Eurovision 2005 finals preview.

God, but I’m a glutton for punishment. Here we go again, folks!

(Note: the performance pictures linked below to were all taken at full dress rehearsals, for maximum verisimilitude. More links will follow once the next set of dress rehearsal pictures become available. Nope, sorry: can’t find any fully costumed dress rehearsal photos anywhere. Guess we’ll have to wait and see on the night after all.)

1. Hungary – Forogj világ – Nox. (photo)

Artistically (ahem) speaking, the Magyar Riverdance will make a splendid start to the contest – although in terms of vote-gathering, being drawn first has probably scuppered its chances of landing inside the Top 10. Nevertheless, the clappity-clappitys and the tappity-tappitys still sound great, and the choreography is… well… Oh look, just forget the song and its earnest cultural aspirations (“ancient Hungarian pentatonic scales” be damned!), ignore the singer, and feast your eyes on the campest dance troupe this side of Bangkok. Particularly Madam down the front, who starts the whole thing off. (As Paddy O’Connell said in his semi-final commentary on BBC3: “I’m sure I’ve seen some of those boys out in London on a Saturday night”.) Who knew that hanging-out-the-washing day in Hungary was such a ritualised event?

Points: 84. Prediction: 11 to 15.
Actual result: 12th. CORRECT.

2. UK – Touch My Fire – Javine.

So, it’s the old Slot Of Doom for Poor Javine, then. (No song drawn in second position has ever won Eurovision, you see.) There’s also the awkward matter of her chosen idiom, as that whole Blending Of Western & Eastern Influences schtick has been comprehensively done to death this year. So much so, that to save me repeatedly typing the whole thing out each time, I’m going to coin a new acronym: BOWEI. Do you think it will catch on?

Earlier in the week, I was loyally predicting Top 10. Now I think it’s fairly unlikely. (Don’t worry: we can still blame our continued unpopularity on that warmongering Blair fellow, just like last year.) No, what’s needed to save the day is another Nipplegate incident. Come on, Javine! Be a sport and pop ’em out, love!

Points: 77. Prediction: 11 to 15.
Actual result: 22nd. INCORRECT.

3. Malta – Angel – Chiara.

The full-figured and radiantly lovely Chiara came within inches of beating Dana International at Birmingham 1998; it was quite literally down to the very last vote of the night. In the event, she finished third – and ended up spending a few years in a bit of a career wilderness, before bouncing back from obscurity with this equally sweet old-fashioned ballad. Although the song itself may not be the greatest, I’m anticipating a warm, sincere performance from Chiara, who does have an enviable ability of connecting with her audience. And there’s the nub of it: for all the gimmickry on display, most winning Eurovision performances retain an irreducible sincerity at their core. Pure showbiz cheese never does it, no matter how flashy the costumes. So I’m sticking my neck out, and predicting Top 5 for this one.

Points: 79. Prediction: 2 to 5.
Actual result: 2nd. CORRECT.

4. Romania – Let Me Try – Luminita Anghel & Sistem. (photo)

In a contest stuffed brimful with Big Drumming, Romania’s answer to Stomp wins hands down for the Biggest Drumming of the night. Big huge f**k-off yellow oil-drums a-go-go! Even on the feet! Plus, in a possible homage to the avant-garde German metal-bashers Einstürzende Neubauten, angle grinders! Yes, the “sparks will be flying” in the hall tonight, with this “explosive” performance! (I shall refrain from passing comment on Luminita’s extraordinarily globe-like orbs, as I have already mentioned bosoms once, and you might start to get the wrong idea.)

Points: 73. Prediction: 6 to 10.
Actual result: 3rd. INCORRECT.

5. Norway – In My Dreams – WigWam. (photo)

Well, what else is there left to say about these four spandexed hod-carriers d’un certain age and their fantastically exciting brand of 1980s stadium rock, other than WINNERS? (No, that’s really not Jessie “Kat Slater” Wallace on vocals. That’s a Norwegian fella called “Glam”.) Despite an annoying dip in sound quality during their performance, WigWam sailed through the qualifiers, increasing their popularity in the hall ten-fold by attaching a large orange flag to the singer’s microphone stand. (Orange being the colour of Ukraine’s popular revolution last December, you see.) Gesture of solidarity, or cheap stunt? I know which way I’m leaning. But still: WINNERS!

Points: 92. Prediction: WINNER.
Actual result: 9th. INCORRECT.

6. Turkey – Rimi Rimi Ley – Gülseren.

I’m going to have to quote Paddy O’Connell’s BBC3 commentary again: “There can be no ley without rimi rimi”. Will Wogan attempt a similar cheeky crack? Methinks not. No, he’ll probably stick to the tried and tested “whiff of the souk”, as per usual. For we are back on BOWEI territory here, as served up by the country who won the contest two years ago, thus kicking off the whole craze in earnest. Expect some seriously florid choreography here, along with some (yawn) very Big Drumming indeed. (Believe me, you’ll never want to look at a Big Drum again after tonight.)

Points: 69. Prediction: 16 to 20.
Actual result: 13th. INCORRECT.

7. Moldova – Bunica Bate Toba – Zdob si Zdub. (photo)

I knew this was going to be good at the semis… but I didn’t know it was going to be ABSOLUTELY BLOODY FANTASTIC. Hell, even my long-suffering Europhobic partner K liked it. That’s a first! The promised “thrash-folk” turns out to be about eight parts thrash to two parts folk, with proper pogo-ing and everything, and as for the rock-a-beatin’ Granny herself… well, you’ll see. As the band themselves say: “I smile, I cry when I see that crazy baba, dizzy tempo dizzy, let’s go my music-mama!” (Oh, and is it me, or are they really singing about knickerbocker glories in the chorus?)

Points: 95. Prediction: 2 to 5.
Actual result: 6th. INCORRECT.

8. Albania – Tomorrow I Go – Ledina Çelo.

BOWEI time once again, with most of the usual elements: the strings, the skirlings, the wordless chanting (“di di da, di di da”), the power, the passion… you should know the drill by now. Lyrically, this tells the tale of a trepidatious young bride bidding farewell to her tearful mother on the night before her wedding, in a manner that hints that she might not be entirely thrilled by the prospect. So much so, that you’d think she was being led to the guillotine rather than the altar. Although reports from the rehearsals have been fairly dismal, we should still at least try and offer some encouragement to plucky little Albania, who have only entered the contest once before.

Points: 50. Prediction: 21 to 24.
Actual result: 16th. INCORRECT.

9. Cyprus – Ela Ela – Constantinos Christoforou.

My persistence is outrageous, you’ll be mine cause I’m contagious.” In other words, he’ll be all over you like a rash. We’re already onto the fourth BOWEI of the night, and what more can I tell you: same tempo, same ethnic skirlings, same Big Drums (if a little more muted than some), same wordless chanting (“ela ela ela la”)… so far, so formulaic. However, the Cypriot entry spells good news for those of you who have been impatiently awaiting the first appearance of that evergreen Eurovision rhyming couplet: fire (FYE-ya!) and desire (diz-EYE-ya!). Rest assured that it won’t be the last.

Points: 63. Prediction: 16 to 20.
Actual result: 18th. CORRECT.

10. Spain – Brujería – Son de Sol.

Brujeria shares a producer with Las Ketchup’s The Ketchup Song – and my God, can’t you just tell, as this is to all intents and purposes Son Of Ketchup. And why not? The relentless jollity has been cranked up yet another notch, and the whole thing is enlivened greatly by the rambunctious brassiness of Son de Sol, whose vocals have an appealingly fishwifey quality: you’re not so much being invited to have fun as being nagged into it, and if you don’t jump to your feet this instant, then they’re not above getting the rolling-pins out. Besides, how could you not warm to an act whose spare time pursuits include “going to the beach, having drinks with friends, buying nice shoes and not worrying about the time when it comes to putting their make-up on!” My kinda gals!

Points: 74. Prediction: 6 to 10.
Actual result: 21st. INCORRECT.

11. Israel – Hasheket Shenish’ar (The Silence That Remains) – Shiri Maymon. (photo)

One of the major surprises of the semi-finals was Glennis Grace’s failure to qualify for the Netherlands, despite a fine performance and some top-notch Big Arm Movements. (I had a great time mirroring them at home, and was going to suggest that you did the same; what fun we would have had together.) However, the biggest and best ballad of the night came instead from Shiri Maymon: a singer with the somewhat artificial look of a Mariah Carey, but with a vocal performance that comes straight from the heart. Proper singing, in other words; a scarce commodity in this section of the contest. As for the song: it’s an old-fashioned ballad with a desolately bleak lyric (you can read it in translation here), which describes the suffering at the end of a relationship almost in terms of a junkie going cold turkey. I voted for this on Thursday, and shall probably do so again tonight, as this deserves a strong placing which I fear it will struggle to earn. Philistines, the lot of you!

Points: 86. Prediction: 11 to 15.
Actual result: 4th. INCORRECT.

12. Serbia & Montenegro – Zauvijek Moja – No Name.

Serbia surprised many people by finishing second last year, with a song whose title translated as “Lovely Fawn”. Which just shows that you should never discount the power of Balkan bombast (and, OK, a little bit of neighbourly block-voting) – especially when it’s served up with this degree of class. Sounding like a Slavic Walker Brothers, but looking like the fresh-faced kids next door, the incongruously youthful No Name deliver a splendidly brooding ballad, backed up with a fine orchestral arrangment, full of swelling strings, thundering kettledrums and gruff yelps of passion. “I’ll reach out for you across the Rocky Mountains, take you to my old stone house, and the sound of bells will rise above us and will meet the sky.” Ee, that’s poetry, that is. Two classy joints in a row? It can’t last, can it?

Points: 85. Prediction: 6 to 10.
Actual result: 7th. CORRECT.

13. Denmark – Talking To You – Jacob Sveistrup. (photo)

No, I’m afraid it can’t. Denmark’s success in the semis was another big surprise – and try as I might, I just cannot fathom the appeal of this utterly routine piece of reggae-tinged jaunty pop. I can only suppose that it made a nice change after all the Big Drumming, gaudy costumes and over-egged dance routines on Thursday night. Anyway, special needs teacher Jacob seems like a nice guy, and as allegedly the first “out” gay singer since Paul Oskar in 1997 – married to his husband for the past five years, with an an adopted child – one feels a certain tribal kinship. But really, this is pants. Toilet break!

Update: Er, hang on. All that “out” gay/husband/adopted child stuff was actually in relation to last year’s Danish entrant, wasn’t it? That will teach me to recycle information from Saturday’s Guardian, then.

Points: 38. Prediction: 16 to 20.
Actual result: 10th. INCORRECT.

14. Sweden – Las Vegas – Martin Stenmarck.

And you can take your time as well, because this is scarcely any better. Did it really knock out Alcazar, Shirley Clamp, Nanne Gronvall, Bodies Without Organs and Pay TV in the “Melodifestivalen” national qualifiers? Why, Sweden, why? Because this is pure cornball cheese: a showbizzy homage to Las Vegas, which tips a stylistic nod at Tom Jones along the way. Martin Stenmarck’s performance is slick and energetic, and is not without its supporters, but this just ain’t doing it for me. If you’re back from the loo early, then go and grab yourself something from the kitchen. And once again, there’s no hurry…

Points: 40. Prediction: 16 to 20.
Actual result: 19th. CORRECT.

15. F.Y.R. Macedonia – Make My Day – Martin Vicic. (photo)

…because this equally baffling qualifier from the semis makes it three duds in a row, I’m afraid. Apparently, this is the one which really set tongues wagging in Kyiv throughout Friday, the question “WHY Macedonia?” practically bouncing off the walls of the press area. The usual arrangement of BOWEI clichés, basically. You can probably draw up your own list by now: gypsy flutes CHECK, nasty skirling indigenous pipe thing CHECK, invisible lesbian drummers CHECK, dramatic key change CHECK. Anyway, it’s the one about cuddly toys, sung by the “grandson of a famous bagpipe player”. Let’s hope he ditches that awful pink jacket, at least.

Points: 53. Prediction: 16 to 20.
Actual result: 17th. CORRECT.

16. Ukraine – Razom nas bohato – Greenjolly.

Right, how long have you got? There was a lengthy article in Thursday’s Guardian about this, which tells you all you need to know about this song’s background as the popular anthem of December’s “Orange Revolution”. Basically, this is just one endlessly repeated rock-rap chant – “razom nas bohato, nas ne podolaty” – which translates as “together we are many, we cannot be defeated”. The overtly political lyrics, which originally mentioned President Yushchenko by name, have since been toned down, following a proclamation from on high that Eurovision songs should not be political in content. Nevertheless, they’re still pretty damned direct: “We won’t stand this – no! Revolution is on! ‘Cause lies be the weapon of mass destruction!” Hang on, didn’t Faithless sing something similar last year?

It goes without saying that this performance will cause flag-waving hysteria in the hall, and it therefore seems churlish to point out that the song itself is rudimentary at best, and therefore not destined to do well in the voting. But as emotionally charged moments go, these three minutes will take a lot of beating.

Points: 51. Prediction: 11 to 15.
Actual result: 20th. INCORRECT.

17. Germany – Run And Hide – Gracia.

If this year’s Eurovision has one new musical trend, then I guess it has to be rock, with exactly a quarter of this year’s finalists being rock tracks of some description. Having said that, Run And Hide is basically Schlager-pop in rock drag, co-composed as it is by that irrepressible old hack Bernd Meinunger, hiding behind the newly adopted pseudonym of “John O’Flynn”. This will be the 13th German Eurovision entry in which Meinunger has had a hand, including 1982’s winning song for Nicole (A Little Peace) – and that’s not counting his work for other countries, including this year’s entry for Switzerland (see below). The man is an unstoppable force, basically.

The other German/Swiss co-composer, one David Brandes, has found himself in the centre of a hyping scandal involving this song, as a result of which he has been officially banned from travelling to Kyiv with the German delegation. Which is somewhat immaterial when you consider that he’ll be there with the Swiss delegation anyway. Ooh, I bet there’ll be tension in that Green Room tonight.

You’ll notice that I haven’t said much about the song itself. There’s a reason for that. Shall we just say “uninspiring” and leave it at that?

Points: 44. Prediction: 21 to 24.
Actual result: 24th. CORRECT.

18. Croatia – Vukovi Umiru Sami – Boris Novkovic. (photo)

And back to the Baltic bombast we go. In 3/4 waltz tempo. With a man blowing into a haggis. And a deeply annoying “I’m mad, me” Big Drummer, who all but wrecks the entire mood of the song by coming to the front of the stage during its climax and doing a handstand. Ours not to question why. Not as good as the Serbian entry, but that choral work towards the end is really quite something.

Points: 65. Prediction: 6 to 10.
Actual result: 11th. INCORRECT.

19. Greece – My Number One – Helena Paparizou.

It’s the bookies’ favourite! Helena was last seen in 2001, coming third with her band Antique, and the dare-I-say-classic (I Would) Die For You. Her performance was a bit on the sulky side that night, so let’s hope she cheers up for this infectious slice of prime-cut BOWEI goodness. Of the night’s six BOWEI songs (the others being the UK, Turkey, Albania, Cyprus and Macedonia), My Number One is the last and the best, tweaking that well-worn formula to perfection. Assuming you can bear to hear one more sodding gypsy fiddle, that is. Most importantly of all, its impact is immediate; none of that “grows on you” nonsense here.

This also marks the second FYE-ya! diz-EYE-ya! rhyme of the night – but where Cyprus was happy to leave it at that, Greece goes one better, tacking on a cheeky take me HYE-ya! for good measure. It’s little touches like that which make all the difference. To say nothing of rhyming delicious, capricious and vicious in the first verse. Take that, Cyprus! Not that any of this will affect the ritual swapping of the Greek-Cypriot douze points later on, of course.

Points: 78. Prediction: 2 to 5.
Actual result: 1st. INCORRECT.

20. Russia – Nobody Hurt No-One – Natalia Podolskaya.

It’s Avril Lavigneski! Hang on, weren’t we cracking the same joke last year? Ah well, no matter. There’s virtue in consistency. Lyrically, this is a relatively high-minded attempt to discuss the American gun control situation, particularly in relation to the recent spree of high-school killings – an attempt which is somewhat undermined by its choice of “little Erica” as the song’s young heroine, purely because she rhymes with “America”. I started off hating this. I’ve softened up a bit since then, but Eurovision and “meaningful” still make uneasy bedfellows, and I can’t see this attracting more than the usual neighbourly block votes.

Points: 49. Prediction: 21 to 24.
Actual result: 15th. INCORRECT.

21. Bosnia & Herzegovina – Call Me – Feminnem.

Right then. If your idea of a good Eurovision song is still “one that sounds a bit like Abba”, then this is the moment you’ve been waiting for. There are also strong echoes of 1999’s winning entry for Sweden, Charlotte Nilsson’s Take Me To Your Heaven, in this frothy, upbeat, happy-go-lucky confection. Yes, I suppose you can say that it’s “camp” – but I prefer my camp to be less clinically calculated than this. I know, how curmudgeonly. What am I, the gate-keeper of kitsch?

Still: full marks for calling yourselves Feminnem, I guess. Naturally, they’ve all got nicknames: Sexy, Baby and Fancy. See if you can work out which is which! And are they really singing “united in the song that fornicates”? Ladies, really!

It’s perhaps worth mentioning that a “leading musicologist” has been dredged up from somewhere, to run some sort of detailed “comparative analysis” on the Eurovision entries from all fifty contests. (And you thought I was a glutton for punishment?) His considered verdict: that Abba’s Waterloo is the most perfectly constructed Eurovision song of all time, and that Feminnem’s Call Me is the most perfectly constructed of this year’s entries. Academics, eh? What do they know?

Points: 70. Prediction: 2 to 5.
Actual result: 14th. INCORRECT.

22. Switzerland – Cool Vibes – Vanilla Ninja. (photo)

How are you holding up out there? Chins up! The end is in sight! And here are Ver Ninje, come to lift our spirits with a little touch of neo-Goth in the night. “Why don’t you kill me?“, they chirrup. “Can’t you see we’re free to die?“, they trill, no doubt echoing the thoughts of thousands of long-suffering spouses and partners who are wondering why they didn’t go down the pub instead of staying in to watch this load of old nonsense. Could this pick up the protest vote from the silent majority? Or will it simply do well because Ver Ninje are actually an Estonian band, and will therefore unite both the powerful Baltic and Germanic blocks of voters? There are some shrewd tactics being played out there.

Points: 56. Prediction: 11 to 15.
Actual result: 8th. INCORRECT.

23. Latvia – The War is Not Over – Valters & Kaža. (photo)

Good grief, Europe! What is wrong with you, that you should have voted this dismal dirge through from the Thursday night semis? Were you really charmed by the use of sign language in the middle – which, as the great Paddy O’Connell pointed out, ended up looking less like sign language and more like a Steps dance routine? Come on Europe – they’re playing you for fools! Listen to the lyrics! They don’t MEAN anything! It’s just a load of old twaddle strung together, that sounds vaguely “deep” if you don’t actually stop and analyse it! Trust me! I research these things so that you don’t have to!

Hmm. I think cabin fever might be setting in. This is, after all, the 58th “capsule review” that I’ve written for this year’s contest, if you include 10 for Time Out magazine and 25 for the semi-finals. I can hear the birds singing outside, the catmint in the garden needs cutting back, and I’ve not even shaved or brushed my teeth yet today, so great is my desire to get these things posted on the web before lunchtime. But hey, enough about me. Can I just point out that the young chap on the left is a dead ringer for Brie Vanderkamp’s not-gay-after-all teenage son on Desperate Housewives?

Points: 34. Prediction: 6 to 10.
Actual result: 5th. INCORRECT.

24. France – Chacun Pense a Soi – Ortal.

With few natural allies to count on, France rarely do well in the contest these days – and it is therefore to their credit that they never attempt to play any of the more obvious vote-grabbing games, instead submitting worthy ballad after worthy ballad, year after year. This is more uptempo than most, with alleged Berber/Andalusian influences, and a lyric which wags a disapproving finger at the selfishness which undermines so much of today’s society. Unfortunately, the moral high ground is rather snatched from under France’s feet, as the distinctive Berber/Andalusian vocal inflections does make it sound as if they’re singing about shagging a man. Listen carefully, and you’ll see what I mean.

Points: 55. Prediction: 21 to 24.
Actual result: 23rd. CORRECT.

My ten favourites:
1. Moldova (thrash-folk Granny-bashing)
2. Norway (slappers in spandex)
3. Israel (classy Carey)
4. Serbia & Montenegro (Balkan bombast boyband)
5. Hungary (clappity-tappity)
6. Malta (big and beautiful)
7. Greece (vicious, capricious, delicious)
8. UK (JaVIIIIIIne!)
9. Spain (Son Of Ketchup)
10. Romania (post-industrial angle grinders)

My predictions:
1. Norway
2. Moldova
3. Greece
4. Malta
5. Bosnia & Herzegovina

22. France
23. Germany
24. Albania

And that’s your lot for this year. Overseas readers can stream tonight’s contest, or via the BBC, or – and I gather that this is a good strong reliable stream, if you can handle the Dutch commentary – at Hey, you’d be mad not to.

Anna Pickard, she of the, will also be providing a live, minute-by-minute commentary on the Guardian Unlimited site – I’m not sure precisely where, but it should be easy enough to find. I dare say that there will also be a live rolling discussion thread over at I Love Music, which should be entertainingly snarky – “mach’ mit!”, as they say in Germany. I’m going off to shave and brush my teeth now. Six hours to go! Whoop!

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