Do you remember where you were the night of May 15, 1993?
Paul Jordan does.
He was 9 years old, sitting in front of the TV in his parents' bedroom in their house in the eastern English city of Peterborough. And he was watching in horror as the U.K.'s Eurovision entry, Sonia, lost by the tiniest of margins to Ireland's Niamh Kavanagh, handing the Emerald Isle its second consecutive title in the world's kitschiest song contest. (Ireland would go on to win again in 1994 and 1996, becoming the winningest nation in Eurovision history.)
"I was hysterical, screaming and shouting," says Jordan. "I was quite upset. I might even have cried -- slightly embarrassing, but hey. My dad, I think he thought I was watching a football match, and he came up and found me watching Eurovision. I think he was slightly disappointed."
Nonetheless, Jordan was hooked. He attended his first Eurovision contest as a teenager in 2000, where he was thrilled to pose for a picture with that year's U.K. contender, Nicki French. Now, as a 30-year-old, Jordan is better known in media circles as "Dr. Eurovision" -- one of a small but growing number of fans who have parlayed their obsession with the glitzy competition into solid academic achievement.
No Laughing Matter
Soon after Jordan began his studies at the University of Glasgow, the 2004 Orange Revolution erupted in Ukraine. The country had won Eurovision the same year, and its hosting gig the following year was laden with strong patriotic sentiment. Jordan, who was specializing in Eastern European politics, began to research Eurovision's impact on nations in transition. By 2011, encouraged by advisers, he had earned a doctorate with a dissertation
titled "The Eurovision Song Contest: Nation Building and Nation Branding in Estonia and Ukraine."
Jordan admits he sometimes struggled for respect among fellow students and professors, who often referred to him as "that Eurovision guy." More than once, he drew guffaws -- unintentionally -- when presenting his findings at academic conferences.
"I had a friend doing human rights in Russia; no one laughed there. Another one was doing language integration in the Baltic states. Again, no laugh there," he says. "And then I come along. And I wasn't talking about costume changes or [musical] key changes. I was talking about the way countries represent themselves, the way in which identity is discerned through either participating or hosting. But you know, they didn't quite get it."
Jordan, however, seems to be having the last laugh.
At the recommendation of a BBC correspondent, he adopted the "Dr. Eurovision" moniker and now actively markets himself as a pundit qualified to offer both high- and low-brow commentary on the annual contest during the "hot season" of May. Of his post-Soviet Ph.D. peers, he may be the only one to have his own media show reel
In addition to regular blogging
, podcasting, and de rigueur catty tweeting, Jordan also works in long form, penning scholarly articles on the politics behind Eurovision. He has written on everything from Russia's gay-rights crackdown to the "ticking time bomb of Ukraine
" -- a reference to this year's entry, "Tick Tock" by Maria Yaremchuk, who will face off against rival Russia and 14 other countries in the May 10 final. His first book, focusing on Eurovision in Estonia
, is being published this year.
Jordan, who also holds a full-time job as a research associate at Cardiff University, admits his career as "Dr. Eurovision" has profited from the contest's skyrocketing importance in the former Soviet states, many of whom are relatively new arrivals but have embraced the contest as a gateway to global legitimacy.
Jordan has attended all but two Eurovisions since 2000, including hosting stints by Latvia, Ukraine, Russia, and -- most recently -- Azerbaijan, which Jordan calls "the most politically charged Eurovision ever" for its lavish overspending and numerous rights abuses
committed in the run-up to the contest.
'A Bit Of Fun'
Most fascinating, says Jordan, is the serious spirit in which Azerbaijan and others approach a contest that has long been viewed by Western Europeans as a chance to celebrate the ridiculous. He says that extends to the newer members' apparent naiveté when it comes to Eurovision's reputation as a glittering keystone of gay culture.
"In Azerbaijan, I had a lot of locals asking why none of my friends had come with their wives or girlfriends," said Jordan, who is himself gay and often attends the contests in a kilt and Union Jack bow tie
. "Eurovision may be one of the only places in the world where it's the straight people who have to come out."
As Eurovision's political nature has grown, so has its academic following. Jordan is a member of the Eurovision Research Network, which brings together scholars studying everything from gender identity to fandom as social theory. Courses on the contest have even begun cropping up in a number of universities, like the Florence branch of New York University, which recently offered a class titled "Eurovision: European Politics Through Popular Music."
With all the beard-stroking going on, even "Dr. Eurovision" worries that people may be forgetting that the real point of the contest is "a bit of fun on a Saturday night." Fortunately, he still finds plenty to amuse him -- like the time delegates were encouraging guests to come to a party for the Buryanovskiye Babushki, Russia's Udmurt-speaking grannies
who proved a surprise favorite in the 2012 contest.
"Their song was called 'Party For Everybody,' and the Russians were going around promoting their party" – which, Jordan notes, was by invite only. "It just makes you laugh."