A very European celebration

In 2001 I was living in Spain. 20 years old, in a tiny village in the middle of nowhere, my nearest friend lived in the next town 40 minutes away. I was as miserable as a person can be.

Until I discovered Operacion Triunfo.

Operacion Triunfo was a TV show, a cross between Big Brother and The X Factor. The contestants all lived together in a house, and competed against each other for the ultimate prize – to represent Spain in the Eurovison song contest.

The live concert was aired every Saturday night, but during the week we were treated to nightly updates from the house – the notes they couldn’t hit, the dancing injuries, and the relationships that developed between the contestants. Like everybody else in Spain, I was hooked, tuning in every night to see how they were all getting on. When I was all alone, they started to feel like my friends.

That year Euorvision fever shook Spain like never before – this was no guilty pleasure, this was serious. Spain wanted to win – and they really believed that they would!

The night of the contest finally rolled around. Rosa, a shy, overweight girl from Andalucia had captured the country’s heart – now she just had to go and win over the continent.

I watched that night in a friend’s flat. English, Scottish, Welsh, Northern Irish, Irish, Italian, French, German and Portuguese – a big group of international friends, waving the flags of our nations, drinking, laughing, copying the dance moves, and all shamelessly supporting Spain!

‘Europe’s Living a Celebration’ she sang – a song bursting with the honour of being there, the runners up from Operacion Triunfo literally backing her up as dancers, the entire nation holding it’s breath, waiting for glory.

She came seventh.

The country was in shock – they’d genuinely believed she’d win.

Every year, when Eurovision rolls around, I remember that night. Well, sort of remember. We did go through a lot of vodka!

But that night was just what Eurovision should be about – a continental competition, that brings the continent together. People complain that it’s political – I don’t see it that way. I see the opposite. Sure, we always know which countries will vote for each other – but that always seems more like friendship, like nations backing their neighbours up rather than shoving them aside.

Jokes were made this week – including by our PM – about the UK’s popularity in Europe this year. Be prepared – no one will vote for us because we’re leaving the EU.

But they did.

Last night wasn’t about politics. And it wasn’t about us (us meaning the UK). It was about music. And friendship. And fun.

When Lucie Jones sang, lots of people in the UK made political comparisons ‘I will never give up on EU’. But on Twitter, people across the continent were just commenting on the song, the vocals, her performance. I didn’t see many Brexit-related comments (though to be fair I can’t understand most European languages, so some of them may have been politics related. The international language of emoji however told me that most of them were positive!)

The winner of this year’s contest was Portugal. In the midst of all the glitter, sequins and fake fur (I hope that gorilla suit was made out of fake fur!) their contestant looked like he’d just rolled out of a poetry reading at a local cafe – I imagine up close he stank of coffee and fags, and that hair looked like it could use a good wash.

His song was sweet and understated, and so un-Eurovision-like, and I think that’s why it won.

But sadly, though Ukraine asked us to ‘Celebrate Diversity’ (although the contest itself didn’t feel that diverse this year), there were some who just couldn’t do that.

‘Pretentious’ was a word I saw a few people use – showing their own ignorance of traditional Portuguese music, the innocent bitter-sweetness of fado, a twist of bossa nova, that sense of ‘saudade’, and of Salvador himself – a man who suffers from serious health problems, who missed out on rehearsal time due to illness, and who shared the winner’s spotlight with his sister, who wrote the song. What a prick, eh?

There were those who crowed about the contestants speaking or singing in English – ‘a victory for the English language’. How on earth some people can manage to make bilingualism a negative thing is beyond me. I suspect these people only speak one language – their sense of superiority surely stems from a deep-rooted feeling of inadequacy.

Call me crazy, but if the winner decides to say a few words in English, maybe we shouldn’t deride him for that, maybe we should applaud his ability to speak a foreign language. Maybe we should listen to the words he’s saying – and maybe, just maybe, we should feel a bit embarrassed that he can make himself understood to a majority, while many of us can’t.

I just wonder why they bother to watch it. If you hate Europe and Europeans so much why on earth would you spend your Saturday night watching the Eurovision Song Contest? Why not just put Channel 4 on, watch 12 years a slave, and remember the good old days when you didn’t need twitter to be a massive racist.

Following Eurovision on Twitter last night was a wonderful thing. Twitter’s a pretty angry place at times, but last night the negative voices were drowned out but the international language of music and laughter – not to mention the confusion about why a man wearing a horse’s head was standing on top of a ladder?! We really do have a lot in common with our neighbours – it’s such a shame we only have one night a year to celebrate that.

Portugal won in every sense of the word, Lucie Jones pulled off a very respectable performance and can come home feeling proud of herself, and Spain, I can only assume, didn’t want to win this year. But though they were bottom of the board with 5 points, I can’t hep but think the real losers were the English – not all of us, just that small-minded minority who are desperate to turn everything into a hate-fuelled, political battle. If you can’t let it go for one night,and just enjoy the sheer beauty of a man from Croatia singing a duet with himself, well, it’s nul points from me I’m afraid.

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