2015 Serbian entry and semi-finalist winner Bojana Stamenov. Photo courtesy of the Eurovision Song Contest Austria
Read our addiction issue yet? You’ll find it on newsstands for another week. In the meantime, in time for Saturday’s Eurovision final, read this harrowing tale of a Berlin expat’s addiction to the trashy songfest.
Sam Wareing is addicted to Eurovision. It’s no tongue-in-cheek joking matter. Despite a solid formal musical education, respect as a musician with her band Wasp Summer and two decades of organising cultural events, this woman experiences the European song competition as pure serotonin.
Last year, the Melbourne expat charmed two Eurovision virgins into abetting what transmogrified into a wild shindig in a private Neukölln club. They showered revellers in glitter and firework sparks, caught in an escalating, dizzying array of costume changes, drinking games and open consumption of other questionable substances. Emulating the distinctive style of Conchita Wurst, the evening’s iconically political and popular "Rise Like a Phoenix" winner, all three hosts harmoniously sported beards and exotic frocks at the end of the night. In its wake, Sam received a frenzy of emails, people already going through withdrawal, glitter traces soiling their bedclothes, dying to know if they'll do the same in 2015.
It all began in England, 1976, when an unwitting Samantha Wareing was exposed to Eurovision for the first time. Viewed through the filtered blur of early childhood and her mother and father’s own well-established habit (which in turn began in 1974 with Abba’s "Waterloo"), the dangerous melange of shimmering kitsch and poppy hooks emanating from the living room television set seeded the neurotransmitters of an impressionable young mind with alluring melodies and evening-dressed glamour. Her parents were laughing contagiously at Terry Wogan’s seductive "gruff, dark, sardonic and slightly Irish" commentary: for Sam, it seemed safe to play along.
It was 1981's Eurovision that changed the outgoing little girl forever. When England's Buck's Fizz ripped off their long, Velcro-fastened, candy-coloured rock ‘n’ roll skirts to win that night with "Making Your Mind Up", an already primed dopamine switch flicked on permanently in the five- year-old’s vulnerable brain. Co-opting a hairbrush microphone, Sam twirled, gyrated and sang along to the lyrics with all her heart. Her delighted parents reinforced her actions. In that moment, she swallowed Eurovision's sugary tonic of her own conscious volition.
She almost escaped. Even as Europe, hopeless in its own thrall, continued to broadcast to a captive home audience of millions, a few months afterward Sam’s family moved back to a Eurovisionless Australia. Devoid of Germany's entry – Nicole’s "**Ein bißchen Frieden**" – 1982 was "torturous silence." Yet in a twisted and irrevocable machination of the stars, Oz’s multi-cultural broadcaster SBS added the pop pulp to its schedules in 1983. Re-accessing Eurovision’s musical licentiousness transported wee Samantha from enforced remission into full-blown bacchanal. In familial accord, streamers and balloons were strung out, sausage roll, cake and cheese platters laid. Compatriots flooded on board. (Last year one in 20 – over two million – Australians showed screen-side for their annual injection of European pop unity.) Reinforced by an environment so welcoming to the annual spectacle, by adulthood Sam had became a Eurovision pusher, initially coping at home, welcoming others with sparkling wine, cheese and mini-size national flags, later expanding into bars and clubs under the guise of working in music PR.
She describes the fatal attraction like this: "I started hosting parties in 2002. I was hooked on the combination of the gleeful silliness, the absurdity and the revulsion it provokes in unbelievers." Her gestures become increasingly grander: "the deeply orange fake tans, the jazz hands, the multiple key changes in final choruses, the drama of the power ballads, the double-fisted pulldown." In slow motion she imitates the move, "and the random interpretive dancers. The more seriously contestants take their ridiculous entries, the better it is."
The peak of her compulsion came in 2006, the year Finnish heavy metallers Lordi, in latex alien costumes, took top prize. Supported by her younger brother who had flown into town for the occasion, Sam and her fellow acolytes crushed into the front bar of Melbourne's The Spanish Club, among "150 mad Spaniards and inner city hipsters, dressed in national costumes and wrapped in sheets."
But a dark side also lurks. Music school sequestered zeal into isolation, and she’s lost relationships over Eurovision incredulity. "We’ll just say several ex-boyfriends," she says. Following an enabling move back to Europe, Sam’s 2010 debut Berlin venture hit a paradoxical low point – cops busted the party, resulting in a court appearance. Notwithstanding Germany's first victory in 28 years with Lena’s "Satellite", a disbelieving neighbour had complained. "If people don’t get it I feel sad for them," Sam says. "I think it says more about them than me."
She unabashedly admits: "I have made many new converts to Eurovision, hundreds, possibly thousands." With reinforcement from now dependent-co-hosts and her Mum flying in from Portugal, compelled by the siren of Australia’s special inclusion in the 2015 Vienna final, she’s taking the party plunge again. "It’s that feeling of when you have champagne and it goes to your head, that is the feeling I get from Eurovision," effervesces Sam, ensconced in her indulgence. "It’s a gleeful celebration of glee itself."
Sam's Annual Eurovisionary Party, May 23, 20:15 | Schiefe Bahn, Karl-Marx-Platz 16, Neukölln, U-Bhf Karl-Marx-Str. | Facebook event