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Music

Australia goes European for silly night of song

Australia, a country of European immigrants, has always tuned in to Europe's extravaganza of kitch - oops, we mean music. Now the Land Down Under is to participate in the event it's had its hand in all along: Eurovision.

Australia is fêted for many things, not least its glorious beaches (don't mention the sharks), enigmatic wildernesses (let's not talk about the snakes) and splendid weather (it's just a little sunburn).

But come May it'll also have the slightly dubious notoriety as the first ever non-European country to perform at Eurovision (which already takes an admittedly broad definition of Europe). Confused? Us too.

It's an average April day in Berlin, the claustrophobic grey sky rinsing the streets in a dreary monochrome. The way-too-trendy denizens of the Friedrichshain district are nonchalantly rousing and quashing hangovers with caffeine and carbohydrates, and limping to the trams that service this shabby/chic corner of the city.

Friedrichshain has a reputation as one of Berlin's coolest musical hubs, so DW is here to measure the mood on the news that Australia - yes that blessed country at the opposite end of the planet - has been invited to perform (but not compete) at the Eurovision semi-finals in Copenhagen this May.

The band Texas Lightning, representing Germany, at the rehearsal for the 2006 Eurovision Song Contest in Athens, Copyright: dpa - Bildfunk

Jane Comerford and Texas Lightning prepare for the 2006 Song Contest in Athens

"Are they sending Nick Cave and Kylie Minogue," one local quips mischievously, referring to the pair's 1996 duet, "Where the Wild Roses Grow."

"Why would they do it to themselves?" another local asks, genuinely perturbed by the news. "AC/DC, Nick Cave, Midnight Oil…Australia is, well, so cool. This will ruin it. Eurovision - is this serious?"

This is serious, all right. Apparently a reward for the country's "unrelenting enthusiasm for the Eurovision Song Contest," according to an official announcement from Eurovision, Australian pop star Jessica Mauboy - an indigenous performer with a string of hits in her homeland - will perform a song penned specifically for the occasion at the semi-finals on May 8.

Australia's European roots

A self-confessed Eurovision tragic, Australian music journalist Simon Collins has attended a number of Eurovision Song Contests over the last decade and was the very first Australian journalist to ever be accredited for domestic media back in 2002 for the Tallinn grand finale.

"I enjoyed a taste of celebrity, with various TV and radio outlets interviewing me," Collins chuckles. "The first question I got was, 'Why are you here?' then, 'Do they show it in Australia?' Most people had no idea [that it is screened in Australia]. Obviously they now realize the truly international flavor of Eurovision."

It's this international flavor that is at the heart of Australia's adoration for Europe's notoriously ostentatious music competition. Australia is an immigrant nation whose diverse population includes significant European heritage, and has sizeable communities with roots from Britain, Greece, The Netherlands, Ireland, Italy, Poland, Croatia, Germany, and beyond. Eurovision is a time to celebrate for these European Australians - to get all doe-eyed and nostalgic about home and have a good giggle in the process, usually at someone else's expense.

Simon Collins, Coypright: Simon Collins

Simon Collins was a kind of Eurovision pioneer

"Australia is obviously a multi-cultural society and many of us are proud of our heritage," Collins continues. "Eurovision gives us a chance to celebrate our roots. My grandfather was from Estonia, so I always barrack for them."

Stage fright

Of course Australia's special relationship with Eurovision runs much deeper than heritage, or the swarm of Aussie backpackers forever roving the continent in search of castles and kicks. Indeed, the country has been called upon numerous times to provide guns-for-hire for other nations. Among them are Olivia Newton John and Gina G, who both competed for the UK, and Mr. Eurovision himself, Johnny Logan, who has taken out Eurovision's top gong no less than three times for Ireland (twice as a performer and once as composer).

Germany also called in a diplomatic favor from the Land Down Under in 2006, selecting the Australian singer and songwriter Jane Comerford to represent the country with her band Texas Lightning, performing her self-penned song "No No Never."

"The participation in, and the lead up to the Eurovision Song Contest was certainly one of my most exciting and terrifying show business experiences," Comerford, who now lives in Hamburg, recalls. "Winning the German pre-selection contest was amazing in itself because we were the absolute outsiders in the competition and our participation kicked off a new wave of Eurovision hysteria in Germany, which had been quite reserved in the previous years."

The performer adds that she was told 200 to 300 million viewers were expected to be watching the finals. "Those were numbers I couldn't quite get my head around - I just knew it was going to be a really important three minutes on stage!"

Comerford and her band may have only tallied in at number 15 at the notoriously geo-political grand final, but "No No Never" had by then already become a number one hit in Germany and the event boosted her profile immeasurably.

Elaiza, Copyright: picture-alliance/dpa

The band Elaiza will be representing Germany - in competition

"For me personally, after a long career in music and theater, it's the icing on the cake to have written both the music and the lyrics of such a hugely successful song. If you think about how many second- and third-generation European immigrants have become a part of Australian society and how much the country has evolved through the multicultural influences, then it's pretty logical there's a fascination with this very unique Eurovision event. I also think the show appeals to the Australians' love of utter silliness!"

But as Comerford discovered, silliness can be big business indeed. With around 180 million television viewers expected to watch her performance, Jessica Mauboy's international profile is about to get a turbo-charged shot in the arm. But in those very arms also rest the street credibility of her entire country. And the cool police of Friedrichshain will be watching closely.

As Simon Collins concludes: "A lot of the aspects of Europe that are suppressed under this misplaced belief that Europeans are cooler than us…Eurovision proves this is not always the case."

Good luck, Australia.

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