The international song contest has a devoted following in Australia, but do we really belong?
Music lovers will be forgoing a sleep-in this Sunday to watch the live broadcast of the Eurovision final from 5am AEST. The deciding round of the international song contest is expected to attract 160 million viewers worldwide.
The combination of pop music and gentle patriotism is the reason behind Eurovision’s massive popularity, according to Dr Kristin McGee from the School of Music at The Australian National University (ANU).
“It’s about having pride in one’s culture and being a bit silly about it,” she says.
McGee, who is originally from the United States, first came across Eurovision when she moved to the Netherlands in 2004. She’s been a fan ever since and has loved seeing the way the production and staging budgets have improved in recent years.
“I love how artists can take regional cultures, folk cultures and even sometimes pre-nationalist cultures and bring them into the now with contemporary production techniques. It’s super cool.”
Australia has a long-held passion for Eurovision and has participated formally since 2015. While we are not the first country from outside of Europe to join in the fun – Morocco took part in 1980, and Armenia, Israel and Cyprus are mainstays due to their geopolitical ties – we are certainly the furthest away geographically.
“Some countries are allowed and some aren’t,” McGee explains, noting Russia’s ban in 2022 following the invasion of Ukraine. “In most cases, you have to pay up if you want to participate.”
Perth synth-metal band Voyager has made it through to the 2023 final with their song ‘Promise’ and will be competing with musicians from countries including Albania, France, Belgium and Lithuania.
Whether Australia’s involvement will continue remains uncertain – the current agreement with the European Broadcasting Union ends this year.
“It’s interesting how it’s become so popular here in a way that it hasn’t in the United States,” McGee says. “I have a strange perspective because I’ve just moved here, but it’d be nice if Eurovision didn’t become a global contest. It risks going in the direction of the Idol franchise and becoming very McDonald’s.”
McGee’s favourites among the 2023 finalists are Finland, for their metal-ballroom pop dance extravaganza; Serbia, because of their incredible cyborg-like dancers; and Sweden, since both the song and the singer’s voice are so fantastic.
But she says when it comes to winning the legendary glass microphone trophy, there’s no tried-and-true formula.
“It has to do with how unique the act is. People do really seem to resonate with big anthems in high register voices and emotional power ballads, but it’s about trying to do something that’s not typically done – whether it’s combining genres in a strange way or throwing an electronic beat in.
“If it’s done in such a way that you wonder if it’s working, that’s when you’re onto something enjoyable.”
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