Invasion of the Body Rockers
...in which Ashley encounters the Eurovision Song Contest and his inner diva.
You missed the Eurovision Song Contest. I know you missed it because, if you’re reading this, you’re most likely an American. And last Saturday you Americans were watching reruns of Mama’s Family or barbequing Hot Pockets or shopping for plastic tumblers at Walgreens or some other act of Freedom, while all of Europe and affiliated nations were glued to their state-sponsored televisions, gorging on Eurovision. Shops and offices closed so they could gape at this multi-billion-Euro musical extravaganza, a cornucopia of pop music, with enough sequin-festooned glitz to make Liberace puke. But you didn’t make it past the velvet rope. Not in those camouflage crocs.
I don’t think it’s an accident that Americans are kept in the dark about ESC. Despite the fact that Eurovision launched the careers of ABBA and Celine Dion, despite the fact that the event is bigger than twenty OJ trials among EU spectators, Americans, by and large, have never even heard of it. And I believe this is by design. Anyone traveling in Europe in the last few decades knows that American pop music is polluting the airwaves from Cyprus to Slovenia, a presence generally regarded more as an invasion than a peacekeeping force. This is especially distressing for me since Bruno Mars and his ilk were what drove me to flee the U.S. to ride out the cultural apocalypse in the bunkers of Germany. I thought I was leaving Cardi B behind.
So I conclude that European pop junkies are also overcome with the stench of Taylors and Justins and would prefer to hold their annual song contest having fumigated all Stateside influence. Thankfully, sixty years ago, they found the best way to keep Americans disinterested in their music pageant was to put “Euro” in the title. Because there’s some sort of filter in the American popular consciousness that keeps all foreign affairs from entering our star-spangled brainpans. Hence the predictable Yankee query concerning Eurovision, “Huh?”
So for those too American or not gay enough to know, The Eurovision Song Contest is an annual music competition, broadcast live, in which each participating country elects a contestant to perform an original song. Sometimes the entrant is a band in the standard, Foghat variety of drum-kit bashing, but most often the act takes the form of a choreographed disco ballet. There is constant flame, mist, and CG animation, swirling around singers dressed like ice skaters or Lord of the Rings characters. Think of it as Super Bowl Sunday with 26 fabulous halftime concerts and none of that idiotic football. Viewers vote for the winner by telephone (and now those newfangled apps), with the stipulation that they cannot vote for the act from their home country. These votes are combined with the votes of each nation’s jury, pitting one republic against another in a battle for ear-worm supremacy. It’s like going to war with an army of Osmonds.
Things invariably get political: Boos from the crowd when Russia’s pop act is announced, Austria and Germany refusing to cast votes for each other, zero votes for the Brexited U.K., Montenegro consistently voting for former-Yugo nations, etc. And the cold sores of rabid nationalism are perpetually reinfected by ignoring the actual names of the performers, officially referring to them by their home country. Forget Ladysmith Dandy Jane and the Shoehorn Cowboy Orchestra. Around here, we just call them “Bulgaria.”
In case I haven’t made it clear, this is all wonderful. Kitschier than a tiki bar, woker than a pride parade, gayer than a production of Les Mis starring RuPaul. I’ve been an avid fan for several years now, settling in every Spring for an evening of merciless judgment that makes Rex Reed look like Sandy Duncan. Mind you, almost nothing of these proceedings qualifies as “good,” in that this is a celebration of the sort of calorie-free, kiddie-pop ooze I usually inspect as if it were exceptionally colorful roadkill. I consider the crafting of a great pop song a holy calling, and I detest the pre-digested, focus-tested, factory-churned, Hello Kitty glitter stickers passing for popular music in our modern, corporate hellscape. Most Eurovision entries are either Bollywood groove machines, wails of lament from a Disney Princess, or occasional explosions of Linkin Park Lite. I attain equal pleasure from watching the disasters fail as I do resenting the garbage that wins the gold.
Most of the ESC songwriters – sometimes a dozen or more for a single song – apply a time-tested formula for Eurovision success. The songs are often ballads, sung by sparkling females, which kick into disco choruses with the aid of violent pyrotechnics and gold-lame backup dancers. The songs have titles like “Live Tonight Again” or “Tomorrow Never Forgets Yesterday,” they feature what I like to call the “vocal pitch hiccup” (the singer suddenly shifting to a high pitch, often in the middle of a word), and invariably include a sweeping, inspirational key change. The singers are dressed like Narnia Queens, or if dancing, like Shakira. Sometimes the ballad is a duet with a guy with a shaved chest, black vest and gold tennis shoes. They usually sing in phonetic English, which is disappointing to me. I’d prefer to hear vocal-pitch hiccup in the mother tongue.
I could go on and on about the delights of this glamtacular, but I don’t have to. My fellow Yanks will get a taste soon enough. Because an American version of this legendary song contest has just been announced, to be shown on NBC, the network that gave you such prestigious competitions as American Gladiators and The Apprentice. And if you think America is engaged in a cultural civil war now, wait until all fifty U.S. states are poppin’ and rockin’ against each other like the rumble scenes in Breakin’ 2. I can well imagine the country music quotient will rise considerably in the American version, as will the percentage of Progressive and Verizon ads. I can already smell the Seacrest.
But perhaps this can be the catharsis my war-torn home country needs. Thus far, America’s desire to ridicule meager talent has been satisfied by American Idol and its ilk. But unlike those shows, the Eurovision Song Contest isn’t about washed-up pop stars crushing the dreams of the undiscovered; it’s about breakthrough talent destroying the hopes of entire nations. I think this has the potential to change the fate of our species. Imagine a world in which global conflicts revolve around fabulous show tunes instead of nukes, drones, or hillbilly insurrections. Imagine an America where North and South becomes a battle of Hamilton soundtrack vs. Kid Rock instead of voting rights vs. open carry. Imagine a history in which Hitler could only capture Poland by rewriting Mein Kampf as a stirring torch song he must perform in designer jeans and gold tennis shoes.
And imagine he gets beaten by a Churchill singing a fat-pride anthem and has retreat to the bunker to write a new song for next year. They tell me his new stage show’s going to be a triumph!