Eurovision is getting bigger and more brilliant – it’s time we took it seriously

It’s been 23 years since I first watched the Eurovision Song Contest – and I’m still smitten

Jordan Tyldesley@pippybing
Saturday 22 May 2021 09:50
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Italy rehearse for Eurovision 2021

It’s that time of year again. Gloom-ridden Brits (usually of the male variety) pop up on TV to inform everyone that Eurovision is nothing more but an annual reminder that the UK is unanimously loathed across Europe. But for some – like me – it’s a time of unparalleled joy and sequinned brilliance.

Picture this: It’s 1998 and my grandad and I are patiently (or, rather, impatiently) waiting for the Eurovision Song Contest to begin. Pencils and paper at the ready, and the curtains have been drawn to create a home cinematic effect. He loves it (my grandma says for the beautiful women) and I love it because it’s pure, unadulterated fun.

The UK are hosting it this year after our glorious win with Katrina and the Waves’ “Love Shine a Light”. Football fans would – and still will – have to wait years before they can hold a coveted trophy, but for one night only, Birmingham took centre stage.

It was that year that I fell in love with Dana International. She was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. Beforehand, she’d caused a lively commotion in her home country of Israel for daring to represent the nation as an out-and-proud trans-woman.

But Europe soon fell for her irrepressible energy, glittering exuberance and outstanding song, “Diva”. And that’s the thing about Eurovision: nobody cares who you are. It is the true leader in acceptance without question. All it asks is that for one night only, we come together as separate nations to collectively fall in love with one song.

It’s now 23 years later – and I’m still smitten. In all honesty, for me, it’s more important than the World Cup. According to the EBU it draws in an estimated audience of 182 million viewers, so clearly, I’m not alone. It is one of the world’s biggest live music events and is watched around the world – even by those who cannot participate.

So why is the UK public so disparaging of the contest? Every year, we Eurovision fans hear the same remarks, “What’s the point? we’ll only lose anyway”, and, “we always come last because Europe hates us.” I’m sorry to break this to you guys, but for a long time we just haven’t been good enough.

Yes, we may have one of the most illustrious and profitable music scenes on the planet, but that doesn’t give us a free pass to win; you have to earn it. What’s more, Europe doesn’t “hate” us – although I wouldn’t be surprised if it thinks we have a bit of a persecution complex. We do not have some divine right to win, just because we’re British.

This year Rotterdam is hosting and it’s sure to be as brilliant as ever. Unfortunately, due to Covid, the arena won’t be packed with quite as many flag-waving devotees. But let’s face it, anything is better than last year when the show was cancelled for the first time in its 65 year history.

Duncan Laurence beat all other hopefuls at the last event with his melancholic song, “Arcade” – an astonishingly beautiful song that sounds like something you’d hear if you placed Amy Winehouse and Coldplay into the same studio and waited for the result.

Thanks to TikTok, Laurence’s hit has managed to have prolonged success and even had a sudden resurgence into the UK top 40 a year after its release. The platform is introducing a younger generation to the competition and competitors are now using it to create a wave of viral dance routines.

Also, in recent times, prominent global artists have decided to jump on the glitter-filled bandwagon by performing during the show. Justin Timberlake set the ball rolling followed by Madonna and now we have the rapper, Flo Rida even competing for San Marino this year.

Fans were pleasantly surprised when UK hopeful James Newman released “Embers”, not only a professional-sounding entry but also up-tempo – Lord knows, everyone needs cheering up. But he has stiff competition. Participants within the EBU have started to take the competition increasingly more seriously by making slick, perfect pop songs that wouldn’t sound unfamiliar on the likes of big chart topping stars.

The level of talent this year is simply outstanding – I wouldn’t even try to guess a winner. Switzerland are pondering the universe: France have created an understated masterpiece, Cyprus have caused a furore with a song about the devil, Russia are sending a feminist anthem, Malta is basically doing a musical rendition of Promising Young Woman and Ukraine (my personal favourite) is a heady mixture of punk, trance and folk all rolled into one. But of course, it is only right that the competition continues to have its fair share of eccentricity: expect a John Lennon lookalike, sporting angel wings.

I can’t wait to be transported from the humdrum of life, Covid warnings and death tolls. I want to be whisked away on a journey across Europe and beyond. I yearn to hear music from other countries and cultures and I need the comfort of Graham Norton’s soothing narration.

Some will read this and undoubtedly comment, “still not watching” and that’s fine – feel free to take your misery elsewhere. Tonight, we’re having fun.

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