Checking my Twitter account yesterday I realised I had missed it, the Eurovision Song contest. I received numerous tweets from different papers and tv stations, the most interesting was probably the one on CNNI : “What is Eurovision?”.
This struck me as a surprise, as it seems unreal to me that some people don’t really know what it is. Of course it is just a European Thing. Of a past era.
Well, this yearly song contest, that had started long before my time, somewhere in the fifties, was probably the only time of the year (maybe apart from Christmas and New Years) that we –kids- could stay up late. We would give points at all the contesters and then wait nervously until the end and see if our winner was indeed the winner. We would record the songs on tape, as it was also broadcasted on the radio, and listen to it over and over again. At least I would.
Although even then, the music was not considered ‘cool’, it always had this typical style which is called –to no surprise- “Songfestivalmusic”, you weren’t (as a teenager) completely lost if you admitted liking it.
here is Norway, the winner in 1985
But these were other times, when we only had like 2 tv stations a country, we would still have something called an antenna, and –lucky us, we lived in a small country- we could also receive the 2 Dutch and the 2 French TV stations, and a same amount of radio stations. No internet. No cable. No satellite TV. This songfestival was about as international we could get. This contest would bring all the European countries together, and every contestant had to sing in his own native language. For Belgium that meant we were switching between French and Flemish every year.
Back then they still had a whole orchestra and a conductor. Later, the orchestra was changed to electronic music and then everyone could change the language they could sing in. All of them (maybe except France) started to sing in English. I suppose that was the beginning of the end. The international magic was gone.
At the end of the show all the countries had to vote for a winner. It was not just about who was best, mostly the songs in English and French (which more people would understand) were in the top 5, and countries like Norway, Sweden and Denmark (among others) would also give their neighbouring country the highest points. It was all very predictable.
The CNN article states that the Eurovision Song contest didn’t want to bring up a United European feeling, but it was just a kind of test of the broadcasting technology. These broadcasters were organising it, and not the governments. It are also the broadcasters who choose who will represent their country, it used to happen randomly, now it usually is through a whole series of TV shows and televoting. In a way everybody wanted to win, but on the other hand it meant that one had to organise the contest the following year, and pay for it…
Hardly ever winning the contest brought the singer or the band fame, the winners were usually one day flies. The only exceptions are probably ABBA, Celine Dion and Julio Iglesias.
Belgium only won once, and got 2nd place once, but mostly we ended somewhere at the bottom of the list. Sandra Kim brought us that one year fame, and after that, we never heard of her again.
But in the ’90 the whole concept was overtaken by TV shows like Idol, or other talent shows, you can see whatever band you like live on TV. Internet and cable took over. Thanks to MTV we brought international music into our homes without any trouble. They tried to change the whole Songfestival concept by letting the former communist countries participate. Now there are so many contestants that there are 2 semifinal nights before the actual contest. The songs of the ‘new’ participents are totally different. They don’t follow the (maybe boring) songfestival style, but have very bombastic songs and big performances. Not at all like we were used to. There is no such thing as bonding with the other contestants anymore/
The song festival brings up great memories, but to me that’s all there is to it. And my teenage daughter just said: “The Eurovision song contest is the only thing we, Europeans, have a right to be embarrassed about…” .
I guess that says it all.