This year's Eurovision Song Contest's grand final takes place just before the start of Mental Health Awareness Week. Coincidence? Well, yes, total coincidence, but a meaningful one in my view.
For some of us, Eurovision is an event that is as eagerly awaited each year; as others might be counting down to Christmas. we look forward to May with anticipation, preparing ourselves for a week of excitement. It is an annual highlight which, I would argue, for those fully embracing it, can give a great boost to our mental wellbeing. Why is this? What is the mysterious power of watching men in hamster wheels, singers dressed as wolves or monsters, and endless counting of jury and public voting scores? Let me try and share a few thoughts on the matter.
1. An opportunity for escapism
I remember, particularly a few years back, when I was under the most pressure and stress professionally, how Eurovision would be an opportunity to momentarily rejig my areas of focus. Knowing it was coming up was like knowing that I was about to go on holiday. And during the contest's week, I would manage to switch my head from thinking about work issues first, to thinking about how I'd make sure I would make it home in time to watch the semi-finals, managing the office's Eurovision sweepstake, and forming my opinion on the year's acts. Somehow, it helped me put things in a different perspective, and de-escalate some of my other worries. The contest is a whole world of its own, with its history, rules, codes, something you can really immerse yourself into, which is exactly what I would do. Yet, like all escapism, it remains something temporary, a moment in the year, where you can allow yourself to escape your day-to-day concerns, knowing that you'll get a boost of energy to help you tackle them again later on.
2. A masterclass in belonging
It doesn't take much watching to realise that, when it comes to Eurovision acts, pretty much anything goes. And yes, we may have a giggle or a joke at the expense of some of the acts, but the fact is, they are there, performing in front of tens of millions of viewers, and all acts, regardless of their differences, share the same platform. Better still, the contest has shown how difference resonates with the public, looking for example at the victory of Dana International for Israel in 1998, or Conchita Wurst for Austria in 2014 (I had the extreme pleasure of being there in person in Copenhagen when Conchita won, and the support and reaction from the crowd was overwhelming!).
This has gradually made the contest into a safe space for differences, which explains why it has such a vibrant LGBTQ+ following. In line with the famous "you can't be what you can't see", the extreme diversity in the acts pretty much encourages people to show themselves to the world as they are.
3. Unashamed positivity and hope
I shall caveat this next point by saying that I do acknowledge that there is such a thing as toxic positivity, and that attempting to put a positive lens on everything might not be the healthiest of paths. However, there too, Eurovision is a moment in time, which I think is a good opportunity for a high dose of positive messages and sentiments. Eurovision was created to unite countries through music in post-war Europe, and continues to carry this message. It isn't immune to controversy, such as claims of "tactical", "block" or "political" voting (although one might argue that these tend to come forward when countries perform badly and refuse to accept that their act just wasn't that good!), however at its core remains this relentless will to bring people together and look past differences and divisions. The support it shows to Ukraine, be it through last year's public reaction and support, or this year's hosting by the UK on behalf of Ukraine, is also a good illustration of this.
A few years ago, when Sweden hosted the contest (best hosting to date in my view!), their interval act included a spoof Eurovision song called "Love love peace peace" which is a funny and heartwarming caricature of these messages of positivity, which I saw, rather than a criticism, as a call to simply go with it - and a wonderful display of the contest not taking itself too seriously.
4. Music makes you feel good
Musical tastes are inherently personal, and, for many, a part of who they are, and how they see themselves. Many wouldn't really associate Eurovision with the type of music they would typically actively listen to, or associate with. Yet I would advocate for some open-mindedness and put two points forward. The first being that, over the past decade particularly (with Loreen paving the way for more "mainstream" songs in 2012 with Euphoria), many different genres have made appearances in the contest, and have done remarkably well for it - think about Salvador Sobral winning for Portugal in 2017 with a very soft and charming song, as far as it gets from the bright pop people might think about, or rock band Maneskin who won for Italy in 2021 before going on to global success. My second point would be about the more typical pop numbers, and how, even if it isn't your preferred genre, you can still simply soak up the energy which emanates out of them.
For anyone looking for a little sample of Eurovision's best (according to yours truly), here is a short playlist of some of my all-time favourites (yet to be edited with 2023 entries).
5. Joining a global community from your sofa
Eurovision is like other large scale global events, in that it has the opportunity to reach large portions of the population, and gives people who are simply watching it the feeling of being part of something big, knowing that others will also follow and enjoy across the world. It has a community of very dedicated fans who join through their interest for the contest, however beyond this, gives everyone a feeling of connection with others, for the duration of the event. I wouldn't consider myself as a super-fan (even though I do watch religiously, listen to some of the music throughout the year, and have traveled once to attend the show in person!), indeed I do not even organise Eurovision parties, for the simple reason that I wish to be able to quietly focus on the action going on in the show (don't judge me). Despite this, and it only being me and my partner (who went from begrudgingly to now quite happily following the contest), there remains throughout a strong sense of connection with others watching, countries taking part, and everyone celebrating and having a good time.
At the core of Eurovision is a message of inclusion and respect, and if I haven't managed to convince you that it is worth embracing the song contest for what it is, that is ok too. You can still get some satisfaction from knowing that there will be people around you who will get energy and joy from being a part of the event, in whichever way they choose to do so.
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