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Eurovision 2020 cancelled: why the song contest means so much to so many

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Kayleigh Dray
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For the first time in 64 years, the show will not go on. Here’s why that’s such a big deal.

Updated on 15 May 2020: Ah, Eurovision. Right now, those four little syllables are bigger than ever because, for the first time in 64 years, the show will not go on.

“The uncertainty created by the spread of Covid-19 throughout Europe – and the restrictions put in place by the governments of the participating broadcasters and the Dutch authorities – means the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) has taken the difficult decision to not continue with the live event as planned,” reads a statement from the show’s organisers.

Jon Ola Sand, EBU executive supervisor, added: “We are very proud of the Eurovision Song Contest, that for 64 years has united people all around Europe. And we are deeply disappointed about this situation. 

“I would like to thank everyone who has been involved in the process of staging a great Eurovision Song Contest this year. Unfortunately, that was not possible due to factors beyond our control. We regret this situation very much, but I can promise you: the Eurovision Song Contest will come back stronger than ever.”

Essentially, it seems coronavirus ruins… ooh, pretty much everything? 

How Twitter reacted to Eurovision’s cancellation

Not well, essentially. And, as we draw ever closer to the day the contest was originally due to take place in Rotterdam (16 May), people have been taking to Twitter to share their grief.

“I am crying,” wrote one, sharing a clip of Italian contestant Diodato singing Fai Rumore, which has become an anthem of hope for many during the ongoing pandemic. 

“He would have won it all.”

Another, sharing a selfie of their tear-stained face, tweeted: “I am definitely not coping with Eurovision being cancelled at ALL.”

One more, giving voice to the thoughts of many UK-based Eurovision fans, wrote: “I can’t believe the UK sorted themselves out and took it serious for once only for it to be cancelled.”

And still one more said: “Reason no. 407 why I’m disappointed Eurovision got cancelled… we didn’t get to see Moldova BRING IT with their staging and elevate this song into the top 10.”

It’s worth noting here that Moldovan contestant Natalia Gordienko’s Prison is, indeed, an absolute tune. And yes, it’s a crying shame she won’t have a chance to compete.

As you might have guessed by this point, I have been a loyal Eurovision viewer 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.

As such, it’s something of an understatement to say that I love the Eurovision Song Contest. I love it. I really, really love it. As someone who a) loses her shit 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. 

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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-LGBTQ+ laws.  

Of course, Eurovision’s potential to be used as a tool for protest and social change has only grown over the years – and, over the past few years in particular, it has offered artists a safe, eccentric and vast platform to express individualism and political views.

In 2018, Israeli artist Netta took her inspiration from the #metoo movement (“I’m not your toy, you stupid boy”), while Ireland gave a nod to its progression in LGBTQ+ rights by staging a same-sex romance in modern dance. French pop duo Madame Monsieur gave us Mercy, a song inspired by the plight of a refugee baby plucked from a sinking boat in the Mediterranean.

Denmark has explored the concept of toxic masculinity with a song about Vikings. Italy has reminded us that hatred and terrorism can never overpower innocence. And Australia (yes, Australia) has made a point of consistently preaching a simple message of love in times of adversity.

However, while you might suspect that the show’s political agenda might make it feel… well, a little too serious, psychologists have revealed that the show is scientifically proven to give you feel-good vibes.

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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 #Eurovision 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. 

Eurovision has always, always served as 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. 

Thank goodness, then, that BBC One realises all of that. And, in a bid to help fill the hole in our hearts, they have some extra-special shows scheduled this weekend.

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On 16 May, the same day this year’s contest would have taken place, they will be showing Come Together, a TV show filmed in BBC Studios and hosted by Norton that will gather acts and favourites from this year’s contest and allow viewers at home to cast their votes live.

Then, from 8pm, the BBC will bring us Eurovision: Europe Shine a Light, which is being broadcast live from the Netherlands. The show will feature all of the 40 songs entered into this year’s contest, minus the competitive element.

And, you guessed it, it will be accompanied by live commentary from Norton, too. 

No, it’s not the same. But I have a feeling that Europe Shine A Light will go some way towards doing what the OG song contest always does best: remind us that we’re part of something bigger. That we’re all in this together. That, above all else, we’re not alone.

And, in the middle of a worldwide pandemic, that message feels more necessary than ever. As does the impossibly cheery europop tunes, quite frankly.

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This article was originally published in 2018, but has been updated throughout in light of recent events.

Images: Getty

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Kayleigh Dray

Kayleigh Dray is Stylist’s digital editor-at-large. Her specialist topics include comic books, films, TV and feminism. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends.

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