I’ve said it before: Eurovision is the gay World Cup. The biggest party in the world, Eurovision is arguably the closest thing I’ll get to watching national football teams compete. It is celebrated as the gayest night of the year, and with good reason. After all, this institution boasts champions as iconic as ABBA, Olivia Newton-John, Celine Dion, Dana International and Conchita Wurst, and the ethos of the whole contest – as ridiculous as it undoubtedly is – is global community and joy. Strip away all the polyester and confetti and you’ll find Eurovision is a celebration of unity, a kaleidoscopic carnival of dance, fun and high camp (whether that is the intention of the artist or not).
At the risk of sounding sentimental, Eurovision has the power to bring the world together for one glorious night of indulgence, and after this year there is no question that this is what we need.
Last year’s ceremony in Rotterdam was, of course, cancelled, a first in the contest’s history. While last year’s artists were invited to compete again, the songs selected for the 2020 contest are not eligible. Like we all did, Eurovision made it work, curating a rich programme of commemorative shows throughout the year to tide us over until 2021’s ceremony.
Naturally, this year’s show will feel different. Each country’s representatives will head to Rotterdam, all going to plan, and perform. They have been asked to record a music video in the event they cannot reach the Netherlands or have to quarantine onsite. There will be an audience, though it will solely be Dutch Eurovision fans, and about half the capacity of the arena will be filled with people (3,500 audience members can attend the show). It will be strange seeing so few in the crowds, but it’s tremendous that a safe solution was possible. Never has a Eurovision annual theme (‘Open Up’) been more pertinent.
Of course, Eurovision isn’t exempt from controversy, mostly thanks to political interference. Belarus’ entry was disqualified from the 2021 games due to concerns the subtext in their lyrics and the group’s offstage views risked criticising anti-government protest, while in 2019’s contest in Tel Aviv, anti-capitalist band Hatari were fined for waving banners of the Palestine flag during the live televote.
As well as politics, there is a conflict I certainly feel when countries with a troubling record on LGBTQ+ rights compete alongside inclusive nations proactive in the fight for equality. It is jarring to see nations like Russia, Azerbaijan and Ukraine represented on the global stage – at an event designed to be a celebration of diversity – given their atrocious stance on LGBTQ+ progress and in some cases blatant human rights violations.
Why these nations partake in an event like Eurovision is difficult to grasp, but my hope is that LGBTQ+ citizens in these countries can access the contest and enjoy being part of our global community without fear, even if it’s just for the night.
But who stands a chance of bringing home the iconic glass trophy? Despite all I just said, I have a soft spot for Russia’s entry, ‘Russian Woman’. The track comes from Tajikistan-born performer Manizha, who has become a target of controversy and criticism in the Russian media. Her fiery activism in promoting LGBTQ+ equality and advocacy against domestic violence and xenophobia have resulted in her becoming a divisive figure. I also adore Ukraine’s earworm ‘Shum’ and Moldova’s entry ‘Sugar’: there is little to no substance to this song, but I can’t wait to dance to it in my post-show kitchen disco once it inevitably doesn’t win.
However, to me, Iceland deserves to take the trophy this year. Last year’s competitors Daði og Gagnamagnið made a huge impact with their wholesome disco number ‘Think About Things’, and while ’10 Years’ doesn’t quite match its predecessor’s glory, it’s charming and catchy. The group just might have garnered enough momentum and goodwill to make it to the top, and finally lead to an Icelandic win (they are the only Nordic country not to achieve this feat)
If I were a betting man, however, I’d put my money on Malta, who have never won the contest either; their track is leading the bookie’s polls and seems to have captured the hearts of the Eurovision fandom. But it’s important to remember that while it can be a platform for stellar songwriters and performers, Eurovision is a celebration of all things camp and outrageous. So, I encourage you to keep your eyes peeled for Lithuania’s entry. To me, it epitomises the bizarre beauty of Eurovision, boasting bright colours, high energy, and camp humour. Is this what it feels like when straight people watch the Champions League?
As if the Eurovision gods are smiling down on us, four people from two households can socialise indoors the day before the finale: never has it been more important to get your Eurovision celebrations organised. Choose your audience carefully and ask yourself – what energy/commentary will this person bring to the proceedings? Do you need to prepare national drinks and snacks to accompany the contest, or should you prepare a quiz to tide everyone over during the vote count? You may wish to designate a country to everyone which they will support; in a contest where the worst can be best, you might just find yourself the reigning queen of the night.
It feels so good to have Eurovision back in our midst. Celebrate the contest for what it is – an escape from a traumatic year, a celebration of joy, and an excuse to indulge in your guilty pleasures and have fun. Especially when it is unclear if and how Pride celebrations can run this year, take Eurovision as your night to celebrate our community in all its glory.
Eurovision 2021 Grand Final – Saturday 22nd May