Tuesday, May 17, 2016

A Message To My Fellow Americans Who Suddenly care About the Eurovision Song Contest

In 2002, I became active on the A-teens.com message board, as well as the Westlife message board. Both forums had a mostly European user base, with a few North and South Americans floating around. On both forums, conversations about other bands and artists popped up on a daily basis, and everyone liked to share the new music they'd found. In the spring of 2003, I remember there being a lot of posts and commotion about something called Eurovision. Since I couldn't watch it, and since I was really busy with after school activities at the time, I didn't put much thought into it. However, in 2004 it was announced that the Eurovision Song Contest would, for the first time(or so I was told!), stream online.

I remember feeling so curious and so excited. I asked my dad to sit and watch it with me, and he agreed, since he'd heard of Eurovision a few times in his life(presumably because of ABBA, Gina G, and other Eurovision artists who ended up famous in the US) but never actually had the chance to watch it. He grabbed some beers, i grabbed some juice, and we dove in.

When I sit here now watching the ESC recap on Youtube, everything seems so small and simple compared to last weekend's contest. At the time, though, 13-year old me had never seen anything so big or so theatrical. The costumes, the camp, the languages I'd never heard before - everything was new, big, and incredible.....especially Jönsi.

When I went back to school that Monday, I remember everyone thinking I was crazy for being so excited about, in their words, "some stupid Europe thing". I was asked by several people why I couldn't just like American music, or "normal" things. Even people I knew enjoyed theater weren't interested in hearing about the Eurovision Song Contest, but it didn't stop me. I imported the CD from Amazon and spent the whole summer listening to it. This was also the first time I had ever heard of Jari Silanpää.

Every year from there forward, my dad and I would stream the Grand Final online. Every year seemed somehow bigger than the next, and every year I found myself watching with the same wide-eyed gaze I had the first time around.  Even last weekend, in 2016 at the age of 25, I still had that feeling and I still felt that excitement just as strong as in 2004, at 13.

Because of social media and how connected the world is, every year Americans seem to become more and more aware of Eurovision. This year, the contest was even broadcast on American television for the first time. Even though it was on Logo, an LGBTQ lifestyle channel that's only available on expensive cable and satellite packages, it still marked a notable turning point in the contest's history.

It also scares me.

Yes, Eurovision is often comical. Yes, the songs are often not very good. Yes, many people even within Europe think it's a big joke. But it's cultural significance can not be overstated, and the fact is, there is no other musical competition on Earth like it. It's not "just" a song contest. It's a show that was initially created to bring a broken continent back together through music that's since become the one night a year those of us living in Europe can(theoretically) put aside our differences and have a giant party where we simultaneously mock and celebrate our respective cultures at the same time. It is the definition of entertainment, and for a very young me, it was a chance to learn about the modern state cultures, languages, and countries that my school textbooks would never talk about.

Eurovision made me, and still does make me, feel connected. I'm not saying other young, lonely, and curious Americans don't deserve that same experience, because they do. What I am saying, though, is that there needs to be a certain level of respect given by both the media and the general public when talking about the contest and when trying to understand it. It should not be used by talking heads on CNN for a cheap laugh. And, under absolutely no circumstances, should America be given the Australia treatment.

Handle the Eurovision Song Contest with the respect it deserves, or don't handle it at all. If you thought it wasn't worth your time ten years ago, its not suddenly acceptable to "love" it just because Justin Timberlake decided to show up this year. This is one of the few things that is uniquely Europe, and where we Americans aren't constantly trying to change it or claim it as ours. Please, let them keep it that way.

1 comment:

Frankowro said...

I love your post. Thanks from Poland, and I hope you keep enjoying Eurovision for many many more years!