In The Dock: The Eurovision Song Contest.

Over at collaborative music blog The Art Of Noise, the second of their “In The Dock” features sees Eurovision being prosecuted (by drmigs), and defended by… well, who do you think?

Having studied the cases for the prosecution and the defence, you are then invited to leave your verdict in the comments box. I won’t say any more than that, in case I am accused of unduly influencing the jury – but I think we all know where the balance of justice lies in this instance, don’t we? I SAID, DON’T WE?

The case for the defence (Mike)

Right then – let’s get one tedious little issue out of the way before we go any further. If your primary objection to Eurovision is that the music on display is “just” pop music – silly, jolly, trivial pop music, which Says Nothing To You About Your Life – then I hereby give you leave to cast your vote for the Prosecution. Because if you’re going to criticise Dana International for not being PJ Harvey, or Katrina & The Waves for not being Radiohead, then there’s no point in entering into a debate with you.

However, if you’re the sort of sane, well-balanced individual who accepts the need for cultural plurality in music – the serious and the ridiculous, the incisive and the escapist, the realistic and the fantastic – then I see no impossible barrier for you to climb. Eurovision, quite blatantly, is all about entertainment. It’s pop music. It’s spectacle. It’s meant to put a smile on your face – no more, and no less.

But the songs are rubbish and the costumes are horrendous and the voting’s biased and… and… and…

Hold it. Hold it right there. Because I think you’re missing something – and that something has more to do with “indie” notions of credibility than you might imagine.

One of the great joys of Eurovision is its lack of slick, corporatised homogeneity. As far as the major labels are concerned, it’s low priority. As few major international stars have been created by the contest, why should they care? And so they stay away, leaving the selection of the songs and artists, and the staging of the show, to the national television companies of the participating nations. Similarly, the event has never become smothered by sponsorship. Sure, it’s present – but it’s discreet.

Within this comparative marketing void, a strange, self-enclosed world is allowed to develop. There is room here for daft lyrics, wobbly voices, creaking dance routines – and a certain sense of raw amateurishness, which makes for a refreshing contrast with the seamless, focus-grouped, identikit blandness which prevails right across the rest of music television.

And that, when you think about it, is actually rather indie. Like so much great indie music, it’s in the imperfections that the humanity lies. It’s a sign that something “real” is taking place, despite the layers of artifice which surround it. The day that the contest becomes the Pepsi Max Eurovision, hosted by Justin Timberlake and Beyonce, is the day that I’ll stop watching.

What’s more, this is amateurishness with a soul. For somehow – and God knows how this anachronism has managed to survive – the Eurovision Song Contest still adheres to old fashioned, post-WWII-consensus notions of international community and brotherhood. Oh, don’t be misled by the “political” voting – which only a fool (and Terry Wogan) could ever get seriously huffy about, and which has never yet created a winner. As anyone who has ever attended a live final in person will tell you, the competitive element is fundamentally good-natured. Rival delegations exchange flags, cheer for each other, wish each other well. A large number of international sporting events could do well to learn from the Eurovision ethos.

Thus, when the umpteenth dolled-up pop moppet in a row gushes at her press conference about what a great honour it is to be representing her country, there is a large part of her which actually means it, maan – and, in these over-archingly careerist times, I happen to think that’s rather wonderful.

But the songs are still shit, Mike!

Even there, I would disagree with you. There’s an aesthetic at work here which we’re not often exposed to these days. As no Eurovision song is permitted to exceed three minutes in length, and as most of the international audience will never have heard it before, every trick in the book is used to make it stand out. There must be hooks – instant, memorable ones. There must be a kick-ass intro, and a rousing climax – preferably by means of an upwards key change. There must be no room for flab – everything has to be tight, taut, concentrated. Every second counts. It’s as valid an aesthetic as any other in pop, and it’s fascinating to see what the composers and choreographers do with it.

Here are some prime examples of what I’m talking about. Follow the YouTube links, watch the videos – then come back here, look me in the eyes, and tell me that Eurovision entries are all shit.

‘All Out Of Luck’ – Selma (Iceland, 1999)

‘My Star’ – Brainstorm (Latvia, 2000)

‘Wild Dances’ – Ruslana (Ukraine, 2004)

‘Boonika bate toba’ – Zdob si Zdub (Moldova, 2005)

‘Moja Stikla’ – Severina (Croatia, 2006)

Boggle-eyed Latvian indie kids? Drumming grannies? An Anjelina Jolie-fied former porn star who rips off her skirt while shrieking “AFRICA PAPRIKA!” Come on, what’s not to love?

(Oh, I can see you smiling from here. Caught you! Hah!)

All of the best “camp” – that over-used, increasingly devalued concept – has a certain sincerity at its core – and Eurovision has this by the bucket load. Now, if you insist on living in a joyless, colourless, dull and worthy world, from which all such notions have been rigorously excised, then you go right ahead – but you can count me out, and millions like me for whom Eurovision is, from start to end, solid gold entertainment.

As such, I will defend it unto my dying breath, with all of my shiny, superficial little heart and all of my shallow, sparkling little soul. I urge you to do the same.

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