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Dana in the 1970s and Bambie Thug, 2024.

Eurovision 2024 Bambie Thug is the anti-Dana, but they might just be the voice of a generation

As the first semi-final takes place tonight in Malmö, Peter Flanagan examines the quirky side of the competition.

THERE’S PROBABLY SOMETHING very wrong with the fact that myself and my friends are still moderately obsessed with Eurovision at our age. 

Presumably, there’s an unresolved childhood trauma we’re working through as we sip lager and again enjoy this European musical spectacle for another year. 

Every year my friends and I meet in South London for our sad little get-together. There are no costumes, dancing or drugs like the watch-along parties attended by people who enjoy the spectacle ironically. A bag of cans and a modestly sized television set is enough. Anything more would distract from our earnest enjoyment of the competition.

Living abroad often means feigning interest in sporting occasions or some other cultural keystone as an excuse to meet up with other Irish. The Eurovision is easily my favourite of these, perhaps partly because of how culturally unacceptable it is to some people.

English people think it’s weird how much I enjoy it. This is because they fundamentally lack a capacity for un-cynical joy as a people. An Englishman’s idea of raucous fun is watching someone run for a bus and miss it. The cringe ballads, gauche outfits and artless presenters are an anathema to their understanding of what it is to have a good time.

With the exception of Sam Ryder’s rollicking ‘Space Man’ in 2022, British entries are usually crap. This creates a self-fulfilling failure loop whereby serious UK musicians don’t enter and the event’s cultural pariah status is reinforced. They also interpret poor scores as a sign that the continent despises Britain, which is only partly true.

sam-ryder-uk-during-eurovision-in-concert-2022-in-afas-live-in-amsterdam-photo-by-dppasipa-usa Sam Ryder's UK entry was the only half decent one from our neighbours in recent years. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Compare that to the relentless verve which other nations dump into it. For musicians struggling to make a living in domestic markets, an appearance is a chance to introduce themselves to a global audience. There’s money in it for the hosts too. The Eurovision itself is a non-profit, but the city of Liverpool declared a net profit of £55 million after its presentation in 2023.

Ireland’s Eurovision

It is the collective folk memory of Ireland’s lapsed musical hegemony that keeps us invested. For a particular demographic of Irish children, our dogged pursuit of victory in the 90s was a source of genuine excitement.

johnny-logan-singer-and-composer-ireland-with-cousin-linda-martin-singer-when-they-won-eurovision-song-contest-1992-in-malmoe Johnny Logan and Linda Martin, 1992. Ireland's golden Eurovision years. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Little did we know that when Ronan Keating hosted the 1997 contest in Dublin, a portal was closing. In Celtic mythology, the appearance of Keating is a harbinger of doom. He represents the oncoming of a plague, war or famine. Ireland’s Eurovision wilderness years had begun.

Decades of humiliation followed. Even our record of seven wins was jeopardised last year when Sweden won for a 7th time. The Swedes have been our most ferocious rival since Abba stormed the stage with ‘Waterloo’ in 1974. Their revived enthusiasm threatens to erase Ireland’s legacy entirely.

Screenshot 2024-05-05 at 08.35.53 Dana in the 1970s and Bambie Thug, 2024.

It is under this shadow of existential oblivion that Bambie Thug must compete this week. Blending electro-pop with a heavy-metal-devil-worship aesthetic, I think of Bambie as the Anti-Dana (Dana Scanlon being the devout Catholic who won for Ireland in 1970 while still a schoolgirl). Non-binary and a proponent of witchcraft, they have drawn the ire of Ireland’s hard right in a controversy that makes them easily the most interesting Irish entry since 1996.

It is unfortunate then that they are taking part in the year of the Israel-Hamas war. Though Bambie stated their preference that Israel be excluded, they stopped short of a boycott, despite calls to do so. A polarising person, then. Johnny Logan, Ireland’s Eurovision sage, is still behind them, though. Born to a Swedish father and Irish mother, their pedigree is undeniable. Could Bambie still be the saviour who was promised?

Ireland thrives culturally when we sell Europe an idea of ourselves as good-natured savages on Europe’s lunatic frontier. Bambie’s period-blood-majik shtick is perfectly designed to satiate our neighbours’ latent thirst for a bit of neo-Celtic badness.

Bambie moved to London 11 years ago but today finds themselves homeless, pushed into couch surfing by spiralling rents. They’re 32 years of age. As someone who was evicted by my landlord in East London only last month, I will be lending Bambie my support at the semi-final on Tuesday. For ageing millennials who were raised in Celtic Tiger prosperity only to come of age during an era of economic collapse, a pandemic, and global war, their Satantic angst might just be the voice of a generation.

Peter Flanagan is an Irish comedian and writer. You can find him on Twitter @peterflanagan and Instagram @peterflanagancomedy.   

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