E.U. avant la lettre

Long before (almost) all the European countries united in the European Community, now known as European Union (E.U.), the Europeans had this one yearly event that united them more then ever. The Eurovision song contest. It all began at the beginning of international broadcasting, (1956) which nowadays seems as natural as rain that falls. In those days TV was still something, and broadcasting over the boarders seemed like science fiction. Many people probably still remember the first European Eurovision Contest. For me, this contest has always existed. As far back as I can think, I was allowed to stay up late and watch. It was a big feast : it was the only night I could stay up late, and very often I could invite a friend to sleep over so we could pretend we were voting from out of our sofa.

In those days the singers had to sing in their native language, there was a big orchestra, everyone had to bring their ‘conductor’ who even got a seperate applause, and there was also a limit in people that could go on stage, which meant there was no room for dancers and complicated choreography. And it was prohibited to play the music on the radio beforehand. Whatever you saw and heard, you heard it for the first time.

But then the Iron Wall fell down and all the Eastern European countries and even Russia started to participate, and everything changed. First of all it became necessary to split up the contest in semi finals and finals, because there were just too many countries (40 this year). Ever since that day Belgium only got through the semi’s twice. Well, even before that day Belgium did not exactly have a history of winning or sending in strong candidates, usually one of the bets we made was if we would end last, or one but last, but at least we knew we were participating.

Where as the contest usually had the same typical quite boring ‘Eurovision-songcontest-style’ -say Abba, Celine Dion, Johnny Logan…- with the coming of the Eastern European countries the style has become very bombastic and theatrical. The more shocking, the more provocative, the better, it seems. Participants can now sing in whatever language they chose, which usually means English as that language sells better. The orchestra has been exchanged for recorded music, the stage is bigger and more impressive then ever, which makes the performers seem to disappear in the total extravagance.

The ‘European boarders’ do seem to have expanded over the years. Israel has been participating for years, Azerbaijan is a member, and this year even Australia will be participating.

We used to record the songs on tape, and listened to it for weeks afterwards. I remember my aunt having the full collection as a piece of pride in her cupboard. Very often we bought the winning single. But now the whole show seems too big, too commercial, too many countries I don’t even know, too much of everything, that I am not even sure if I will watch.

But one is certain, tonight I will not bet that Belgium will end up last. Loic Nottet, the 19 year old Walloon, who ended 2nd in The Voice 2014, will certainly not embarrass us.

Go Belgium Go!

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