Some of you will already know how much I love and adore the Eurovision Song Contest, despite being a citizen of the United States and thus unable to fully revel in the wonders of that annual celebration of campy, joyous, musical mayhem. So you can easily imagine my mixed feelings when I learned today that, while I had been inconvenienced by a power outage that knocked out my internet connection, the United States had made the groundbreaking decision (four days ago! I’ve been oblivious to this for four days!) to start their own song contest, directly inspired by the Eurovision Song Contest and following most of the same rules, which will air sometime in late 2021. This really ought to be a happy occasion: but it’s not, and I have to at least attempt to explain why – though I’m not sure my analysis of the situation will be able to rival The Irish Times‘ scathing breakdown of the differences between Europe and the U.S.A. that will make it impossible for our so-called “American Song Contest” to ever truly compare to the one song contest to rule them all.
Oh, and, uh, quick side-note: this post has nothing to do with movies at all (unless you want to draw a tenuous connection to Netflix’s Eurovision movie, which I reviewed earlier this year), so that just shows you how much this matters to me.
The basic idea of the “American Song Contest” (I will consistently be using quotation-marks to refer to this horrid concept, just be aware of that) is that all fifty states in the United States of America will put forward their very finest musicians and musical acts to compete at one big, glorious event held in the fall or winter – for which I am immediately deducting points because (a) Eurovision has always had a warm, spring/summer energy, best exemplified by almost every recent entry from Cyprus, and (b) Eurovision’s close proximity to Pride Month has helped to make it extremely important to the LGBTQ+ community, with LGBTQ+ friendly music becoming a mainstay at the contest. As of right now, it seems that our version of the contest will only shake up the rules slightly, to include additional qualifier rounds – no states will be automatically guaranteed a place in the finals or semi-finals.
One of the most notable reactions from social media has been to point out that the name “American Song Contest” is misleading and kind of offensive because it implies that this is an international event, with nations from all over the Americas, especially Central American nations with rich and unique musical cultures, participating. But no, the name is a bit of a lie: this is a strictly U.S. event – which, as many have pointed out, might make the contest a little boring. In Eurovision, you have countries as distinct as Italy and Iceland competing; in the “American Song Contest”, there’s no surety of any such diversity among the contestants. I am happy for all the musicians who will undoubtedly get a big break from this contest – just like Eurovision, singers will have to perform original songs: no covers – but I can’t help but be worried that we’re in for a lot of similar country music acts from all the Midwestern states. There’s a bright side (at least for me, personally), which is that Eurovision 2020 contender Lesley Roy, whose pop throwback “Story Of My Life” was one of my favorites out of this year’s many fantastic entries, lives in the U.S. and could definitely shake things up at our “American Song Contest” if she doesn’t return to represent Ireland at Eurovision 2021.
Exacerbating the problem of sameness is the fact that there are sure to be far fewer non-English songs at the “American Song Contest”. One of the strengths of Eurovision is how it allows performers to sing in their native languages, providing much-needed variation while giving viewers around Europe a chance to learn a little something about their neighbors – and also Australia. Obviously, hundreds upon hundreds of languages are spoken in the U.S., but good luck trying to convince whatever TV network this airs on of that. Seeing as they won’t actually need to broaden the contest’s appeal beyond the borders of our one country, it’s hard to imagine many languages besides English (and hopefully Spanish at least) being represented.
Then there’s the major problem with the whole concept, which is, of course, that the United States of America doesn’t really need our own take on the Eurovision Song Contest if we’re not going to do it the right way, unless we actually plan on springboarding from this into Eurovision proper (dear God, I hope not, but it’s now a very real possibility). Eurovision was created as an attempt to patch up the wounds that Europe had suffered during the horrors of World War II by trying to create a friendly, fun, communal experience where countries could both celebrate their differences and simultaneously come together on one stage as a united front (against the Soviet Union, but that’s beside the point). The guiding principle behind the “American Song Contest” is said to be similar, with creator Christer Björkman (a Swede; the one possibly good thing about this whole affair) saying that he wants to use the contest to unite a “fractionalized” America. It’s a nice gesture, but wouldn’t it then make a lot more sense if this contest was open to all of North America instead of just one portion of the continent? As it is, the contest is looking a little bit exclusionary. Even if we’re just sticking to the U.S., why isn’t Puerto Rico being offered a place in the competition? What about Washington D.C.? Björkman said he wanted to unite America “by celebrating its diversity, its distinctions and in pulling everyone around its love of music and its love of song.”, but that’s hard to believe when we’re already cutting so many people out of the equation. Luckily, our nation is diverse enough that we could see singers from a wide variety of backgrounds show up in the running for the grand prize (presumably still just a trophy like at Eurovision, though the U.S. loves its monetary prizes), but somehow it’s hard to imagine we’ll see as much as we would from the real deal – at Eurovision, every year’s lineup includes a couple of acts that celebrate underrepresented ethnic groups or cultures: hopefully that transfers over to the U.S.
When all is said and done, I’m going to be morbidly interested in how this plays out. Which state will be the San Marino of this contest, constantly providing groovy disco bops and freaky music videos? Which state will come in with the showstopping power ballad, or the hard rock hallelujah? Will we get a good variety of musical styles, from techno to gospel to those cringeworthy (yet embarrassingly enjoyable) motivational songs that England always sends to Eurovision? Will my home state of Connecticut make it to the left side of the scoreboard? Will there even be a left side of the scoreboard? I have too many questions, too many mixed feelings, and not as much hope as I would like to have. If it can be pulled off well, we might be in for a real treat. If not, well….there’s always the real Eurovision to look forward to, whenever that comes back.
What was your reaction to hearing about the “American Song Contest”? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!