The psychological benefits that come from watching the Eurovision Song Contest are well worth the sting of that inevitable “nil points”.
This year, those four little syllables are bigger than ever, with 43 participating countries, 26 contestants and a predicted 204 million viewers tuning in to watch from all around the world. And I, of course, will be among them, as I have been ever since I was old enough to hold up my head and fix my eyes on the colourful pictures flitting across the magical box installed in my parents’ living room.
It’s something of an understatement to say that I love the Eurovision Song Contest. As someone who a) loses her s**t at firework displays, b) actively rooted for The X Factor’s Jedward, and c) carefully crafts her Spotify playlist from movie soundtracks, Disney power ballads, rousing West End choruses and the cheesiest of cheesy pop, it was, essentially, made for me. Except, of course, it wasn’t: Eurovision was designed with far more noble intentions than entertaining pop addicts on a Saturday night.
The politics of Eurovision
First established in 1956, the contest sought to unite a continent still recovering from the ravages of World War II – with sober-faced singers, ball gowns and classic ballads in place of spandex, sparkles and über-pop. And, while there’s no doubt whatsoever that the competition has evolved somewhat (think pyrotechnics, outlandish costumes, entirely unnecessary backing dancers and a lingering air of utter madness) over the past few years, its history is irrevocably linked with incredibly significant world events.
The breakup of the Soviet Union, for example, meant that Eurovision became something like a rite of passage for many countries enjoying the first flush of independence. Greece has never once voted for Turkey. You can count on the Scandinavians to support each other, and the Balkans have each other’s back. While it was rare for the UK and Ireland to give each other points during the tumultuous 20-year period known as The Troubles, the two countries now depend upon one another’s cursory seven or eight points to save them from the dreaded nil points klaxon.
And it’s no coincidence that Austrian drag artist Conchita Wurst won the competition in 2014, as Western Europeans were reacting with disgust to Russia’s anti-LGBT laws.
Of course, Eurovision’s potential to be used as a tool for protest and social change has only grown over the years – and this year, in particular, it offers a safe, eccentric and vast platform to express individualism and political views.
Italy takes its inspiration from the #metoo movement (“I’m not your toy, you stupid boy”), while Ireland gives a nod to its recent progression in LGBT rights by staging a same-sex romance in modern dance. And France’s catchy tune is sung from the point of view of a baby refugee, born on a boat in the middle of the ocean.
Elsewhere, Denmark will explore the concept of toxic masculinity with a song about Vikings, while Italy has vowed to remind us that hatred and terrorism can never overpower innocence. And Australia (yes, Australia) look set to preach a simple message of love in times of adversity.
However, while you might suspect that the show’s political agenda (no doubt more pronounced this year, due to ongoing Brexit discussions) might make it feel… well, a little too serious, psychologists have revealed that the show is scientifically proven to give you feel-good vibes.
The psychological benefits of watching Eurovision
That’s right: a new study has found that, when a nation takes part in Eurovision, it has a 13% chance of higher “life satisfaction” among its population compared with those who don’t.
Professor Filippos Filippidis,who led the study (published in the journal BMC Public Health), found that people were 4% more likely to be satisfied with their life for every increase of 10 places on the final score board (e.g. if their country finished second rather than 12th).
However, doing badly in the contest is also associated with a greater increase in life satisfaction compared with not taking part at all. So, achieving that awful shame-inducing nil points (sorry, Jemini) is no bad thing after all.
I, personally, can testify to the mood-boosting powers of Eurovision. There’s something so magical about an entire continent coming together for such a huge event – particularly as it swivels the focus away from all the awful, anxiety-inducing headlines being churned out of Europe on a daily basis. No more political divisions, no more venomous discrimination, no more threats of military action. Instead, it’s a night of friendship, of underdogs triumphing over adversity, of glorious optimism. It is, above all else, a night of people being nice to each other.
And, if you can’t force your friends and family to watch it with you, well, no need to worry: you’ll never be alone. All you need to is log into Twitter (some 50,000 tweets a minute were posted when Conchita won) and you can join in the #Eurovision2018 conversation with thousands of strangers – whether that be through memes, snarky Graham Norton-esque jokes, praise hand emoji on top of praise hand emoji, or (god forbid) genuine heartfelt sincerity.
It is a reminder that we aren’t in this alone. Whether we watch because we love the music, or the politics, or the fact that it is just so appallingly bad, all of these people watching Eurovision have, for one night only, something in common. Almost a universal language, made up of points, and friendship blocs, and song titles, and shared observations, and misheard lyrics.
Why is this so vital? Because it means that, no matter where we are in the world, we can be a part of the same narrative. All we need to do is switch on our TV screen and, just like that, we’re sat in Europe’s living room with everyone else. We’re connected. We’re a part of something bigger.
Essentially, the world feels like a better place when Eurovision is on the box. Just throw in all of the hypnotically surreal musical numbers, and you have a recipe for a perfect Saturday night.
See you on Twitter, yeah?
The Eurovision Song Contest 2018 Grand Final takes place on Saturday, May 12th. You’ll be able to watch the show live on BBC1 from 8pm with Graham Norton on the night, or you can tune in on BBC Radio 2 with Ken Bruce from 8pm.