Saturday, May 28, 2011


The entire city of Trondheim, Norway was abuzz when I arrived on May 14th. But the excitement wasn’t for the rapidly approaching May 17th holiday—Norway’s national day—or for my arrival: it was for Eurovision.

I’m not sure whether I should be proud or disappointed that I had never heard of Eurovision before I experienced the flamboyant glamfest that is the obvious inspiration for the US’s American Idol. But I will never forget the first time I saw it. The concept of Eurovision is fairly simple: through a voting process, every nation in the European Broadcasting Union picks a performing group or artist to sing a song and represent their country in the contest. After one elimination round, 25 groups sing a song accompanied by dance artists and elaborate lightshows in a massive televised event on a Saturday night in May. Votes are then tallied in an American Idol-esque manner with an emphasis placed on building tension and drama: over three hours of tension and drama. Cameras are stationed all over Europe showing each nation’s contingents celebrating in drunken throngs in the streets and at various viewing sites. The entire event has a Super Bowl meets the Grammys meets American Idol feel to it. Everyone watches, but it is particularly appealing to the under-17 female crowd because of the event’s proclivity towards Europop music and boy bands.

Ultimately, Azerbaijan—whose inclusion in Europe is questionable to me regardless of which networks broadcast there—won the 2011 contest with Eldar & Nigar’s song, “Running Scared.” Check it out: The song was fine, but I preferred both Ireland’s contribution, “Lipstick” by Jedward and Hungary’s contribution, “What About My Dreams” by Kati Wolf. Even the Norwegian entry—which didn’t make the finals, unfortunately— “Haba Haba (meaning Little by Little)” by Stella Mwangi was catchier. Here's a stage performance of "Haba Haba":

An important cultural experience I won’t be missing again, Eurovision cast some light on many common European themes. It showed how much pride European citizens have in their respective countries: with many being small nations, youngsters are taught early to stand up unflinchingly for their people. But it also showed the unity that exists between European nations, specifically within regions. Forbidden from casting votes for the performers of their own country, many voters will elect to vote for the performers from neighboring nations: Norway will give favorable treatment to Swedish, Icelandic and Finnish songs, for example. In the end, despite Azerbaijan’s victory, the entire show had a festive feel, one of celebration. While Ryan Seacrest pushes the momentum of America’s biggest song contest forward, promoting individual performers and riches, perhaps one day the US will adopt a song competition among states similar to the Eurovision contest. Such an event would certainly generate enough revenue to appease the big networks. And it would be a fun and unifying experience that I bet Americans would really get into. Haba haba.

P.S. Not all winners of Eurovision are glampop boy bands or ABBA. In 2006, Finland’s monster metal band Lordi won the entire contest in a serious shift from tradition with their song “Hard Rock Hallelujah.” A personal favorite of mine, it’s definitely worth checking out.

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