First of all, a word or two about the results of the Thursday night qualifiers (which Diamond Geezer Twittered so ably), as they have stirred up a right old hornet’s nest among Eurovision fans.
(Here’s one angry perspective, and here’s the perspective with which I almost entirely agree.)
To put it in a nutshell, all ten qualifying songs from last night are from Eastern European nations: Belarus, FYR Macedonia, Slovenia, Hungary, Georgia, Latvia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Turkey and – possibly the biggest shocker of them all, considering the boos that rang round the hall when the envelope was opened – Moldova. Meanwhile supposedly “dead cert” entries from Switzerland and especially Andorra, as well as hotly tipped favourites from Denmark and Malta, all failed to get through. I’m sure you can imagine the outrage (and the conspiracy theories) from certain Western European quarters; apparently, the atmosphere at last night’s after-party at the Euroclub was so subdued and shell-shocked that the venue closed earlier than usual.
Consequently, no less than eight of tomorrow’s 24 entries will be drawn from former members of the Soviet Union, with a further four hailing from former Yugoslavian republics. That’s what we might call a coup.
(Incidentally, it has also been interesting to witness the “Lordi Effect” fizzle out; none of last night’s straight-up rock songs qualified, meaning that the only rocker on Saturday night will be from Finland, the host nation.)
Cornered by Paddy O’Connell and Sarah Cawood at the end of the BBC3 coverage, the Blonde Bloke From Scooch was visibly processing the implications of this coup. You could see the fear in his eyes, as it became ever clearer to him that, once again, the UK doesn’t stand a hope in hell of scoring highly tomorrow. (OK, so some of us could have told him that weeks ago. Now is not the time to crow.)
My theory is this: that since the bulk of the Eastern nations joined Eurovision well after the Congratu-Boom-A-Bangy-Diggi-Diggi-Ley years, they are less inclined to see the contest as a camp joke, as we do in the West. Therefore, instead of relying on fading stars or second-rate chancers, they field their biggest stars, take the competition seriously – and hence produce much of the best material.
If the West wants to get back in the running, then it needs to drop the arrogance and the complacency (Big Four, I’m looking at YOU), raise its standards and up its game. What it doesn’t need to do is moan and bleat and threaten to take the ball away.
Sermon over. Shall we crack on?
1 – Bosnia & Herzegovina – Rijeka Bez Imena – Maria Sestic.
And here’s a classic case of what I’m talking about. Well constructed, well sung, takes itself seriously, and right in tune with Eastern European tastes. OK, so this particular ballad doesn’t press all of my buttons, but it picks up a good head of steam as it goes along, and should score as well as anything drawn first of twenty-four can hope to expect.
2 – Spain – I Love You Mi Vida – D’Nash.
Depsite the arresting charms of the Fit Blonde One (especially after seeing him flashing his tits in a Finnish sauna during an interval in the semis – God, it’s good to reconnect with the Big Fat Gay Gene once a year), I’m rapidly tiring of this clattering, rattling, clod-hopping and, well, just plain noisy effort from this year’s sole boyband.
3 – Belarus – Work Your Magic – Koldun.
I’m docking a point from Princess Di Lookalike Koldun (or is he just Bob Downe with a black dye job?) after last night’s scary and occasionally wobbly showing. You strained yourself a bit on that last note, love. Anyway, to recap: Bond theme, wall climbing, man cleavage, teeth whitener, drama drama drama. And maybe a touch of hubris?
4 – Ireland – They Can’t Stop The Spring – Dervish.
Um, aren’t these lyrics about fifteen years out of date?
The curtain has been raised
The wall no longer stands
And from Lisadell to Latvia
We’re singing as one clan
The curtain has been raised
And Europe’s all one stage
And the archipelagic icicles
Have melted like the cage
Yes! The Berlin Wall has fallen, and we all stand together in pan-European harmony! If this were 1992, then maybe. But after Thursday night? I hardly think so. And you talk of global warming as if it’s a good thing?
Well, maybe this is the song we all need right now, at this testing time. Bring out the twiddly Celtic flutey bollocks, and let us all bury our differences. From Andorra to Moldova, from Denmark to Georgia, from the press centre to the Euroclub. Dervish, we salute you.
(Sorry, the song. Typical mid-Nineties Celtic flutey bollocks, but also the strongest Irish entry in years, if I’m to be objective for a moment. Personally, I preferred Brian Kennedy’s ballad from last year, but an awful lot of people like a bit of Celtic flutey bollocks, and quite a lot of them live in Eastern Europe.)
5 – Finland – Leave Me Alone – Hanna Pakarinen.
The only hard rocker left standing, which could aid its chances. Unfortunately, it’s also a dog of a song. I really have nothing further to say about this. Sorry. We all dry up some time.
6 – FYR Macedonia – Mojot Svet – Karolina Gocheva.
FYROM have an awkward habit of qualifying on Thursdays, then finishing outside the Top Ten on Saturdays, thereby being shoved back down into the semis every year. Will this do the same? I’d say borderline. Quick aide memoire: it’s the muzika-granica-balkanska one. Yes, balkanska. Crafty devils, they know what they’re doing. D’you know, I feel newly irrelevant to the process.
7 – Slovenia – Cvet Z Juga – Alenka Gotar.
I voted for this last night (along with Serbia, Andorra and Denmark), purely on the strength of operatic Alenka’s OMGWTF scary-bonkers performance, and hence am adding an extra star. Euro-kinder, this one’s a major treat. Do I detect a whiff of Lene Lovich in there somewhere? Or even of Yma Sumac? Watch the hands in particular. How very queer!
8 – Hungary – Unsubstantial Blues – Ruzsa Magdolna.
A great semi-final performance from Hungary’s barefoot Elkie Brooks in the making also earns this an extra star. And my, did she work that Bus Stop, treating it at times like an extra percussion instrument. Yes, it’s essentially tarted up pub rock – but hell, it works. Did I say “unsubstantial”? I unconditionally withdraw that slur.
9 – Lithuania – Love Or Leave – 4Fun.
(I can’t find a rehearsal photo for this one. If you know different, leave me a comment.)
“We’re sorry for the unscheduled break in transmission. Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible. In the meantime, some music.” The very essence of pleasant but forgettable. Go and re-fill the crisp bowl or something.
10 – Greece – Yassou Maria – Sarbel.
Am I just getting jaded, or is the quality of the automatic finalists significantly worse than the work-for-it-bitches qualifiers? See my earlier point about complacency. Could “Shake it up” be the new “fire/desire”? Anyhow, Sarbel’s a London boy – as he was at pains to point out on BBC3 last night – so if you’re swayed by such things, then Number 10 is the number to dial.
(You’ll notice I didn’t say much about the actual song. Watch it on the night, and you’ll see why.)
11 – Georgia – Visionary Dream – Sopho.
Let’s just say I’m still learning to love it. There are whirling dervishes, there is sword-fighting, there is absolutely heaps going on musically, but it is all wasted on a culturally arrogant throwback such as I. Those coming-out-of-nowhere, what-happened-there-then, did-someone-pull-the-plug electronic bloops still rock, though.
(Seriously though, a lot of people rate this one highly. It will do well.)
12 – Sweden – The Worrying Kind – The Ark.
Weeks and weeks ago, before they had even won the Swedish national finals, I was rooting for The Ark. A well constructed and delightfully arch pastiche of mid-Seventies glitter-pop, which will have you playing Spot The Reference all the way through it (Edison Lighthouse? The Rubettes? Bay City Rollers?), “The Worrying Kind” has My Sort Of Thing written all over it. Will it win? Not a chance. Well, it’s all that Archness, you see. It’s just a little too pleased with its own cleverness to endear itself to the tele-voters. Oh, and word up to the singer: put ’em away, love!
13 – France – L’Amour À La Française – Les Fatals Picards.
Following a dismal set of results over the past four years (18th, 15th, 23rd and 22nd), the French have switched tack, dumped the droopy ballads, and fielded a jaunty, chipper, tongue-in-cheek number. Flipping back and forth between French and English (another major concession in its own right), the lyrics reference various Parisian landmarks (how many can YOU spot?), almost in the manner of a sales pitch. (Vote for us, and you too can visit these “iconic” attractions next year!)
Beneath all the chipper jauntiness, I can’t help feeling that all concerned are trying just a little too hard.
14 – Latvia – Questa Notte – Bonaparti.LV.
Oh dear Lord. This, people, is your next OMGWTF moment. A troupe of, hmm, shall we say visually ill-matched tenors in top hats and jeans, bellowing their way through some sort of Nessun Dorma Lite. For added authenticity, they’re also singing in Italian. Can any Euro-anorak tell me the last time we had a Eurovision entry in Italian?
The chaps stroll onto the stage one by one, singing as they make their entrances. It’s all going OK until we get to the third one. There’s something about that feller that disturbs me.
This could go Top Three, easy. There’s no accounting for taste.
15 – Russia – Song #1 – Serebro.
From the traditional to the contemporary we lurch, with the most modern sounding song in this year’s finals. This is all sharp edges, gleaming surfaces and crunchy, fuzzed out synth riffs, topped with typical hard-faced Noughties “Grr, I’m such a foxy raunch machine, don’t f**k with me” attitude. There’s not a shred of warmth or tenderness in any of it, of course (and how could there be, with lines such as “I’ll take your money, yummy” and “I’m your killing pill”), but such is the lingua franca of our age.
Right then, settle your selves down; we’re about to hit a strong patch. All eyes to the screen, please.
16 – Germany – Frauen Regier’n Die Welt – Roger Cicero.
Time for some finger-snappin’ supper-club swing, then. A jazz/swing singer by profession, Roger is a platinum-selling artist in his home country, who usually performs with an 11-piece band. A shame, then, that the dictates of the playback tape mean that we won’t get the chance to experience this song as it should be performed.
Roger’s a sharply-dressed dude in a nice hat, whose performance strikes just the right note of amused insouciance. If this contest was truly a song contest (yeah, right), then this one would deserve to win it. It’s a wry take on gender politics, sung from the point of view of a hapless chauvinist who can’t quite grasp why women consistently run rings around him and his type. The lyrics are clever and funny (with references to Beckham and Clinton in the final verse), the swing arrangement is sharp and tight, and there’s a real momentum to the whole effort. Class in a glass.
17 – Serbia – Molitva – Marija Serifovic.
A great performance by Marija on Thursday, which fully deserved to qualify. Forget the gimmicks; this one’s all about, ahem, Soul Passion and Commitment. Despite not having a clue what she’s singing about, I found this genuinely affecting. You may snigger when she walks out on stage, but you may be sniffling before the three minutes are through. I predict that Serbia will be neck and neck in the voting with the next song. If we can call it a “song”, that is….
18 – Ukraine – Dancing Lasha Tumbai – Verka Serduchka.
Full disclosure: I’ve got a tenner riding on this, at odds of 11-1. If it wins, then expect another aggrieved outcry from certain quarters, as the merits of the Ukranian entry have precious little to do with songcraft and musicianship, and everything to do with novelty, spectacle, and sheer OMGWTF-ness.
Now that Denmark’s DQ has been dispensed with, Verka is the only drag queen left standing. Christopher Biggins in bacofoil, yes. We all thought that as well.
Did anyone else ever play Tetris on a Nintendo Gameboy? Didn’t something like this play at the end of Level 10? It was all so long ago…
19 – United Kingdom – Flying The Flag (For You) – Scooch.
I interviewed the Australian trolley-dolley comedienne and general Friend Of The Gays Pam Ann earlier this week, and was mightily cheered to discover that we are as one in our withering contempt for this awful, witless piece of garbage. (“They’re like the Easyjet version of Steps!”)
Oh please, DON’T tell me it’s “camp”. Sorry, but it’s way too cynical and calculated for that, what with its arse-clenching innuendos and its grim Butlins Redcoat determination to be “fun”. Well, I say “calculated” – but in actual fact, “Flying The Flag” is a virtual blueprint for failure, which presses every wrong button on the flight deck. (Coming straight after Verka Serduchka has strained our chuckle bones to breaking point won’t exactly help its chances, either.)
Cheap, tacky, unfunny and irritating. Have we learnt nothing from the Fast Food Rockers?
20 – Romania – Liubi, Liubi, I Love You – Todomondo.
Sung in multiple languages (can YOU count how many?), this deploys the Zorba The Greek slow-to-fast trick. It starts slow; it ends fast. That’s all you need to know.
21 – Bulgaria – Water – Elitsa Todorova & Stoyan Yankoulov.
Well, well, well, I didn’t expect to see you here. With a much improved position in the draw, Bulgaria’s yelpy tranceoid bashathon could score high on the night. Put the needle on the record! Pump up the volume! CHOOOON!
22 – Turkey – Shake It Up Shekerim – Kenan Dogulu.
Let me consult my handwritten notes from Thursday night.
“I still don’t get it. Brain gone numb. 4/10.”
Yes, that just about covers it. Look, I’ve been in this Internet caff near Victoria station for well over an hour now, and I’ve got to check out of the hotel in 45 minutes. You think I’m going to waste time by dredging up interesting things to say about Turkey?
If you liked the Greek entry, then you’ll probably like this one as well. It’s the battle of the Shake It Ups, basically.
23 – Armenia – Anytime You Need – Hayko.
After five jolly uptempo songs in a row, the time might be just right for this kind of traditional love ballad. The lyrics are trite, the sentiments are stock, and there isn’t a fresh idea to be found anywhere, but there’s no accounting for taste.
24 – Moldova – Fight – Natalia Barbu.
Does her mother know she’s out dressed like that? Rocking the Dirrty-era Xtina Aguilera look in half-mast leather kecks and high-cut pantyhose, Natalia’s strident, jarring performance had me wincing in pain on Thursday night. Chig says that this is the other rock track of the night, to be placed alongside the earlier Finnish entry. Personally, I wouldn’t place it in the same category. Actually, I’d like to place it in a sealed box and hurl it into the Baltic. But that’s just me.
Are we done? Yes, we’re done.
Mystic Mike’s Crap Prediction: Ukraine to win by a narrow margin over Serbia, with Latvia in third position. Top Ten placings for Belarus, Slovenia, Hungary, Georgia, Germany, Bulgaria and Turkey. Bottom three for Lithuania, France and Les Royaumes Unis.
Have a lovely Eurovision, and I’ll see you in the comments box later for a full post-mortem.