It is surely a great testament to the success of Australia’s international broadcaster that Eurovision has acquired such a dedicated local following.
Were it not for SBS’s dedicated coverage, celebrating the 30-year anniversary of televising the event, it’s likely the Australian following would not extend much further locally than handful of diehard European Australians in suburban backyards.
Yet every year parties take place in homes, bars and social clubs all over Australia from St Kilda to Bondi Beach and beyond to celebrate an event to which Australia has never been an active participant – just an excited and bemused antipodean onlooker.
Aussies love a good contest – and Eurovision provides the perfect opportunity to poke affectionate fun at our European relatives across the pond. But somewhere along the way, Australia fell in love with Eurovision, and now there seems to be no turning back on it.
With Australia’s deep immigrant connections to Europe, it’s not altogether surprising that we like to feel part of Eurovision. It’s there in our national DNA as much as good coffee – another European import. Of course we fell in love with Abba before Eurovision was screened here – Waterloo trailed a path for Aussies to follow. And who could forget that our very own Olivia Newton-John represented England at the finals in 1974.
The connections run deep. Not only does the SBS coverage take us on a campy, kitschy trip to the heart of Eurovision, it takes it a step further and guides of through parts of Europe many Australians may have never otherwise have experienced – and always offers a distinctly Aussie slant on them.
It’s like a Euro travel brochure hosted by all manner of singing misfits, punctuated by rare moments of brilliance in which we have to disguise our embarrassed tears at momentarily getting swept away by it all. The camp romantic in us all is awoken from its slumber.
This year as a prelude to the main event we were taken on a campervan tour through the Baltic states with SBS host Julia Zemiro keeping the Eurovision dream alive for all of us back home.
She offered affectionate and often hilarious interviews with an Abba covers band in Sweden, heavy metal Vikings from Finland, and, in a nod to Eurovision’s strong gay following, even took us into the bedroom drag performers from Ukraine.
Along the way we learnt about Estonia’s singing revolution and visited the house where Abba had formed in the Swedish island of Djurgarden before Zemiro got to meet her childhood idol, Abba vocalist Frida. Pure gold! For diehard fans, SBS also offers Eurovision Radio – a 24-hour stream of songs from previous contests allowing punters the opportunity of total immersion.
We love to disparage the bad taste tunes like this year’s Irish entrant Ryan Dolan who, despite putting on a good performance with beefy dancers who that somewhat stole the show from his rather vapid tune, still managed to get the wooden spoon.
No doubt the arrival of social media has added a whole new dimension to Eurovision, and SBS provided local viewers plenty of opportunities to comment. In response to Estonian entrant Birgit, pregnant and all dressed in flowing white, Australian tweeter @amam1975 jibed: “The hotel called. They’d like their shower curtain back, Estonia.”
As expected, it was Denmark who brought home victory this year, with the barefoot feral-chic up-and-coming singer Emmelie de Forest winning over voters with her songOnly Teardrops. My personal favourite was the Dutch witchy singer Anouk and her tune Birds. The Netherlands never does well at Eurovision – despite trying so hard.
But isn’t that the thing with Eurovision – no matter where you’re watching it in the world – you never expect your own favourite to win. And that’s part of the fun.
Eurovision is the contest the world loves to hate. And Australians are not immune. There is something tantalisingly egalitarian about Eurovision that ignores the usual geopolitical hierarchies of Europe.
This year was no exception with the UK finishing 19th despite recruiting a 61-year old Bonnie Tyler to front the stage. Boy George summed it up when he tweeted in response: “Eurovision is so mental! Most of the songs are incoherent and devoid of a tune.” Ain’t that just the truth.