So, once upon a time in 2011 in Paris (one of my most favorite places ever!), I was staying with my friends and they had mentioned something called the Eurovision Song Contest. It had just taken place.
“What is that?” I asked. And then they enlightened me…
In short, the Eurovision Song Contest is a European pop culture phenomenon: A pop song competition dating back to 1956 that showcases a pop song from each participating (mostly European) country, who all vie for the number one spot. Notable winners include Abba (1974) of Sweden and Celine Dion (1988) representing Switzerland. The annual completion is held in the previous winner’s country, and each country has their own way of determining the song/artist they will submit. The 2011 edition was held in Germany as Lena Meyer-Landurt won the 2010 competition in Oslo.
Just like that, I was hooked. Among the many music genres I enjoy, Europop holds a special place in my heart as it stirs up nostalgia from my semester abroad. Needless to say, I thought the Eurovision Song Contest was the coolest thing I had ever heard of (if only because it was so European!), and we (also among us was my cousin who was spending her gap year in Paris) watched video after video after video of the 2011 performances until what seemed like the wee hours of the morning, but it was more like until 11pm. My friends weren’t too fond of the winning song, Running Scared from Azerbaijan, so they showed us the video of the aforementioned Lena’s winning song, Satellite, from 2010, which soon became an obsession of mine. I downloaded the song immediately, and six years later, it never fails to bring a smile to my face. It shuffles occasionally into my morning runs as well as into my work day. Her genuine, from-the-heart performance featured no smoke and mirrors, elaborate choreography or dramatic hand movements, rather, Lena just sang, bopped around, smiled the whole time, and looked like she was having the time of her life. Whenever I hear that song, I think of that night in my friend’s living room in Paris’s 3rd and how I promised myself that I would live in Europe one day….if anything for the Eurovision Song Contest.
After Paris, I returned to New York with my dreams of Europe even bigger. The following year, my Paris friends told me they were watching Eurovision and thought of me, and I was so jealous! But then 2013 came along and I was in Europe, and thrilled that I had a front-row seat to this spectacle for the foreseeable future. So here we are in 2017, and I’m embarrassed to admit that this year, I almost forgot about my second favorite night of the year! I hadn’t seen many ads, and I just didn’t think about it (what is happening to me!?). During an aperitivo with some friends last week, one mentioned that he was going to Brussels for the weekend and planning to watch Eurovision there, and I was like, “Yes, that’s what I’ll be watching, too, on Saturday night!”
The three-day long competition started with 42 song entries, but I just watched the Saturday night final, which showcased 26 finalists. I was less than halfway through when I decided to download the album from iTunes. When Europeans learn that I’m Eurovision obsessed, they ask me what I love about it. Besides feeling ever so European as I watch, I love seeing all the talent from different countries, and how each country either does their own thing of sorts while others aren’t really that different from the pop stars I know and love (or don’t love). They’re all so diverse, but all the same…and I mean that in the best way possible. Of course some of the performances are kind of funny/kitschy/silly, but I love them all anyway! They perform, you vote, and once the voting period ends, each country’s 12 points are awarded live via satellite video from that very country, and judge’s points are also somehow factored in…not exactly sure of the logistics behind it, but the totaling part takes close to an hour.
The results? So, I was really, really hoping Italy would triumph because I’m obsessed with Francesco Gabbani’s Occidentale’s Karma, but Salvador Sobral of Portugal took home the Eurovision gold. I am happy for him because his beautiful performance was Portugal’s first-ever Eurovision win…though I didn’t understand a word, his song Amar Pelos Dois broke my heart and I cried! There was just something about him sporting an oversized jacket with large shoulder pads and his hands clutched over his chest singing an unmistakably somber song that was so powerfully moving! It was just gorgeous! No dancing, no dramatic light effects, or anything like that, just Sobral front and center….kind of like Lena’s winning performance of Satellite, though a little less upbeat.
Now, I was so uncharacteristically out of the loop this year that even though I was very familiar with Occidentali’s Karma because Gabbani won the San Remo Music Festival back in February, I didn’t make the connection that he would be representing Italy at Eurovision. Here’s a video of him singing Occidentali’s Karma and I swear if you don’t already know and love him, you will love him just as much as I do! He is so charming and charismatic, and super light on his feet….he really can shake his tail feather….I wish I could dance like him! If you don’t speak Italian, fret not! Here’s a detailed backgrounder on the song, along with the lyrics and English translation side by side. There’s more to the dancing naked ape than meets the eye!
For whom did I vote? So, viewers are allowed up to five votes and, for obvious reasons, you can’t vote for the country from which you’re voting, so I voted twice for Lucie Jones from the UK who sang Never Give Up on You, once to Alma of France for her song Requiem, once for Portugal (of course!) and once for Dihaj of Azerbaijan for Skeletons. The latter was quite unusual, but I dug it.
By the end of the show, I was overwhelmed with even more gratitude that I get to call the continent that kickstarted and celebrated this tradition home. It 2011, Europe was still a dream! Then I managed to realize it two years later, and I still get to realize today. Life is good.