There are three types of people in the world – those who like the Eurovision, those who hate the Eurovision, and those who don’t live in Europe.
The Eurovision Song Contest is an annual extravaganza of absolute kitsch. The format never changes. The contest is hosted by the winners of the year before and has two presenters, one male and one female (very occasionally a country will opt for a man and two women, in what is surely the most cheerless use of the word “threesome” of all time). These presenters will have only one talent – the ability to be unfunny in the languages of every corner of Europe, including Gibraltar, Transylvania and the Vatican City.
The songs themselves are mush. Not only that, but they are all ladled from the same giant pot of mush – each entry could be sung by any of the other countries and it would make absolutely no difference, especially since almost every song is sung in English. They might as well draw a song out of a hat just as they walk onstage.
Occasionally a country will bravely stick to its heritage, and enter a song in its native language sung by a band dressed in its native outfit. Such songs do not do well.
They say that since it is a Song Contest (the trophy is presented to the winning composer, not to the winning singer), it is the song that matters and not the performance. This is not strictly true. Put say Don McLean sitting alone on a stage with just an acoustic guitar, singing even something as wonderful as Vincent, and he will not win. But add a troupe of scantily-clad dancers, a yeti on a tightrope and some stoats jumping through hoops of fire and Don could well be on the way to stardom, or a least to a more wealthy form of anonymity.
Within an hour of the contest ending you will have forgotten what Don looked like, and what his song sounded like. By the following morning you won’t remember which country he was from.
There are some exceptions to prove this rule, some acts that, having made it there, went on to make it anywhere. Abba’s fame began when they won the contest in 1981. Celine Dion was first heard of when finishing second one year (singing for Switzerland, surely the height of ambition for all Canadian singers). And each year the host country puts on a home-produced interval act while the votes are being tallied, and it was as such an act, just ten minutes long, that the world first saw Riverdance.
That was when we were hosting it. Ireland have won the Eurovision eight times, more often than any other country. This is something that we are both proud and slightly ashamed of, like a Dad who beats his children in a belching contest (no, it’s not bad parenting and yes, I do always win). But we have not won for many years now, and languish in the lower regions of the competition, like a once great football club now relegated to the lower divisions of the league. We are the Leeds United of the Eurovision.
The football analogy is apt, since the splitting of the USSR and Yugoslavia has meant that there are now so many entrants that they have had to introduce two semi-finals.
And this is why I write of this today – the first semi-final takes place tonight. I’m sure you can gather from my relentless slagging here where I stand in my opinion of the Eurovision. I love it. And I have made fun of it here because that is one of the Eurovision’s great charms – it doesn’t mind being laughed at, because it laughs at itself, joyously and unashamedly.
Tingirl and I will be sitting in front of the TV tonight, as we will be for the second semi-final on Thursday and the final on Saturday. As always we will debate whether or not, as we suspect, Portugal enter the same song every year, just to see if anyone will notice. As always we will score each song out of ten, and every time the contestant is a man in a white suit and an open-necked shirt (a big hello to Greece here, by the way) I will write down zero before he has even opened his mouth.
And when the voting starts the most important of our traditions will take place. We will pick up our phone and we will vote for Song Nine. We do this every time, no matter what the song is like.
It’s stuff like this that builds memories.