Eurovision

As of this past Saturday, I have now officially missed out on the Eurovision Song Contest for the first time in my life.

Watching Eurovision was a tradition in my household growing up, a tradition I then introduced Mr Pict to and which became part of our calendar as a couple and a tradition that then grew to include our children once they were old enough to stay up late on a Saturday night.  Therefore, what I am really missing is the loss of one of our deeply ingrained family traditions.

It is possible that if you have always lived outside Europe you have zero idea of what I am even referring to in this blog entry.  Let me clue you in.  The Eurovision Song Contest has been held every year since 1956 and involves member countries submitting a song.  Each song is then performed on one (very long) evening and each member country gets to vote on which they like best which then determines the winner, nominally the most popular song.  The contest was long enough when I was a wee lassie but, with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the subsequent creation of new nations, the number of member states has increased massively in the last quarter of a century so that now they have to hold semi-finals and the voting takes an even more interminably long time.

In the decades before I was born, Eurovision was taken quite seriously.  It was regarded as an honour for a country to win and to then host the next year’s contest and the acts performing the song could have their careers significantly boosted by a win or even an appearance.  Some credible careers – such as Abba – were launched by success at Eurovision.  The joy of Eurovision, however, is that in more recent decades the musical and artistic merit has declined so that the songs are utter drivel, frequently sung out of key and the performances are often bizarre.  It is an absolutely wonderful night of randomly kitsch and camp entertainment.  For most of my life, the BBC’s commentator on the night’s events was the DJ Terry Wogan who would make sarcastic quips as the show progressed and gradually sink into his cups as the voting stretched out before him.  He retired and was replaced by another sardonic Irishman, Graham Norton.  A lot of the pleasure of watching Eurovision was the commentator’s witty put downs reflecting our own view of the show.

Then there is the voting.  There is admittedly not a great deal of merit in any of the songs or performances but merit is rarely how Eurovision is won.  Instead, there are complex political relationships at work which lead to certain countries always awarding top points to the same allies every single year and denying points to countries with which they have fraught relationships, regardless of the quality of effort.  It is actually perfectly possible to predict what some countries will award from the “public voting” each year.  In recent years it has also been the case that some countries have, it is suspected, deliberately thrown the contest because they do not want to win.  Winning involves hosting the following year.  This can be a drain on finances for some and a welcome boost to tourism for others.  If, however, you are like Ireland and have hosted several times then it might be time to submit a song performed by a puppet turkey.  That actually happened.  It is believed that singing in English creates an advantage.  There was a rule for a time that songs had to be sung in each country’s native language but it was determined this unfairly advantaged the English speaking nations since English is the second language of most European countries.  If you have ever sat through Eurovision then you might agree with me that actually it is probably advantageous to sing in the most obscure language and dialect possible so that as few people as possible can understand that the lyrical content is entirely dire.  I also think part of the fun is hearing other languages and it is always a bonus when a country decides to go for a bit of a flourish using an ethnic instrument of some kind- double bonus if done so while wearing some bonkers version of national costume.

Anyway, our  Pict family tradition was to score each country’s performance out of 20 with a maximum of ten marks being awarded for the song, five for the performance and five for the costumes.  As a family that usually meant that there was much discussion surrounding how low the score should be for each song and it also meant it was possible for our top scorers to have sung in a way that emulated a camel belching so long as they had a top drawer performance and some natty costumes.  In recent years we have evolved the tradition of eating nachos in front of the TV while chortling through the musical turns and debating whether the song that made our ears wither deserved even a single point.  Of course, the children also love the fact that they get to stay up late – really quite late indeed – while glutting themselves on telly watching.  There is also an unspoken tradition of seeing who can come up with the most scathing put down or come up with the most witty one liner about a song or performance.   The boys do quite well in that regard.  My apprentices.

But no more.

Possibly next year I will find the time to investigate if the Eurovision’s website broadcasts the event online in any other way than live.  A Saturday afternoon will never do for Eurovision for one reason or another but watching it “as live” in the evening would be fabulous.  So long as I manage to avoid the news of who the winner is which I singly failed to do this year.  I turned on the BBC World News and learned that 2014’s winner was Austria with a song performed by a pretty drag performer with a beard.  Now that’s Eurovision at its most magnificent!

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