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Unbabelvision: what our team love about the annual musical extravaganza

We’ve got more than our fair share of Eurofans on our team. Here’s what we’re looking forward to this week

For those of you who don’t know (or certainly maybe may have forgotten), this week Turin will host the 66th Eurovision Song Contest after Italy’s not-so-surprising victory last year. For those of us at Unbabel, it’s no secret that I’m very enthusiastic about Eurovision and watch it religiously every year, waiting for the inevitable depression that follows the Sunday after, when it’s the longest possible number of days to go until next year’s contest.

The last time the community team posted anything about Eurovision was in 2017, when Portugal won the Eurovision song contest after 53 years of participation without a single victory. In fact, Unbabel have history when it comes to Eurovision — we translated the Portuguese entry into seventeen different languages and our efforts went viral, helping people all across Europe to understand Salvador Sobral’s soulful lyrics. Well, I think 2017 was an awfully long time ago, and since a lot of the community team love Eurovision, I’ve put together this article detailing what the contest means to us and some of our favourite moments over the years.

Kadri Järvpõld — Community Manager

Favourite moment: Finland’s winning entry in 2006 — ‘Hard Rock Hallelujah’ by Lordi

“So, me and Eurovision, we go way back but I was the biggest fan in early 2000s, the happiest moment was when Estonia won in 2001! One of the highlights for me was Lordi (the monsters) in 2006.”

Ana Fonseca — Community Project Manager

Favourite moment: Portugal’s entry in 2009 — ‘Todas as ruas de amor’ by Flor-de-lis

“An unjustly poor showing for a fantastic song, understood by all too few.”

I asked Ana for a couple of lines about Eurovision this week and received no fewer than 461 words within about half an hour. Ana’s a bit like me, and gets really excited by the language element of it: “when else,” she asks me, “do you get to hear so many different languages in such a condensed time frame, even being able to check the lyrics on the app these days?” But it’s not just linguistic variety that Ana’s into: “You’re exposed to so many different types of acts: hip hop one minute, a traditional number in national dress with some 15th century wooden instrument you’ve never heard the next, then some jazz/swing, then some operatic aria with bits of spoken word.” I’d never thought about that, but it’s completely true — where else could you hear such variety?

Ana also loves the voting (the best bit, in my opinion) and watching the varying effort they put into it. But the contest means a lot more to her than just a good laugh: “For those of us who have lived in several European countries, this is a fixed point in the year where we all get to exchange texts, organise zooms, or actually get together and have drinking games with conversations along the lines of ‘what was Finland thinking’, ‘what was that mad Greek woman wearing’… We all get to be surprised, outraged, embarrassed, amused and, crucially, all this live and at the same time. There are not many collective, live experiences like it.”

Ben Bartlett — Community Content Manager

Favourite moment: the UK’s winning entry (1997) — ‘Love Shine a Light’ by Katrina and the Waves sung by the artists of Eurovision 2020 (and Katrina herself)

“Every entrant of the contest that never was, singing an absolute classic to bring a continent stuck in their houses together. Sure, it’s cheesy — but can you honestly say you’re not a little bit moved?”

And lastly, there’s me. People think that Eurovision is about extremes: ridiculous costumes, seemingly unbelievable political bloc voting, singing the highest note, playing a circular keyboard or running around in a hamster wheel, and I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t part of the charm. But there are also layers of deep geopolitical fascination, drama, and a kind of feeling that I imagine one gets from being into spectator sports. There are so many different outcomes and so many layers to it that it’s almost impossible to comprehend everything; even the people I know now who know more about it than anyone else still wouldn’t claim to know everything there is to know about it. There are extremes, and there is drama, but there are very few absolutes — you just have to wait until the night.

So that’s, in brief, the cold, hard reasoning for why I get so excited every time it comes around. But really, it’s about more than that. If you take a look at the voting from this second ever contest from 1957, it’s something that belongs on one of those screens in a museum. Back then, they genuinely didn’t even know if televoting was even possible and they hadn’t even established whether the person on the end of the Danish line spoke English or not. But the principle, if not the execution, was genius. And the thing is that, now more than ever, it feels pretty good to have a contest that has always been the story of a continent that defined the concept of borders more than any other finding ways to break them down. See you on the other side!

Are you excited for Eurovision? Let us know in the comments below.

Unbabelvision: what our team love about the annual musical extravaganza was originally published in Unbabel Community on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.