shout-out to Iceland’s costumes and Belarus’s line “I don’t want to be your cheesecake.” It’s no wonder that this show is often referred to as Europe’s “festival of kitsch.”
(For more interesting and amusing lyrics click here).
The most interesting aspect of the show was definitely the voting process.
Each country ranks all the entries, with twelve points given to the first choice, ten points to second, and from eight down to one point for third to tenth place, with the point values decreasing respectively. Countries are not allowed to vote for themselves. The current method for ranking entries is a 50/50 combination of both telephone vote and the votes of juries made up of music professionals.
Like most other singing competitions in the world, the best singers aren’t always given the most points. Instead, it is essentially a popularity contest judged on talent, personality, costumes, and other (sometimes random) variables. But what differs this singing competition from the others is the fact that “the artists and their songs become symbols of the countries they represent.” Because of this, the voting becomes very political, with most countries giving the highest number of points to their neighbors and political allies. For example, Moldova gave 8 points to Russia, 10 to Ukraine, and 12 to Romania.
Because politics and national identity are both so tied to the performers, the Ukraine conflict made its way into this year’s competition, with the Russian act boo-ed several times. This group probably also lost some points due to some of the country’s domestic policies (such as the anti-gay propaganda laws).
Another huge statement was made with millions voting for Conchita Wurst (from Austria), who went on to win with the strong and catchy song “Rise Like a Phoenix.” Conchita is Thomas Neuwirth’s drag persona. While there has been backlash, I think the fact that she was able to challenge our perceptions of gender and STILL WIN is something to be celebrated. In a world full of prejudice and intolerance for everything “different”, there is always a need for more messages of equality and respect. And, as John Oliver put it, “Is it just me or, between Conchita and Michael Sam, did the whole world feel like it became a better place to live in the last 24 hours?”’