Great, Now Americans Will Ruin Eurovision Too

Let’s just let this insane and beautiful cultural phenomenon be.

Iceland’s performers in 2020 |

There is nothing that the USA sees that thinks it can’t have.

The latest victim in its present-day pop culture Manifest Destiny? Eurovision — the wacky, wild annual European singing competition that captives 200 million watchers every year.

That’s right, an American Song Contest will hit our TVs sometime in 2021. Whoopee.

This isn’t good news — not to a Eurovision superfan like myself. Not even to a Eurovision superfan who happens to be raised in the USA. Eurovision is magic captured in a bottle and USA couldn’t reproduce it if we tried.

Those who believe Eurovision is just a European version of The X Factor are immensely mistaken. Eurovision is a pop-culture behemoth difficult to describe. I hold it nearer to my heart than basically any show I watch. It’s exciting, cultural, beautiful, strange, and unbelievably delightful.

The rules are simple. Every country picks one song to represent them. Not a singer, a song. The 40-something odd countries then compete in two semifinals and one grand final over what’s called Eurovision Week. Every country can vote, in a European electoral college, for their top ten songs, through both a popular and jury vote. The votes are tallied, and one country is declared a winner. That country then hosts the next year.

At its core, Eurovision is built on an inherent push-and-pull between seriousness and silliness. Between art and camp. Between love-watching and hate-watching.

It has men running in hamster wheels and Russians pretending to ice skate. Icelandic BDSM artists and Israelis pretending to be chickens. It has truly exquisite songs as well, like this mournful Dutch ballad that makes my heart ache every time I hear it.

I’m half American and half Icelandic. I was thoroughly truly gutted after Eurovision was canceled in 2020 due to COVID-19. Iceland’s song, a true banger, was considered the front-runner to win and bring my country its first gold medal ever. The news of cancellation hit me like a shock to a gut.

But another version of the contest isn’t an answer to the missing contest of 2020.

Some performances are love songs to a culture that we Americans probably have no familiarity with. Like this Norwegian band that utilized joiking, an art form indigenous to the Sami people of northern Norway. Or this modern yet traditional Hungarian performance that I find to be truly magical. Or, sometimes countries mock their own perceived identity, like this Polish song that explores the Polish milkmaid archetype.

All of these are performances that couldn’t exist in the USA.

It’s a difficult balance. When I watch the show, I stagger between smiling with admiration, cringe-laughing, and gasping from sheer shock value. One year, there was a beautiful Armenian song that was a tribute to the lives lost in the Armenian genocide. It followed a terrible British medley that somehow combined both scat and electro-pop. You truly never know what you’re going to get.

I cannot fathom America pulling off this eclectic mix. I don’t think America will be able to appreciate this insane and beautiful amalgamation that is Eurovision. We tend to take something and push it to its extreme. If we do that to Eurovision, we’ll lose the strange eccentricities that make it unique. We’ll lose those specific moments of niche cultures. We’ll lose those strange moments of empathetic silliness. We’ll lose the magic.

Of course, Eurovision will continue after America’s version. The thing I love will continue to exist. And I wish the best of luck to the American version of the show. I want to like it. I just don’t think I will.

There is one potential solution to this. If each city honors the unique and diverse niche and counter-cultures that reside within it, by sending a song that exemplifies specific American art forms. I’m thinking spoken word hip-hop from Chicago. Bluegrass from southern cities. Rambunctious jazz from New Orleans.

But I doubt it. The American Song Contest will likely be a slick pop contest, white-washed to the extreme, with a sufficiently charismatic panel of judges that leave your mind the second you turn off your TV. I doubt it can capture lightning.

Not everything needs to be absorbed by the USA’s massive cultural umbrella. Sometimes, things are most beautiful when they’re left alone.

A queer, herbivorous, leftist Viking. I write about society, justice, and popular media. UChicago grad. Based in Iceland.

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