By Kristy Puchko & Daniel Walber | Film | June 26, 2020 |
By Kristy Puchko & Daniel Walber | Film | June 26, 2020 |
Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga is much more than Will Ferrell’s latest comedy. The Netflix original is a winsome rom-com musical set at the center of the storied and eccentric Eurovision Song Contest, a massive annual competition that thrills much of the Western world—except America. The U.S. doesn’t participate, which means millions of Americans don’t know the unique joys of Eurovision. This year, Netflix was slated to make Eurovision more accessible to Americans than ever before! Sadly, the pandemic prevented that, causing the event to be canceled. However, with Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga could-be fans have a new chance to get acquainted with this beautiful and bonkers extravaganza of song, fashion, and cultural pride.
To welcome newcomers into the world and wonders of Eurovision, we had our own Kayleigh, a long-time fan of the event, review Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga. Now, we’ve reached out to Eurovision expert, Daniel Walber, to usher us through the finer points, allusions, and Easter eggs of Eurovision as it related to Ferrell’s earnest homage. For years, Walber has introduced dozens of uninitiated Americans into the Eurovision fandom through annual watch parties, where he offers guests cuisine and cocktails (inspired the hosting nation) alongside thrilling stories on the characters and controversies behind the spectacular stage show.
As a fortunate guest of these sensational watch parties, I knew there’s no one better to dive deep into your questions about all things Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga. Ever willing to share his passion for Eurovision, Walber agreed to an interview.
How does Eurovision compare to The Voice?
Totally different things. The Voice is a singing competition, while Eurovision is a song competition. There are no cover songs allowed at Eurovision. Plus, Eurovision is just two semifinals and a final, not an entire season of TV.
However! Every country has their own method of choosing their Eurovision entry, and some of them hold long, multi-week singing competitions to pick their artist. And a LOT of Eurovision artists these days are former contestants of the many versions of The Voice that are produced in Europe.
How does scoring work?
It’s very confusing and it changes all the time! These days, every country has their vote split between professional juries and the televote of the public. The voting process in the Eurovision final is actually very close to the one that Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga shows in its version of the semifinal, in which countries are called on individually to deliver their points. In the real semifinals, the hosts only announce the 10 songs that have advanced, in random order. You wouldn’t want to know who is going into the final with an advantage.
ABBA’s breakthrough performance is shown at the start of Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga. What other massive music stars have made their mark on the competition?
Celine Dion won (by one point!) in 1988 with “Ne Partez Pas Sans Moi,” representing Switzerland. (Yes, she’s Canadian. No, it doesn’t matter). She then opened Eurovision 1989 with “Where Does My Heart Beat Now,” her first English language single, and the rest is history.
Katrina and the Waves were already big when they won Eurovision 1997. Other UK entries you’ve heard of include Lulu (a winner of the infamous 4-way tie in 1969), Olivia Newton-John (4th place, 1974), Bonnie Tyler (19th place, 2013), and Engelbert Humperdinck (25th place, 2012).
So glad you asked. Fire Saga reminds me a lot of Greta Salóme and Jónsi, Iceland’s entry in 2012. Sweeping landscapes, all the drama of singing (and playing a violin!) on top of a volcano.
And all the other songs are either specific references or really perceptive composites. One song from the 2012 Icelandic National Final even involved ships and a sheep onstage, but that’s long gone from YouTube apparently. One of Fire Saga’s competitors in the Icelandic National Final fits the mold of the Viking-esque Nordic entry, like 2018’s “Higher Ground” from Denmark.
Melissanthi Mahut’s character (Greece contender’s Mita Xenakis) feels like a pretty clear reference to Eleni Foureira, who very nearly won the whole thing in 2018 with “Fuego.”
The other contestants are either references to well-established genres, like soft teen rappers from Eastern Europe, or nods to individual acts, like Finnish Death Metal band Lordi.
Because it’s very hard to win if you don’t sing in English. Since 1999, when the European Broadcasting Union repealed the rule requiring songs to be in an official language of their submitting country, only two non-English songs have won: Marija Serifovic’s “Molitva” in 2007 and Salvador Sobral’s “Amor pelos dois” in 2017. Notably, Sobral makes a cameo in Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga, singing his winning song at a piano on the streets of Edinburgh.
The language rule was changed largely because by that point the globalization of the pop music industry had given an unfair advantage to English-speaking countries. Ireland won four times in the ’90s, arguably because they were the only English-singing country in Europe that everyone didn’t hate. And the Irish did horribly the only time they competed in Irish, back in 1972.
In the film, Fire Saga’s semi-finals performance goes off the rails. What’s the most catastrophic Eurovision performance?
Aside from the occasional unauthorized runner or minor wardrobe malfunction, catastrophes are few and far between—or rather the surprise ones are. There’s no accounting for taste. There’s even the Barbara Dex Award, a fan-voted annual prize for the worst outfit.
But on the subject of Fire Saga’s disaster: The hamster wheel actually happened, as part of Mariya Yaremchuk’s performance in 2014, representing Ukraine. Mercifully it stayed on its track.
In the movie Eurovision is set in Scotland, where would it have been hosted this year?
The Netherlands won in 2019, so they get to host the next contest. Eurovision 2020 was to be held in Rotterdam, and it’s been announced that this city will host Eurovision 2021.
Is Dan Stevens referencing a specific performer? Would Russia ever enter something so homoerotic as “Lion of Love?”
Well. The obvious candidate for the basis of Alexander Lemtov is Sergey Lazarev, who has represented Russia twice in Eurovision and very nearly won it in 2016. Rumors have long circulated about his sexuality, which is of course further complicated by the fact that Russia’s 2013 law banning “gay propaganda” remains on the books.
Lazarev is, in a lot of ways, Russia’s George Michael. He got his start in Smash!!, a Wham!-like pop duo consisting of him and Vlad Topalov (the Andrew Ridgeley). They broke up in 2006, and since then Lazarev has been one of Russia’s biggest pop stars. He’s had multiple gold and platinum albums, he’s done both classical theater and Dancing on Ice, and he just did a 45-minute set for Russian TV in the middle of a pandemic (the backup dancers wore masks).
Someone other than me should write the book about closeted celebrities in Russia’s cultural industries. However, neither of Lazarev’s Eurovision entries were homoerotic, certainly not to the degree of Lemtov’s “Lion of Love.” Perhaps that’s because Russia sees it as a face to the world, and is much more particular.
Here’s an example of Lazarev’s Eurovision performances for Russia:
Within Russia, Lazarev has released music videos like this:
So, I don’t know. Make of that what you will.
What’s a great queer moment in Eurovision history?
Just one? The marquee moment remains Dana International winning in for Israel in 1998 with “Diva,” instantly becoming one of the world’s first truly international transgender celebrities.
But LGBT+ winners since then have included Marija Šerifović (2007), Duncan Laurence (2019), and Conchita Wurst (2014), who has a cameo in Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga.
Sequel! Definitely. One of my favorites, Katja Ebstein, competed in three contests: 1970, 1971, and 1980, placing 2nd twice and 3rd once. Johnny Logan won twice as a singer, in 1980 and 1987, and wrote the winning song in 1992. Former back-up singers also regularly return as lead artists, like this year’s Swedish entry The Mamas.
They’ve never won! They’ve come close before, 2nd place in 1999 and 2009, but they’ve never actually pulled it off.
Honestly, I think it could have been Iceland’s year. Daði Freyr’s “Think About Things” has been huge already, charting in multiple countries and making it to Jennifer Garner’s Instagram.
Hopefully, Iceland sends him again next year! He’ll have to write a new song, but so will everyone else.
Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga is now available on Netflix.
Header Image Source: Netflix