Saturday, 16 April 2011

Eurovision Impaired

Democracy is dead. How else would you explain the fact that the BBC has unilaterally decided on the song and the performer to represent the UK in Dusseldorf next month? They could have just used that mysterious blank box on the census - prime real estate for canvassing public opinion on the matter.

Scoff all you like. Despite its cheesy reputation, Eurovision is still a big deal on the continent. This year 43 countries will be battling it out to win the hearts of that 125 million-strong audience, even if half of those viewers actually spend most of the broadcast saying “Are you sure there’s nothing else on?”

Whatever the reasons for the BBC’s change of format, at least we’ve been spared the indignities of a weekly phone vote to select how best to embarrass ourselves on an international stage. Instead, we get four hour-long instalments following Blue’s preparations for the big day when they take to the Eurovision stage.

Along the way, we’re treated to a bunch of interview snippets with people who seem to have been selected purely according to their availability on the day. OK, Lulu and Cliff Richard have some Eurovision relevance (as much as Lulu could ever be considered 'relevant') having both performed for the UK, but Kara Tointon and Sheridan Smith? Was Vanessa Feltz busy?

Guiding us through a potted history of everyone’s favourite music contest is Graham Norton, who inherited Sir Terry’s role as ‘voice of the nation’ when the elder statesman of jaded commentaries resigned in protest at the politicisation of Eurovision. The students of Tiananmen Square have nothing on Wogan.

As much as the programme might feign interest in the boys from Blue, as they attempt to resurrect their collective career from cryogenic suspension, it was really just a chance to wallow in some nostalgic memories of Eurovisions gone by. All the usual suspects were present and correct – the Bucks Fizz striptease, Brotherhood of Man’s chirpy ode to paedophilia, and mad old Sonia, acting like she’d been hiding her medication in the pillowcase. 

But strangely, for a show like this, there was actually some detail in amongst the fluff. Even the occasional glimmer of insight, courtesy of Scott Mills, who rightly took the UK to task for underestimating the tastes of European voters. In fact, our misperceptions of what a ‘good’ Eurovision song sounds like are largely as a consequence of clip shows like this. Lazy compilations designed to encourage us to laugh at our funny continental cousins and their hurdy gurdy languages. So we vote for any old shit, figuring if it’s bad enough, the Europeans will lap it up.

Don’t get me wrong – there’s enough surrealism in recent Eurovision history to give Dali a nosebleed. In a section called ‘make it memorable’, we were reminded of past performances that included a guest appearance from Dita Von Teese, zombie bass players, giant wheels, gladiators, contortionists and pantomime pirates. Not forgetting Ukraine’s Ani Lorak, performing Shady Lady in front of four vertical tanning booths, one of which she may well have fallen asleep in. It’s enough to make you long for the pared-down simplicity of Lady Gaga.

However, the main focus of ‘Your Country Needs Blue’ was the boys’ attempts to rekindle their long-dormant spark. Not easy when they can’t even remember the words to their biggest hits. We also got to see them swotting up on previous Eurovision triumphs, helpfully regaling each other with a Wikipedia page full of statistics for each performance, like QVC presenters demonstrating their knowledge of how a trouser press works.

The boys spent half the show’s running time waxing lyrical about the epic chorus and ‘big sound’ that Blue was known for, but we just kept hearing Lee randomly chirping “Get back up again”, like a Tourettes sufferer stuck in falsetto. There were also plenty of shots of them striking the standard boyband in-studio pose. You know the one - left hand cupped over the ear, right hand used to point out the note in mid-air. 

So what of the song itself? Well, imagine cramming Westlife, Boyzone and The Wanted into a blender. Not because that’s what it sounds like, just because it’s a nice image. 'I Can' is actually a distinctly unmemorable R&B-lite ballad, with a chorus that ends with the refrain "I can, I will, get back up again." Just give me ten minutes for the pill to kick in. 

It could be a lot worse. After their big joke backfired when they picked a rubber turkey with a fist up its arse in 2008, the people of Ireland are taking a different tack this year. They’ve decided to send the two psychos from Michael Haneke's Funny Games (AKA Jedward) to Dusseldorf. It’s probably a wise move – their economy's in enough trouble as it is, without the added financial burden of hosting the competition in 2012.

Whether this will be the year we turn our fortunes around is anyone’s guess. But it’s odd that the show seemed so confident in declaring the six simple steps for Eurovision domination. If it was that easy, wouldn’t we have done it already?

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