Is it really that time of year already? Tonight I’ll take my seat with about 200 million viewers worldwide and watch the Eurovision Song Contest, taking place in Lisbon, Portugal. The £18 million show will see 26 countries go head-to-head with a diverse set of songs, and the vote will split between the public phone vote and their regional juries of pop-music experts. It’s three and a half hours of joyful silliness, amazing sets, outlandish costumes and dark mutterings about politics and the future of Europe. It’s a like a lavish wedding with all your strange and estranged relatives turning up in their most fabulous clothes, ready to get drunk, have a dance and air all those techy grievances. This powder keg is going to explode into a massive argument. There’s nothing you can do about it, so just enjoy the party.
The real fans will know that 26 is a paltry small figure when compared to all those hopeful acts who entered. Those have been whittled down from a massive 43 in the two semi finals which took place earlier this week, and were broadcast in the UK on BBC4. Again, as fans will know already the Big Five (Italy, Spain, Germany, France and the UK) get through automatically as they put the most money into the Euro party pot. But it’s been 21 years since the UK won, so it makes you wonder, would we actually benefit from submitting to the semi final system? Would it help to miss out if our song wasn’t strong enough? And would the voters give us a chance? Or would we still get a kicking as the country who has always had a fractious relationship with Europe and now spectacularly turned its back on our nearest neighbours?
Sure the semis are useful, as who really has the patience to sit through a double length grand final? I wonder, as the pubic vote and the jury vote is split 50/50 in each country is there now less opportunity for political voting than back in the bad old days before the system changed in 2008? Traditional voting blocs are split up ahead of the finals – for example if Sweden didn’t make it through (unlikely I know) who would Norway and Denmark give their big points to?
But in previous years it’s felt like the semis have toned down proceedings, cleansing the night of the crazier acts with the dullest, most generic pop music getting through to the grand final. Which makes me delighted to be able to tell you that 2018 bucks the bland trend. This year is a vintage show with plenty of great songs and extraordinary performances to look forward to. Alongside the earnest ballads and Ibiza club classics we have some serious hardcore metal from Hungary, pop-opera which is very heavy on the opera from Estonia, a pasty white guy who comes in his own coffin direct from Ukraine, dancing doppelgängers from Moldova, Vikings sailors from Denmark and a touching gay romance in interpretive dance from Ireland. Even the favourites – Cyprus and Iceland – are very entertaining. It’s definitely worth your time tonight.
In big news this week China has been banned from broadcasting the final. They pixellated the LGBT rainbow flag in the audience and censored Ireland’s beautiful pro-gay performance. The European Broadcasting Union contract is clear – you either broadcast everything in full as intended or you don’t get a show at all. Inclusivity and equality are not just buzzwords at the EBU. Well done on taking a firm stand!
I am very happy that the UK has a really very catchy song ‘Storm’ performed by SuRie, a proper little earworm that’s been bugging me all week. I’m not a fantasist, so I’m sure we won’t trouble the top 10 at any point but I’m hopeful for us to end up on the left hand side of the final scoreboard later (much later!) tonight. Check out our song below
Eurovision bingo cards are a must and Mission Eurovision do a lovely set. You’ll be desperate. You’ll be desperate for a pleather outfit, a smoke machine or someone attempting an ill-conceived rap if it means winning the game.
If you haven’t the stamina for the full experience but want to dip in and out, the full running order has been announced. But it’s easy to be swept up in it and suddenly it’s 11:10pm and you’re arguing the toss with someone that the Balkans can’t be taken seriously as they always vote for each other never mind the quality of the song. For the argumentative among you, there’s also a guide to the long tradition of political voting.
I’ll be back tomorrow to round up all the highlights from the big stage and the best gags from Twitter. Whatever you do, and however you do it, have a very happy Eurovision.
The Eurovision Song Contest will be on Saturday 12 May on BBC 1 at 8pm.