With Justin Timberlake taking to the stage at the Grand Final as Eurovision is set to broadcast across the United States, Jess Carniel examines whether the American palate is equipped to handle such a spectacle and what it could mean for the future of the contest.
Jess Carniel

10 May 2016 - 1:37 PM  UPDATED 10 May 2016 - 1:37 PM

Last week, American digital cable and satellite channel Logo announced they would be screening the Eurovision grand final live for the first time in the United States.


Eurovision has enjoyed a small cult following in the US for several years.


This includes bemused commentary on its costumes by fashion and pop culture bloggers, Go Fug Yourself, who have been following the contest since 2006, and the emergence of Eurovision viewing parties in the New York bar scene.


The US even has its own chapter of the International Network of Fanclubs of Eurovision that has been active since 2011.


The shift to a commercial broadcaster opens viewership up to a much broader potential audience who might not otherwise have heard of the competition. So how will American viewers follow in Australian footsteps and embrace the camp spectacle of national pride that is Eurovision?


The key to this is the broadcaster in question. Perhaps best known for RuPaul’s Drag Race, Logo is a lifestyle channel that was originally aimed at the LGBT community, although it has since broadened its programming focus, without completely abandoning its queer and camp content.


Some viewers were disappointed in the shift in programming, but it possibly makes Logo an even more suitable home for Eurovision in the US.


Eurovision has a large following amongst the LGBT community globally, including its Australian audience. Broadcasting the contest on an American channel that still maintains connections to a queer audience could serve to broaden and strengthen Eurovision as an important site for articulating gender politics as a global issue.


Gender politics is an important dimension to Eurovision, but the song contest is more than just the “Gay World Cup”. Pigeonholing it this way to a new potential audience could limit their understanding of Eurovision’s broader political, economic, and cultural significance. Logo’s broader “lifestyle” focus, including its travel programming, may be key to maintaining a more global identity for the contest while still playing to the strengths of its camp appeal.


Certainly, Logo’s current promotional blurbs for the event emphasise these characteristics of Eurovision that we all know and love. It is an “eclectic mix of power ballads, ethnic rhythms and bubblegum pop, paired with intricate lighting sequences, pyrotechnics and elaborate costumes,” they explain to their viewers, “all wrapped up in national pride.”


With the right – fierce – attitude of openness and acceptance, American viewers will love the fresh pop cultural perspective offered by Eurovision. But is the American broadcast the thin edge of the wedge for opening up the competition to American participation?


Speculation that the United States could be joining Eurovision is rife after the announcement that Justin Timberlake would be performing at the Grand Final.


As we all recall, the last time a non-European artist performed during the interval, they (and by that I mean we) ended up with a wild card slot and a return invitation. How would American participation change Eurovision?


A Brief History of Aussies at Eurovision
We all know Guy Sebastian did us proud in 2015 with Tonight Again but Australia has had a long Eurovision tradition dating back to well before the 80s when SBS first started broadcasting the contest here.


Australians have been watching and relishing Eurovision from afar for over thirty years. One of the things Australian fans tell me they enjoy about the competition is that it offers them an alternative to mainstream pop music, which is dominated by American artists and industry styling.


While excited by the JT interval act, fans around the world are expressing concern that opening Eurovision up to the US could change the nature and style of the competition. We all consume American popular culture voraciously, but are also protective of things that might show resistance to its global dominance.


Despite some criticisms and concerns that Eurovision shows signs of cultural homogenization and American permeation (remember, for example, when Beyonce’s choreographer worked with Azerbaijan’s Safura in 2010?), it is still, in the words of Guardian music editor Michael Hann, “one of the few mainstream pop events where creativity and unpredictability are still valued.”


American participation could also fuel existing tensions with Russia in the competition, further exacerbating the eastern and western blocs that linger post-Iron Curtain.


Ultimately, we perhaps need to remember that Eurovision’s ethos is one of unity and community. In the spirit of this, we should welcome American viewers into the fold, share our Eurovision party tricks and treats with them, show them how it’s done – and keep our fingers crossed for a guest appearance by Conchita on Drag Race.


Dr Jess Carniel is a researcher at the University of Southern Queensland conducting a project on Eurovision in Australia. If you would like to share your fan story with her, you can contact her via email or Twitter.


The Eurovision Song Contest will be broadcast on SBS’s Eurovision Weekend - Friday 13, Saturday 14 and Grand Final Sunday 15 May, 7.30pm on SBS, with LIVE early morning broadcasts from 5am on Wednesday 11, Friday 13 and Sunday 15 May.
For all the Eurovision behind the scenes action in Stockholm make sure to follow SBSAustralia on Snapchat.  

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