How I invented the Asiavision Song Contest

Some things are worth waiting for. This week, Barack Obama became the first US president to visit Cuba in 88 years. Scientists saw the shockwave from a supernova for the very first time. And SBS announced plans to host an Asia-Pacific version of Eurovision.

I called for this in the pages of the Sydney Morning Herald way back in 2003, and obviously my wise counsel set the ball rolling, albeit extremely slowly.

And yes, I am taking credit for this; and no, I don’t care how many other people suggested it, nor how incredibly obvious it might seem.

Since my game-changing opinion piece, Australia has achieved something far more unlikely than our neighbours in Asia joining together to sing terrible pop songs – something that’s done on a nightly basis throughout the region that bequeathed karaoke to the world. We have joined Eurovision ourselves.

I was surprised when Jessica Mauboy was invited to perform at that semi-final a few years ago. I was astonished when Guy Sebastian was allowed to participate in the main competition last year. And I was utterly flabbergasted when Dami Im was invited back this year, with the suggestion that this might become a regular thing.

Perhaps I shouldn’t be so shocked. For years, I’ve watched people build friendships by coming along to other people’s parties, being so enthusiastic that they ingratiated their way into the social group. Australia’s like that kid who gets begrudgingly invited to the cooler kids’ parties, and before anyone realises what’s happening, they’re the ones bringing out a tray of jelly shots.

Apparently no other country outside the region has been so devoted to Eurovision for so long, and if much of our love of the song contest is drenched in more layers of irony than a Sacha Baron Cohen movie, the last people to pick up on this would undoubtedly be the Eurovision organisers themselves.

It’s one thing to be amused by Eurovision, or even to take it to the next level by sending our own representative. It’s another entirely to stage one for our own region.

Eurovision was one of the first pan-European co-operative events, and as tenuous as the case might seem, it can be argued it lay the groundwork for the extraordinary integration that the region has achieved nowadays, at least until Brexit.

Our region, too, needs a mechanism to release tensions, just as Europe did all those years ago. Passions have been inflamed by China’s recent aggressive actions on those contested reefs, and the scars from World War II have never been as successfully healed in Asia as they were in Europe, where Germany’s approach to its wartime liberty has been rather a contrast to Japan’s denialism over some of its own atrocities.

There are tensions across the Korean border, and if we define Asia more broadly than South-East and North Asia, we include the tensions in the subcontinent and also the ever-problematic Middle East.

Imagine all these countries vying not for geopolitical and economic superiority, but for the honour of producing the best/worst song in the whole of Asia. And, crucially, imagine the notion of a popular vote spreading throughout our many neighbours that don’t currently allow that. It could be a revolution more profound than when Beyoncé dropped “Formation”.

Peace and harmony are admirable goals – but beyond that, just imagine the sheer amusement on offer! The official press release hints at some of the delights that await us. As Blink TV director Paul Clarke says:

Imagine – the musical virtuosity of Bollywood, the cutting edge of K-pop, and the excitement of Chinese and Japanese artists – now the biggest music consumers in the world.

I do imagine those things, but I imagine so much more. I imagine Vietnamese rappers like SuBoi dropping S1<K beats, and the groovy hypnotic Morlum beats from the Isan region in northern Thailand. And above all, I imagine North Korea’s Pochonbo Electronic Ensemble singing “Thank You, Comrade Kim Jong-Il“.

They aren’t the only excessively patriotic dags in our region, mind you. Check out “Stand Up For Singapore“, from the island state whose sense of self-irony has never been quite as potent as its economy.

My only concern is whether Australia can mix it with the kitschy powerhouses of our region. So far, SBS has been choosing credible but bland artists, which I for one have found a little disappointing for a song contest that once handed its trophy to Mr Lordi.

I’m confident that if we look hard enough, though, we can find artists of sufficient quality for Asiavision. Take, for instance, the Sudanese-Australian rapper “Ur Boy” Bangs, who definitely bested Jimmy Fallon a few months ago after the talk show host included his track “Take U To Da Movies” in a segment mocking the world’s worst music.

I want to take this opportunity to nominate Bangs as our first Asiavision representative, and I’m prepared to manipulate any popular vote, Boaty McBoatface style, to make that happen.

So well done, SBS, for giving us not one but two festivals of kitschy pop in which to revel each and every year. Next stop, the Pan-American Song Contest, and then we take things interplanetary.

 

This article was first published at The Drum

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