Thursday, June 24, 2010

Why the Eurovision is great

I've been a fan of the Eurovision Song Contest for a long time -- as evidenced in a pair of articles for the Village Voice and The Believer (the latter piece was reprinted in Best Music Writing 2007, which you obviously need to buy right now).

So it was with some trepidation that I read Anthony Lane's piece about the contest in this week's New Yorker (subscription required). Of course, Eurovision is a perfect target for Lane's panache, and he delivered the zingers. But at the same time, saying that lyrics in ESC songs are ridiculous and that performers and fans alike can be over the top is rather predictable: c'est enfoncer des portes ouvertes, as we say in France (ie, stating the obvious).

Lane falls back on the usual tropes, which Eurovision hatas have been trotting out for decades now. In short, the music heard at ESC is bad beyond redemption, the lyrics are ridonkulous (these people can't write in proper English!) and the whole thing is out of touch with popular trends, as if rock and pop (as they are understood in America and the UK) never happened. But that is exactly why the ESC is so great! It's an alternative to a kind of international one-size-fits-all tastemaking cooked up in and exported by those two countries. Lane found himself at this year's contest in Oslo, longing not so much for the Supremes, the Stranglers or R.E.M., but for the Bee Gees -- this to illustrate his view that the proceedings were so dire, he had to lower his standards.

Clearly, readers of this blog know that the Bee Gees are infinitely superior to both R.E.M. and Springsteen, another example Lane trots out. The Supremes and the Stranglers are in my personal pantheon as well, but that is not the point: The point is that one can enjoy all of these artists and the ones at Eurovision. Not all of them, of course -- even I cannot endorse some of the most turgid ballads, and admittedly 2010 wasn't a great vintage. But I love the fact that small countries in the Balkans or central Europe regularly come up with eye- and ear-popping songs, performers and choreographies. Lane mocked the Serbian entry, Milan Stankovic, which I thought was just fantastic: an ambiguous alien doing a super-catchy song by Goran Bregovic, a musician who's performed at Lincoln Center!

What's wonderful and important about Eurovision is precisely that so much of it falls outside of criteria of music and hipness defined in the UK and the US over the past 60 years or so. This is not to denigrate styles rooted in African rhythms -- and let's face it, a lot of the pro and con arguments about ESC revolve around whether or not you think these styles are necessary to make "good" music. But that is just not what the contest is about, and I for one love that it continues to offer an outlet for flamboyance and emotionalism untainted by self-consciousness.

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