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The House That ABBA Built: Popularity of the Eurovision Song Contest Hits Provincetown

 Joost Klein of the Netherlands 
All photos courtesy of The Eurovision Song Contest

 by Steve Desroches 

It’s weird, wild, and wonderful. It’s the Eurovision Song Contest. 

Founded in 1956 by the European Broadcasting Union, the annual song competition has grown from a small novelty contest to an international phenomenon. And in recent years Eurovision has begun to catch on in America, including here in Provincetown, where watch parties and general chatter about it have become a staple of spring. For the second year in a row the Provincetown Brewing Company is taking the lead by hosting a viewing party, founded by American uberfan Mike Akerman, this Saturday, showing the broadcast of Eurovision 2024 live from Malmö, Sweden.

 Silia Kapsis of Cyprus

For those unfamiliar, Eurovision began as an experiment with live television events in a medium that was still relatively new in a continent still rebuilding after World War II. In its first incarnation, only seven countries participated. And some of the rules remain largely the same today. Each entrant must perform an original song no longer than three minutes that has not been released commercially for more than a year. The country that wins gets to host the following year. And for the most part that’s it. 

For the first 20 years it was popular in Europe, but a little square and stiff. That is until the 1974 contest when ABBA won with their song “Waterloo,” launching them into superstardom and modernizing Eurovision into the camptastic event it is today. In particular, Eurovision has long been especially popular with the LGBTQ community not just in Europe, but in many other parts of the world. And it got a boost in the United States when Will Ferrell, whose Swedish wife introduced him to Eurovision, made the 2020 comedy Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga, in a loving lampoon. Here in Provincetown, with its large LGBTQ population as well as many Europeans who live and work in town, it was all but inevitable Eurovision would catch on.

Windows95man of Finland 

“It’s a very gay thing,” laughs Paul John Kearins, a chocolatier who works at Relish and grew up between the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. “We’d get together for it at a bar or at someone’s house for a party.” 

Born north of London and then moving to Haarlem in the Netherlands when he was 14, Kearins grew up watching Eurovision with his mother and then with a gaggle of gay friends as an adult. And watching it isn’t so much about good music, but rather who is going to steal the show with over-the-top costumes, bizarre choreography, and a song that is catchy, but will most likely be that summer’s hit at nightclubs in Ibiza or Mykonos and little more.

Luna of Poland 

“It’s always been cheesy,” says Kearins. “And then some decided to get serious about it and get away from the oompa-oompa let’s all dance. And then you had Conchita Wurst who really represented the LGBT community. But Eurovision has long been about campy and cheesy performances. People really love the ones that are outrageous or weird.”

Wurst, a drag queen from Austria, won Eurovision in 2014 and, along with the Israeli singer Dana International, who is transgender and won in 1998, helped to make the contest as much of an LGBTQ event as Pride in Europe. The intense camp on display doesn’t hurt either. In addition, there are several curiosities that make it interesting, and at times confusing, to a global audience. Like, if it’s a European competition why do Israel and Australia send entrants? Any member country of the European Broadcasting Union is eligible to participate, which includes states in North Africa and Middle Eastern countries like Israel. And as for Australia, well, the land down under is famously obsessed with ABBA, and in turn Eurovision, so they were invited as a one-time novelty in 2015, but keep coming back now. Performers do not need to be citizens of the country they represent. It’s why Celine Dion could appear representing Switzerland, although she’s Canadian, in 1988. 

Megara of San Marino

And then there’s the scoring, which seems to be developed by scientists working in some underground lair it’s so complicated. Eurovision super fan Marina Deligianni from Corfu, Greece, who has worked several seasons at Far Land, explains that first music professionals get to vote on their favorite finalists. And then viewers call in from home and can vote for any performer except the one from their home country. And while politics is usually left out of the contest (except recently when Russia and Belarus were booted after the invasion of Ukraine), it’s clear that countries often end up voting for their neighbors, using a system of twelve points going down by twos to zero. Deligianni sensing it’s all too much decided to write it down.

“Simply put, ‘douze’ in French means twelve, and is also the highest score a country can give,” says Deligianni. “The country that earns the most douze points is often the one with the best chance of winning the competition. At the other end of the scale, we have the nil points, and this phrase means zero points. In previous competitions, in fact, some countries had zero points at the end of the final night. Even though a country not winning a single point feels like a disaster in the world of Eurovision it’s also something of a secret accolade.”

Nemo of Switzerland 

Even the most die-hard Eurovision fans still don’t quite understand it. But what is clear is that usually the winner will sing in English as the chances the song will sell globally are better, though they are encouraged to perform in their native language. Part of the charm of Eurovision is that countries big and small get center stage. So while France, the UK, Spain, Italy, and Germany are guaranteed spots in the finals, as they are the biggest financial contributors to the EBU, microstates like San Marino, Malta, and Luxembourg get a chance at the global spotlight, too. For Radu Luca, the executive director of the Provincetown Chamber of Commerce, it was always a big deal and he would watch with his family. Hailing from Bârlad, Romania, it wasn’t often he’d hear Romanian or see his country represented on the international stage. It meant the world to him to see Romania performers sing in his native language in a rare moment of representation.

“We always watched Eurovision,” says Luca. “We always watched to cheer for Romania. You’d have this feeling of pride and belonging. It’s a chance for countries that often get overlooked to get some attention. It’s hard to explain, but it’s a big deal.”

The Eurovision Song Contest viewing party will be hosted at The Provincetown Brewing Company, 141 Bradford St. on Saturday, May 11, 3 p.m. For more information call 508.413.9076 or visit

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Ginger Mountain

Ginger Mountain (MS Communications Media, BA Fine Arts/Teaching Certification K-12) has been part of the graphic design team at Provincetown Magazine since 2008. Ginger has worked as a creative director, individual contractor, and freelance designer with clients representing many areas —business software, consumer products, professional services, entertainment, and network hardware to name just a few — providing creative layout and development of a wide range of print media content. Her clients ranged from small local businesses to large corporations and Fortune 500 companies, from New Hampshire to Georgia

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