Eurovision is back in its spiritual home. Here’s your guide to an ABBA-infused, lasagne-obsessed song contest

Eurovision is back in its spiritual home. Here’s your guide to an ABBA-infused, lasagne-obsessed song contest
  • PublishedMay 12, 2024

Fifty years ago, two Swedish married couples went on the most consequential double date in music history, changing pop for good at the Eurovision Song Contest.

True, the bar wasn’t too high. 1974 was also the year that Paul Anka topped charts with “(You’re) Having My Baby,” a track that won a 2006 CNN survey of the worst songs of all time.

But Abba – then still available in human form – have remained Eurovision’s de facto godparents as the event grew into the merriest, most colorful musical competition in the world.

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

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

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

OK, well, that’s not quite the narrative we were going for. But Loreen – who took the sparkly baton from ABBA and is now the undisputed Queen of Eurovision – must feel a tinge of emotion when she sees those four legendary faces on billboards all over host city Malmo… right?

“I’m looking at ABBA and I’m like, I want to have those pants,” she exclaims. “Those platform shoes, where can I get those?”

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

“It really is a work of art, what they’ve created,” Loreen says obligingly, reflecting on the foursome’s musical and stylistic output. “The whole product, ABBA, is a vibe, isn’t it?”

ABBA sing "Waterloo" at Eurovision 50 years ago.

ABBA sing “Waterloo” at Eurovision 50 years ago. Olle Lindeborg/AFP/Getty Images

That it is. But ABBA are the past; Baby Lasagne, Windows95Man and Nemo – a person, not a fish – are very much the present.

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

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

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

To quote Malta’s vocal gymnast Sarah Bonnici: “Here we go aga……ain, huh?”

‘I don’t need to be normal’

For the rest of Europe, hosting Eurovision is an unimaginable honor. For Sweden, it’s beginning to feel like that “quirky” friend’s improv troupe you’d promised you’d see, then promptly forgot about until the last minute, just as you’re stepping into a bubble bath with a glass of Pinot Grigio.

This year’s fan park is a bit budget, complain seasoned eurofans. Public rehearsals were half-full, and tickets remain for the final, with mere hours to go. Some even claim the show’s slogan – “United by Music” – may be influenced by last year’s slogan, “United by Music.”

But Eurovision is a special part of the cultural calendar. “This community is the whole palette of what we are. Goofy, serious, nerdy,” Loreen says, counting adjectives on some unnecessarily long, golden fingernails. “Everything that you can imagine.”

Last year, Loreen became Eurovision's second ever double-winner. "Millions of people are watching this, and millions of people are vibing with this," she says of the contest.

Last year, Loreen became Eurovision’s second ever double-winner. “Millions of people are watching this, and millions of people are vibing with this,” she says of the contest. Dominic Lipinski/Getty Images

If there’s one thing the contest has taught her, it’s this: “You can actually feel real, authentic love for people that you don’t know, but you do know… you know?”

Loreen will be performing as a guest during Saturday’s final, while 22-year-old identical twins Marcus and Martinus take the daunting mantle of competing for the host country.

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

This year’s slim favorite is Baby Lasagne, whose arena-pounding anthem “Rim Tim Tagi Dim” describes a brain drain affecting Croatian towns. “Ay, I’m a big boy now; I’m going away and I sold my cow,” he chants.

But Mr. Lasagne is nothing if not modest. He credits his fiancée with helping him launch his career – “She’s the lasagne, and I’m just the baby,” he tells CNN. “I don’t even like lasagne that much,” he adds, disappointingly. “I mean, it’s OK. I eat it a few times a year.”

He’s juking it out with Switzerland’s Nemo, who came up with genre-bending epic “The Code” at Eurovision camp, a place whose mere mention would induce bewilderment to the non-European mind. “It was like a playground,” Nemo says. But now Nemo’s at the real thing, “and it’s even bigger and crazier than I expected it to be.”

Joost Klein's "Europapa" is a cacophony of Eurosilliness with a moving undertone, dedicated to his late father. "I really don’t like sad songs, but I love happy-sounding songs with a sad meaning," he says.

Joost Klein’s “Europapa” is a cacophony of Eurosilliness with a moving undertone, dedicated to his late father. “I really don’t like sad songs, but I love happy-sounding songs with a sad meaning,” he says. Jens Büttner/picture alliance/Getty Images

Ireland’s Bambie Thug is surging as the final approaches, and the Netherland’s Joost Klein is in with a shot. “I don’t mind winning, and I also don’t mind losing. I love being,” he says.

No-one has had a bigger nightmare in Malmo than Windows95Man, whose entire persona revolves around an operating system whose name and logo cannot 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 instead. And he wears little else; Finland’s performance sees Windows95Man hatch from a giant egg, then run around with no trousers on for two minutes, before – spoiler alert – he’s eventually reunited with a pair of denim hot pants that descend from the ceiling.

“In my late twenties, I figured out that I don’t need to be normal,” Windows95Man tells CNN. “I cannot control how the world sees my art.”

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

Belgium’s Mustii apologises for stealing Bonnie Tyler’s outfit at a hastily-arranged press conference.

Belgium’s Mustii apologises for stealing Bonnie Tyler’s outfit at a hastily-arranged press conference. Sanjin Strukic/BELGA MAG/AFP/Getty Images

The best and worst of this year’s contest

Europe is utterly obsessed with Eurovision. It’s all they think about year-round. Just ask Greece’s contestant, Marina Satti. “When I grew up I didn’t have a TV, so I kind of lost track,” she says. OK, never mind then.

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

And the contest is as much about the lovable weirdos as it is the winners.

CNN’s prestigious, first annual award for the worst Eurovision lyric was hotly contested. We had some spectacular, cliched imagery to consider; Iceland’s Hera Bjork is “standing on the edge of a promise,” Saba is “throwing memories in the air,” and Slimane wants to “create an ocean in the fire.”

“Hurricanes are roaming, but you take away the pain,” croons Azerbaijan’s Fahree, who’s dressed like he’s come straight from the future – but not a cool part of the future, just a 23rd-century Italian restaurant with a poor hygiene rating.

“Shining in a tiger’s eyes, only I can find my future,” Poland’s Luna sings, in a truly nonsensical piece of penmanship that failed to propel her to the final.

San Marino's Megara say their music blends "dancers, unicorns and candy."

San Marino’s Megara say their music blends “dancers, unicorns and candy.” Jeff Spicer/Getty Images

But Norway’s Gåte take the crown, for this unemotional bit of scene-setting: “I was a very fine and beautiful maiden, with an evil stepmother. My mother had died,” the band explains at the start of their track. “She transformed me into a sword and a needle, and sent me off to the King’s estate.”

The relentless publicists are Eurovision’s real heroes, pitching their artists in ludicrously bombastic terms. Latvia’s Dons creates “compelling, soul-stirring melodies,” we’re told. Luna “draws as much kind energy from the Moon as possible.” Armenia claims its folk-duo’s songs “have been said to transcend borders,” though it doesn’t explain who, exactly, has said this.

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

Portugal’s Iolanda, by contrast, is hyped as … checks notes … “a promising singer.” Sorry, Iolanda.

Ukraine's Alyona Alyona and Jerry Heil are among the favorites.

Ukraine’s Alyona Alyona and Jerry Heil are among the favorites. Jens Bittner/picture-alliance/dpa/AP

Eurovision’s contestants are a humble bunch; all they want to do is sing their songs and heal our planet. “I tend to believe that we can change something with this show,” Joost Klein says. “This is quantum physics, bro,” adds Loreen. “We’re balancing things up in the world right now.”

One might ask: if singing can really fix the world, why don’t these people just sing more? Why do they ever stop? Why isn’t a Eurovision contestant airdropped into every conflict zone in a sequined flak jacket, to wail and emote as loud as they can, until all the world’s leader are sat around a campfire listening to Italy’s Angelina Mango strum “Wonderwall” on her guitar?

The reality is that a significant portion of Eurovision’s fanbase is uncomfortable with the participation of Israel during the country’s war on Gaza; climate activist Greta Thunberg led an anti-war protest in Malmo on Thursday, and another is planned on Saturday to coincide with the final. Israel’s contestant Eden Golan was audibly booed during the semi-final. The European Broadcasting Union defended the decision to keep Israel at the competition to CNN this week.

But for four hours on Saturday night, much of Europe will enjoy the escape that contestants are promising to provide. They’ll sit and watch obediently as a procession of sad-looking men wail about their exes in various states of undress. They’ll cheer on fierce girlbosses and overly-coiffed double acts as they drain Malmo’s supply of dry ice. And they’ll become entranced with a new set of oddballs gunning straight for the continent’s hearts.

As Loreen says: “It’s a hub of love… you wanna join?”


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