The photo above is of Norway’s official entry for the 2022 Eurovision Song Contest, recently chosen after a weeks-long televised contest that whittled it down to a final two and then, ultimately, to Subwoolfer and their future global hit ditty “Give That Wolf a Banana.” Wikipedia exuberantly noted that they are the first masked act to perform in 15 years, and indeed, nobody entirely knows who the two dudes are (except, I assume, their families and a series of exes who are texting their friends with suspicions). The lyrics, per the Internet, are, “Not sure I told you, but I really like your teeth // That hairy coat of yours with nothing underneath // Not sure you have a name, so I will call you Keith // Oh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh,” and, “Let’s go to grandma’s, you say grandma tastes the best // Oh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh // And before that wolf eats my grandma // Give that wolf a banana,” and then finally and importantly, “Yum, yum, yum, yum-yum-yum // Yum, yum, yum, yum, yum, yum, yum-yum-yum // Someone give that wolf a banana.” These yellow wolves know how the Eurovision game is played, and they have three months to put together some pyrotechnics and an interpretive dance that involves both a grandma and a giant banana. They are out to win the whole damn thing, and I hope I am not disappointed. Norway has had some good entries that should have performed better. Subwoolfer, TAKE IT HOME.
I thought of Eurovision again this past weekend, when I saw an ad for The American Song Contest. Kelly Clarkson (soon to be Kelly Brianne) and Snoop Dogg will host a multi-episode affair that pits against each other acts from the 50 states, American Samoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Washington, D.C. Much like the Norwegian affair above, it’ll be a few rounds, then a semifinal, then a final, and there was some talk of March Madness style bracketing. The producer has spouted some complete fantasist B.S. about how a divided America can unite through song here and celebrate its diversity, which is absolutely not going to be the outcome, but okay. (Sorry to be cynical, but if that were possible, it would have happened already via — at LEAST — several Super Bowl halftime shows.)
Typically, U.S. adaptations of beloved imports end up missing the point, or the essence of what made them beloved — or, often, just failing to recognize that not everything needs Americanizing, and in fact, many things actively do not. Usually those failures come from not recognizing that the qualities people love about them are unique to their place of origin. Take the Brit-inspired programming, for example. The Great American Baking Show attempts were never remotely as good. The Weakest Link has tried twice, once with O.G. host Anne Robinson — people cooled to that so quickly that it didn’t last a year, and departed with ten unaired episodes — and once with Jane Lynch, which I believe is about to return for a second batch, but which has an air of strain about it. Kath & Kim didn’t work; neither did Gavin and Stacey or The IT Crowd or Skins. The Office eventually got there, but only after it gave itself permission to feel more like its own beast. Yes, some ideas translate, but usually when the concept itself is the point, rather than tone or nuance (American Idol, Dancing With The Stars). Eurovision is special because it’s Eurovision. It’s so good as-is that countries outside the European Broadcasting Area — most famously, Australia — paid up and toed the line so it could be included. Russia REALLY wants to win. And because the winner has to host it, some countries show up acting like they do NOT (remember the year Greece came with a song where men in kilts stomped around singing, “ALCOHOL IS FREE”? And they came in sixth? That HAS to be been by accident). There’s a great joke in the Eurovision movie about how the UK will always be given zero points, which is also not a joke, and the whole thing is a four-day party where I am pretty sure exactly zero people are sober and there is sex in every nook and cranny.
Right away, the U.S. version is at a deficit, for missing that Big-Ass Unmissable Shindig feel. Eurovision would not be as amazing if it were episodic; it’s the Super Bowl of music, where people gather for the Grand Final and ride out the whole damn thing. It also has an innate multiculturalism that’s so much bigger and far-reaching than what we can offer, and I’m worried it’ll feel more like The Voice than a show where, say, a woman sings on a bendy pole, or a winner may or may not do blow on live TV (the consensus is no, but still!), or, yes, a duo appears as wolves and sings about bananas. Just look at the array of photos on both those posts. Behold our whole Eurovision archive. What state will submit a song that goes, “I hate heeled shoes, that I absently get stuck in the intrusive manholes of this city,” as Italy did in 2014? Who will offer us a Viking? Will anyone light a piano on fire? Will California submit an entry from San Francisco that rivals the Russian grannies who made bread on-stage? I just cannot imagine. I HOPE the various states and territories could be creative and have a sense of humor about themselves, but my expectations are very low.
Have we ever tried seeing if America wants to just… watch Eurovision? Not on Peacock, not on Logo, but on freaking NBC, live, one weekend day in May when the counterprogramming for sports is low? People can come and go, or call their friends screaming that they need to see what Iceland just did… maybe, just maybe, the U.S. can appreciate the rest of the world instead of trying to recreate it in our own image?
What do you think? When this premieres on March 21, will you watch, read about it later, or hold your nose and look the other direction?