Why We Love Camp... and Eurovision!
Updated: May 26
If you know much about me outside my books, you’ll know there are two seasons that absolutely make my year. One is Halloween and the other…
Yes, that great festival of high-camp song and dance that inspires over 200 million around the globe to tune in for 4 outrageous hours of tunes, glitter, and way more politics than anyone wants to admit. It’s also more or less Holy Week for half the gays in Europe. I, as a former precocious child who could name every European country in alphabetical order by the age of nine (right before the USSR dissolved and Yugoslavia broke up, ruining my geography nerd groove), first watched Eurovision in 1999, when Israeli (and first out Trans) champion Dana International handed the trophy over to Sweden’s Charlotte Nilsson. I watched it again in 2007, where two soon-to-be queer icons, Serbia’s Marija Šerifović, and Ukrainian drag queen Verka Serduchka took first and second place, respectively. Marija accepted the crystal microphone from Finnish monster rockers Lordi… as you do.
And I was hooked. Lighting up each spring like an anti-Halloween, Eurovision refreshes my little queer heart (and my playlist) with its mix of art, absurdity, and international community. In 2018, I realized the dream, of catching the big show in person in Lisbon, Portugal. But just what is so great about Eurovision, and why are The Gays™ so obsessed?
Well, a big part of it is CAMP, darling, CAMP! Exaggeration and bombast are the life’s blood of Eurovision, and while each year’s winner will (usually) be a damn good song that wins on merit, there’s no shortage of room for interpretation of what ‘merit’ means. 2023 was no different. We had power pop superstars, including the first female two-time, POC and LGBTQ+ winner, Loreen from Sweden. We had OTT glam rockers from Germany. We had gamer-inspired art pop from Luke Black, another out performer from Serbia. We had France serving plenty of disco diva ‘tude, Belgium arriving with a readymade Pride anthem, and Finland delivering what I can only describe as Rammstein doing K-Pop in probably the most Eurovision song that ever Eurovisioned. No surprise, Finland (deservedly, I think) won the public vote.
Pride it ain’t, but there’s no two ways around it. Eurovision is extremely queer, which is probably why Hungary and Turkey don’t show up anymore.
What isn’t queer about it is still extremely… camp. The LGBTQ+ community has a long history of adopting and embracing elements that aren’t explicitly about us, but are just too ‘out there’ for the mainstream. Of course, more has been written about this phenomenon than I can possibly summarize here, but the way I see it, camp is a force that shows us it’s okay to step outside the box and be our weird little selves. Gay, straight, bi, trans, enby… wherever you fit in, camp, too often derided as tacky or silly or cheap, when in reality, it’s often just a manifestation of what’s special and unique about a creator. To be camp takes serious courage, and Eurovision performers have courage to spare.
Not that there isn’t often queer involvement in ‘straight’ manifestations of camp. Let’s get away from Eurovision for a minute and look at VAMP, the fabulous 1986 film starring one of my favourite all-time divas, Grace Jones. There’s a lot to love about this trashterpiece of 80s horror comedy, but nothing on par with that onstage dance, where Grace Jones, as the vampire Katrina, drops her robe to reveal a costume made of nothing but metal coils, a red shock wig, and Keith Haring painted body markings.
Who came up with this? Bast bless them! I love this scene so much that I reference it in My Cat’s Guide to Online Dating (significantly changed, of course) when Zach and Cascade watch the film. Of course, if you’re in Toronto, you can come see VAMP in its original form, surrounded by queerdos and darklings at the Revue Cinema on May 27 as part of the beloved Dumpster Raccoon Cinema series. Why am I plugging this? Because I’ll be judging the costume contest, and giving away a copy of Cat’s Guide.
There, I plugged it! Come along! It’ll be awesome! Get your tickets here! But if you do plan to strut the runway to impress me and Grace Jones, be forewarned… I’m coming fresh off Eurovision. The bar is high kids, the bar is high.
Yours in camp, my darklings.