Eurovision; Olympic Games or Drinking Game?

Steef van Gorkum

Over the past few weeks many friends, relatives and colleagues have asked me about my Eurovision experience in Kiev. And they all reciprocally told me about their experience watching the 2017 Contest at home, on TV. Obviously their experiences were all completely different from mine. 

However I don’t think I could find a bigger contrast than with one of my friends’ girlfriend, who last week said to me: “Oh, you went to Eurovision? I watched the final with my friends. We made a drinking game out of it!”

I immediately started lecturing the poor girl about the important influence of Eurovision not only on pop music, but also on European culture and history. How through Eurovision we’re creating a European public sphere, contributing to the successful politics of peaceful cooperation we’ve had here since World War II. How 40+ countries sending their best artists and songs to a music competition creates a variety of genres and languages that she should, by no means, belittle.

Her response was short and simple: “Dude, I am not the enemy. I love Eurovision!” And then she told me that she and her friends have been playing the drinking game for years. It was their favorite spring tradition. “We don’t think about all that stuff you just told me. We just watch, drink, and laugh.”

Sieneke Netherlands 2010 Eurovision
Sieneke failed to reach the Eurovision final for The Netherlands in 2010

Dutch trauma

Perhaps she was right. Who am I to deny her and her friends a fun night of television? I started wondering: what exactly caused the frustration that made me react the way I did?

Probably I have some leftover trauma from the way people treated Eurovision in the Netherlands up until 5 years ago. Everyone was grumbling on about the contest, even the participating broadcaster itself.  I remember one of the leading figures in the Dutch delegation casually talking to some local journalists in Baku, saying “the whole thing is a circus and I did not want to be here in the first place”.

The Dutch broadcaster did not take Eurovision seriously, which led to entries that no one could take seriously, which then led to horrible results, including a record streak of eight years not-qualifying for the Grand Final. Apparently this is a trauma that I have not fully recovered from, despite the big turnaround in 2013 and the great scores that followed in the last few years.

The Olympic Games of Music

It is sometimes easy to forget that only for a handful of maniacs like myself, Eurovision is actually a job. Very few people follow the contest professionally for 6-10 months a year. The others, casually enjoying their drinking game one night every May, should not be disregarded, but included as a vital and enthusiastic part of the 200 million people audience that makes the Eurovision Song Contest the most successful music event in the world.

Team ESC Daily JESC Junior Eurovision Sofia
Team ESC Daily at work at the JESC press center in Sofia 2016

However, for those who ARE part of the bubble: it comes with a responsibility. The Eurovision Song Contest is, in the end, more than just a drinking game – it’s the European Championships of music, the Olympic Games of European television. Not everyone gets the chance to work at this event. When you do get the opportunity, you should handle it with care.

Accredited journalists should bring valuable context and relevant insights to their audience instead of looking for scandals and writing prejudiced commentaries. Participating broadcasters should compile the best their country has to offer into an entry, instead of mocking the contest by means of networking with local press. And an EBU-employee (or worse: a Eurovision presenter!) should never openly joke about circus acts, neighbor voting or any other harmful and unfounded Eurovision stereotype.


I may be a moralist, but if we behave like any other fan would do, then why not let any other fan take our job/accreditation?

By means of apology I showed my friend’s girlfriend a video of a funny Eurovision entry from recent the past, one that I thought she’d enjoy. She laughed, and said she would definitely show it to her friends next year. Not right now though, she added, because right now, “Eurovision is over for another year”. I opened my mouth, but shut it again just in time to save the rest of the evening.

1 Comment

  1. Nice article – it helps all of us ‘fanatics’ (I’m a Eurovision blogger) to have non-ESC partners and friends that help keep us grounded in reality!

    As for those in the bubble – there is room enough for everyone who loves this extravaganza. Sure, the high end serious journalism is important but each of us has a ‘market’ and as long as our ‘audience’ enjoys what we output, everyone wins, surely? It will take time for some markets to change – television is often the slowest to adapt and comedy has often been the way to retain one-off viewers. Us stalwarts have to accept that 99.99% of viewers of this Contest we love often only watch the 3-4 hours on one Saturday night in May…

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