Friday, 2 March 2012

Getting the Humperdinck

In times of recession, the last thing anyone needs is another extravagant expense. So perhaps the news that we’re sending leathery crooner Englebert Humperdinck to Baku in Azerbaijan isn’t all bad. At least it practically guarantees that we won’t have to stump up the cash to host the Eurovision Song Contest in 2013. Everyone knows the trouble Ireland got into during the early 1990s, when an unprecedented hat-trick saw the Emerald Isle checking its wallet and lamenting its knack for wistful sing-along ballads. It’s no wonder the last few years have seen them put forward an aggressive rubber turkey and the Jedward as its representatives.

Then again, it’s not just the expense of hosting the show that we’re concerned about. Here in the UK, we like to scoff at the whole idea of Eurovision. We laugh at the woeful presenting skills of the host nations, we titter at the curious routines, and we cheer along with the BBC’s derisory commentary. We like to think we’re better than all that flag-waving, key-changing nonsense. And then every time we find ourselves rounding out the bottom of the leaderboard, we bitch and moan about the politically-motivated voting patterns, like UKIP taking another pop at the European Union.

It’s not as if we haven’t tried either. Every year, someone attempts to crack the Eurovision code, and design a song that will appeal to voters from Moscow to Malmo. But whether its cheesy disco, power ballads or generic boybands, we consistently fail to hit the mark. Even the supposed A-team of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Diane Warren failed to raise much interest on the continent.

The thing is, as much as we might gawp in disbelief at all those Eastern European countries with their funny hats and ability to power through a chorus in the face of a wind-machine that would register on the Fujita scale, they’re doing something right. In short, they’re giving a shit.

Don’t get me wrong – they’re all fully aware of how ridiculous the whole show is. They know it’s cheesier than Paula Radcliffe’s insole. But they’re committed to the moment, even if the whole thing makes about as much sense as Joey Essex. You only need to look at how the Scandinavian countries select their acts to see the difference. Melodifestivalen in Sweden, Melodi Grand Prix Norway and Melodi Grand Prix Denmark – they’re almost as popular as the main event, and certainly run for longer. Some of their biggest pop stars battle to fight it out in the weekly heats, and the week after the final, it’s not unusual to see the singles chart utterly dominated by the competing entries, which cover a wide range of genres. Last year, we had Blue singing a bland will-this-do effort called ‘I Can’. In short, they couldn’t.

When the news was announced last night, Englebert told journalists "When the BBC approached me, it just felt right for me to be a part of an institution like Eurovision. I'm excited and raring to go and want the nation to get behind me!" Well, someone has to push his chair. Meanwhile, Katie Taylor, the BBC’s head of entertainment and events commented: "Not since the 70s have we had such an established international musical legend represent the nation.” Of course, she neglected to mention that’s also the last time Englebert had any kind of musical relevance.

So once again, we mosey into battle, biting our thumb in contempt at the entire concept. The critics get to chunter that a septuagenarian crooner is all the contest deserves, and the genuine fans once again find themselves without a worthwhile act to cheer on. Boom bang-a-bang-bang - job done. As Johnny Logan once sang, what’s another year?

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