Christy Moore once sang: “For all of our languages, we can’t communicate.” A cultured man is Christy, but he never quite reckoned for Eurovision.
To those with the misfortune to have grown up outside Europe, the Eurovision Song Contest must appear like some curious oddity, a routine quirk of a continent in which nude beaches are tolerated, excessive body hair is celebrated and the frustrated majority has reluctantly given up on the task of destroying the French, though not through lack of trying. For Europeans, however, Eurovision is one of those rare cultural events that transcends not just language and territorial boundaries, but generations too. Some countries resolve conflicts with war, diplomacy, or both; Europeans long ago resolved to settle their differences with an annual sing and dance-off. It’s just one of those things.
Musically, too, Eurovision has remained remarkably constant through the years. The break-up of the Eastern Bloc in the early 90s increased two-fold the number of countries entering the contest (as a rule of thumb, a country doesn’t officially exist until its football team has been formally ratified by UEFA; entry to Eurovision is the logical next step, and only then it can think about drawing up a constitution). Far from bringing a diverse range of new styles to the competition, the addition of all these new states has had the effect of freezing Eurovision in time, and the synth-heavy pop-rock that dominated Europe in the mid-nineties remains the contest’s dominant currency. Before, almost all entrants sang in their native tongue. Today, despite the fact that only two countries in the contest officially speak the language, almost all of the songs are performed in English, usually badly.
As winner of the controversial 2009 contest in Moscow, Norway played host to the 2010 edition. Oslo’s stage production was nowhere near as extravagant as the Moscow’s – which, like the ridiculously overblown opening to the 2008 Olympic games in Beijing , had only served to underline the savage injustices that were being wreaked beyond the arena’s four walls – but it was impressive nonetheless. No less than 25 countries took part in the contest proper, 14 others having been eliminated in the midweek semi-finals, and there was a palpable sense that the surviving entrants were taking it a little more seriously this year. Of the 25, only Spain’s entry could be construed as outright parody, and even so it’s never wise to take the wily Spaniards at face value.
Pre-tournament favourite Azerbaijan opened proceedings, with 17-year-old Safura Alizadeh performing ‘Drip Drop,’ a drab ballad that sounds for all the world like some irresponsible oke attempting to shove an Evanescence song into Rihanna’s ‘Umbrella.’ There was drama a few minutes later as Spain’s entry, performed by Daniel Diges, was interrupted by a stage invader who had cheekily arrived on cue in place of the scheduled back-up singer. Diges’ stage production was one of the night’s odder events, consisting of a team of dancers including a ballerina, a clown and a toy soldier; although as a proud owner of an Art Garfunkel-style stand-up perm, Diges overshadowed them all with charismatic ease. Diges, somewhat needlessly, performed the song for a second time at the end of the show, but it wasn’t enough to elevate a turgid track past mid-table in the final standings.
Hosts Norway took the odd decision of entering one of the dullest ballads in recent Eurovision memory, Didrik Solli-Tangen’s drab ballad ‘My Heart Is Yours’ memorable only for the staggering coincidence that occurred a mere seven songs later, when Ireland’s Niamh Kavanagh sang almost the exact same song with slightly more coherent lyrics. Both tracks finished perilously close to the bottom, although perhaps higher than either actually merited. The United Kingdom’s annual car-crash came and went with polite applause, and duly finished last with a flattering 10 points, while notorious jokers Greece registered the first genuinely fun song with what I can only assume was an ironically Turkish-themed effort, ‘Opa!’ Turkey, for their part, followed a mere five minutes later – maNga weren’t quite sure whether they wanted to be Rammstein or Tokio Hotel, but they wound just being shit.
The second half of the show provided the most laughs as the cheese truly began to give off its characteristic whiff. Iceland’s Hera Björk (no relation to the good Björk) performed ‘Je Ne Sais Quoi’ (‘I don’t know what’ in French), a decent enough song, notable mainly for the official video, which sees Hera inexplicably jump into a swimming pool from a diving board wearing a massive flowing cape. France’s Jessy Matador skipped through the isles as he performed ‘Allez Ola Ole’; the embarrassingly camp eurotrash track has also been named France’s official song for this year’s FIFA World Cup, presumably as a collective punishment for Thierry Henry acting like a shameful cheating whore in November’s play-off. Despite being gaudier than an orange tie on a pink shirt, Matador’s song finished twelfth, although one feels the national team will need more than a couple of cheeky handballs to reach a similar position in South Africa this summer.
Ukraine’s Alyosha wasn’t originally supposed to represent her country this year, however, like all elections in Ukraine, the original contest was adjudged to be corrupt (winner Vasyl Lazarovich had somewhat unfairly been the only candidate). Anybody familiar with Michael Jackson’s ‘Earth Song’ will have a reasonable idea of what her performance entailed – lots of posing and standing tough in the face of a needlessly strong wind, and clumsy lyrics about how we shouldn’t ruin the world and, like, stuff. Russia’s entry was even better – the Peter Nalitch Band forewent the wind machine entirely and introduced snow to the arena for their entry, a tale of lost love entitled ‘Lost & Forgotten.’ The snow wasn’t even the best part – for the big emotional crescendo, during which Nalitch sang “I’m looking at her photos,” the singer whipped out a piece of paper, on which he’d drawn a picture of a woman in blue pen. Surreal isn’t quite the word.
As the show wound down, a couple more tracks in the native tongue were wheeled out. Portuguese singer Filipa Azevedo sang ‘Há Dias Assim,’ a generic mid-90s ballad in the vogue of Whitney Houston or Celine Dion, although Filipa is easily a better singer than the latter, and certainly better than the 2010 version of the former. Israel’s Harel Skaat demonstrated with ‘Milim’ beyond all reasonable doubt that Hebrew is by far the least musical language in existence. Back to English, Armenia’s Eva Rivas delivered another of the evening’s more mind-boggling entries, the apparently political ‘Apricot Stone’ (the apricot is supposedly the national fruit of Armenia, and somebody just had to go and steal poor Eva’s apricot stone!), while Romanian duo Ovi Martin and Paula Seling duetted on a double-ended piano in front of dancers with large, black squirrel tails.
The interval act, a specially-commissioned musical performance that takes place during the half-hour or so when the final televotes are being cast and tabulated, is a staple of the Eurovision. Its most famous product, by some distance, is Riverdance, which took off during the 1994 contest in Dublin. Ever since, the interval acts have been somewhat of a damp squib, never quite sure whether to attempt to emulate Riverdance’s success with something equally “cultural” or to merely admit defeat and dial the notch down – neither option has proven particularly successful. This year, finally, Oslo may just have broken the mould: they commissioned dozens of “flash mobs,” consisting of thousands of volunteers, across Europe to spontaneously break into synchronised dance, like a macro edition of the infamous T-Mobile “Life’s For Sharing” viral video. There was music, too, but it was shit – it was all about the dancing.
To the results, then. Surprisingly, there was little room in the final standing for the more ridiculous entries, and for once it proved to be the more understated productions that took the plaudits. Belgium’s Tom Dice fulfilled the annual role of that one douchebag who walks around with an acoustic guitar playing ‘More Than Words’ to get girls, and his effort ‘Me & My Guitar’ finished a respectable sixth. Azerbaijan’s Safura, despite the aggressive marketing campaign that surrounded her single, finished a disappointing fifth, while Denmark’s N’Evergreen ripped off the riff from the Police’s ‘Every Breath You Take’ in order to secure himself fourth position. Ovi and Paula inexplicably stole third place, while Turkey’s equally dull entry took second.
First place, however, went to by far the most impressive song on the night. Germany’s Lena took the stage with little more than a microphone and a cocktail dress. She looked and sounded drunk and sloppy, but her song, ‘Satellite,’ had a serious kick and a killer melody. Her vocal style, unlike the interminably dull singers who had gone before her, was delightfully playful, calling to mind Regina Spektor or Björk at her poppiest. ‘Satellite’ has already topped the charts in Germany, and it’s a reasonable bet that her Eurovision success will see her climb the charts all across Europe this summer.