For Eurovision fans, even the bad music is good, so long as they can party
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Reporter's Notebook

For Eurovision fans, even the bad music is good, so long as they can party

Soulful male crooners abound at the song contest, making it harder to dance along, but for flag waving diehards — including in the press room — there’s still good times to be had

Jessica Steinberg covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center.

Bob Green (left), Robert Cameron and Pascal Rissewijick, all in Israel for Eurovision 2019, on a shuttle to the second semifinal on Thursday night, May 16, 2019 (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)
Bob Green (left), Robert Cameron and Pascal Rissewijick, all in Israel for Eurovision 2019, on a shuttle to the second semifinal on Thursday night, May 16, 2019 (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

It was a jubilant crowd at the second semifinal of Eurovision 2019, where 18 delegations performed and the second set of 10 countries were chosen to perform and compete in Saturday night’s main event.

Thursday night’s chosen winners were North Macedonia, The Netherlands, Albania, Sweden, Russia, Azerbaijan, Denmark, Norway, Switzerland and Malta.

The sidewalks, roads and entrance to the Tel Aviv Expo, where the event is being held, were teeming with audience members streaming into the arena, decorated with their country’s flags, draped with capes in their country’s colors, wearing the (sequined) colors, and costumes, of their countries.

The atmosphere is always joyous at this annual song contest, and supportive too, because this mostly European spectacle — except for the few oddballs like Israel, Azerbaijan and Australia — is all about having a good time.

Two Russian fans, dressed in their country’s colors for the second semifinal of Eurovision, on Thursday night, May 16, 2019 (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

“It’s really all about being here,” said James Cameron, a Londoner decked out in the colors and symbols of the Union Jack, and attending his sixth Eurovision with his life partner, Bob Green, an Irishman by birth, who was dressed in the (sequined) colors of his country’s flag.

For Cameron and Green, each Eurovision is a chance to visit different countries, and, to party.

“It’s an opportunity to have a great time,” said Cameron as the two rode a free shuttle to the show.

Even when the music — or most of it — is only fair to middling — the campy spectacles are ripe for having fun with.

“You’re supposed to take the piss out of it,” said Cameron.

Australia’s Kate Miller-Heidke performs the song Zero Gravity during the first semifinal of the 64th edition of the Eurovision Song Contest 2019 at Expo Tel Aviv on May 14, 2019, in the Israeli coastal city. (Jack GUEZ / AFP)

Like when considering Australia’s Kate Miller-Heidke, whose two-story-high stilts have her swaying high up in the air.

“What would happen if she dropped her mike?” said Green.

That made everyone on the bus laugh.

It’s not just the tourists who are fans of the show; the Eurovision fans also love meeting one another. Green and Cameron met Pascal Rissewijick, from The Netherlands, on one of the shuttles to the Expo.

Rissewijick is attending his tenth Eurovision.

So far, Israel is his second-favorite destination; Kiev, back in 2017, was his all-time favorite.

Rissewijick didn’t consider not attending Eurovision in Israel, although Cameron and Green said they received some disturbing messages from friends regarding their decision to come to Israel.

“It’s not about being embroiled in politics,” said Green. “That’s the whole idea, to let it be about communal music.”

Proud Norwegian fans cheer on Duncan Laurence, their country’s pick for Eurovision 2019, at the May 16, 2019 semifinal (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

The kitschy contest is so beloved, that even journalists covering the event are part of the fanfare.

The press, just like the rest of the audience, must buy tickets to attend the live shows, and many of the 1,200 press members in Israel chose instead to hang out in the press room, cheering, dancing, swaying and waving flags as their favorite delegations came on the screen during the two semifinal performances on Tuesday and Thursday nights.

They’re as unabashed about their fandom as any other audience member, cheering for their delegates, waving flags during their performances, leading the cheers in the press room during their delegate’s time onstage.

“Being in this room is very special,” said Daniel Dunkelman, an Israeli Eurovision blogger. “The stage in the arena is marvelous, but it’s just a set, it’s a TV show after all. It’s there for the cameras, so it’s a bit deceiving for the audience.”

Belarus’ Zena performs the song Like It during the first semi-final of the 64th edition of the Eurovision Song Contest 2019 at Expo Tel Aviv on May 14, 2019. (Jack GUEZ / AFP)

The Tel Aviv Expo arena that was renovated for Eurovision is considered small by the song contest’s standards, with only 7,300 seats. While prices were high for the tickets for both of the semifinals and the May 18 final, representatives for Kan said all seats were sold for Thursday night’s event.

But the press room is for more of these diehard, Eurovision fans.

“I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else,” said Tatiana Vinichenko, from Czech TV, a self-described Eurovision lover.

This year’s Eurovision could be called the Year of the Solo Man, quipped Vinichenko, as 18 of the 41 contestants are men, singing alone onstage, and often standing — or sitting — still.

“There’s not enough party music, they’re just not moving around at all,” said Vinichenko. “But so many of the guy singers are really good looking.”

And that is what matters, particularly for the many gay men who are fans of this event.

“Why else would I come?” said Cameron.

At the crowded press conference after the second semifinal of Eurovision, on Thursday night, May 16, 2019 (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

There are a surprising number of male singers this year, including The Netherlands’ Duncan Laurence, who likes to stare soulfully into the cameras while playing the keyboard; Russia’s Sergey Lazarev, who stands in what looks like a shower while performing; Azerbaijan’s Chingiz, who keeps on singing his refrain, “Shut up,” to the delight of the crowd and Switzerland’s Lucas Hanni, a cross behind the Jonas Brothers and a Backstreet Boy.

Many of the diehard fans believe that Italy’s Mahmood is bound to win, followed by Spain’s Miki, two more of the 18 solo male singers performing this year.

“The tension is really high every year,” said Cameron, the British fan. “That’s why you have to let off steam in the Euro Club,” the official Eurovision club where the delegates perform between semifinals.

“If you drink enough,” said Cameron, “you can dance to anything, even the really bad songs.”

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