Eurovision 2018: five things we learned

Politics is out and props are the new pixels in this glorious age for Europe’s music contest

This year’s Eurovision has been an absolute spectacle, with the final broadcast live from Lisbon’s Altice Arena to an audience of more than 200 million fans worldwide.

Whether you love or hate the world’s biggest music show, it’s hard to deny that the modern era of Eurovision offers slick production, quality vocals and a musical smorgasbord that has something for everyone – from Hungarian heavy metal to Estonian popera.

The event is the ultimate showcase of inclusivity, musical diversity and fun – fans come from all over the world to support their home country or their European favourites. Here’s what we learned from this year’s contest:

1 Politics is out, but statement songs are in

Political songs are frowned upon in Eurovision – Ukrainian 2016 winner Jamala’s lament on the 1944 Soviet Union deportation of Crimean Tatars raised a few eyebrows, particularly in Russia, at a time of heightened tension between the two countries.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t make a statement through song. France’s entry Mercy tells the true story of a baby born last year on a ship rescuing migrants from the Mediterranean, while Netta from Israel reignited Girl Power for the #MeToo generation with her song Toy.

The biggest surprise and delight was Ireland, whose entry played out a charming gay love story through dance – something which shouldn’t be a statement, but arguably is while LGBT+ rights are still far from assured in a number of Eurovision nations.

2 Don’t mess with the European Broadcasting Union

Talking of Ireland, this year the organisers of Eurovision terminated its contract with Chinese broadcaster Mango TV after the nation opted not to broadcast the Irish performance from the first semi-final – showing a gay relationship contravenes Chinese censorship rules.

Mango TV also censored the Albanian performance because their performer Eugent Bushpepa had visible tattoos. The EBU stated that censoring content “is not in line with the EBU’s values of universality and inclusivity and our proud tradition of celebrating diversity through music”.

Ireland’s entry Ryan O’Shaughnessy approved: “I think it’s a really important decision by the EBU, they haven’t taken it lightly, and I think it’s a move in the right direction. I’m happy about it.” Well played, EBU.

3 Props are the new pixels

In recent years the LED backdrop has played a big part in Eurovision staging, with increasingly sophisticated graphics bringing a new dimension to performances. Think Måns Zelmerlow’s stickman graphics from his winning song Heroes in 2015, or Sergey Lazarev’s 3D cityscape from 2016.

This year Portugal decided to remove the pixel mesh from the stage, prompting participating countries to rethink how they were going to make a splash. Inevitably this resulted in massive props, including a giant piano/coffin from Ukraine, a vast light-up dress for Estonia and a spinning knife-throwing board for Finland.

Best of all was Moldova’s Ikea wardrobes, setting the scene for a physical comedy performance that could never have played out in tiny pixels. More of this please.

4 Real music is all music

When Salvador Sobral won Eurovision last year, he made a victory speech that railed against “disposable, fast-food music without any content”, calling his win “a victory for people who make music that actually means something”.

He added: “Music is not fireworks, music is feeling; so let’s try to change this and bring music back, which is really what matters.” This year’s Eurovision is a reminder that what constitutes meaning in music is unique to every listener, whether it’s Swedish pop, Hungarian rock, Irish balladeering or quirky sampling from Israel that’s unlike anything we’ve heard before. Eurovision is a variety box of fabulous fireworks, Salvador – it’s ALL real music, and it’s what makes Eurovision so wonderful.

5 It ain’t over till it’s over

The favourite for this year’s Eurovision has been chopping and changing for weeks, and at the start of the evening it was the most open Grand Final in years – any one of six or seven acts could have taken the winner’s trophy.

But in the end it was Israel’s Netta who raised the trophy for her Girl Power anthem Toy, with bonus chicken noises, Bjork-esque styling and lyrics like “I’m taking my Pikachu home”.

The voting showed the huge disparity between what the juries loved (Austrian and German ballads, mostly), and what the public wanted to win (Cyprus’s Beyonce-style pop banger and Italy’s duet about the effects of war and terrorism).

Netta’s win was loved by both – a triumph for something entirely different, which is exactly what Eurovision is all about. Jerusalem 2019, anyone?

• This article was amended on 14 May 2018. The original suggested Eurovision 2019 would be held in Tel Aviv.


Heidi Stephens

The GuardianTramp

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