Saturday, May 20, 2006

A load of Balkans

For those about to rock...

There is really nothing else quite like the Eurovision Song Contest - the annual 'music' talent contest provides amusement, kitsch, controversy, skimpy costumes, rampant nationalism, and the occasional catchy tune. In short, it's perfect for bloggers. For my non-EU readers, every year 24 European countries put forward a song and over three staggering hours of live television these are performed, and then voted on by the public from those countries. Last night Athens hosted the 51st contest, as they won last year with a Shakira-esque singer who managed to rhyme 'conviction' with 'crucifiction' in her entry. Oh yes.

So my flatmate Paul and I settled down to a corking evening of cheesy Euro pop, with Michelle (who is from the US and has no previous exposure to Eurovision) coming in now and again, and quickly leaving with a puzzled expression on her face. As it lasted for a loooong time, I took a few notes, so here are some things about each entry as they came on. The BBC's coverage was tremendous, with Terry Wogan once again providing hilarious commentary. I wonder if other countries actually take it seriously? (Apologies for the length of this post - but it serves to give you an idea of what we went through)

1. Switzerland - six4one with "If we all give a little"
Sample lyric - "If we all give a little we can make this a world for everyone"
Well, we're off. The first entry is a group of three men and three women in various strange costumes. They don't look Swiss, although we aren't sure what Swiss people should look like. Lots of arm waving and daft hats. The crowd seem to like it.

2. Moldova - Natalia and Arsenium with "Loca"
Sample lyric - "Hey Loco, I'll give you my choco, do you want it or not?"
A 2-Unlimited style cheesy summer pop effort, with plenty of skimpy costume changes as the blonde singer Natalia keeps shedding clothes, although she ends up in a wedding dress, strangely. Someone rides a scooter on stage. This is what Eurovision is all about, although they are let down by Arsenium who Paul thinks looks like a Butlins Redcoat. They blow kisses to the crowd.

3. Israel - Eddie Butler with "Together we are one"
Sample lyric - "So let's close the door on yesterday"
An Israeli gospel choir with screeching women in white suits. Plenty of melodramatic key changes as Eddie the lead singer sits on a white grand piano. To be honest, it's rubbish.

4. Latvia - Cosmos with "I hear your heart"
Sample lyric - "A violin on a summer night, on a full moon mountaintop, couldn’t sound as sweet as you do – don’t stop"
Now this is more like it. Admittedly the song is fairly anonymous as Cosmos are six suited men singing a capella, although a couple of them have cracking mullets. Just as we're writing them off, three of them start to assemble a robot which moonwalks across the stage. Astounding, this is brilliant. Crowd goes wild, the robot waves.

5. Norway - Christine Guldbrandsen with "Alvedansen"
Sample lyric - "Only I can spark you to flame, come and play my secret game"
Six stunning blondes sing a song about elves. Dressed all in white, they don't sing in English - but neither of us care. Do all women in Norway look like this? We watch the song in total silence, having forgotten about the Latvian robot.

6. Spain - Las Ketchup with "Bloody Mary"
Sample lyric - "Una Bloody Mary por favor"
This one seems to be a drinking song about going on holiday, and has ballet dancers dressed in black. To be honest, I'm still thinking about the Norwegians.

7. Malta - Fabrizio Faniello with "I do"
Sample lyric - "I kept a piece of heart you gave, from our breakup day"
An emotive spiky haired bloke with an open shirt sings something about relationships ending. Maybe if he wasn't constantly surrounded by gorgeous dancers his girlfriend might not have left, eh? Just a thought, Fabrizio. He finishes the song on his knees, looking up at the heavens.

8. Germany - Texas Lightning with "No no never"
Sample lyric - "Never ever not gonna keep you safe where it's warm"
Wow. This one's a country and western song, complete with luminous cacti and banjos. The singer looks like an older version of Lulu, and the band all have stetsons. The crowd really like it. With quiet shame, I write 'This is actually quite good' on my pad.

9. Denmark - Sidsel Ben Semmane with "The twist of love"
Sample lyric - "He didn't know how to twist, didn't know how to make a girl insist"
Next up are the Danes, with a Grease style musical number involving plenty of dancers and some breakdancing. I missed most of it, as I was in the kitchen scouring the cupboards for something to drink.

10. Russia - Dima Bilan with "Never let you go"
Sample lyric - "Flesh of my flesh, bone of my bone, love's carving it into the stone"
Dima is apparently a heart throb in Eastern Europe, he has spiky hair and is wearing a vest. He stares soulfully at the tracking camera as it pans past. A woman showers him with rose petals as another appears out of a white grand piano which nobody was playing.

11. FYRM - Elena Risteska with "Ninanajna"
Sample lyric - "Dance with me nananinananajna"
The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia put out a gorgeous young Kylie-type singer in a low-cut top and denim hot pants. Paul tries to work out if Nananinananajna is the name of a person as I quickly Google Elena Risteska. After seeing the results, she becomes my favourite.

12. Romania - Mihai Traistariu with "Tornero"
Sample lyric - "Tornero, tornero, tornerai, tornerai"
Mihai can 'reach five octaves and one third', apparently, whatever that means. He also wears an incredible amount of makeup and likes enormous, crashing key changes. Dry ice makes it's first appearance.

13. Bosnia & Herzegovina - Hara Mata Hari with "Lejla"
Sample lyric - "Wind rolls down the meadow, pain follows me like a shadow"
Terry Wogan mentions alcohol for the second time as the Bosnians bring an accordian and funny-shaped guitars to the mix. More white suits as they walk slowly around the stage, singing their emotive lyrics. "This kind of stuff wins Eurovision", I say to Paul. He looks away.

14. Lithuania - LT United with "We are the winners!"
Sample Lyric - "We are the winners of Eurovison! We are!"(x4)
"Lithuania have never won the contest" says Terry, despite their positive song title. Paul thinks it sounds like van Halen. I write 'six hairy men in suits, shouting'. One of them produces a gold megaphone. When they finish, the crowd boo them.

15. United Kingdom - Daz with "Teenage Life"
Sample lyric - "If you treat the kids fine, together they will shine"
Paul fetches Michelle to see our entry, which is frankly appalling. "What's the deal with this?" she asks. I try and explain what Eurovision is about, but Daz's yellow jacket and dancers dressed in school uniforms say more than I ever could. Michelle leaves.

16. Greece - Anna Vissi with "Everything"
Sample lyric - "I can feel my life ending, as a whisper, goodbye"
The crowd go crazy as the home singer comes on. Greek flags wave frantically as Anna yelps out her over the top song. The crowd join in and Anna finishes in a heap on the floor. Will Greece win again? If the audience could vote, absolutely.

17. Finland - Lordi with "Hard Rock Hallelujah"
Sample lyric - "It's the Arockalypse, on the day of Rockening"
Finland are something else. In a competition of pretty girls and cheesy pop, they produce a hard rock anthem dressed in full length rubber monster costumes. "They look like Klingons" says Terry. The song is brilliant. The drummer looks like the Predator, and the lead singer unfurls a huge pair of wings. Outstanding.

18. Ukraine - Tina Karol with "Show me your love"
Sample Lyric - "You'll be my part, that's why I came"
Tina's lyrics cause some tittering in our flat as she gamely tries to follow the Finns. She has a very short skirt, which helps, and is highly enthusiastic. Backed by dancing Cossacks with tambourines, they introduce skipping to the show for the first time tonight. Tina blows kisses to the crowd.

19. France - Virginie Pouchain with "Il etait temps"
Sample lyric - "Oh what a treat when the dream is at the end"
We're not at the end yet, as France's turgid entry means there are still five acts to go. Her high notes are seriously out of tune and she seems to give up long before the end. Terry mentions the war.

20. Croatia - Severina with "Moja Stikla"
Sample lyric - "For the grass has not yet sprouted, where my high heel has trodden"
Plenty of classic Eurovision stereotypes here - dancers in ethnic costume, over the top singer, masses of makeup, dry ice, and the classic whipping-the-skirt-off-routine Bucks Fizz patented all those years ago. We're not sure what the song is about.

21. Ireland - Brian Kennedy with "Every song is a cry for love"
Sample lyric - "Being strong, being tough - never tender, always rough"
More tittering. As befits tradition, the Irish entry is a whimsical ballad, complete with violins, swaying backing singers, and a pained final note. "Eurovision can't be won by someone called Brian", I say to Paul.

22. Sweden - Carola with "Invincible"
Sample lyric - "When it's coming over you, you won't let it go"
Even more tittering. Michelle looks at us with a confused expression. Sweden's entry sees the first use of a wind machine in the finals, and also the first wearing of silver trousers. The backing singers produce large silk flags as Carola manages to rhyme 'heart' with the word 'heart'.

23. Turkey - Sibel Tuzun with "Superstar"
Sample lyric - "My brilliance will bedazzle you. Watch out!"
Another energetic blonde in a short skirt. "She looks like one of those people in Dalkeith that would beat you up", says Paul. Terry Wogan informs us that the dancers are actually British. I mark it down as one of ours, although it's pretty dreaful.

24. Armenia - Andre with "Without your love"
Sample lyric - "What I say? What I hide? Without your love?"
The final entry! It's almost over, as Andre belts out a Greek bouzouki-style number whilst standing on a metal box. The crowd appreciate it, although maybe they are just relieved they've reached the end. I'm not even sure Armenia is in Europe. But the singing is over.

So with the end of the performances, it's time for the voting. Each country has a public phone vote, with the stipulation that you can't vote for your own country. Of course, voting for a neighbour seems to be allowed, and the tactical stuff begins. The Slovenian televote comes in first, and they give 10pts to Croatia and 12 to Bosnia. The crowd are booing already. Andorra give Greece 1 point and Spain 12. More booing. Political votes pile in, as Latvia give Finland 8, Lithuania 10, and Russia 12. Amusingly the Portuguese public give no points to Spain. The voting continues.

Over the next hour - yes - the choices of the European public are counted and verified. Croatia give Bosnia 12, Bosnia reciprocate. "The old Balkan foxtrot" as Terry calls it. Ukraine give Russia 12, but get only 10pts back. The French give Turkey top marks, and the Greek host congratulates Turkey through gritted teeth. The rock monsters of Finland are storming clear in the voting. Belarus are next to give their results. I write 'Armenia 8, Ukraine 10, Russia 12' on my pad. They give Armenia 8, Ukraine 10, and Russia 12.

The man from the German jury appears on a horse. Terry mentions the war again. We've been watching this for almost four hours now, as the Dutch spokesman makes an ill-advised sexual comment. Albania give Malta 1pt, and they become the last country to get off the mark. Nobody will get 0 this year. Moldova give neighbouring Romania 12, leading to more booing. Finland are 50pts clear. The Serbian public give Macedonia 8, Croatia 10, and Bosnia 12. The UK jury gives top points to Finland. Rock on! Paul votes for Latvia because they had a robot in their routine. They come 16th. Greece give 12pts to Finland, who have won. Outstanding result, Europe I salute you. Lordi come on stage to reprise their winning entry in their monster costumes, holding bouquets of flowers. The Eurovision song contest really is something else.

Final top three scores - Finland 292pts, Russia 248, Bosnia 229.

Finnish Monsters Rock Eurovision

Official Lordi site

Official Eurovision site