Donny Montell of Lithuania performs his song Ive Been Waiting for This Night. Photograph: Rolf Klatt/REX/Shutterstock
Theres nothing like it in the States. The Oscars have a tendency to veer into self-indulgent propaganda for the film industry. The American Idol finale, the closest analog to Eurovision, was a showcase for the creaky brand of American Idol and nothing more a yearly Horatio Alger story manufactured to seem genuine. Eurovision is earnestly trying to save the planet through song, which is admirable in a blinkered kind of way. Its as though every country in Europe is trying to outdo We Are the World each year, and mostly coming up short.
The show itself was not without its share of eccentric characters. The Polish contestant, Michal Szpak, performed a spirited ballad called Color of Your Life while dressed as Gary Oldman from Bram Stokers Dracula at a Ted Nugent costume contest. In the judges round, he scored a measly seven points, which proves yet again that Europeans are hopelessly prejudiced against vampires of any kind.
The band from Georgia performed a terrible track that made me think it was a Kasabian song that fell out of a wormhole from 2006, performed by a troupe of NME writers. It was no surprise the UK awarded them 12 points. They might as well have been from Kettering or Corby.
The contingent from Cyprus, a rock band called Minus One, performed with their drummer in a cage, as though he could leap out and attack the helpless audience at any moment because of his thirst for human flesh. The rest of the nights entertainment was slightly more engaging than a cutscene from the video game Final Fantasy VII. Elaborate costumes, light shows, and holograms distracted from the fact that most of the songs sounded like rejected tunes from a 2009 iPod commercial. I only perked up for the Belgian entrant, Laura Tesoro, who I legitimately thought was 12, and Dami Im of Australia, whose song was actually good.
This years winner, 1944 by Jamala, doesnt quite try to save the world in the classic Eurovision style as much as it reminds us that the world as it is is quite dreadful. You wouldnt have known it from the American broadcast, but 1944 was a highly controversial song because its subject was the deportation of Crimean Tatars from Russia at the hands of the despotic Joseph Stalin. The Russians balked at any intimation of agenda in the song, especially because it made the Russians look like bloodthirsty bullies. Eurovision prides itself on being apolitical and focused on peace and harmony, but the victory of 1944 is sure to remind viewers that nationalism and politics are inescapable because theyre the very reason we bother with silliness like international singing competitions.
The explosion of Eurovision into America isnt going to convince the half of the country that reaches for a shotgun when someone speaks French at a Burger King, but it certainly can make the years of turmoil and strife go by a little easier than if we had to live without it. At the very least, its an annual reality check that there is a world of cultures other than our own, and some of them are quite adept at writing pop songs.