Loud, tacky, terrific


WHEN JEDWARD bound onstage in Baku this evening to compete in the final of the Eurovision Song Contest, the country will be warmly cheering them on to victory. Much of this enthusiasm can be explained by the infectious charm of the twins from Lucan, who have overcome early scepticism to win a place in the affections of the Irish public. Our appetite for a Eurovision victory may also, however, reflect the change in the national mood since the end of the economic boom and a renewed sense of community with other Europeans.

After a string of victories in the 1990s, Celtic Tiger Ireland appeared to be embarrassed by the country’s success in such an innocent, apparently unsophisticated competition. The new nonchalance reached its apogee in 2008, as the economy was already on the verge of collapse, when we trumpeted our disdain for the event by sending Dustin the Turkey. Now, in the sober sadness of our reduced circumstances, a Eurovision win would offer a welcome tonic.

Despite brave efforts from Brussels to capture the popular imagination with Europe Day, the Charlemagne Prize and countless performances of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, the Eurovision is the only contemporary ritual that comes close to uniting Europeans. Almost all the songs may be in English these days and the range of musical styles is narrow but the contest remains a showcase for European diversity. Sometimes, this manifests itself in eccentricity – as exemplified by the eight grannies representing Russia this evening – but the show is none the worse for that. The voting – by far the most popular part of the contest – offers a refreshingly candid snapshot of relations between European states. Some patterns are unchanging, like the mutual support between Greece and Cyprus, but changes of political sentiment find expression too. Ireland’s increasingly generous voting record towards Britain in recent years matched political progress in Northern Ireland, and Israel’s award of 12 points to Germany in 2000 reflected an important shift in relations between those countries.

Loud, tacky and utterly lacking in gravitas, the Eurovision will always have its detractors – and there are legitimate objections to holding this year’s contest in a country with as poor a human rights record as Azerbaijan. But as other shared European endeavours, notably the single currency, seem increasingly to divide rather than unite the continent’s citizens, this evening’s contest offers a welcome sense of community as we all share the pleasure of a harmless laugh at one another’s expense.