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Things We Saw Today: Eurovision Is a Thing That Is Happening in Europe

We have the highlights.

ABBA Eurovision Song Contest

According to my one American friend who is invested in Eurovision, the final is tomorrow and as usual, things have been kitsch and campy in the popular international song competition that confuses us stateside.

My singular Eurovision experience came while studying abroad in Scotland, when everyone—everyone—in the dorm crammed themselves into the common room for hours of yelling at the television while a baffling array of musical acts in sparkly costumes entertained a worldwide audience. It was a wild thing to witness and rather like journeying, briefly, to another planet entirely. Planet Eurovision, where confetti is the currency.

Because I still struggle to wrap my poor American brain around this event, I’ll let the Guardian explain more fully what’s going on in Portugal:

Eurovision, which this year takes place in the Portuguese capital of Lisbon, is a song contest between European countries. However, it’s far more than that: it’s often known as the “Gay World Cup”. Or, to put it in more American terms, the Super Bowl of Camp. It’s flamboyant, kitsch, and filled with low-level political feuding. It’s like American Idol crossed with RuPaul’s Drag Race crossed with Survivor. Sprinkled with LSD.

“Sprinkled with LSD” is rather how one feels while watching Eurovision. In addition to European countries, nations like Australia, Russia, and Israel also get in on the fun (you can see all the participants here). But for all the silliness and high camp that is synonymous with Eurovision, the competition often produces important cultural moments and is that rare event watched by millions around the world that does not involve a soccer ball. (A football ball? We struggle with understanding that over here, too.)

Our Eurovision correspondent Lauren Henry reports that there have been some significant developments to emerge from this year’s contest already, including a gay kiss from Ireland. Here are some of the highlights Lauren thinks that you should know about.

Russia was knocked out!!

Israel is a strong contender this year:

It’s like a women’s anthem. She compares herself to Wonder Woman! And she does chicken noises?? There’s a lot going on.

Norway’s entry, Alexanderr Rybak, is a funky pop violinist who won in 2009—only one person has ever won twice, but he got the most points ever when he won.

Oh! The official video for Ireland’s entry (different from their live performance) featured a gay couple kissing, and Russia threatened not to broadcast it:

But then Eurovision threatened to disqualify Russia (and Russia got knocked out in the semifinals anyway).

The Czech entry is a LOT:

OH OH OH France’s song is about the refugee crisis! It’s based on the true story of a baby born on a refugee raft crossing the Mediterranean:

It’s in Lisbon this year because Portugal won last year, and their winning entry was a tiny little man with a manbun singing a very sweet soft ballad, and you should write about him. He’s like a mouse who wished to become human so he could sing a song, and a fairy granted his wish for one night:

Also, I don’t understand the Serbian entry. ABBA got their big break on Eurovision—they won with “Waterloo” in 1974, and I feel like this year’s Serbian entry is like Medieval Goth ABBA from a parallel universe where they replaced Bjorn Ulvaeus with an old man playing a recorder:

The Netherlands went with … a country song???? I really can’t explain that one for you.

I should just say that while Eurovision is mostly known in the US for outrageous, silly and just plain weird acts like Lordi, the 2006 Finnish winners, a metal band who dressed up like demons, and Verka Serduchka, a Ukrainian drag queen from 2007 who is just—a lot, and even made a cameo in a Melissa McCarthy movie, Spy, and Moldova’s 2010 epic sax guy who became a meme, sometimes the kitsch does rise to the divine. Like ABBA’s “Waterloo” in 1974 or Genghis Kahn from 1979.

And personally, even with all the silliness and the accusations of certain countries playing politics by either voting for their neighbors or pointedly NOT voting for their neighbors (oh man, everyone hates the U.K. and it is GOLD), I think Eurovision is such an idealistic endeavor that really represents what’s best about the postwar project of European unity.

Bless you, Lauren, for this illuminating commentary. I’m still confused, yet now have at least three of these songs in my head simultaneously and I feel a strange urge to dance coming on. Is this how Eurovision fever starts? Will I be okay?

(With thanks to Lauren Henry, image: ABBA/screengrab)

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What did you see today? Any big plans to journey to Planet Eurovision on Saturday?

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