LONDON — Last week, Renske ten Veen, a 21-year-old Dutch college student and Eurovision obsessive, took matters into her own hands.
This year’s Eurovision Song Contest — the final of which was supposed be held on Saturday — was canceled because of coronavirus, but that wasn’t going to stop ten Veen or her friends celebrating Europe’s glitziest talent show.
Over a seven-person Skype call — which ten Veen joined from her bedroom in her mom’s house in Varsseveld, a small town in the east of the Netherlands — the fans staged the 2020 Eurovision competition that should have been.
They started on Tuesday, with their first semifinal, featuring the likes of Azerbaijan’s “Cleopatra,” a pop song that wonders if the Egyptian ruler was “straight or gay or in between,” and a techno-folk entry from Ukraine. They watched videos of each song being performed, voted for their winners and ejected those with the fewest votes.
After a second semifinal on Thursday, on Saturday evening came their final. One of ten Veen’s friend’s played television commentator for the evening, giving jokey, trivia-filled intros to each act. There were scheduled toilet breaks.
Then the seven voted for their favorites, and — with all the tension of a live contest — revealed the surprise winner: Switzerland’s Gjon’s Tears with his heartfelt French ballad “Répondez-moi.” Ten Veen couldn’t have been happier. It was her favorite.
“It felt almost like the real Eurovision,” ten Veen said in a phone interview. Except, she added, “I was sitting in my pajamas in my box bedroom.”
The song contest’s appeal is still confusing to many, despite its being one of the world’s biggest televised events (over 180 million people watched it live last year, according to the European Broadcasting Union, Eurovision’s organizer).
But for fans, who adore its high-camp spectacle, its openness (it was a pioneer of gay representation in Europe) and even its political intrigue, following Eurovision throughout the year is a hobby that can become all-consuming. There are numerous club nights dedicated to its songs, but much of this fandom exists online, across what seems like an endless number of blogs, podcasts and social media accounts dedicated to dissecting each country’s acts, analyzing performance statistics and sharing gossip.
Ten Veen spends “several hours a day” focused on the contest, she said, including writing about it for WiwiBloggs, a fan site. She met her Irish boyfriend thanks to their shared love of Eurovision, she said (he often commented on her blog posts, and then sent her a Facebook message about potential Dutch entrants). She had been planning to go to Rotterdam for this year’s final, she said, and had a ticket for a dress rehearsal.
“Of course I felt disappointed when a thing I’d dreamed about for a long time was canceled,” she said. “But there’s been so many fan initiatives since then, it’s like it’s still going on.”
The most prominent of those initiatives has been “#EurovisionAgain,” an online watch party that fans across Europe have been attending each Saturday since the continent went into lockdown in March. For each installment, fans watch an old edition of the contest, tweeting and voting as if it were being held live. #EurovisionAgain has been the No. 1 Twitter trend in Britain and old contestants — like the pop group Katrina and The Waves, who won in 1997 — have gotten involved, nervously tweeting about reliving the voting.
“Eurovision Again” was created by Rob Holley, a British Eurovision fan who takes breaks from his job in the National Health Service to write about the contest for British newspapers.
After Eurovision was canceled, he realized a lot of his friends would be feeling bereft as well as lacking things to do while locked in their homes, he said. So he asked if anyone wanted to watch an old Eurovision with him and tweet along. “I thought maybe 30 people would do it,” he said, “and it went absolutely bananas.”
Soon, thousands were voting on entries, and past victories were being overturned. A rewatch of the 2006 contest saw the original winner — a comedy metal act from Finland called Lordi, who wore monster outfits onstage — defeated by Carola, a dance act from Sweden. Holley said that was partly down to coronavirus. “The bangers are rising to the top,” he said. “People locked in their rooms on a Saturday night just seem to want a bit more oomph in their lives.”
Fans have also been using their purchasing power to reconnect to Eurovision in lockdown. “Since it was canceled, I’ve seen Christmas levels of sales,” said Eleanor Chalkley, an engineer at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, who sells custom Eurovision memorabilia online in her spare time.
Then there’s this year’s acts, many of whom won’t be able to compete on Europe’s biggest stage (some countries will select new artists for next year). Vaidotas Valiukevicius, the lead singer of Lithuania’s contestants, The Roop, said in an email that the loss brought him to tears a few weeks after the cancellation was announced.
Fortunately, he said, he was soon cheered up realizing fans were still discovering the band’s entry, “On Fire.” He’s seen videos of people recreating the dance routines “in the Alps covered with snow, in sunny Indonesia, in Australia,” he said. “I see a bright future,” he said.
Ilya Prusikin of Little Big, Russia’s entry — a subversive rave-punk band popular in their home country, despite some controversies — said in a telephone interview that at first he was “devastated” by the contest not going ahead, but largely because he had wanted to feel “closer to Abba,” the Swedish act who had won Eurovision in 1974.
The band had quickly moved on, even as the colorful video for their entry “Uno” racks up more than 90 million views on YouTube. “We didn’t dream about the contest, so our dream didn’t die,” he said. They would mainly be spending Saturday thinking about new songs at home in St. Petersburg, he said, not thinking about the Eurovision that could have been.
In contrast, all the Eurovision fans interviewed for this story said they would be spending Saturday thinking solely of Eurovision, most likely while watching an event called “Eurovision: Europe Shine a Light,” which will be broadcast across the continent. It’s to feature all the 41 acts who were meant to perform (including Little Big) singing a cover of Katrina and the Waves’ “Love Shine a Light.”
Ten Veen said she would be watching, but that she was satisfied with the edition she had recreated online, from her bedroom. After it finished, Youri Keurntjes, her friend who had acted as the commentator, sent a message to everyone who took part. “I think that Eurovision 2020 has succeeded in its mission to bring people together and to get the best out of everyone,” he wrote.
“Together we make Eurovision memorable,” he added, “and this is one I will never forget.”