It’s fair to say that when the EBU announced that Australia was back in business for Eurovision 2016, the bulk of the fan community was not amused. The Land Down Under, of course, was supposed to appear in Vienna as a special guest, and only in Vienna as a special guest — and the fact that a lot of fans suspected that wouldn’t be the case didn’t make them any less bitter when they were proven right.
But since those (some would say) dark days, perceptions of Australia’s sophomore participation have changed, at least in the form of Dami Im being welcomed to Stockholm with open arms — and not armfuls of tomatoes being tossed in her direction. Based on what I’ve witnessed in the press centre and at this year’s Euroclub, her reception has been warmer than Stockholm on the balmy Monday that kicked off Eurovision show-week. That could be due to fans resigning themselves to another year of Aussie involvement, or down to an actual appreciation of the singer, her stage persona, and her song — all elements of the entry that obviously became known after we were let back into the club.
As Dami prepares to enter semi final battle this evening, armed with ‘Sound of Silence’, it’s timely to ask some Australia-oriented questions, and propose some answers. After all, they might help us predict Dami’s chances of advancing in the contest. How has Im endeared herself to the public, if that’s what has warranted the glow of positivity she’s currently basking in? Are fans possibly finding themselves attracted to Australia thanks to the novelty factor? Or are there other forces working to make the Dami Army an appealing fanbase to be a part of, and not just because it rhymes?
The Adorkable Appeal of The Artist
Eurovision 2016 won’t mark Dami’s first attempt to lure votes from both a live audience and sofa-sitters. She did so very successfully during her time on The X Factor Australia in 2013, winning the whole thing and a legion of fans in the process.
The secret of her success, from the couch I was crashed out on at the time? An intriguing contrast between self-professed dagginess and pitch-perfect vocals. She’s the relatable girl-next-door figure who could trip and fall flat on her face at any moment (perhaps Sergey Lazarev has been using her as his muse?), but when she’s on stage, there’s undeniable star quality up there with her.
That was extremely evident at the Australian Embassy-sponsored party held at the Euroclub on Monday, where Dami delivered an intimate (when compared to the performance she’ll give tonight) rendition of several songs, naturally including Sound of Silence. She was greeted with a round of applause and chants of ‘Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, oi, oi, oi’ that were only partly fuelled by the euphoria associated with free food and wine. It’s true that we Australians like to party, and like to show support in the rowdiest way possible at times. But given that the room was peppered with diplomatic officials from all corners of the globe, it’s safe to say that Dami’s fanbase extends beyond Australian borders.
That’s without her investing the amount of time and energy in trekking the promotional trail that Guy Sebastian did in the lead-up to Vienna. Dami didn’t head to Europe for Eurovision in Concert, the London Eurovision Party or any of the other renowned pre-contest events on the calendar, and she didn’t have the excuse of being bed-ridden like Norway’s Agnete. Dami’s not alone in having kept spotlight-schtum over the past few months, and each ESC artist is well within their rights to refrain from the pre-show parade. Still, relying mostly on on-ground appearances could be considered a risky move, particularly for such a new participant.
Yet it hasn’t stopped her from winning hearts, or holding tightly on to her fifth-favourite-to-win status with bookmakers — which actually rose to fourth in the wake of last night’s jury semi final. Taking that into consideration, you’d have to call her a bona-fide contender.
Even so, Dami continues to be an everygirl. She owns her awkwardness, and as a result she’s now a prime example of a Eurovision artist who hasn’t been dehumanised (yes, there are some who are just like us). Whether or not that will translate through the TV to casual viewers of the contest remains to be seen.
Is The Aussie Atmosphere Always Irresistible?
As someone attending Eurovision and the Euroclub for the first time this year, I can confirm that busting a move and cheering enthusiastically to any Eurovision song overheard is practically mandatory. Not even San Marino’s stale and sleazy Seventies tune was enough to empty the dancefloor at the club on Opening Party night. You really feel the fever when you’re right in the ESC bubble — and the lines between songs you love and songs you swore you’d social-media bash until the end of eternity become blurred after a few drinks and a misguided attempt at a Donny Montell front-flip.
That being the case, it’s difficult to determine the roots of the reaction to Australia’s second entry and entrant in the context of a club or packed-out arena. Remove oneself from the all-too-appealing Eurovision party atmosphere, and the sky of potentially-clouded judgment begins to clear. I, for example, am aware that ‘Sound of Silence’ isn’t up there with my most beloved songs of 2016. But you can bet your collection of ESC memorabilia that my inner patriot was unleashed during the dance remix of the song, every time it blasted from the speakers at the Embassy soiree. When you’re part of a buzzing crowd, to not be swept up in the moment is to be comatose.
What will happen when home viewers are watching Dami get her diva on isn’t so predictable. Issues with dismounting her big box aside (as they’ve been seemingly ironed out anyway), Dami’s appealing awkwardness isn’t obvious during her three minutes on stage, and if casual viewers — and jurors — cannot connect with her regardless, she may struggle to score. The things that make her relatable, such as her frequent admissions of dagginess in interviews, may as well be nonexistent in the eyes of those just tuning in for the week. To casuals, she’s likely to be Dami the pop star, not Dami the person. That may or may not warrant picking up the phone on her behalf.
I am in possession of proof that Dami can win immediate admirers, however, in the form of some fellow Embassy party-goers. Two were casual Eurovision fans without much prior knowledge of Dami and no knowledge of her song, and one was…well, Albania’s Eneda Tarifa (who else would you expect to appear at an Australian party?). All three responded to Dami’s piano performance with gusto, and were clearly impressed by her live vocal abilities. Again, that’s a different to a casual viewer getting their first impression, with all the bells and whistles, on television. But it would hardly have been an indication of genuine affection if two potential enrollers in the Dami Army, and one of her fellow participants, had evacuated the Euroclub as if Christer Björkman had just announced an impromptu ABBA reunion somewhere else in Gamla Stan.
Knock, Knock, Who’s There…It’s The Novelty Factor
The fact that Australia is participating in Eurovision for a second time means there was always going to be a certain buzz surrounding Dami’s participation — just as there was with Guy Sebastian’s. That’s not to say that the novelty of a very much non-European country being in the mix influenced our debut placing last year. But who can say for sure that it didn’t?
That makes me wonder whether the ‘what the?’ effect might help — or hinder — Dami’s chances in the contest. It’s more likely to help. Australia being Australia is almost a gimmick in itself, without us having to stuff a human-sized hamster wheel in our suitcase to attract attention (though that hasn’t stopped us from pimping our performances). And so far in Stockholm, Dami has attracted the kind of attention an artist craves prior to the competition, possibly because broadcaster SBS has taken a serious approach to the contest yet again. That seriousness is further cemented in ESCFAN (the Eurovision Song Contest Fans of Australia Network) being on the cusp of becoming an official OGAE branch, further legitimising Australia as a Eurovision nation.
Yes, we have been viewed unfavourably for our mere presence in the past, and interest in our participation must have been nudged by novelty value at some point — but Dami’s position in the odds, plus her rapturous reception at Eurovision so far, suggest that the Dami Army’s enrollment numbers have risen for other reasons.
There’s no doubt — in Australia and on the ground in Stockholm, people are prepared to salute Sergeant Dami. A combination of peer pressure taking over, connection with her relatability and late-blooming admiration of her talent and high-tech rehearsals is probably to blame. But ultimately, it doesn’t really matter. As long as we see some douze points sent Dami’s way this week, I won’t be complaining. And the reason for that, of course, is old-fashioned unbridled bias.