Amen and Amen! For the first time in 65 contests, two songs with the same title might appear in this year’s Eurovision Song Contest final. That’s definitely a “might” as there’s every chance that Slovenia and Austria could get knocked out in their semi-finals on 18 and 20 May, hidden away on BBC4 before the big night on 22 May.
Amongst the many rules of the contest (which can make football’s offside rule look very simple). Just six countries are guaranteed to sing in the grand final: France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK, along with the previous winner which this year means the Netherlands, who also have the honour of hosting. After last year’s contest was sadly cancelled , this year’s contest will look quite different as not all performers will be there in person. Australia has already confirmed their video presentation rather than travelling to Rotterdam.
It’s one thing singing in a studio, but quite another when you’re in front of a TV audience of hundreds of millions – and perhaps around 3,000 fans in the auditorium if the guidance still permits. The main rule of the contest is that a song has to be new and not performed in public before 1 September the previous year, which disqualified all of last year’s entries.
Most people might think of Eurovision as an annual event, but for many, it’s an all year round passion. Each year, after a song is crowned winner, the air is filled with rumours and gossip about the singers and the venue for the next contest. Gossip reaches a crescendo during convention season in October/November. Then, just before Christmas, the Albanian “Festivali i Këngës” kicks-off the national selection season, which culminates with Sweden’s Melodifestival in March. The Swedes don’t do things by halves, it’s a lavish six week affair enjoying impressive ratings in Sweden and eagerly watched by excited fans throughout the Eurovision world. An English commentary was available this year for the first time.
The national final season is never without its controversy. The Belarus entry was disqualified as the lyrics had political undertones and there have even been riots in North Macedonia and Cyprus. North Macedonians were very unhappy that the preview video showed what looked like a Bulgarian flag in the background reflecting the (US-based) singer’s half-Bulgarian identity and also wants to be an LGBT role model for the Balkans. Meanwhile, Cyprus is sending “El Diablo”, a Lady Gaga-esque song which has upset the religious community who dislike the fact that “a song about devil worship” will represent their country. Interestingly, in their semi-final, the Cypriot song is followed by the Norwegian song whose singer is dressed as an angel (albeit fallen, according to its title). Also, the Tajik-born Russian entrant will undoubtedly continue to ruffle a few feathers with her outspoken liberal views.
The contest isn’t just for international music lovers, it also attracts linguists. Any Eurovision fan worth their salt will reel off the words for love and peace in every language when asked. Just as all Eurovision fans know the Croatian word for stilettoes (štikla), this year the rather appropriate Ukranian word for Noise (Shum) and how to say “Practice On Each Other” in Danish (Øve os på hinanden) can now be added to the repertoire of useful words to use when travelling. Apart from two songs in French, the only other languages represented this year are Albanian, Italian and Serbian. But all is not lost for those wanting something a little more exotic – the Dutch song includes a verse in Sranan Tongo, reflecting the Surinamese heritage of their singer. The Israeli song is in English, unlike last year where it was in Hebrew, Arabic, English and Amharic, which would have been a new language for the contest and a nod to the singer’s Ethiopian heritage. But the phrase on everyone’s lips will be “Je Me Casse”, the Maltese entry (in English apart from its French title) which is the hot favourite and might well give the tiny island nation their first victory.
Also of note is the guest appearance of Flo-Rida, an apparently well-known US-based rapper who inexplicably “ft.” (as rappers do) with Senhit, the singer for little San Marino. From Finnish heavy metal, a modern-day Piaf from France to a love it or hate it entry from Germany, there’s something for everyone. If their video is anything to go by, probably the campest song of the night is Moldova’s “Sugar”. It’s hard to see last year’s favourite, Iceland, winning, but they can get comfort from the fact that their previous song was a worldwide hit and was even featured by the BBC on Strictly Come Dancing.
We’d best not dwell on the chances of the UK too much, although the song is certainly decent enough to hopefully pick up a few votes here and there. Let’s not forget that the overwhelming reason so many people like the contest is that we can’t vote for ourselves so we have to like another country’s song. Many people talk about political voting, but with so many countries in the mix, this generally doesn’t play as much of a part as people think .
With Australia now firmly in the Eurovision fold (at least until 2023), the contest has now set its sights on conquering the US market with a version for North America tipped to start in 2022. A real heavyweight has the task of making this new project work. The Executive Producer is none other than the legendary Swedish 1992 entrant Christer Björkman. Okay, he’s legendary to Eurovision fans, not particularly for his mediocre song, but for his astonishing success with making Melodifestival so popular and ensuring Sweden continues the legacy of ABBA and is one of the most successful countries in Eurovision.
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As for the battle of the “Amens”, fans will also immediately recognise that Slovenia and Austria also have something else in common. Not only are they neighbours, they’re also two of the few countries who have sent drag artistes as their representatives. Slovenia with Air Hostesses Sestre and surely no-one can forget the Austrian winner of 2014, the bearded drag queen Conchita Wurst. If you want more drag, then there’s great news – RuPaul’s Drag Race is reported to be branching out into an international singing contest. Can I get an Amen? Or even two?
On 18, 20 and 22 May, we’re in for a veritable treasure trove of countries literally singing for their supper (or rather, to host the next supper). This year, along with Malta, the odds are on Switzerland, France and for some reason Italy, but we won’t know until the last fat, thin, tall, small etc lady, gentleman or non-binary person has sang. Enjoy!