Eurovision Song Contest is back, ready to defy the pandemic

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In this photo taken on May 12, 2021, Cyprus' performer Elena Tsagrinou rehearses her song El Diablo at the Eurovision Song Contest at Ahoy arena in Rotterdam, Netherlands. Tsagrinou has already been in the spotlight after Orthodox Christian faithful on the Mediterranean island protested that it promoted satanic worship. Tsagrinou says her song El Diabolo, which she performs flanked by four dancers in skin-tight red costumes, was misinterpreted and is actually about an abusive relationship between two lovers. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

ROTTERDAM – Pounding beats? Check. Uplifting lyrics? Check. Huge, backlit white wings? Check.

After last year's Eurovision Song Contest was canceled amid the global COVID-19 pandemic, it is roaring back to life this year with coronavirus bubbles added to its heady mix of music and melodrama.

National delegations traveling to the Dutch port city of Rotterdam are abiding by strict measures to reduce the risk of infections, while the thousands of fans allowed to attend dress rehearsals, two semifinals and the grand final on Saturday will have to undergo testing to ensure they do not bring the virus into the cavernous venue.

Executive producer Sietse Bakker is glad it's going ahead at all.

“Organizing the Eurovision Song Contest is always challenging because you have less than a year to organize one of the biggest and most complex events in Europe, but to do it in a pandemic is much, much more complicated," he told The Associated Press.

Despite the pandemic measures, the contest that aims to unite Europe in song is continuing its 65-year tradition of upbeat fun.

Fans near the Ahoy arena can get into the swing of the event early. Traffic lights at a pedestrian walkway outside the venue have been transformed so that a green figure dances to Abba's iconic 1974 winning song “Waterloo” when it's safe to cross.

The immensely popular event mixes high camp — at rehearsals, Norway's Andreas Haukeland, known as TIX, performed his song “Fallen Angel” in huge white wings — with lyrics encouraging inclusion and positivity while avoiding political messages.