Anyone who has spent the last week in Stockholm would have a tough time escaping Europride. The two-week gay party has led to a whole television channel turning itself over to repeats of Queer as Folk, to public buses flying rainbow flags and to endless articles in the media on gay rights. For the moment, you can be gay and almost feel like you’re in the majority.
One other thing that’s inescapable during Pride week is schlager.These days, it might be hard to discern a single Eurovision genre, but in Pride Park on Thursday they were keeping the myth alive. If it had been in the Eurovision Song Contest (or a Swedish heat), it was in.
What makes this such a winning concept at Pride is that a large core of Swedish gay men have a knowledge of Eurovision history that can best be compared with many straight men’s knowledge of football. When the delightful Mark Levengood announced that the next act had come second in the 1991 Eurovision Song Contest, the whole audience seemed to shreik in recognition (for anyone not up to speed on Eurovision history, it was French singer Amina).
One consequence of this crazy level of adoration was that the singers repaid it, without exception, with gutsy performances. A sixty-something duo singing a catchy (if dated) ditty called ‘C’est la Vie’ proved that gay men and middle aged women often have peculiarly similar taste in music.
Charlotte Perrelli, the singer who took Sweden to an ignominious eighteenth place in Eurovision, found an audience quite ready to let bygones be bygones. They lapped up her ‘Hero’, but reserved their strongest applause for ‘Take me to your Heaven,’ which won her Eurovision in 1999.
When Perrelli repeatedly told them ‘Ni är helt fantastiska’ (‘You’re completely wonderful’), she must have known she was addressing an audience who will still be cheering her on thirty years from now. Likewise, a succession of one-hit wonders and middle-aged schlager singers can still come to Stockholm Pride to don their spandex and feel the love.
The Big Foreign Act of the night was the exception that proved the rule. Dana International, the Israeli transsexual singer who won the contest in 1998, sent the audience delirious with her hit Diva. But even Dana couldn’t steal the show from Sweden’s own Lena Philipsson, who reminded everyone why she’s a first-class entertainer. The combination of a solid voice, great legs and a willingness to act smutty for her audience meant that there was only one name the audience was chanting when it was time for an encore.
Gay Pride may ostensibly be about politics – and if you happen to be gay or transsexual and living in Uganda, for instance, the struggle is far from won. But don’t for a minute be fooled that half a million people took part in last year’s Stockholm Pride to be lectured to about human rights or to express a sense of victimhood. They were there to party, and in the case of Thursday night’s festivities, to indulge their love of schlager. And it would be hard to find a more good-natured, exuberant, carefree and downright fun night out anywhere in Sweden.