Well if 125 Million people see fit to watch The Eurovision Song Contest – 35,000 of them packed into the arena in Dusseldorf, Germany - then I feel duty bound to watch it too. There are three hosts. A comedienne with a mean line in languages, wearing a bright red feathery dress - ‘Germany’s Simon Cowell’, the chirpy guy in the middle - and a va va voom female newsreader, who presumably will fill us in on breaking news. So the show begins!
Chirpy guy clowns around with a guitar while the comedienne sings a song about wearing blue underwear. Then he sings it. Maybe it’s a German thing because I can’t really see Simon Cowell melodically informing us what he has on under his suit. Oh, then last year’s winner – Lena – a sort of quirky Bjork who seems always to wear black, comes on and sings it too. Ah right, light dawns! It’s her song! And she’s back this year to sing another one.
So – the guy tells the glamorous one that she looks absolutely gorgeous – and the other woman pretends to punch him. Ha ha! But this is the thing about Eurovision – it doesn’t always translate. There’s a lot of people out there to entertain across an entire continent, with no common language, though usually English is de rigueur if you want to win. If you know what de rigueur means – and certainly a working knowledge of French may come in handy when France comes on.
Except he sings in Corsican, so pardonne-moi for not understanding a word – though he really means every one of them. He’s ooh la la good looking and has a lovely operatic voice, the tune is intense and martial and he wears a kind of sailor suit. A background of brooding clouds and sunsets sets the scene – about whatever it is. I do appreciate how lucky English speaking peoples are to understand most of the songs. Even if, like Finland’s entry, it’s about waiting for an apple to fall off a tree. Could it be something to do with Adam and Eve? Isaac Newton? Sometimes knowing the language doesn’t help.
The BBC commentator is Irish comedian Graham Norton, who in true Terry Wogan style – ie pithy, and taking the erm, pith – is sardonic and dare we say, slightly superior? Wogan has been accused of xenophobia, though as he said ‘some of the songs are funny’. Following the fall of the Berlin Wall and the inclusion of the former Eastern bloc to the contest he resigned saying the show was too political, due to the ‘bloc’ vote - as now countries voted for their neighbours instead of voting for the songs.
Well England and Ireland had won enough maybe. In 1999 the rule that songs must be performed in the official language of the entrants was abandoned – and singing in English was not the happy privilege of a few. Between 1957 and 1998 the UK had only failed to make the top ten twice – winning the competition five times. Since 1999 they have only MADE the top ten twice – and in 2003 they came last with ‘nul points’, which was something of a little victory in itself according to my sons, who thought it was hilarious. Last year the UK came last. Again.
So there was all to play for – and Blue, the UK entry had ‘done a lot of work’ touring Europe and promoting their song, according to Graham, and have sold 14 million albums in the past. Would they win? Would they come in the top ten, even? They sang ‘Oh no’ and ‘ah ah’ a lot, and in true Euro style it was anthemic. They punched the air, they really meant it!
Daft duo Jedward appeared for Ireland – twin boys ‘discovered’ by the UK’s X Factor. Championed by Irish judge Louis Walsh, who always loves his native people, and despite the ridicule of Simon Cowell, (or because of it?) - they were repeatedly voted back in. So here they were, bedecked in glittery red super hero suits, with massive background screens showing two cool dancers. Clever that - make your act look good by getting giant silhouettes to do the dancing for them. And backing vocalists did most of the singing so all they had to do was bounce about, boyishly and with intent. Well, they were pretty good at that.
Lena came on again for Germany, and swapped her little black dress for a skimpy black cat suit. Nice. Then she sang about being ‘taken by a stranger’, while dancing in a cute, suggestive way. She seemed confused actually. ‘She won’t be troubling us for a third time,’ said Graham – though the home crowd in Dusseldorf went bonkers.
Iceland really pulled at the heart strings with ‘Coming Home’ by Sjonni’s Friends, especially as each song is introduced with a ‘beating heart’ graphic. The song was written by Sjonni, and then sadly and unexpectedly he died. His friends came together to sing the song, with lyrics that include the words ‘I just want to go to a peaceful place I know, oh oh oh it’s time to go.’ and ‘ I just want to see your face again’ – which frankly, is heartbreaking , if also a bit spooky.
Serbia was just blummin brilliant – and I’m saying no more in case you get to watch. Well done girls! Graham thought Italy were rubbish – I quite liked it actually, sort of jazzy and silly, and Azerbaijan sang a song called ‘Running Scared’. It’s a couple dressed in white, being meaningful of course, and singing in English. I suppose it could just have been sewn up then – sentiment, emotion and lots of ‘oh oh’ noises. If it’s not ‘la la’ it has to be ‘oh oh’, if it wants to triumph at Eurovision, after all. I think last year Azerbaijan had a woman in a giant hamster wheel, or maybe that was Ukraine, as they’re also usually completely nuts.
So there it was then – and if this review is random, frothy and meaningless, I’m happy to have captured the true spirit of Eurovision. Oh and watch out for the crazy Moldovan hats.
Eurovision Song Contest 2011 USA
Eurovision Song ...2011 UK
Eileen O'Sullivan recommends these Amazon CDs - she watched the Eurovision Song Contest on British TV