I didn’t grow up in a particularly close-knit family. We didn’t have overflowing dining tables at Christmas, a group chat full of inside jokes and save-the-dates, nor did we gather on Sundays to share in the traditional roast and a natter. Like many modern families, we love from afar.
But there is one event that changes everything. Disagreements are put to one side and my Mum’s signature foil trays are loaded with nibbles to feed family and friends. That event is Eurovision.
An annual song contest with more than 40 countries competing to win the coveted and iconic glass microphone trophy, as well as a hosting gig for the following year. From the flamboyant to the sombre, bubblegum pop ballads to industrial metal, and every imaginable avenue in between – Eurovision showcases and celebrates it all in one spectacular competition culminating in an extravagant four-hour finale.
Last year the contest was won – resoundingly – by Ukraine, with the UK (miraculously) coming in second. As Putin’s war in Ukraine has made it unsafe for the country to stage the show, Liverpool has been chosen to hold the 2023 spectacle on Ukraine’s behalf. Working in partnership with the winning delegation and knowing first-hand just how capable the North is of throwing a smashing party, next year’s contest promises to be something special. But maybe I am biased.
My earliest memory of Eurovision is Azerbaijan’s 2010 entry. A simple scale is plucked on crisp electric guitar strings as the singer, Safura, stands atop some stairs in a tri-tone blue dress, bedazzled with lights and chunky gems. The steps light up as she descends, singing in breathy yet self-assured tones, questions of fidelity to her lover. I was 10, I had never had my heart broken, but I can still recall the goosebumps on my arms as I fell into the story she was painting. Love, pain and art are universally understood, and I was hooked on the beauty of that commonality.
In 2016 when the UK voted to leave the EU, I felt an overwhelming sense of loneliness and disillusionment wash over me. As a British citizen, I worried what this meant for friends who didn’t hold the same nationality as me, and I feared that my home had set itself on course to lose its best parts: our willingness to embrace different cultures and our welcoming of people from other countries.
Eurovision took on a new meaning for me after the referendum. It has been the event that brought my family together for years, but now I was seeing it on a broader scale. Everywhere I looked there seemed to be division but Eurovision’s relentless show of diversity was the proverbial lagoon in the desert, bringing people of every possible background together through the power of music and chicken dances (watch Israel’s 2018 entry and that will all make sense). People, or at least the ones engaging with the contest, seemed united in the common ground of love for good music, good times, and good company.
Eurovision sends a message which goes deeper than its so-called cringe surface level. Outside of the power and longevity of music, which undoubtedly is something the contest has proven over the decades, and within the eccentric costumes, outlandish stages and innate unpredictability of the contest, is a message of unity. Eurovision is an irrefutable showcase of our ability to create something spectacular if we are just willing to work together.
By Beth Smith, Eurovision Correspondent