I was sitting at a bar with some friends last Friday, when one of them invited me over to his Eurovision Song Contest viewing party, which the others had already agreed to. This had been the second party of this type that I’d been invited to, so I started to realize that Eurovision is kind of a big deal to Norwegians.
Wanting to see what all the hype was about (and never turning down an opportunity to drink for two), I decided to go to both Eurovision parties. I was already somewhat familiar with the concept behind Eurovision: a bunch of European countries – plus Israel and Australia for some reason – send musicians from their countries to compete against each other. I also had the impression that Eurovision was kind of cheesy. But no expectation of cheesiness could prepare me for what I was about to witness.
I started to feel some déjà vu early on in the night. There was a familiarly dystopian vibe to it all, with the futuristic props, the eccentric hairdos and costumes, and the equal parts ironic and genuine enjoyment the Norwegians were getting from this. It was then I realized it was as if the people who came up with this concept had taken a time machine to six years ago, watched the Hunger Games, and decided to base a music competition off of the general look of the capital.
Being the only international student at either party, I could tell that my experience was very different than that of the people around me. Looking at the Norwegians sitting around me, completely unfazed by this madness, it became clear to me that they had become desensitized to this odd cultural ritual early on in their upbringing.
The others sat, eyes glued to the screen, eagerly watching the performances in the same way that a group of Americans might follow the Super Bowl. Meanwhile, I sat with body language that could not be described as anything but defensive. My gaze slightly averted, face winced and hiding myself in my shirt if things got too uncomfortable, this kind of body language would undoubtedly bring nothing short of disaster if presented on a date. It was as if this competition was all an elaborate inside joke all Europeans are in on, but some ways down the line, everyone collectively forgot it was a joke.
Even the intermissions between the performances were not a break from the weirdness. One moment in particular stands out to me, where the hostess sat on a couch looking all kinds of uncomfortable, with two performers sitting on either side of her, their faces pressed against her cheeks. I wondered if they had gone off-script and this would go down in history as a Eurovision #MeToo incident, but my worries subsided after the incident resolved with the hostess kissing a guy who looked liked he was trying to dress as Socrates.
After the first round of performances, I thought that I’d seen everything, but there was still some weirdness to come. Keeping in Hunger Games fashion, the different countries’ representatives came forward, like the different districts’ representatives in the film, and announced how their points were to be distributed. A disproportionate number of them looked suspiciously like vampires and other horror movie tropes, and at this point the competition had started to feel a little bit like a fever dream for my impressionable, Canadian mind.
I sooner or later figured out the trick to winning Eurovision: find the right balance of the right kind of weirdness to your performance. Of course, pinning down what the ‘right’ kind of weirdness is proves to be a difficult task. For instance, if you are a Ukrainian clad like Dracula playing the piano on an elevated platform while the stairs that led you up there are on fire, you’ll end up in last place. On the other hand, if you’re from Israel and dressed in a traditional Chinese dress while your song consists in large part of goofy vocalizations, or if you’re an over-the-top Finnish rock band dressed as actual monsters, you’ll win the damn competition. Whatever the case may be, it’s hard to deny that this competition has an odd magnetism to it – even if this magnetism actually comes down to heavy alcohol consumption and having a good time with friends.