Everyone likes to make fun of Eurovision. Yet after all the jokes, all the comments about how cheesy it is, all the people wondering why they watch it, one fact remains – it’s the most popular music contest in the world. Nothing else comes close.
It’s also the most important song contest in the world.
Why? Because this funny little contest, first designed more as a technical test of continent wide live broadcasting than anything else, has become a powerful force binding all of Europe together.
If someone from Iceland is travelling in the Eastern hinterlands of Turkey, what do they have in common? What makes them both common members of Europe. It’s not language or culture. It’s not history or religion. If there are movies or singers they both like, odds are they’re American.
But they can all talk for hours about Eurovision. About what they loved and what they thought was awful. In that discussion they are European. Eurovision is a common cultural touchstone for the entire continent. When the contest is broadcast, the entire continent is European for 3 hours each night.
Second, it’s a supportive event. In the World Cup fans support their country. But in Eurovision most people have a favorite song from another country. Yes it’s political. Yes people want to see their country win. But at the same time people root for the songs they like best, which are often from another country. People are voting as Europeans.
Third, it gives every country a chance to win. San Marino is never going to win the World Cup. Belgium is never going to be a significant player in world politics. But Denmark won the most competitive musical contest in the world. It may not be even between countries, but every country can win.
And even if a country does not win, presenting a killer performance puts that country in front of the rest of Europe. Aliona Moon did Moldova proud, at a level that nothing else offers for a country that small.
Fourth, it is a strong statement that Europe is all of these countries. Not just those on the Western edge. When Turkey participates, that’s an in your face message to the bigots who don’t want to consider Turkey European. For those three nights Turkey is a part of Europe, just another of the countries participating.
This was very powerful for Azerbaijan last year when they hosted. Everyone watching that saw just another European country (with some really cool skyscrapers). It made them part of Europe. A normal, boring, familiar part of Europe. That’s powerful. (Azerbaijan was stupid when they looked up citizens who voted for Armenia – they should have celebrated those votes as that made them look European.)
And none of the above would count for squat if Eurovision was not watched by all of Europe. But it is. Why? Because the depth of talent, the quality of the songs & staging, and the variety of the performances is worlds beyond that of any other contest anywhere.
I don’t know if you can ever say some musical artist is “the best” as music is a very individualistic taste. (I don’t think sold the most CDs is a good measure, because by that measure the Toyota Corolla is the best car.) With that said, it is fair to say that the top artists at ESC each year are among the best in the world.
And that is what makes ESC the most important, and the most talented song contest in the world.
* photo courtesy of EBU