Continuing our series looking at how people discovered the Eurovision Song Contest and their continuing relationship with Europe’s Favourite TV Show, it’s the turn of ESC Insight’s very own Ben Robertson. Editing our weekly newsletter, Ben, you have the page, the question is… ‘Why Eurovision?’
I come from a non-Eurovision loving family. Many of my closest Eurovision loving friends have a love of the Contest, from the annual night glued around the TV screens and giggling at the funny people from across our continent, to throwing popcorn at the spokespeople as they reveal 12 points to their neighbours. Generally it is savoured in fond memories of a one-off occasion they were allowed to stay up past their bedtime.
That didn’t happen to me; we never watched this colourful bonanza that appeared on the BBC.
I even recall being at a friends house one year and being asked to watch the Eurovision Song Contest. I had it in my head that it was complete rubbish, and convinced my friend that we would have more fun on the Mega Drive instead.
As it so happened, that year was 1997…
Learing to Love
My opinion of Eurovision was changed step-by-step. The first step was from my school, from Spanish class. My Spanish teacher was a fan of the contest, and we had to translate the upcoming Spanish entry that year as an extra task when we finished.
Thankfully, the year in question here was 2003.
‘Dime’ is perhaps a little on the schlager side of the music spectrum (a little?? – Ewan), but at the time to my ears it was a relatively fresh sounding pop song. A few of us in the class kept singing it for years. As the date in Riga came for the 2003 Eurovision Song Contest, I actually decided to watch it. This became a bit a mission of military precision.
There was no way I was going to tell my family about this plan. I made sure that the half-hour before the show to be downstairs and be sociable, so they wouldn’t come up to my room and ask any questions about my lack of family time on a Saturday night. Then, after that, I would run upstairs to my room to play video games. I put on the PlayStation but the TV was switched to BBC One to watch the broadcast. The remote was next to me on the bed, and the volume kept at 1. As soon as I heard any doors opening or stairs climbing, with one button I was back to playing ‘Colin McRae Rally‘ without being caught.
I wasn’t caught. I also luckily had the pleasure to watch Jemini with the sound turned right down.
However, that was it, that year didn’t get me hooked on the contest. That point came much later.
So We Were Playing At Loving Each Other
The following year, we got internet into our house for the first time. While browsing the BBC homepage, up popped a link to listen to all the Eurovision entries from that year. So I did – headphones in of course.
The one I fell completely and love with, not a surprise after the previous year, was the debut entry from Andorra. I managed to watch the semi-final, an after what I can see with hindsight was a very expected non-qualification, I had my first little huff at Eurovision. Maybe the Contest was just rubbish after all, and all fraught with all these politics and the problems that causes.
But, I was beginning to be hooked on it. I had put heart and soul on an entry, and in due course I did the same again.
Thank You For The Music
Oddly enough for a teenage boy, and even stranger considering I was in our school choir and having singing lessons once a week, I didn’t really like music.
I didn’t have anybody I would listen to and enjoy, I didn’t buy albums, I didn’t watch music videos on MTV. Looking back, my only musical influence that really captivated me was Adam Watkiss performing on ITV’s ‘This Is My Moment’ (where a certain Andy Abraham finished 2nd). It isn’t much of a surprise that musical theatre became my specialty and what I took my music exams in when I finished school at 18.
Eurovision filled this void. I remember actually going through some of the songs in Eurovision 2004 and secretly learning to sing them. When the house was quiet, I would stick on Jonsi or, heaven only knows why, Chris Doran, and ramp the speakers up to full and sing-a-long, keeping one eye outside the bedroom window for my parents car to return.
In 2005, the same thing happened, listening through all the songs thanks to a BBC pop-up on their homepage. However, not really inspired by it, I didn’t really pay that much attention to it. I only recall that my mum watched it ‘because there was nothing else on’ and I tried to watch with, not noting that I already knew what all the songs sounded like. The only possibly knowing comment I made was that I thought Serbia and Montenegro would win because they were 2nd last year with a rubbish song.
Noting that Zeljko Joksimovic sang for Serbia and Montengro in 2004, I would like to rectify that statement. He is one of the best composers I have ever heard inside or outside the Eurovision bubble. If you need evidence of saying why the voting age should not be lowered to 16 my lack of musical maturity as referenced here could be taken.
So okay, I must be a fan of some sorts now…
The Social Network
The early part of the millennium saw an explosion of Eurovision community sites. The one I stumbled across while looking for reviews was All Kinds of Everything (which sadly now only exists as this Facebook group). My Eurovision expertise was nurtured through the tell-it-how-I-think-it-is viewpoint of Keith Mills, and I would like to publicly thank him for the effort he obviously put into the site for helping make Eurovision such a big thing for me.
Also, at this time away from musical songs, my big thing was acapella music. My music taste became filled with InPulse and Eclispe who were leading the way in contempory acapella. I’m glad this genre has become increasingly popular in recent years, although it still frustrates me how much of the genre is covers.
The two clashed big time in 2006, when on Keith’s site he hinted that Latvia’s national final included Cosmos as a favourite, one of my favourite acapella groups.
Granted, ‘I Hear Your Heart’ was not a highlight of the acapella scene – indeed one of the worst acapella songs I’ve ever heard. However, this was the year that switched me to being a full-on Eurovision fan. This is the year when I voted for the first time (and for Latvia, and they amazingly got points from the UK), when I did some predictions and made bets with my friends at school (and won all of them), and I actually felt a part of this thing that I knew was so much bigger and meant so much more to everybody else on the continent.
This is something else that drives me to love the Eurovision Song Contest so much.
I love the countries, I love the flags, I love the colours. As a child, I wasn’t one for reading stories. Somebody who didn’t know me bought be the first Harry Potter book as a Christmas present. Thoughtful, but I got through one chapter and couldn’t do anymore. I was too fascinated by the real world; I would read myself to sleep learning flags, rivers, mountains and any other statistic I could find about a country. Eurovision had all these things in abundance. Eurovision had languages I never heard before. Eurovision each year gave you a plethora of statistics about how good or bad each song or how ‘popular’ each country was. Eurovision was a competition where people were fighting to be the best they can be.
And, above that, Eurovision always had surprises.
By the nature of being the biggest songwriting competition on the planet, it has a script that at times would not be out of place in the best soap operas. Disqualifications, behind-the-scenes deals, and full-on entertainment. It has the chance for the little guy to topple the seasoned professional. It has the chance for the tiny microstate to rub head-and-shoulders next to the giants.
There are millions of Eurovision stories if you look deeply enough, and I had just began to do just that.
Being the Super Fan
What followed then was my move to Durham University. It took a while, but I did find people that were like minded. OK, they didn’t all watch my new love of Melodifestivalen with me, but they cared about Eurovision.
The next year, I founded the Durham University Eurovision Society, taking over as the inaugural President, acting in the position for three years. It is still one of the things I am most proud of. This taught me to appreciate the whole diversity of loving Eurovision, the casual fans who would come to our huge Eurovision party, to those who founded our Super-Fan Group who met up week-on-week to watch National Finals. Both groups and all those in-between were welcome and appreciated, and most of what I still do with Melodifestivalklubben now as the Stockholm Co-ordinator is modelled from that time. We had some great and very memorable socials, and I even met a girl who kissed me minutes after saying that I was better than Eurovision. Boom.
I became a fan. I got myself in with the OGAE UK and along to the UK EuroBash. The society in Durham got invited to attend the UK National Final in 2010 (yay, ‘That Sounds Good To Me’. Four. Times. In. A. Row.). I started checking out ESC Today as regularly as my Facebook. I would listen to National Final songs before the shows, and when a little man from Norway played his fiddle I immediately called it a winner of the entire thing. Fairytale is still my most deserving Eurovision winner and it vindicated my love for the contest as an actual contest where good songs did well.
I even came out to my parents that I liked Eurovision. They don’t really discuss it.
Three Chords, A Casio, And The Truth
And still, further to all this, came the fact that I started songwriting. And Eurovision became an outlet for this. I’ve tried in total with four songs in three countries to get a song into Eurovision. I don’t have any formal skills in this, and zero production quality. I happily admit that my songs are raw; I’m unsurprised when I see the negative feedback for them. But it’s a hobby and interest that I love, and writing a couple of songs a year is something fun to do.
With Eurovision, I can enter these into the world’s biggest songwriting competition, and, there is a chance. Not a big one, but that’s okay, it’s great fun regardless. That I can do it warms my heart and endears me to the ethos of the contest. It can only take one song to make somebody from a zero to a hero after all. That there are (a small number) of people out there who love the music regardless of it being recorded in a churchyard on my £100 keyboard is euphoric.
Speaking of euphoria, of course the transformation was complete when I moved out here to Sweden. I love Sweden and I love Stockholm. I love how clean and cultured it is compared to my hometown of Rochdale in the North West of England. I love how equal and progressive Swedish society is, and in my job as a teacher all I can be is complementary to the environment I work in. And also, Sweden loves Eurovision, right.
Yes, it is true, but it is still not a utopia as you may imagine In my first year here in Sweden I remember feeling quite lonely with all things Eurovision. Why are there not parties every night everywhere for Melodifestivalen being on? I mean, there are bars in London that have parties after all, and I had acquired/converted a group of friends in Durham to watch it side by side. It took a while, but I eventually realised that Melodifestivalen is so big here in Sweden that it isn’t a big deal to watch it – everybody watches it. Generally, it is family time in front of the TV with sweets and scorecards. And that’s cool, just not what I expected.
However, in that very year I got to attend my first Melodifestivalen final. Granted, Timoteij (love) and Sean Banan should have been there, and I voted for Molly Sanden, but the buzz around Globen waiting for either Loreen or Danny to win Melodifestivalen is up in one of my greatest life experiences.
I’m now a Eurovision junkie, and armed with a salary as a novelty in my life still I’m in search of more joy from it. I was able to break my Eurovision virginity in Malmö, and have experienced more National Finals away from Sweden’s intense bubble. I’ve gained an interest in Junior Eurovision when most around me have stopped, adamant that it is the best way to nurture the next generation of songwriters, Eurovision or otherwise. And most of all, it introduces me to wonderful new music and amazing friends who give the most fantastic support.
Oh, and that girl. There may have been a proposal next to the Öresund Bridge while in Malmö…