On Sunday, Sweden’s Mans Zelmerlow won the 2015 Eurovision Song Contest with his electro-pop ballad “Heroes,” which he performed while dancing in front of a black screen with animated gnomes.
Yes. Animated gnomes.
Created in 1956, Eurovision is the an annual televised song competition held primarily among member countries of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU). It is one of the most popular non-sporting events in the world, with anywhere between 100 and 600 million viewers.
Here’s how it works: every year, a different country hosts the competition (like the Olympics). Each participating country submits a song that is performed live in one big show, after which all of the countries vote (though they cannot vote for their own song). The song with the most points wins. The prize is essentially the prestige and publicity of having won, as well as the invitation to host the following year’s Eurovision. Oh, and a trophy.
This year’s theme was Building Bridges, which many artists translated into “tolerance.” After his win, Zelmerlow told the audience:
“We are all heroes no matter who we love, who we are or what we believe in.”
Despite the grandeur of the event, the songs at Eurovision are not necessarily respected as musical masterpieces. In fact, Eurovision isn’t really a music contest: it is well known that the kitsch and camp is crucial to the contest’s mass appeal. It’s about the spectacle, about being remembered. Many viewers also revel in the political tensions represented by each and every vote. One could say that the music is just a backdrop.
To be frank, I feel like this may be the direction that music is taking as a whole. At the annual Grammy’s, the biggest night of music in the U.S., audiences are likewise entranced by the extravagant performances. It seems like artists, particularly solo acts, are no longer permitted to just stand and sing to us (though some still do, like Adele). They have to walk onto the stage with an entire dance crew, executing three to four costume changes within a two-minute span. They have to descend from the ceiling, performing aerial acrobatics. They have to exit with fireworks, explosions of confetti, and the occasional oversized beach ball, bouncing across the audience.
Taking this into consideration, Zelmerlow’s animated gnomes don’t seem so far-fetched.
Such contemporary music events suggest that music is no longer something to be heard; it’s to be seen.
To read more about Eurovision 2015, click here and to get a better sense of the kitsch and camp of Eurovision, listen to my favorite win from 2009, a guilty (very guilty) pleasure of mine, click here.