Thoughts on Eurovision 2014

Well, I went and did it. I watched every single one of the official videos for the entrants, watched the first Semi-Final online a little while after it was broadcast, watched the second Semi-Final live online (at work – don’t tell anyone!), and the Grand Final live online at home.

It didn’t *quite* live up to my exepctations – because from what I’ve read, there was a lot more kitschiness to be expected.

Nonetheless, I was still entertained.

As an “introductory vignette” (and to give the stage crew time to reset for the next performer), they had each act present a brief video of them making their national flag in some unusual medium. Latvia’s Aarzemnieki made some sort of pastry for their song “Cake to Bake”. Finland carved up blocks of sea ice, Romania went with the reflection of fireworks on water, and Albania’s Hersi got a tattoo of the double-headed eagle on her back, which was photographed through red cellophane. Evidently it was a legit tattoo; it was clearly visible when she was performing. The most unusual one was for Estonia – Tanja (and a guy who can be assumed to be songwriter Timo Vendt) went to a harbor and stacked shipping containers.

Russia was represented by the twin sisters Anastasia and Maria Tolmachevy. Yes, there was some booing whenever Russia got mentioned. Oddly, there was no corresponding cheering for Ukraine. Anyway, the twins are seventeen years old. I wonder – are there perverts in Russia who are counting down the days until they reach the age of majority (like some Americans did for Lindsay Lohan and the Olsen twins)?

In addition to a good song, you need some visual gimmick to get people to remember you when it comes time to vote. With over two dozen contestants in the Grand Final, you need all the help you can get. Sometimes, this gets really surreal. Greece’s performers were backed up by a guy on a trampoline. Montenegro used a woman on skates. And for some reason, Dilara Kazimova of Azerbaijan had a woman on a trapeeze.

Eurovision is apparently huge in Australia – despite the show airing early in the morning, Australian time. At the end of the Second Semi-Final, during the voting period, the producers made fun of this with a video of Aussies begging to be allowed to compete. When told that they couldn’t, for obvious geographical reasons, the video went to an animation of the entire continent being airlifted to the North Atlantic. That led in to a performance by Australian singer and actress Jessica Mauboy.

It’s also de rigueur to make fun of the performers. Some of the better ones:

“The frontman is a gigantic five-year-old who hasn’t noticed that his hair has recently been caught in a pencil sharpener. The guitarist is an African tribesman in apricot shorts. The bass player is Weird Al Yankovic’s registered-sex-offender son. The song is about moustaches. The overall effect is akin to what you’d get if you kidnapped three tramps, hit them on the head with fire extinguishers, and forced them at gunpoint to form a band using only items found in an underfunded crèche and the Wikipedia page on “Music”.” – Ben Pobjie, Sydney (Australia) Morning Herald

“Things do not bode well for this “Moj Svijet”. I just can’t seem to make it all the way through without feeling my soul leave my body which isn’t a great feeling. Even with the video being stunning – or at least the first 30 seconds are – the instant those pipes start, I’m unconscious. Night Nurse has nothing on Sergej.” – Carl Greenwood, (London) Daily Mirror

“Camper by far was Belarus Robin Thicke dead ringer Teo while Georgia’s The Shin and Mariko will surely achieve YouTube immortality via their backing hoofer attached to an open parachute. Halfway through it dawned on you the gimmick referenced the sky-diving undercurrents of their number, Three Minutes To Earth. The drummer bellowing in the manner of a deranged sheepherder went unexplained.” – Ed Power, The (London) Telegraph

Even on live Twitter people got into the act, referring to Iceland’s Pollapönk as the offspring of the Teletubbies and ZZ Top. Personally, I thought Italy’s Emma Morrone (along with her backup band and dancers) looked like they just came from their day jobs as greeters at Caesar’s Palace.

Given the variety of languages spoken in Europe, and used in the songs, there are going to be some translation issues. The “Lyric of the Night”, according to Twitter, was “I love parking inattentively” from Italy’s “La Mia Città” (“My City”).

If you haven’t heard by now, Austria’s Conchita Wurst won with the song “Rise Like a Phoenix”. This caused some upset in certain places, for Conchita is the drag persona of Tom Neuwirth. Frankly, I think the only reason she won is that she was the most interesting of all the performers. The song itself has been compared to a James Bond theme. This is apt, since the song is loud, bombastic, incomprehensible, and ultimately forgettable.

Second place went to The Common Linnets from the Netherlands, with “Calm After the Storm”. A far better song that “Rise Like a Phoenix”, if you ask me.

All in all, I was quite well entertained, and I plan on following Eurovision again next year. If you missed any of it, in addition to the “official” music videos for each entry, there are all the individual live performances as well as the full programs on YouTube for your viewing pleasure.

“Eurovision seems to exist in a world quite apart from our own. Taste, restraint and sense have no place  in this world. It is a world where you don’t need a reason to hire a unicyclist to ride around you while  you sing, you just do it. It is a world where the spectacle is so beautifully surreal that we can all  ignore the hopelessly corrupt voting system. Most of all, it is a world where everyone is trying so damn  hard to bring to life an artistic vision that the boring old sensible world would reject as far too stupid that you can’t help but admire them. Give a rousing cheer to your TV sets – every one of these  crazed Eurostars is a hero.” – Ben Pobjie, Sydney (Australia) Morning Herald

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