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International fan of the week - tennis writer Ben Rothenberg



With the first Grand Slam of 2018 just around the corner, Australia is in the midst of our annual summer of tennis. Joining us down under are the world's best tennis players and the journalists who follow them around the globe.

One of these is New York Times writer Ben Rothenberg (You can find him on Twitter as @BenRothenberg) whose love of Eurovision is well known among his loyal fans. We asked him some quick fire questions on his love of the contest.

So first up… how does a young American become such a Eurovision fan? When did you first get into it?

I was doing an internship in London in 2008, and the first night I got there I was super jetlagged and fell asleep with the TV on golf or something. When I woke up hours later, there were a bunch of Latvian pirates singing to me and it all made so much sense in my exhausted haze. I've never looked back.

As part of your job you’d be in the middle of the clay court season leading to the French Open, do you find it hard to keep up with or watch the contest?

It's definitely not ideal having the contest come during tournaments. When it was during Rome in 2016 I didn't feel like I could pay full attention to the semifinals at all, but I was able to get off site during the final and watch it on a TV near a food kiosk across the street. I had no problem dancing wildly in the street when my 2016 fave, Austria, came on.

Ahhh Zoe - a great choice and big favourite of ours here ~ Aussievision

Have you been to the contest before or would you take time off the circuit to attend?

I have! I went as credentialed media for Slate in Vienna and 2015 which was lots of fun, and I also bought tickets to several sessions to go as a fan, and made a sign to support my ancestral homeland of Latvia in the second semifinal. I learned quickly there, though, that flags are way more effective than signs. Rookie mistake, should've known better.

We all know Mans Zelmerlow is a keen tennis fan, but on the flip side are there any tennis players you know who are Eurovision fans?

Not too many are super dedicated, but a few (Laura Robson, Andrea Petkovic) will reliably tweet about it when the final is on TV.

Even more reason to like them both!

We know you were a Wiktoria fan, do you follow many of the National Finals?

I do like Wiktoria, but of the recent Melodifestivalen ladies I'm definitely more of an Ace Wilder guy, even if I'm still baffled by her wildly problematic staging in 2014. But yes, I love Melodifestivalen and will watch every deltavling loyally. I have the SVT app on my phone year round just because it makes me happy to see it. I got into Melodifestivalen in 2010, and still am a loyal fan of both Eric Saade and Timoteij (RIP).

Which is your favourite Eurovision year and why?

This is a tough one. Much easier to say my least favorite (2013 was almost all trash), but I think my favorite would probably be 2011, even though the winner was deeply unsatisfying. I love the first 16 songs of that final minus one (Lithuania), so it's hugely rewatchable. Also, Jedward are my spirit animals, but their 2012 song was just so boring.

Umm... 2013 was amazing! The first seven alone - Only Teardrops, Hold Me, Gravity (!), I Feed You My Love, What If, Alcohol is Free, L'essenziale all incredible!

Which Eurovision song....

Is your favourite?

It will always be my first: Latvia 2008. It's just so preposterous, committed and catchy. Eurovision perfection, and it absolutely wouldn't survive anywhere else.

Is overrated?

Oh lots here. I don't think Denmark 2013 is a great winner at all, and I don't think the lyrics make any sense whatsoever (which isn't a Eurovision disqualifier, I know, but the song pretends to be so meaningful. Norway or Azerbaijan should have taken it. Among fan favorites, I think Norway 2015 is weird as heck and I don't get why people stan so hard for it. It was uncomfortable and odd.

A Monster Like Me does split the fandom, we stan hard for it

Was robbed?

I'll go for San Marino 2013 here. It was by FAR the country's best entry, but got hosed by being performed second and in the second semifinal, which was light years ahead of the atrocious first one. I was happy for Valentina that she got through in 2014, but Maybe was a mess. Similarly in microstate sympathies, Andorra deserved a spot in the 2007 final, but that semifinal was just too big to survive. Also I'm a fan of LOTS of songs that lost in the 2010 semifinals, specifically Slovakia, Finland, and Lithuania. I loved Estonia too but it was too strange for this world.

Had the best live performance?

United Kingdom 1983. I've never looked at a stool the same way since.

A fine choice!

Did you last play?

According to my iTunes, the last one I heard was Belarus 2007, Work Your Magic, on shuffle. Tremendous cheese.

Is your guilty pleasure?

I don't feel much guilt about any Eurovision pleasures, but maybe the performance I love more than others do disproportionately is Lithuania 2012 (especially the semifinal performance to be real specific). It's goofy disco fun, and the way Donny is up there on stage trying so so hard all by himself (I heard Lithuania didn't have budget to send back up dancers?) is just so endearing and inspiring, and his doing a flip was my phone wallpaper for quite a while.

The US competing at Eurovision has been floated around, would you like to see your nation compete?

Absolutely not. The US is such a pop culture goliath that I appreciate that there's a sphere it's not really able to penetrate (save for Americans who answer the call like Kalomira).

What do you think of Australia being in the contest?

I think it's totally incongruous and nonsensical, but then again so is everything else in Eurovision so why not? You've sent very slick entries and so I think there's no need to stop in the foreseeable future. However, I think you're always going to struggle in the televote. It's going to be hard for the masses to ever agree that the best European song comes from the opposite side of the world.

What are your thoughts on our artist this year – Jessica Mauboy?

To be perfectly honest I don't know her well at all, so I'll withhold judgement 'til the song. Isaiah would have been great had he gotten a decent song, which brings me to...

And finally – Sea of Flags, Tonight Again, Sound of Silence or Don’t Come Easy?

Tonight Again. It was very popular in Vienna when I was there, and it was just fun pop perfection that's super relistenable. Sound of Silence was the better performance, but it's not super captivating for me as a studio track. I didn't like Don't Come Easy as a song at ALL, I thought it was overwrought as heck and I thought his turntable trenchcoat and projection screen staging was completely uncaptivating. Don't understand at all why juries bailed it out, my thinking was much more in line with the televoters who smacked it down.

So that was a no for Isaiah's song...

Thanks for your time doing this Ben, hope you’re enjoying humid Brisbane…

Thanks for having me!