We are Jen & Chris. Growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, we can’t pinpoint when we first heard about the Eurovision Song Contest. It wasn’t broadcast on U.S. television, the Internet didn’t exist, and in general the songs aren’t played on American pop radio.
Jen learned about it from her parents, who immigrated to the States from Europe in the 1960s. Somewhere along the way her father mentioned the contest, saying it was: 1) horrible kitsch; and 2) not worth thinking about. However, somewhere else along the way Jen also discovered that ABBA was a former contest winner. She had loved their music since she was 6; the piece of trivia stuck.
As a kid, Chris too was an ABBA fan, and he knew that they had won Eurovision. Never mind that he had no idea what that meant. Chris began to figure out what it was when he got older, through sketches by Monty Python and The Young Ones. (Those clips also really capture the attitude the U.K. traditionally has had towards the ESC. And continue to have, really.)
Eurovision fell off Chris’s radar for a long time, but it captured his interest again in 1998 when Dana International won. The American press, which usually cares as much about Eurovision as it does about the Eredivisie, reported that an Israeli transsexual had won it. We don’t remember another time the U.S. reported on the Eurovision result, other than in 2006 when Lordi won.
As Jen grew up, her family made regular trips to Austria. She developed an interest in German pop music and listened to German pop music compilation albums. On one of these albums, Just the Best 3/2000, was Olsen Brothers’ “Fly on the Wings of Love.” The song stood out–so sucky, so saccharine, yet it commanded attention. Even in the first half of the decade, information about the Contest was limited. To ask any European about the contest, they mostly talked about its cheesiness. Olsen Brothers, ABBA, kitsch: she needed to learn more.
The opportunity came in June 2001. Jen attended an academic conference in Umeå, Sweden. The local record store had an ESC display. She bought the 2001 official Contest album and a history of Contest winners. Chris listened to the 2001 album and became obsessed with Estonia.
Though the recordings finally told us something about the (usually bad) music in the contest, they told us nothing about performance. The Contest had to be seen to be understood. Chris first watched Eurovision in all its glory via the Eurovision.tv site in 2006 while Jen was on a business trip; Jen got in on the action in 2007. Since then, streaming video has made the contest and national selections increasingly accessible, turning curiosity into an unhealthy side project. In addition to the blog, our annual viewing parties have become anticipated events. Although the homemade cheeseball may have as much to do with that as the show itself.
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