Once a year, Europe (And that’s a surprisingly elastic geographical definition here) comes together to see who can produce a song which is simultaneously the most exuberant, ridiculous, banal and catchy. The Eurovision Song Contest is The Hunger Games with added disco, The Running Man with a bloke in an enormous hamster wheel. It’s a vast, sprawling multi-hour TV nightmare that’s the equivalent of putting a sizable portion of the planet’s countries in one room, getting them drunk and handing them a karaoke machine whilst the British commentator spends hours descending into a full on, glorious snark spasm.
And it’s the most science fictional thing on mainstream TV.
Firstly because of it’s transnational nature and the fact that it doesn’t so much laugh at borders as politely ignore them and turn the music up.Fundamentally, God awful as a lot of the tracks are, that’s a utopian ideal to base anything on.Nation states don’t matter, borders don’t matter, the thing you’ve created and what people think of it? That matters.
Secondly, it’s frequently a mirror for what’s at the top of the pop culture food chain that particular year. The 2014 contest was the clearest example of this so far, and also a good chance to look at how advanced this process is. One competitor appeared under the name Aram MP3 and dressed like an unusually fascist Time Lord. Another, Paula and OVI from Denmark managed to combine circular musical instruments and apparent teleportation whilst the entire event unfolded in a stage where every surface was reactive and that resembled something halfway between Troy and Abed’s Imaginarium and the Holodeck.
But at it’s heart? Eurovision is cyberpunk. It’s an annual hijack of Europe’s TV screens on a scale hacktivists can only dream of, shining an uncomfortable light onto the continent’s tensions and alliances. The never ending parade of enthusiastically flamboyant scoregivers, this year, paved the way to two very different moments of real emotional impact. The first was the persistent boos not just for Russia’s entry but for any country who scored Russia highly. Europe’s an uncomfortable place for a lot of countries at the moment and that tension was reflected in the scores given, the scores not given and the reactions to all of them. A bloodless conflict, but never a toothless one, especially this year.
Which makes Conchita Wurst‘s victory all the more impressive. The Austrian entry, Conchita Wurst is a drag artist with a voice that lands solidly in the middle of the Shirley Bassey range and, in ‘Rise like a Phoenix’ a number that not only sounds like a Bond theme but should, in all honesty, be one. In the weeks running up to the contest, Wurst was the subject of venomous attacks from her own country and others. Even on the night, a scoregiver felt the need to make a crack about her beard even as he gave her one of the three highest scores possible.
It didn’t matter. She won convincingly and in doing so sent a pretty significant message. In a year where the BBC continue to labour under the misapprehension that UKIP are anything other than an elaborate art joke gone feral and Russia continues to skew to the extreme right, a drag artist whose beard was as fabulous as her dress ran the board in Europe’s annual pop war. Katniss Everdeen would be very proud, as should we all. Because this week’s moment of Zen, is Conchita Wurst.