Eurovision is so synonymous with ridiculous kitsch spectacle that the prospect of a socially distanced, “non-competitive” replacement show was almost dispiriting. Since Katrina and the Waves gave the UK our most recent victory in 1997, dazzling staging ideas and stunning production values have become de rigueur, and an absolute banger like Loreen’s 2012 winning song ‘Euphoria’ is now the gold standard to aim for.
So, if you send the poor man’s Steps in cabin crew uniforms and get them to deliver sub-Carry On lines such as “would you like something to suck on for landing, sir?”, as the UK did in 2007, you can’t really complain when you end up in 22nd place.
Saturday night’s Eurovision: Europe Shine a Light, named after Katrina’s winning cheese-bomb ‘Love Shine a Light’, was obviously no match for an actual Eurovision Song Contest. But shown straight after Eurovision: Come Together, a kind of greatest hits compilation show featuring classic performances from Sandie Shaw, Bucks Fizz, Gina G and recent fan favourites such as Dami Im, from the 2016 edition in Stockholm, it managed to provide a poignant reminder of everything that makes this annual event so completely unique.
Broadcast live from the Netherlands, where this year’s contest would have taken place if coronavirus hadn’t taken hold, it featured brief excerpts of all 41 songs that were due to compete. These excerpts were so stingy, in fact, that they can’t have given viewers much of an idea of what this year’s Grand Final might have looked like.
Still, it was impossible not to be charmed by Icelandic band Daði Freyr Pétursson, who’d already emerged as hot favourites to win. Their genuinely excellent song ‘Think About Things’ is a funky electro bop with echoes of Hot Chip, and singer Daði Freyr Pétursson introduced it by singing in harmony with cloned versions of himself. Hey, if anyone’s going to do something fun with the humble VT, it’s a thwarted Eurovision contestant.
Much of the two-hour runtime was filled with nods to Eurovision’s past – and sombre ones at that. Presumably in deference to the prevailing global mood, the contest’s silly side was sidelined and there was no appearance from anyone like Verka Serduchka, the outlandish Ukrainian drag queen who finished second in 2007. Instead we got Irish musician Johnny ‘Mr Eurovision’ Logan capturing the zeitgeist almost too perfectly by singing ‘What’s Another Year’ – well said, Johnny – and Swedish pop star Måns Zelmerlöw dedicating an acoustic version of ‘Heroes’ to hospital workers combatting the pandemic.
An out-of-drag Conchita Wurst – who won for Austria in 2014 – did manage to inject some levity by quipping, “One of the most beautiful things in the last couple weeks is I haven’t worn any underwear and I love it very much.” Later, ABBA‘s Björn Ulvaeus supplied some superstar gravitas by Zooming in to remind us sweetly that “Eurovision allows you to escape and be happy”.
Even our salty commentator Graham Norton seemed moved by the show’s well-meaning attempt to recreate something akin to the norm – right down to the odd stilted moment such as Norton himself being interviewed, terribly and for no apparent reason, by one of the Dutch co-hosts. “God, that was awkward, he told British viewers afterwards.
By the time it concluded with a group performance of ‘Love Shine a Light’, featuring all of this year’s woulda-been contestants and good old Katrina, it was difficult not to feel moved too. Eurovision: Europe Shine a Light may have lacked the fun factor of the contest proper, but it captured the sense of togetherness and collective excitement that underpins this contest even at its most wilfully bonkers.