Travel and music festivals go hand in hand, of course! And though I haven't yet attended the annual Eurovision song contest in person, ever since I started traveling to Europe in 1977 – well before American Idol, The Voice, or The X Factor – it's always been a big deal for more than a few of my Old World friends and acquaintances (not to mention the local media). I got to watch it several times surrounded by Europeans (most recently last night), and I must say, the enthusiasm generated by this reliably cheesy collection of crazy outfits, over-the-top antics, and sometimes downright goofy tunes (here's a 2020 piece I found on its most outrageous antics) can be kind of endearing; it's this sense of kitsch and camp that has also earned it a huge following among much of Europe's LGBT community (then of course there was that time, in 2014, that a bearded gay drag queen from Austria, Conchita Wurst, won for her operatic pop number Rise Like a Phoenix).
At the same time, since it started in 1956, some memorable songs (and sometimes careers) have come out of Eurovision – perhaps my favorites being the Spanish Basque group Mocedades with its luminous "Eres Tú" (1973); ABBA’s insanely catchy "Waterloo" (1974); "La La La" by Spain’s Massiel (1968); "Un Banc, un Abre, une Rue" from Monaco’s Séverine (1971); and a pair from Israel, "Hallelujah" (1979) and "A-Ba-Ni-Bi" (1978). (Yes, I'm well aware that Israel is not Europe, but they’re obviously considered honorary Europeans, as are the Australians, even though they're way on the other side of the world.)
And since the arrival of the 21st century - apart from the trend since 1999 of too many songs in English even from non-English-speaking countries - of course other countries from the east have been included (even a couple which are marginally, if at all, "European"), including Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan (hmmm), Belarus, Croatia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Russia, Serbia, Slovenia, Turkey, and Ukraine. Some of those have won, as well, including Azerbaijan, Estonia, Latvia, Russia, Serbia, and Ukraine (twice). This year Russia got itself kicked out because of its brutal invasion of Ukraine, and Belarus was dropped last year because its own dictatorship was using the contest as a propaganda tool. Then there are the "Big Five," which are always included because they foot much of the Eurovision bill every year: France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom (sort of like the United Nations Security Council, I guess, but without the veto?).
So last night in Turin (held here because last year's winner was a hard rocker from Italian group Måneskin called Zitti e buoni even though it was hardly the best of the 2021 bunch, in my humble opinion) the vibe was the usual over-the-top Eurovision mania, punctuated by quiet moments both from the contestants and from one of my sentimental favorites of the evening: while the votes were being tallied, bringing back Italy’s very first Eurovision winner, Gigliola Cinquetti (16 in 1964, now 74), to sing “Non Ho L’Età (per Amarti)” – “I’m Not Old Enough (to Love You).”
But on to the lineup! And of course the winner was: