The glitterfest is upon us, the wind machine is set to roar and flame pots are primed for ignition. Eurovision—a camp event that has been going longer than the venerable Brisbane Queens’ Ball—is the “World Cup of Pop Music”, a sports event for people that aren’t into sport. Blair Martin, Brisbane radio station 4ZZZ’s roving reporter, is all packed ready for Lisbon.
Portugal will host the sixty-third edition of this immense slab of song, dance and staging effects in its capital, Lisbon, in the second week of May. It’s the first time it’s has hosted the contest, having won last year in Kyiv, Ukraine with Amar Pelos Dois (Love Enough For Two), a completely retro style ballad that called back to the 1950s beginnings of Eurovision.
Sung by Salvador Sobral—a quirky young jazz loving hipster—who came complete with an emotion-charged backstory: he needed a heart transplant, which he received in December last year. It was touch and go whether he would make it to Kyiv in May.
This time around, forty-three nations will front up to the futuristic Altice Arena—imagine the Galactic Senate Chamber of Coruscant in the Star Wars universe—on the banks of the Tagus River, nearly all of them are from west and central Europe.
However, there’s a few from around the borderline of Europe and Asia—Cyprus, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Israel—and an entire other continent: Australia.
Australia moves to Europe
OK. Let’s move this elephant aside first so we have some room to chin-wag about competition proper. Why is Australia in Eurovision when it’s not even in Europe? Fair point.
The official definition, without getting too dry, is that the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) who ‘own’ the Eurovision Song Contest have access to member countries’ television networks from across Europe and those touching close by. Australia (through the SBS network) is an associate member and has been for decades.
The EBU and the Eurovision Reference Group—a sort of grand executive organising committee—invited Australia to participate in 2015 at the Vienna, Austria edition. The invite was a one-off to celebrate 60 years of the contest to thank Australia for taking part in the coverage for over 30 years, and for spawning some of the most passionate Eurovision fans on the planet.
Fun Fact: Eurovision broadcasts on SBS, which were always delayed telecasts, often rated higher than telecasts in some participant countries.
So, we sent Guy Sebastian with the up-tempo funk stomper Tonight Again as an automatic qualifier for the Grand Final, and Australia finished an incredible fifth (out of twenty-six entries). Australia was told that the only way it could compete again was to win in Vienna and host the next Contest, which would have to be in a European city due to the eight-hour time difference. No-one was too keen on fronting up at 5am AEST to sing their heart out on live TV.
Stockholm, Sweden hosted the next edition, and given that Australia and Sweden are forever locked in an ABBA-esque embrace, the invite was extended again. However, this time we have to do it the hard way: qualify from one of the Semi-Finals, like most of the other entries.
We didn’t have the protection afforded the host nation and the ‘Big Five—UK, Germany, France, Spain and Italy—who get automatic qualification due to being, well, big, or important, or a generous source of funding. Take your pick.
However, only ten songs from each of the two semi-finals get into the Grand Final, and it’s a nerve-wracking piece of television as each country and their chosen song is revealed in a random order.
So, in 2016, Australia scored again—and later revealed it had absolutely blitzed the second semi-final to win hands down—with Dami Im’s ‘Sound of Silence’. Although the national juries—made up of industry professionals, performers and music promoters—voted Dami into the number one position in the Grand Final, the public vote—‘televote’ as it’s cutely known—didn’t give Dami enough of a buffer to stop being overtaken by Ukraine’s extraordinary entrant Jamala and her emotional history lesson in song ‘1944’.
Dami and ‘Sound of Silence’ is still considered the finest singer and song never to win Eurovision.
2017 saw the invite extended again: Isaiah finished a very credible ninth with Don’t Come Easy. By now it was obvious that the organisers, promoters and a fair portion of the viewing public wanted to have Australia there every year.
Eurovision’s head honcho, Jøn-Ola Sund, has repeatedly said that Australia bring quality songs, quality staging and respects and honours the Contest. It’s pretty certain that unless we do something like sending Ozzie Ostrich—check out Ireland’s Dustin the Turkey in 2008—or Gina Riley as Kim Craig, we will be asked back.
All Aboard! in 2018
This year, Jessica Mauboy has the omens on her side: a cracking clap-along, sing-out-loud anthem We Got Love—with or without the # at the front—written by the DNA Songs team who were behind Dami and Isaiah.
The song’s been drawn to compete in Semi Final 2—the same as Dami in 2016—in almost the identical position in the running order (exactly half-way at #9), not to mention nearly on the same date as well. Her decision—and the Australian delegation team’s too, no doubt—to have her ‘do’ several of the pre-Eurovision fan parties where the contestants sing their songs live—as they have to in the real thing—was a masterstroke.
It’s raised her profile and silenced any doubters as to the quality of her live vocals. She’s sitting solidly at fourth favourite in the betting odds at time of writing.
Her competition is going to be the extremely ‘out-there’ entry from Israel. Netta is every gay boy’s BFF. She’s young, and a woman of more rounded proportions with a wild and crazy dress sense. Impressively, she performs live vocal sampling and looping on stage.
Her song Toy is a strong “talk to the hand” statement to all men who think women are there for their pleasure. It’s a banger and it’s the current bookies’ favourite.
Apart from Netta, another challenge to Jess is Finland’s Saara Alto with Monsters, another banger. After last year’s retro winner, the chances are something more conventionally pop will take the title.
Eurovision shouldn’t be political—it’s one of the rules—but songs do skirt the edge of the zeitgeist and France’s Mercy (yes, it’s a play on words) by the very stylish duo Madame Monsieur is highly regarded as the best of the ‘Big Five’ entrants.
For me, though, the dark horse is the Czech Republic’s knock-down looker, Miklos Josef with his Justin Timberlake influenced Lie To Me. He’s got some very sexy moves, even if the lyrics are a bit ‘odd’ and scores my ‘Douze Point’, the maximum 12 points any country can give another entrant as you can’t vote for your own country’s song.
All of these entries, along with We Got Love, were the top five in a poll of the worldwide Eurovision Fan Club. So, unless something happens in rehearsal—a favourite starts to die because it’s a trainwreck live—these are the five songs I expect to see fighting it out for the crystal Eurovision Song Contest trophy on May 12.
If it isn’t clear by now, Eurovision is one big “gay parade”, as former winner Alexander Rybak pointed out in Moscow 2009; he’s back representing Norway again this year. It’s as much a part of the gay culture now as Mean Girls or Ru Paul’s Drag Race.
Yes, a lot of it is very disposable cheesy pop, but there are attempts by countries to bring something different and work hard to be considered good: Bulgaria’s Equinox “super group” this year is one, Estonia’s operatic Elina another.
Plus, it’s fun—tiring, but fun! An anonymous Spanish journalist said it best: “Three quarters of the people who come to Eurovision are gay, the rest are women.”
Amen! All Aboard!
Listen to Queer Radio on 4ZZZ at 102.1FM in Brisbane every Wednesday from 9pm. 4ZZZ has three special shows this Eurovision season, available on digital radio and streaming online at the 4ZZZ website. Every day from 5pm, Blair Martin will keep Eurovision fans up to date from Portugal in All Aboard! On Saturdays from 6pm MC Sonny Spell will preview all 43 Eurovision songs in Schlagerfest. On Tuesday, May 8 and Thursday, May 10 Liz Shoesmith and Sonny will discuss this year’s contest on Liv & Sonny’s ESC Preview.