Putting the Trash in Eurotrash

The Eurovision Song Contest proves that Europeans are just as tacky as Americans.

Screengrab of Eurovision 2007 in the Ukraine.
Eurovision 2007

You Americans have always had a masochistic relationship with Europe. You grovel to anybody with an English accent, regardless of how catastrophic the attendant teeth might be. When Frogs write disdainful books about how much chicer, thinner, and more cultivated they are than U.S. gals ( French Women Don’t Get Fat, etc.), you Americans rush out, buy zillions of copies, and flagellate yourselves with unappreciated Francophilia.

You Yanks collude with the notion that Europe represents an antidote to crass U.S. materialism. As a result, you frequently undergo bizarre “spiritual awakenings” while on vacation there. Upon returning home, you write gruesome New Age memoirs about what it was like to have your mozzarellas squeezed by hairy Tuscans.

The recent royal wedding has created a new wave of they-are-so-much-classier-than-we-are self-loathing here in the States. As someone who grew up in a skinhead-riddled crap British town and spent summer holidays in war-torn Northern Ireland, I have never understood the impulse toward Euro-fetishization. Scanning the horizon for ways to show the citizens of my adopted homeland that Europeans are just as low and fromage-enrobed as they are, I hit pay dirt: The 56th annual Eurovision Song Contest unfurls this Saturday, May 14.

Once a year, the good people of Europe take a break from binge-drinking, sex-trafficking, and serial-killing; snuggle up in front of the telly; and watch more than 40 countries duke it out for the best pop act of the year. Think American Idol, but with a Romanian vibe.

I have vivid memories of watching early Eurovisions with my blind Aunt Phyllis back in the early ‘60s. Phyllis, who lived in a windowless garret at the top of our family dwelling, seemed to relish the magnificent idiocy of the proceedings. The Simon Cowell of her day, Auntie P. provided a sizzling critique of each performance. Unlike Cowell, she did not rely on words; instead, she used her face. Phyllis, I should explain, had no eyeballs, but she did possess an extensive repertoire of uninhibited facial expressions. Unwittingly, she would grimace like a gargoyle as the contestants yodeled and oompahed their way though their perky, folkloric pop concoctions. You could always rely on her for an accurate appraisal. The more horrifying the ditty, the more kabuki-esque the contortion.

Gird your grimacing muscles! If, this coming Saturday, you are able to sit through the entire three-hour-plus ordeal (you can watch on the Eurovision website), I can guarantee that, by the end of it, all notions of Euro superiority will collapse around your ankles like decomposing foundation garments.

To give you a sense of the fabulously schlocky insanity that awaits, I suggest you watch a couple of clips from Eurovisions past, starting with my personal favorite, Verka Serduchka, the spangled Ukrainian of indeterminate gender who placed second in 2007, with a song called “Dancing Lasha Tumbai.”

Two years later, victory belonged to Norway and an almost pornographically baby-faced twinkie named Alexander Rybak who sawed away at a violin while singing a ditty about medieval bewitchment.

Note the more than 28 million YouTube views that Rybak has enjoyed on this clip alone, the equivalent of the combined populations of Belarus, Bulgaria, Latvia, and Ireland. What’s my point? I merely wish to emphasize that Eurovision is no marginal freak show: Zillions of Euro-naffs are subjecting their eardrums and their psyches to this genre of anthemic ersatz pop on a daily basis.

It all goes back to Abba: Agnetha Faltskog, Bjorn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson, and Anni-Frid “Frida” Lyngstad are the glorious and primordial muck from which all subsequent Eurovisionistas emerged. They rose to global prominence when they won Eurovision in 1974 with “Waterloo,” conducted by a bloke dressed as Napoleon.

Grazing on these endless YouTube clips, one cannot escape the similarity between the Eurovision ethos and the right honorable Lady Gaga. Throughout the ascent of her ladyship, I have repeatedly been struck by the fabulous Eurovision-esque avant-gardism of her costumes. In addition to Gaga’s drama-drag, her simplistic, language-blind lyrics—”Rah-rah-ah-ah-ah Ro-mah-ro-mah-mah Gaga-ooh-la-la”—also suggest that little Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta might well have enjoyed a Eurovision moment or two when growing up in the Bronx. If this is the case, then all I can say is bravo! Finally an American looked at Europe and went straight for the cheese instead of wasting time at the altar of high culture.