Eurovision: Where camp, charm, and countries come together

Illustration by Ash Cheshire.

In the 90s, a little child named Andreas sat glued to the TV at their home in Germany. They saw glitter, glamour, and gaiety. They saw outrageous costumes, passionate singers, and true joy. They saw the Eurovision Song Contest.

Since my teens, I have been following the annual contest religiously. Eurovision is magical because, for one night, it gives the illusion of peace and unity in the world. It opens doors to cultures that people are unfamiliar with. Plus, it is the epitome or not just camp, but super camp. If you liked “Eurovision Song Contest: The Story Of Fire Saga” on Netflix, you should consider giving the actual Song Contest a try.

For many big names, the Song Contest was a stepping stone. Céline Dion represented Switzerland in 1988, and ABBA won the Contest for Sweden in 1974. In 1958, Domenico Modugno performed “Volare,” an Italian song that made it to the top of the US Billboard Hot 100.

In May 2022, 40 countries from the Eurasian and Australian continents will gather for the 66th annual Eurovision Song Contest presented by the European Broadcasting Union (EBU). The event attracts hundreds of millions of viewers from around the globe, many of whom identify as LGBTQIA+. In the United States, the program will be broadcast on Peacock on May 14. 

Last year’s event in Rotterdam, Netherlands, recorded 183 million viewers, according to the EBU, and saw the Italian band Måneskin win with their song “Zitti e buoni” (“Keep quiet and be good”). And because the winning country of the Song Contest automatically hosts the next year’s event, Turin, Italy is hosting this year.

The motto for Eurovision 2022 is “The Sound of Beauty.” Out of the 40 countries who will compete in the semi-finals, 25 countries will reach the May 14 final. Five of the finalists automatically qualify, as they are the biggest financial contributors to the event. Those “big five” are France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom.

The Song Contest’s history goes back to 1956 when seven countries competed for the first time in Lugano, Switzerland. In that first contest, the winner had been determined by a jury vote. The voting system has been revised many times over the past 66 years. The current system is a combination of points awarded by pre-selected “jury” representatives from each country, as well as points awarded from audience members, who can call in or vote online. The only rule is “Vous ne pouvez pas voter pour votre propre pays,” (“You cannot vote for your own country”). After the performances, the pre-selected representatives announce their points live on air, then the audience vote is tallied and awarded, and the country with the most combined points is declared the winner.

The new voting process adds a new thrill to the show. For example, last year the contestant from Switzerland was in first place after the jury votes had been announced, but when the audience votes were announced, Italy received the largest share, which put them over the top and made them the winner.

Despite the name of the program, it’s not just European countries who can compete in Eurovision (though the vast majority are, indeed, from the continent.) The answer is simple: To participate in the contest, the country, or particularly a broadcaster from that country, must be a member of the EBU. Therefore, technically Morocco also qualifies to take part in the contest. Yet, they have not participated since their single appearance in 1980.

Other non-European countries such as Lebanon are eligible due to their membership in the EBU but have never participated in the contest. In the case of Morocco and Lebanon, political conflicts with participating Israel have held them back from sending an artist to the show. Signing the Israel–Morocco normalization agreement in 2020 has made Morocco’s participation more likely in the future.

The Eurovision Song Contest is, by their laws, everything but political. Nevertheless, political conflicts have influenced the set-up of songs and participating countries for years. In last year’s Eurovision, the Russian contestant, Manizha, a Kremlin critic feminist, made news with her song “Russian Woman.” This year, Russia has been disqualified from Eurovision because of their invasion of Ukraine. 

Ukraine’s Eurovision journey has also had some road blocks this year. The Ukrainian broadcaster made headlines when they chose their Eurovision contestant in a national selection process mere weeks before the Russian invasion. What’s more, though, is that there were allegations of voter fraud during the selection process due to technical issues during the final show. The ultimately chosen contestant, Alina Pash, was later disqualified after she was accused of visiting Crimea illegally in 2015. Pash will be replaced by Kalush Orchestra, a Ukrainian rap group.

Even though I will be rooting for Maro from Portugal, I reviewed all 40 songs set to be performed at Eurovision 2022. Here are some of my initial impressions of the individual songs. (Note: I like music from Judy Collins, Joni Mitchell, Diana Ross, and anything alternative. To me, music is a unique internal travel experience from the comfort of my home.)

  • Albania: The singer Ronela Hajati sings the song “Sekret” (“Secret”) in the Albanian and English languages. The song has authentic Southeastern European feels with its beats and not only the use of language but also instruments. Hajati also did not disappoint when she performed the upbeat-ethno pop during the national final.
  • Armenia: Rosa Linn is set to perform “Snap.” Despite the peppy title, it feels like a very flat, “Mumford and Sons” style song.
  • Australia: Openly gay singer Sheldon Riley will perform “Not the Same” with a curtain of a veil of pearls in front of his face. Imagine Sam Smith with a slightly deeper voice.
  • Austria: LUM!X feat. Pia Maria will perform the song “Halo.” The producer Luca Michlmayr who is behind LUM!X is a promising Austrian export in the electronic music industry. However, the song is mediocre at best.
  • Azerbaijan: “Fade to Black” is the song of Nadir Rüstəmli. The 2021 winner of “The Voice of Azerbaijan” performs an ordinary ballad. (Yes, sometimes Eurovision features traditional genre songs with no fancy sequins. It happens. Just think of it as a nice contrast from the campy fare.)
  • Belgium: “Miss You” singer Jérémie Makiese, is a 21-year-old from Antwerp. The song has radio potential, but isn’t a super standout. Makiese is also the 2021 winner of a national casting show, “The Voice Belgique.”
  • Bulgaria: The band Intelligent Music Project will perform the rock song “Intention.” Skip it!
  • Croatia: Mia Dimšić enters with the song “Guilty Pleasure.” More interesting than her song is that she has an MA degree in translation studies from the Faculty of Arts of the University of Osijek.
  • Cyprus: “Ela” (“Come”) is the song of Andromache, which she will perform in a mix of Greek and English. (Last year’s Cyprus song “El Diablo” was a very good dance track. Check it out on Youtube.)
  • Czech Republic: We Are Domi are asking us to turn the “Lights Off.” The Czech-Norwegian duo performs a Europop, upbeat song that could be your future summer road trip tune.
  • Denmark: REDDI is an all-female band that will perform “The Show.” Their song starts like an Adele ballad and then morphs into Avril Lavigne angst. Unfortunately, the two sections don’t connect as well as they could.
  • Estonia: Stefan brings us “Hope.” The 24-year-old Estonian son of Armenian parents performs a Western/Cowboy song that doesn’t build into anything exciting. Imagine a scene where the two Cowboys are about to have a standoff, but instead of anything exciting, you just see three minutes of them standing and staring at each other.
  • Finland: This country is playing with Eurovision fire; they have selected a well-known group in hope that their popularity will earn them points. In the past, however, other countries like Germany and the United Kingdom have sent big stars like the band No Angels or Blue who did not meet those expectations. Finland sends The Rasmus with their song “Jezebel.” Let’s hope they won’t join the list of failed performances by known stars.
  • France: Alvan and Ahez will perform “Fulenn,” in the Southwestern Brittonic language Breton. The song, which means “Spark,” is unique for French standards in the contest. France is usually either very proud of their ballads (see 2021’s “Voila”) or sends very comedic songs into the contest. This year, the song is nothing more than a linguistic excursion.
  • Germany: Malik Harris is the son of Ricky Harris who was born in Detroit, MI and has since worked as a TV host in Germany. Malik will sing “Rockstars,” and probably miss the top 20 in the final.
  • Georgia: Circus Mircus’ “Lock Me In” has an indie vibe and resembles “Pumped Up Kicks” by Foster The People in terms of the build-up.
  • Greece: Amanda Tenfjord is Norwegian-Greek and her song “Die Together” has elements of Imogen Heap and Sigrid. Tenfjord and the Norwegian newcomer Sigrid went to school together, so maybe that’s why they have similar vibes?
  • Iceland: Sigga, Beta and Elín, better known as Systur perform the authentic folk song “Með Hækkandi Sól” (“With the rising sun”). The lyrics are fully Icelandic as of now. Sometimes contestants will alter the song with partial English lyrics for the final. Iceland LOVES Eurovision, a fact that was recently featured on “60 Minutes.” 
  • Ireland: The song “That’s Rich” by Northern-Irish-born Brooke is a fierce pop song that seemed promising, especially as a theme you would hear in the clubs. Her live performance is everything but rich.
  • Israel: In-your-face-gay is the song “I.M.” by Israeli singer Michael Ben David. The performer of Georgian-Jewish descent is out, loud, and proud. Two downers: He is taken, and his song sounds very familiar, having elements of Katy Perry’s “Swish-Swish” and the song “Basic” by former French contestant Bilal Hassani.
  • Italy: Fans of Eurovision are awaiting this song with high hopes. The 2019 contestant for Italy, Mahmood, will be back on stage with singer BLANCO. Their song “Brividi” (“Shivers”) is a love song with a hint of homoeroticism. It is a nice ballad, and Mahmood’s popularity, especially in the queer community should catapult Italy into the Top 5.
  • Latvia: This is more than vegetarianism. Citi Zēni sings, “Instead of meat, I eat veggies and pussy. I like them both fresh, like them both juicy.” The Whole Foods soundtrack “Eat Your Salad” sticks in your head but not in your heart. During the national live performance, Citi Zēni also censored their explicit song, for obvious reasons. 
  • Lithuania: The 34-year-old Monika Liu performs “Sentimentai” (“Sentiments”) in her Lithuanian mother tongue. Her costume and the song are a mix of 1920s Flappers and 1970s Disco.
  • Malta: The queer power anthem is called “I Am What I Am” and is performed by Emma Muscat. The singer is known beyond the Maltese borders as she has successfully recorded singles with Italian artists. The song should bring her far, but it will likely not be enough for the winner’s podium.
  • Moldova: The country south of Ukraine is known for special performances; for example in 2017 when they placed third in the contest. This year, the song “Trenulețul” (“The little train”) is performed by the folk-punk band Zdob și Zdub and the folk musicians Frații Advahov.
  • Montenegro: Vladana looks like the Montenegrin version of Jennifer Coolidge and sings the solid, yet very forgettable ballad “Breathe.”
  • The Netherlands: The song “De diepte” (“The depth”) is an entirely Dutch song performed by S10. It is a calm and melancholic song that does not really rise beyond mediocre radio music.
  • North Macedonia: Andrea sings “Circles,” a song that will give you time to go to the kitchen and refill your glass during the broadcast.
  • Norway: This song is a flashback to 2013. Remember the popular song “What Does The Fox Say?” by Ylvis? The Norwegian entry by Subwoolfer is “Give That Wolf a Banana.” It is a fun dance song that could make it to the grand final.
  • Poland: Ochman is Polish-American, was born in Massachusetts, and graduated from a Highschool in Maryland. “The Voice of Poland” 2020 winner performs the ballad “River” that resembles more James Blake than Joni Mitchell.
  • Portugal: MARO graduated from Berklee College of Music in Boston and will represent her birth-country with the song “Saudade, Saudade” (a non-translatable Portuguese term for longing and yearning).
  • Romania: “Llámame” (“Call me”) is what Romanian singer WRS sings. The singer was part of a boyband project in London, but his live performance falls flat. 
  • San Marino: Achille Lauro sings “Stripper,” a song that has elements of new wave and post-punk. His performance as well as the lyrics celebrate queerness and genderfluidity.
  • Serbia: Konstrakta is singing the anthem for universal healthcare. The song “In corpore sano” (“In a healthy body”) addresses mental and physical fitness, wonders about the secret of Meghan Markle’s healthy hair, and criticizes the Serbian government for not providing health care for artists. The song is sung in Serbian and Latin. 
  • Slovenia: LPS’s song “Disko” is another song where viewers can take a bathroom break. It is probably the most soporific/monotonous song this year, even more than the Cowboy song.
  • Spain: Chanel (not Coco, to be clear) was born in Havana, Cuba, and moved to Spain at the age of three. Her Spanish-English song “SloMo” sounds like a cross between J-Lo and Shakira.
  • Sweden: Cornelia Jakobs sings “Hold Me Closer” which sounds a little bit like a Bonnie Tyler record.
  • Switzerland: Marius Bear sings an homage to fighting toxic masculinity with his song “Boys Do Cry.” The ballad is soft, but not really exciting. It scores points for the message, though.
  • Ukraine: The folk-rap song “Stefania” performed entirely in Ukrainian by the band Kalush Orchestra is a song about the child-mother relationship. The song recaps all the things a mother did for her child and eventually concludes in a feeling of gratitude, just in time for Mother’s Day.
  • United Kingdom: The country sends an Englishman by the name of Sam Ryder to perform his song “Space Man.” The song is a solid British pop song that sounds like it has been there before and is set to appear in home insurance or grocery store commercials in a few months. (Worth noting: the UK received zero points last year. They have nowhere to go but up in 2022.)

Bookmakers predict Ukraine to win this year’s contest with a likelihood of 35%. The odds on runner-ups are Italy with 15% and Sweden with 11%. Eurovision fans in the United States will be able to watch the contest on Peacock. The Semi-Finals on Tuesday, May 10, and Thursday, May 12, air at 3 p.m. EST, and the Grand Final streams on Saturday, May 14, 2022, at 3 p.m EST. Some of the national streaming services from the participating countries will also be available in the U.S., including BBC iPlayer.