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Less than 24 hours ago, it was leaked that Austria will be represented by the gender-bending act known as Conchita Wurst. And within those 24 hours, Conchita has managed to stir up quite a bit of commotion amongst the fans of the Contest on various blogs, websites and forums online. In a random sample of my own favourite websites, many have been supportive, some ambivalent, and then many more have taken Conchita’s selection rather negatively. The catch phrase here seems to be the worst nightmare of a true Eurovision fan: the Eurovision ‘gimmick.’
It is widely known that many people consider Eurovision to be somewhat behind the times musically. That is one of the most common criticisms we encounter as fans – that it is bad music, with tacky performances and it is not worth the significance we allocate to it. Even some fans, as well as delegation members (from my personal experience), feel that Eurovision needs to re-vamp itself musically. But is the gimmick a real problem with ESC? How many gimmicks have we seen recently, anyway? Not very many, actually. Less than five every year. This is, however, dependent on how you define a gimmick. But they do draw attention to themselves even nowadays and can produce quite good results, as we have seen with Romania and Greece this year, or Russia last year. However, more often we have seen them crash and burn in the Semis. Despite of this, people seem to still worry about the gimmick and what it does to the reputation of the Contest. While some gimmicks are musically completely devoid of any artistic or musical quality (e.g. Trackshittaz and Rambo Amadeus in 2012) some have been quite good songs, either vocally or musically (e.g. Laka in 2008 or Cezar in 2012). They may not always be good songs, but gimmicks do provide for two important aspect of Eurovision – diversity and entertainment. The (somewhat) dreaded Eurovision ballad has the potential to sweep the Eurovision stage on its own, and that is a real threat year after year. Remember the 2012 finals’ first 20 minutes? Five ballads in a row. And then some more after. And more. And more. Instead of freaking out at the gimmick of Conchita’s performance, I am worried about her sending another song like her last year’s attempt to represent Austria – a full on replica of a female Eurovision ballad (Jade Ewen style, really). Plus the beard, of course. That won’t do well. But if one is smart, like we have seen many of the recent gimmicks have been, Austria might do just fine. And people won’t think Eurovision is a freak show. And, you know what, so what if they do!
The strange character of Eurovision, as well as the strange characters that show up on it, are what makes Eurovision truly special. Otherwise, you can rake it all together with the American Idols, X-Factors and _____’s Got Talents. When you explain to an American or Canadian Eurovision (as I have had extensive pleasure to do, since I live in North America), they instinctively draw parallels with those shows. But once you show them a few clips, they are amazed, fascinated and somehow see the innate Europeanness in it all. Or they just think it is weird. Which is also fine. You will never see so much diversity of musical tastes on one stage: pop operas, strong female vocal ballads, rap songs, gimmicks in foreign languages and bearded ladies. And, quite frankly, that is amazing.
Why would we want Eurovision to become ‘more respectable’ (read: more one-sided)? Is this some sort of inferiority complex that Eurovision fans should tackle themselves instead of trying to blame the performers/national broadcasters/whomever? Instead, let us relish and enjoy the silliness and the amazingness that it all is. As one of my favourite film quotes says “A life lived in fear is a life half lived.” Just enjoy Eurovision for what it is, to its fullest. Yes, we may disagree on what we like and what we don’t musically – it is called taste – but let us not create and perpetuate this negative atmosphere when it comes to something that ought to be celebrated as uniquely Eurovisionesque. Where else is there a venue for such musical and performance diversity for an international audience? Embrace the difference! Now, THERE is a good Eurovision motto, Denmark.