Eurovision 2021: the surprise psychological impact of watching the song contest

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Kayleigh Dray
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The audience at the Eurovision Grand Final on May 13, 2017 in Kiev, Ukraine. Ukraine is the 62nd host of the annual iteration of the international song contest. It is the longest running international TV song competition, held primarily among countries from Europe. Each participating country will perform an original song, votes cast by the other countries determine the winner. This year's winner Salvador Sobral from Portugal won with his love ballad 'Amar Pelos Dois'. (Photo by Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images)

Did you know that watching Eurovision is packed full of psychological benefits? Yes, really.

Updated on 20 May 2021: Last year’s Eurovision song contest may have been cancelled amid the global Covid-19 pandemic (because yes, coronavirus really does ruin everything), but it is roaring back to life this year – albeit with a few new social distancing rules in place.

As executive producer Sietse Bakker told The Associated Press, though, better a slightly different Eurovision than no Eurovision at all.

“Organising the Eurovision song contest is always challenging because you have less than a year to organise one of the biggest and most complex events in Europe, but to do it in a pandemic is much, much more complicated,” he said.

Eurovision 2021’s post-lockdown theme

Noting that the theme for this year’s contest (which will be taking place in Rotterdam) is “Open up,” Bakker added that the surprisingly apt motif was actually chosen before the world went into lockdown.

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“We decided to keep the theme because, especially in these times, it’s important that we are open towards each other and that we feel the possibility to open up to one another, to show our true feelings, emotions and thoughts,” he said.

The UK’s entry for Eurovision 2021

While it remains highly unlikely that the UK will win the contest (the odds, to paraphrase The Hunger Games, are never in our favour), we will absolutely be giving it our best shot.

That’s right; award-winning singer-songwriter James Newman will be representing us at the Eurovision final on Saturday 22 May with his “upbeat” song Embers.

“I feel like everyone wants a party and to have some fun so when I was writing, that’s what I had in my head,” he told the BBC. 

“I wanted something people can dance to, even if it’s just in their kitchen.”

Listen to James Newman’s Embers below:

Naturally, I can’t wait to see Newman take to the Eurovision stage and dazzle the continent (and Australia, obviously) with his feel-good dance track. Because, 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

As reported on 15 May 2020: 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. 

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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. Especially now.

Because, as we slowly emerge from a worldwide pandemic, it’s good to remember that we’re part of something bigger. That we’re all in this together. That, above all else, we’re not alone.

It’s a message of unity that feels more necessary than ever. As do 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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