Good evening Europe. This is London calling. This weekend Copenhagen hosts the 2014 edition of a huge annual event, one where international diplomacy, geopolitical sensitivities and national peculiarities take centre stage. There’s also a bit of singing involved, too.
It’s the Eurovision Song Contest, of course – Europe’s largest televised spectacle that takes place in the capital city of the previous year’s winning nation. If you’ve never seen it, the scale, the ambition, the logistics, the unabashed campery of it all will surely bring tears to your eyes. Some of the songs will do that, too.
When I was growing up, my family and I would huddle around the television one Saturday each May, watching the good, the bad and the ugly of European pop vie for musical immortality. In fact, I think that a significant slice of my early knowledge of European capital cities came courtesy of Eurovision. Sofia – Bulgaria. Valletta – Malta. Riga – Latvia. And so on…. So thank you Eurovision!
Over the years the contest has been graced by singing puppets, bearded drag queens and even a hardy troupe of Russian grandmothers – who made such an impression at the 2012 contest that they were invited to warm up the crowds at the closing ceremony of this year’s Winter Olympics in Sochi.
Eurovision has also had a cameo role – since it was first broadcast in 1956 – in some of the key events that have shaped Europe in that time. It was a replay of Portugal’s entry to the 1974 contest – on national military radio – that was the starting gun for the country’s Carnation Revolution.
In some cases Eurovision looked like it might even be the peace-broker between nations locked in conflict. Two years ago, the host nation Azerbaijan looked like it would have to welcome Armenia – with whom it had been engaged in a 30-year stand-off – into the country with open arms. (It turned out that Armenia let the hosts off the hook by withdrawing from the contest with a week to go.)
This year, too, much was made of the contest-within-a-contest that took place during Tuesday’s semi-final, as acts from both Russia and Ukraine sang, head-to-head, for Europe’s votes – and for the pride of their respective nations. (They both made it through to Saturday’s grand finale, which will, no doubt, provide a bizarre footnote to the continuing chaos in eastern Ukraine.)
Politics aside, the event still has the capacity to surprise and delight. If a sugary slice of pop isn’t your bag, then you probably aren’t missing much. But if you want to get a glimpse of the continent at its weirdest, wackiest, and occasionally most wonderful, you should be sure to tune in.
Tomos Lewis is a producer for Monocle 24.