It is that time of the year when the music industry exposes itself in all its facets at once: the Eurovision Song Contest. A competition-driven event in which everyone in Europe (and Australia?) has a vote in which countries’ representative artist(s) performed best. Every single thing about it is absurdist. And yet at the same time, placing matters in a Eurovision Song context lays bare the foundations of pop music.
[ The Netherlands winning Eurovision in Sweden with a signature ABBA-style song, 1975 ]
Starting out with a bit of history, the Eurovision begun in 1956 with only seven contestants. It soon grow out to be a globally broadcasted event with over 200 million viewers. Europe of course has undergone quite some change, which finds itself reflected in the list of partakers — for instance Serbia and Montenegro competing independently since 2007. By now even our most distant cousin, Australia, has joined the party, indicative of the absurdism that underpins the Eurovision.
It is widely accepted that the Eurovision is political too in all of its ways. The show’s very location is sometimes subject of discussion (why Tel Aviv over Jerusalem?), international geographic cartels pop-up (that includes the Benelux twelve-point-pact), and of course the sometimes critical songs themselves aimed at foreign governments. Then there was the 2017 debacle whereby the Russian representative was refused entry to Ukraine because she traveller via the Crimea, which sounds more like a serious diplomatic affair than a scene at a song contest.
[ Finland's Lordi shook up Europe with a monstrous win in 2006 ]
When history and politics come to the fore, economics is always lurking nearby. Eurovision in itself is largely funded by the “big five” (countries that buy themselves into the finals), but the entire happening around it demonstrates that wherever possible there is a pursuit for profit. Far before the finals the songs to be performed are released for streaming and sharing, and idolatry is created. Fan culture is then pressed on teens — the target audience for pop music par excellence — through relatable backstories and compelling anecdotes.
But above all, the Eurovision Song Contest is a musical event. Every year the event’s repertoire reflects the currents of popular music, which in turn shapes the charts. Early editions featured mostly crooner-like singers, the ‘90s mirrored the emergence of boybands and girl groups, and from the 2010s onwards the era-defining EDM beat soundtracked the show (think Loreen’s Euphoria, winning in 2012). Be it as it may, the past 64 editions have spawned a genre of its own. “This is sounds so Eurovision” is a common claim used to label any music that is pompous and over-the-top emotional.
[ Loreen's EDM-infused Eurovision classic that reshaped pop music in the 2010s ]
There you have it, the Eurovision Song Contest is much more than a competition alone. It encompasses history, geography, economy and politics in its mechanism of who has performed the “best” song. Outliers — like Finland’s monsters (Lordi, 2006) or Austria’s bearded songstress (Conchita Wurst, 2014) — prove once more that the show is sheer entertainment. Nonetheless Eurovision is quality entertainment for anyone with a general interest in pop music and all of its absurdities.