Step aside American Idol. Move over The Voice. Carry on X Factor.
None of you has anything on the Eurovision Song Contest.
Held annually since 1956, Eurovision is definitely the granddaddy of song contests. In fact, the Guinness Book of World Records has named it the Longest Running Annual TV Music Competition.
A whopping 52 countries have participated over the course of its lifetime, with a maximum number of 43 entrants in 2008 and 2011. Hundreds of millions of people watch the contest every year, which is broadcast live all around the globe. It helped bridge the popular culture gap between the West and the East after the Cold War, and despite its attempts to remain politically neutral, Eurovision offers an interesting barometer of political alliances every year.
What is perhaps most surprising is that hardly anyone in the United States has heard of Eurovision. We were introduced to it during our years as host parents, however, as it very much woven into the European culture.
As luck would have it, Ukraine won the contest in 2016, so Kyiv played host to Eurovision this year (its second time doing so).
Though I was familiar with Eurovision, I’ve never necessarily been a fan. But when something is in your backyard, all bets are off.
Kyiv completely spruced up for the occasion, fixing up fountains, installing new TV screens on the subways and planting flowers. One of the city’s main streets was closed, and organizers set up fan zones in two areas. For two whole weeks, all anyone talked about was Eurovision.
The contest itself happens over the course of just a few days, with two semi-final rounds and then a final round. Competitors were selected by their countries based on their own song contests or some other selection process, and then they all descended upon Kyiv earlier this month.
Like many of our friends, we bought tickets to attend the first semi-final round, and we had an absolute blast. The arena was huge, and it was fascinating to watch the acts live. Large screens let us see what viewers at home were watching while we were also privy to all the behind-the-scenes tech and production work that made the show come to life.
And that’s when I fell into the rabbit hole.
For the entirety of the competition, I read up on the entrants, the history, the politics behind this wacky contest. I listened to all the music over and over again, and I’m still waking up with the songs in my head. We watched a documentary about it.
I was completely caught up in everything Eurovision.
Admittedly, I still can’t figure out what, exactly, is being judged: Singing ability, the actual songs, the staging, the performance overall? Entries were all over the board ranging from showy, hard rock performances with elaborate lighting and props to simple, slow lullabies.
My favorites were the cultural-related performances; those that incorporated some sort of local flavor like language, costumes or instrumentation. I, like many people, was sorely disappointed when the entry from Portugal won. Nothing about the performance stood out for me. Honestly, I thought it was one of the weakest performances of the entire competition.
Security was tight – I read that an additional 16,000 security personnel were on duty – but everything ran so smoothly. We weren’t crowded on the metro, and the ticketing process was simple. Except for a rogue streaker who briefly disrupted one of the performances (there’s always that one guy, isn’t there?), Eurovision went off without a hitch.
And now the famed song contest is over for another year. My life can return to normal once again.
With Portugal hosting next year, I’m not sure I’ll be as wrapped up in the contest as I was this year. But it was a lot of fun while it lasted, and I’m so appreciative we had the opportunity to take advantage while Kyiv hosted. We never can tell what this expat life is going to hand us!