Eurovision 2013: All Of Europe Under One Roof

Launched in 1956, Eurovision is a Europe-wide music competition held every May under the auspices of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU). Participating countries select their representative songs over the course of the preceding winter and spring. Some countries – like Sweden – make their selections via televised heats held over several consecutive weeks. Others – like the U.K. (this year, at least) – make their selections by internal committee.

Eurovision is a major event in Europe, with a remarkable 125 million viewers.

Nowadays, Eurovision lasts for almost an entire week. With the end of the Cold War and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, there are now so many participating countries – 39 this year; even more in recent years – that two semi-finals are required to winnow down contestants to a manageable tally for the grand final. After semifinals on Tuesday and Thursday, this year’s final will be held later today in Malmö, Sweden. (Sweden won Eurovision last year, and with its win came the right to host this year’s contest.)Eurovision is not generally considered to be a showcase for serious music, and few global stars emerge from it. One very notable exception is ABBA, who turned their 1974 win with “Waterloo” into enormous international success. In lieu of musical seriousness, the event unleashes a kind low-impact skirmish of muted patriotisms and a massive gay following.

For many countries, participation in Eurovision is a rite of passage, a sign of progress. An Israeli friend once told me that in the late 1970s her family would dress up to watch Eurovision in their living room. This symbolic appeal of Eurovision remains especially strong in some Eastern European countries and the Caucasus today.

All members of the European Broadcasting Union can participate in Eurovision. This fact explains Israel‘s participation. Other EBU members beyond the borders of Europe include Morocco (who participated just once, in 1980) and several countries that have never participated: Algeria, Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon and Tunisia. True Eurovision nerds will tell you that Kazakhstan, Kosovo and Liechtenstein have all submitted applications for EBU membership.

So right, tonight. The odds have Denmark‘s Emmelie de Forest, Norway‘s Margaret Berger (with likely the strongest straight-up pop song, a little piece of driven magic titled “I Feed You My Love”), Ukraine‘s Zlata Ognevich, Azerbaijan‘s Farid Mammadov and Russia‘s Dina Garipova at the top of the pile.

In addition to these, Hungary, Romania and Greece have emerged as fan favorites. ByeAlex, the Hungarian entrant, sings a lush, quietly earnest song called “Kedvesem.” The singer looks like a quiet, earnest Mission District hipster; he distinguished himself in the press conference for the second semi-final winners on Thursday night by quoting Friedrich Nietzsche. Romania’s entry, sung by a countertenor opera singer named Cezar, is an instant Eurovision dance classic with a particularly over-the-top choreography. The Greek entry, by Koza Mostra featuring rebetiko singer Agathonas Iakovidis, combines folk, punk and rebetiko themes.

For those who follow Eurovision obsessively, the event itself is a kind of quasi-religious experience. The line between fandom and evangelism is imprecise for this tribe, many of whom attend Eurovision regularly. This week in Malmö, the Eurovision tribe is everywhere, sharing the gospel of playful but somehow meaningful pop music. The photo above, taken yesterday, gets at some of the gospel’s magic. It’s simple and interpersonal. Koza Mostra’s lead singer, Elias Kozas, has swapped flags with a German Eurovision fan. No negotiations. No conflict. No international frustrations. Just a snapshot of a moment within which flags don’t matter much.

San Marino’s embarrassing Eurovision Facebook song banned

Andy Warhol said that “In the future, everyone will be world famous for 15 minutes.” Maybe so, especially if you live in tiny San Marino, population: 30,000. If you’ve ever dreamed of competing in the Olympics, the World Cup qualifying tournament or in the annual Eurovision song contest, consider trying to obtain citizenship in San Marino where your chances of representing the country on some sort of international stage are pretty good.

The country may have no stop lights and has won just one international soccer match in the last 22 years (against 106 losses) but with the release of its official Eurovision song contest entry for 2012 this week, it may have achieved a dubious distinction: world’s worst song contest entry.

Valentina Monetta’s “Facebook Uh Oh Oh” is a laughable, three-minute ode to the addictive power of the world’s most famous social media site.

Do you wanna be more than just a friend?
Do you wanna play cyber- sex again?
If you wanna come to my house, click me with your mouse….

So you wanna make love with me?
Am I really your cup of tea?….

Are you really a sex machine?
Or just some beauty queen?

One can’t help but wonder who she beat out to become San Marino’s official representative. But because Monetta mentions the word “Facebook” 11 times (and dresses up in Facebook’s colors to boot) in the song, it’s been banned from the contest for promoting a commercial interest. San Marino has until March 23 to remove the Facebook references or come to their senses and submit a new song for the contest, which runs from May 22-26 and is viewed by hundreds of millions around the world.

Either way, San Marino’s made a splash with this hideous entry. Their first Eurovision entry was in 2008 and has just over 8,000 views on You Tube, while Monetta’s abomination has nearly 150,000 in just a few days. What do you think of this song? Would you be ashamed if you were from San Marino?

Image via George May on Flickr.

Eurovision song contest 2008: Former communist bloc taking all the fun out of the competition

The former communist bloc has done it again, you could say.

Russian singer Dima Bilan captured the 2008 Eurovision Song Contest yesterday in Belgrade, Serbia.

What, you didn’t catch it?

That’s not surprising. While this is pretty much the biggest music event of the year for the members of the European Broadcasting Union — which is about 50 countries, including obviously some outside Europe — it goes largely unnoticed in the United States, where we (1.) remain, sadly, outside the EBU and (2.) really love American Idol.

American Idol is a useful analogy, in that the format of Eurovision also involves call-in votes from viewers. Countries of the EBU each year submit their song (O.K., there is a lot of stuff about representative television broadcasters and such, but it comes down to each country putting forth a single song). Through live performances, viewers call in and vote for their favorite songs (they cannot vote for their own country’s song). Finalists duke it out in a gala event, full or pomp, circumstance and, in past years, some really freaky stage performances.

Since Serbia won last year, it hosted the finals yesterday.

Eurovision is one of the longest running contests of its kind, and it’s credited with, among other things, giving ABBA and Celine Dion their major breaks (both won the contest, for Sweden and France, respectively).

Now, on to this business about the former communist bloc.

With Russia’s win this year, there’s a big dust-up over the perceived monopoly the former communist sphere in Europe has over the contest. People are calling it the “eastern voting bloc.” Basically, it’s criticism that citizens from eastern and southern Europe are voting for any act that is from the same region, regardless of talent, in kind of a geopolitical one-upmanship. In the last four years, three of the winners have been from the former communist bloc: Russia, Serbia and Ukraine.

Terry Wog an, a long-time commentator of the Eurovision contest, tells the London Telegraph that he’s thinking of stepping down. The Easties aren’t making it fun for the rest of Europe. The event, he says, is “no longer a musical contest..”

The Christian Science Monitor has an interesting article about the political side of Eurovision.

I wonder if Gadling’s brilliant, bolshoi blonde Iva, who’s been giving us regular dispatches from Russia recently, witnessed any celebrations on the streets yesterday over Russia’s win yesterday.