This was no contest. Shut down by the coronavirus crisis, Europe’s annual musical spectacular that pits countries against one another instead sought to unite them.
The Eurovision Song Contest, whose final was scheduled for today, was cancelled amid restrictions aimed at reining in the global pandemic.
So rather than judging songs from 41 artists from Albania to the UK, organisers created a two-hour show called “Eurovision: Europe Shine A Light” that was broadcast in more than 40 countries.
Underscoring the effects of the coronavirus, the show opened with a montage of videos of the deserted streets of European cities before cutting to an almost empty studio in the Netherlands.
It was a stark contrast to the frenetic scenes of flag-waving, screaming fans that form the backdrop for normal Eurovision finales.
Part of the convention center in Rotterdam that was to have hosted the contest was transformed earlier this year into a makeshift care center to ease strain on regular hospitals treating Covid-19 patients.
From humble beginnings in 1956, the contest has become a vector of camp and kitsch with almost 200 million viewers tuning in for the finale.
Snippets of the 41 songs that were to have taken part in this year’s contest were played throughout the show with recorded messages from the performers.
One of Sweden's brightest musical stars, Bjorn Ulvaeus of Abba, paid tribute to the contest that catapulted him and the band to global fame after their song Waterloo won in 1974.
“It still remains one of the most genuinely joyous events of the TV year and it’s so disarmingly European,” he said in a recorded video message. “It so allows you to escape and be happy — even forget about the coronavirus for a little while.”