J'Accuse! The Eurovision Song Contest
Every year for Eurovision, I make a point of dancing to the winning entry with my friend Kate who, at the age of 54, is almost as old as the contest itself. This year, the winning entry was Azerbaijan, and when they returned to the stage in the last moments of the competition to perform their song and I stood up to dance, I thought, "Somehow, this is not right." Seconds later, holding on to the mantelpiece in my sitting-room as I gyrated in slow motion towards the ground, I remember thinking, "The taste of injustice, which I can just about distinguish through all the booze, is sour indeed". And, as the song wound to its end, bringing to a close the contest for the year 2011, while Kate and I were using my coffee table to crunk our backsides in the air, I slurred to myself, "This injustice must not be permitted to exist!"
Yes, the Eurovision Song Contest -- once the most noble of all Europe's traditions, a competition born of European camaraderie, designed to crown the country producing the most dazzling pop song in any given year -- once again gave its highest award to the crappiest, most ignoble song, and once more we must consider the possibility that the winning country possibly didn't earn their victory in the most honourable manner. You heard me, AzerBUYjan. Oh yeah. I went there. It hurts when someone speaks truth to power, doesn't it? Well, nothing will stop me from saying it. They shouldn't even have been in the competition! Where the hell is Azerbaijan? For the purposes of this article, I tried to place Azerbaijan on a map of the world, and I landed roughly 500 miles away, in Kazakhstan. Point proven -- it isn't in fucking Europe. Say it with me: this was a sham of the very worst order.
But before I lay into the politics of the thing; before I begin to attack the machine, in what people will surely recognise in years to come as my Pulitzer moment - before all that, let's pause to review the evening itself. Did it deliver, televisually?
Oh my cherubs, and how. A quick note on how I mark the acts from each country: everyone gets points out of five for the following criteria: Gayness, Pyrotechnics, and Desperation. OK, on with the show!
We began with Finland, against whose entry on my form I have written simply, "CRAP". Finland's entry this year was a very shy mammal in bad clothes, singing a drab acoustic number called "Da Da Dam." This simply will not do. What we require from Eurovision is a bad costume, or some fireworks, or some terrible lyrics, or, you know, someone hanging washing on a line while a woman in a polka dot dress grinds her loins and four brides knit some clothes. Is that too much to ask, goddamn it?
Bosnia and Herzegovina's entry, up next, consisted of a peerlessly pervy-looking man and a bad band with only one dancer, singing a terrible song called Love In Rewind. Also not good enough. After this extremely inauspicious start, two things happened: I made the switch from white wine to red wine, and Denmark fielded a good entry. OK! This was more like it!
This is classic Eurovision. It starts off promising: "Come on boys, come on girls/ In this crazy, crazy world/ You're the diamond, you're the pearl/ Let's make a new tomorrow." Yes mate! Let's! This is a charming proposition that everyone can go along with. You sense the singer believes in it. There is a hook to the tune. Don't tell me you're not already enjoying this. I think that while the band could be a bit more Gay in order to earn a perfect score, the singer's hair tribute to Jedward (whose performance for Ireland, at this stage of the night, we are all awaiting with bated breath) is a step in the right direction . By the time the winning chorus comes around, you're already singing along. Actually, the verses are kinda hooky too! You love this! What really makes the performance, though - the thing that lifts this up from being merely a brilliant, uniquely engaging ditty - is the bit where the singer goes out on his own into the audience and we see that his shirt doesn't have a back! Good points for use of sexuality. That's so Eurovision. Well done, Denmark.
Lithuania are next, with "C'est ma vie". A tip to Lithuania: don't sing in French. The singer has a great rack but is clearly a psycho. Then it's Hungary, with "What About My Dreams?" What about my nightmares, Hungary? Hmm? Next!
Oh my. Next up, at long last, are Jedward, with -- for me -- the performance of the night. I'd never seen Jedward on the "X Factor", the 'talent' contest where they made their name. But as a practised Eurovision watcher, I know talent when I see it, and let me tell you right now that John and Edward - yeah, they haven't got any. But that is categorically not the slightest obstacle to Eurovision domination, and in fact can be a true bonus when you turn it to your advantage, as the brilliant Jedward did in their era-defining performance, by goofing and mugging your way through a visual extravaganza. THIS IS SO EUROVISION:
I could only get hold of a semi-final performance, but they basically did exactly the same thing in the final, don't worry. What counts here is the intensity of the performance; the shininess and idiocy of the costumes; the boyish glee to be there and the smellable desperation to win! That bit at the beginning where John (or Edward) is lying on the ground pretending to be the shadow of Edward (or John): that is absolute genius and already gets you five full points for pyrotechnics from me. I loved the camp fascist look, too - the red and black iconography, like Kraftwerk without any talent or shame. It really works in the context of Eurovision. In terms of songcraft, we've got a number about lipstick or something, it's vaguely sexual, there's a bit about a car crash - perfection. Add to this the frisson of the brothers frequently singing "You've got your lipstick on" to each other, and you've got Eurovision gold right there. Full marks, Jedward. You've done your country proud.
The whisper going around my sitting-room at this stage -- or the raucous screams reverberating around it, whatevs - was that Jedward had seriously brought their A* game, and raised the bar to a point where the next acts would have to do something phenomenal. And lo, Sweden did their damnedest:
Super stuff. Can you believe our luck, getting two contestants in a row with full Gay marks? Those gay components in full: the one glove; the Michael Jackson dance moves (daring); the dancers' bondage gear; the bit where they do willowy arms behind him and someone fingers his jacket; and then, gayest of all, the smashing of his glass cage - a brilliant signifier of a modern coming-out. The lyrics, about wanting to be popular, earn him full desperation points. This is excellent, and also marks the stage where I move on to rum and ginger.
Next up are Estonia, with the song "Rockefeller Street." I'm not a huge fan of it, but it meets with approval in my sitting-room, with some of my fellow judges saluting its audacious visuals:
Actually, I will grant you that the bit where she uses actual magic to turn her hanky into a stick is fucking amazing. We loved that! Well done, Estonia. Next up, it's Greece (crap) and then Russia (whose performance I missed due to fetching ice cubes from the kitchen and having a cigarette). Then France, who were apparently the favourites this year, with "Sognu." Everyone in the room: "Does this mean anything in French, Caspar?" Me: "No." I later discover it was sung in the Corsican dialect. Boo! Hiss!
I think my sister might fancy this chap, so I don't want to crush him, but his hair needs some severe brushing, and I just cannot approve of a military jacket in a post-The-Libertines world. Also, fake opera singing is so 2007. And finally, I am always furious with every French entry for not being this. Seriously, why would you not just send exactly that performance, year after year, until it finally won the award it so richly deserved? France, je te hais.
Then it was Italy -- quite sweet -- then Switzerland, with "In Love For A While", which was rubbish. Graham Norton, who was presenting the show on the night and whom I and everyone I know are much funnier than, didn't even make a crack about Switzerland's song title. This would never have happened in the day of the great Terry Wogan.
Up next was Blue, with this:
Well, it's OK. As pop songs go, it's not up there with Blue's greatest moments, and could just do with more oomph. Duncan wearing a neckerchief over a t-shirt is just a cynical bid for the gay vote. Just concentrate on keeping the love of all those disabled fans, Duncan! I'll give the band props for the screens of them naked in the background, and for getting Simon Webbe to wear leather and show his arms (HONK!), but our patriotic spirits weren't completely stirred. Still, this is by far Britain's best song for years and years. Please cast your minds back to this.
OK, I'm going to speed this up. Moldova: pointy hats; ska beat. Germany: quite sexy. Romania: appalling trousers. At this point of the evening, I make a regrettable comment about considering whoopee with the singer if we were the very last people in a bar at the end of the night; you're not getting a video link for this one. Austria: the best singing; awful song. Then came AzerBRIBEjan: a gay man and someone modelled on Fergie from the Black Eyed Peas, or even Fergie from the royal family. THIS DID NOT DESERVE TO WIN:
Absolute guff. I could sing better songs in my sleep, and have done. A comment from a fellow Eurovision judge: "This man obviously has sex with men, but this just isn't Gay enough." On with the recap. Slovenia: good tits. Iceland: rubbish. I called this one just from looking at a thumbnail of the band before the competition had even started. Spain: classic Eurovision. Undemanding fare, that actually got better and better the more it went on! You must also remember I'd had a fair bit of the old sauce by this stage of the night. Next, Ukraine. Two words: SAND PAINTING!
Yes!!!! That is so Eurovision. The song is grotesque of course, but five full marks for pyrotechnics! If you don't love sand painting, I don't want to be your friend.
Next is Serbia: jaunty, but lacking an extra je-ne-sais-quoi - and then Georgia, bringing an end to the performances. About Georgia, I consult my notes, and I've written: "rock stylings; shit dress."
The evening concluded with the truly shameful voting, which nevertheless got exciting on two occasions: first when it looked like the UK might be in contention for the first time in years and years (the war in Iraq really hurt our pop reputation), and then when it looked like Jedward were in with a shot. But then AzerbaiFRAUD started getting people's votes and Jedward and Blue both fell behind, and though I hoped and prayed for Sweden to rally, as they were in the top spots for a while, it was soon all over and we knew that the bad guys had bought it. We booed them. They performed their victorious song. Kate and I danced. We turned off the television; discussed, briefly, the regrettable corruption now so evidently gnawing away at the soul of Eurovision. I switched back to white wine.