Eurovision returns to its spiritual home. Here’s your guide to an ABBA-infused song contest and lasagna

Eurovision returns to its spiritual home. Here’s your guide to an ABBA-infused song contest and lasagna

Fifty years ago, two Swedish married couples performed the most important double date in music history, changing pop forever at the Eurovision Song Contest.

True, the bar is not very high. 1974 was also the year Paul Anka topped the charts with “(You’re) Having My Baby,” a song that won CNN’s 2006 poll of the worst songs of all time.

But Abba – then still available in human form – remained the de facto parents of Eurovision as the event grew into the world’s most vibrant and colorful music competition.

Now, 50 years after the “Waterloo” run, the pageant is back in Sweden, its spiritual home, after Loreen won the country’s seventh crown last May – becoming the first woman to win the pageant twice.

All these storylines coming together must be destiny; indisputable proof that God is a Eurovision fan. You couldn’t have written it any better, could you Loreen?

“People are like ‘OK, Sweden is the spiritual home of Eurovision’ – I see Eurovision as this moving entity,” he told CNN. “Who cares about that place?”

OK, that’s not the narrative we’re talking about. But Loreen – who took the glittering baton from ABBA and is now the undisputed Queen of Eurovision – must have felt a little emotional when she saw the four legendary faces on billboards across host city Malmo… right?

“I saw ABBA and I was like, I want to have those pants,” she exclaimed. “Those platform shoes, where can I get them?”

Listen, Loreen, can you say something nice about ABBA, so we can move on from digitally generated dinosaurs and talk about runners and riders at Eurovision this year?

“It really is a work of art, what they’ve created,” Loreen says dutifully, reflecting on the foursome’s musical and stylistic output. “The whole product, ABBA, is vibration, isn’t it?”
That is. But ABBA is the past; Baby Lasagne, Windows95Man and Nemo – a person, not a fish – are present.

And this year’s competition is as moving, absurd, naked and powerful as ever.

So just in time for Pulitzer season, CNN has taken on the painstaking task of carefully watching rehearsals and painstakingly analyzing each song, to bring you this: the ultimate guide to the 2024 Eurovision Song Contest.

Artists competed in two semi-finals this week, and 26 made it to Saturday’s grand final, which starts at 9pm. local time (3 p.m. EST) in Malmo.

To quote Maltese vocal gymnast Sarah Bonnici: “Here we go again……ain, huh?”

‘I don’t need to be normal’
For all of Europe, hosting Eurovision is an unimaginable honor. For Sweden, it starts to feel like an improv group of “weird” friends you promise you’ll see, then promptly forget about until the last minute, just as you enter a bubble bath with a glass of Pinot Grigio.

This year’s fan park is a little budget, experienced euro fans complain. Public practice is half full, and tickets remain for the final, with just a few hours to go. Some even claim the show’s slogan – “United by Music” – may have been influenced by last year’s slogan, “United by Music.”

But Eurovision is a special part of the cultural calendar. “This community is our entire palette. Silly, serious, nerdy,” Loreen said, counting adjectives on some unnecessarily long gold fingernails. “Everything you can imagine.”

If there’s one thing the pageant taught her, it’s this: “You can actually feel pure, genuine love for people you don’t even know, but you know… you know?”

Loreen will guest star during Saturday’s final, while 22-year-old identical twins Marcus and Martinus take on the daunting task of competing for the host nation.

“We are very competitive people; I think we are the most competitive in the whole competition,” they said without a trace of irony.

This year’s slim favorite is Baby Lasagne, whose arena-rocking “Rim Tim Tagi Dim” describes the brain problems plaguing the Croatian city. “Ay, I am grown up now; I am going and I am selling my cows,” he chanted.

But Mr. Lasagne is nothing if not simple. She credits her fiancé with helping her launch her career — “She’s lasagna, and I’m just a baby,” she told CNN. “I don’t really like lasagna,” he added, disappointingly. “I mean, it’s okay. I eat it several times a year.”

He came up with Switzerland’s Nemo, who produced the genre-bending epic “The Code” at the Eurovision camp, a place the mere mention of which would confound non-European minds. “It’s like a playground,” Nemo said. But now Nemo is on to the real thing, “and it’s bigger and crazier than I expected.”

Ireland’s Bambie Thug surged closer to the final, and the Netherlands’ Joost Klein hit the nail on the head. “I don’t care about winning, and I don’t care about losing either. I like to be,” he said.

No one had a bigger nightmare in Malmo than Windows95Man, whose entire persona revolved around an operating system whose name and logo could not legally be shown at Eurovision.

Teemu Keisteri, the genius behind the act, decided to wear a blurred version of the logo on his T-shirt. And he wears a little more; Finland’s performance saw Windows95Man hatch from a giant egg, then run pantless for two minutes, before – spoiler alert – he was finally reunited with a pair of denim hotpants that descended from the ceiling.

“In my late twenties, I discovered that I didn’t need to be normal,” Windows95Man told CNN. “I can’t control how the world sees my art.”

And what is the message of this artwork, exactly? Windows95Man sums it up like this: “If Daddy’s a little naked, it’s not that serious.” Which isn’t far off is a creepy thing to say.

This year’s best and worst contest
Europe is absolutely obsessed with Eurovision. That’s all they think about all year. Just ask Greek contestant Marina Satti. “When I was growing up, I didn’t have a TV, so I was kind of lost,” he said. OK, never mind.

But more than 150 million people watch every year. Some 129 artists participated in San Marino’s national selection – about one Eurovision wannabe for every 260 people living in the microstate.

And the pageant is as much about the lovable weirdos as the winners.

CNN’s prestigious first annual award for worst Eurovision lyrics is hotly contested. We’ve got some stunning imagery and clichés to consider; Iceland’s Hera Bjork “stands on the edge of promise”, Saba “throws memories into the air,” and Slimane wants to “create an ocean in fire.”

“Hurricanes are hanging around, but you take away the pain,” said Fahree from Azerbaijan, who dressed like she came straight from the future – but not an interesting part of the future, just a 23rd-century Italian restaurant with a bad hygiene rating.

“Shining in the tiger’s eye, only I can find my future,” Poland’s Luna sings, in a completely silly piece of writing that fails to propel her through to the final.

But Norway’s Gåte takes the crown, for this unemotional background: “I’m a very good and beautiful girl, with an evil stepmother. My mother has passed away,” the band explained at the beginning of their song. “He turned me into sword and needle, and sent me to the king’s treasure.”

The relentless publicists are the true heroes of Eurovision, casting their artists in ludicrous terms. Latvia’s Dons create “catchy, soulful melodies,” we’re told. Luna “draws as much good energy as possible from the Moon.” Armenia claims its folk duo’s song “has been said to cross borders,” although it has not clarified who exactly said this.

And please make sure you sit down for this – Cypriot Silia Kapsis, we’re informed, was once “featured in a dance documentary produced by Taboo of the Black Eyed Peas.”

On the other hand, Portugal’s Iolanda was touted for being … check notes … “a promising singer”. Sorry, Iolanda.

Eurovision contestants are a humble bunch; all they want to do is sing their song and heal our planet. “I tend to believe that we can change something with this plan,” said Joost Klein. “It’s quantum physics, bro,” Loreen added. “We are balancing the situation in the world right now.”

One might ask: if singing can really improve the world, why don’t they sing more? Why do they ever stop? Why isn’t a Eurovision contestant flown into every conflict zone in a sequined flak jacket, to wail and emote at the top of his lungs, until all the world leaders are sitting around a campfire listening to Italy’s Angelina Mango strumming “Wonderwall” on her guitar?

The reality is that the majority of Eurovision fans are uncomfortable with Israel’s participation during the country’s war on Gaza; climate activist Greta Thunberg led an anti-war protest in Malmo on Thursday, and another is planned for Saturday to coincide with the final. Israeli contestant Eden Golan was jeered during the semi-finals. The European Broadcasting Union defended the decision to keep Israel in the competition to CNN this week.

But for four hours on Saturday night, most of Europe will enjoy the escape promised by the participants. They will sit and watch dutifully as a procession of sad-looking men wail about their exes in various states of undress. They’ll be cheering on fierce female bosses and over-patterned stunt doubles as they drain Malmo’s supply of dry ice. And they’ll be blown away by a new set of oddballs that strike straight to the heart of the continent.

As Loreen says: “It’s the center of love … you want to join?”

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