From Europe With Love: The Eurovision Song Contest

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Anthony Lane, writing in the June 28, 2010 issue of The New Yorker, visits one of those peculiarly European spectacles, the kind one points to when thinking of what Europe, as an entity distinct from its individual nation states, means: The Eurovision Song Contest.

The music that Eurovision honors and enshrines is the music you still hear from one corner of Europe to the other. […] But here’s the rub: European pop sounds like Eurovision pop even when it’s not from the Eurovision Song Contest. The stuff you hear in the back of Belgian taxis, on German radio, in Sicilian bars, and in the lobbies of Danish hotels: it was all created by the great god of dreck, and Eurovision is his temple.

(Anthony Lane, “Only Mr. God Knows Why,” The New Yorker, June 28, 2010, subscription only)

Yes, it is that bad, as anyone who has sat though an installment of the annual contest can attest. And yet, Eurovision remains absurdly compelling viewing and listening. It’s pop, to be sure, but it’s distinctly European pop, tinged by yet disparate from American or British pop.

Fans Inside Telenor Arena, Eurovision Song Contest 2010 by SQFreak on flickr.com, via a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share Alike License.

The quality of the music isn’t the point so much, really. Eurovision is like an international musical sporting event, the Olympics of High Camp, complete with voting along regional blocs and ringers brought in from other countries to help your chances, there being no residency requirements to be a country’s entry.

Countries could certainly spend a fortune to bring in hired talent with real pop pedigrees, but they don’t. For all the pseudo-English sung at this event, there’s national pride at stake—no, not pride. National spirit, national joie de vivre. It’s infectious, and it brings the countries of Europe together in a contest that has little to no negativity or even competitiveness. Watch it once and you’ll remember it forever. Like it or not.

If you spend any appreciable time in Europe, you can’t avoid Eurovision. Having spent several formative years in Norway during the early- to mid-1980s, I was exposed to Eurovision right at the point where my musical tastes were beginning to coalesce. Those who know me point to this as a reason for (in their sadly near-universal assessment) my terrible taste in music. They’re wrong, of course—Toto IV is, truly, one of the finest albums ever—but I owe my predilections to the very first cassette tape I ever bought.

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