Audiences around the world don’t take singing competition Eurovision all that seriously. Boycott-breaching debates aside, it’s a delightfully zany affair, home to monster-costumed guitarists, plastic-bearded dancers and BDSM-charged Scandinavians. It’s an excuse to revel in the sights, sounds and languages of an obscure European country.
But for all of the competition’s campy charm and odd inconsistencies — it remains unclear why Australia is allowed to compete in the pan-European offering — Eurovision is global force to be reckoned with. The competition, while costly for hosts with limited infrastructure, brings in tens of millions of dollars in tourist revenue each year and serves as an enviable national marketing opportunity.
Most importantly, the annual event has the biggest TV audience for any musical spectacle on the planet.
200 million people tuned in to watch the competition earlier this month. That’s double the views received by the most-watched production in the US, the Superbowl. Rock and pop stars fall over each other to perform in the halftime slot of the American football match but have traditionally ignored Eurovision, a show broadcast in English to audiences in 50 countries simultaneously. Why?
It could be because of Eurovision’s historically bore-inducing voting mechanism (which has now been altered). It could be because of a belief that the event was not worth any serious star’s time – a position challenged by the sharp-edged professionalism introduced under Martin Osterdahl’s stewardship of the event in Sweden in both 2013 and 2016.
In any case, it seems musical acts are finally cottoning on to the power of Eurovision to increase their reach. In 2016, Grammy award-winning popstar Justin Timberlake became the first non-contestant to be allowed to perform at the show, performing a medley of past and current songs. And in 2019, pop icon Madonna graced the stage, reaching the almost 200 million viewers with a theatrical — albeit criticised — medley of her own.
As the contest moves to the Netherlands in 2020, it seems we can expect more superstar icons to be given the chance to perform.
And it may be that the contest — which began all the way back in 1956 — picks up in intensity across the US, with plans recently announced for a similar competition in the country by 2021.