Invite Accepted: Australia in Eurovision

Words by Emily Burkhardt
Art by Kea Tokley-Higgs

Ladies, gentlemen, boys and girls, get your glitter, wind machines and synchronised choreography ready. It’s that special time of year of again – Eurovision season.

From the 8th – 12th May, Portugal will play host to the 63rd edition of the most famous singing contest in the world. There are 43 nations set to sing up a storm and among the participants is our very own Jessica Mauboy. Her uplifting dance bop “We Got Love” is sure to place Australia high up on the scoreboard once again.

But, I know what you’re thinking. Why the fuck is Australia performing in a contest that’s European? Last time I checked, we were approximately 14,092.82 kilometres away from Europe. Aren’t we just being rude by showing up to this party we shouldn’t have been invited to?

It’s certainly confusing without an explanation. But the reality is, Aussies are mad about Eurovision.

We are the largest viewing demographic outside Europe, and the sparkling spectacle of this show has captivated us for over 30 years. It’s this dedicated connection and viewership that has earnt us a spot on the guest list.

The Eurovision Song Contest began back in 1956, as an innovative way to bring Europeans together after World War II tore the continent apart. Ever since, 52 countries have stepped up to the microphone and let’s just say, Eurovision’s concept of geography has always been fluid.

Countries on the fringe of Europe, like Israel and even Azerbaijan, have been repeat participants for years. In 1960, the North African nation of Morocco became the first official non-European country to compete.

So, for the Eurovision community, our guest appearance in 2014 and participation since 2015 probably isn’t too far-fetched. What is potentially more surprising is that Australians have actually been hitting up Eurovision as songwriters, background performers and even participating acts for other nations since the 1970s. Most notably, Aussie legend Olivia Newton-John participated for Great Britain in 1974 and Irish-Australian singer John Logan is still the only artist who has ever won Eurovision twice.

Even our recent participation record is amazing. In 2015, Guy Sebastian’s funky jam “Tonight Again” came fifth. In 2016, Dami Im came second and blew Europe away with her soaring vocals on “Sound of Silence”. Last year, 16-year-old Isaiah Firebrace placed ninth with his song “Don’t Come Easy”. Other European nations would kill for that kind of consistency. So not only are we showing up to the party, we’re freaking killing it.

Last year the competition also featured Romanian yodelling, a gorilla dancing with a middle-aged Italian man and a Hungarian rapper. Crazy combinations like this create such a unique, vibrant atmosphere; unlike anything else in modern music or international relations. Other Western nations often can’t handle this special level of crazy, and Eurovision has almost become this joke that not a lot of people understand. But for some reason, Australians seem to not only understand the joke, but get super into it as well.

As loyal members of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), SBS have aired Eurovision since 1983; with the likes of Julia Zemiro, Sam Pang, and more recently Joel Creasey and Myf Warhurst providing some hilarious commentary. A lot of us still set our alarms for some ungodly hour to sit in front of our televisions to watch it live. But this is just the beginning.

Eurovision parties are some of the most extra gatherings you can go to in the month of May. People go insane for this week, and SBS decided to raise the stakes even more last year by including food and drink recipes from competing nations in the breaks, courtesy of celebrity chef Adam Liaw.

But it’s more than just pyrotechnics and party time for a number of Aussie viewers who are migrant families. Australia is one of the most multiculturally diverse nations in the world, and waves of migration over the past 60 years have contributed to this. For a lot of these migrant families, Eurovision provides an opportunity to bridge the enormous geographic gap between them and their traditional homeland.

You don’t need to take Eurovision seriously to enjoy the hell out of it. Having a laugh roasting it is half the fun. As a multicultural nation that loves to party, Australia has embraced Eurovision wholeheartedly. It represents something deeply meaningful for migrant families thousands of miles away from their European homelands, but it can also represent the chance to throw a cracking May bash and dance to some super cheesy dance tunes for a week.

Honestly, who the hell cares that we aren’t technically a part of Europe? It’s a fantastic chance to get involved with a fun celebration where diplomacy looks like bright lights, a microphone and a tasteful wind machine.

Quit complaining and enjoy the show.

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