Sunday, 19 May 2013

Blurry Eurovision

The problem with throwing a Eurovision party, as we did for the first time in a decade, is that you usually end up missing all the songs. Admittedly, that’s not always a bad thing, since many countries seem to see the contest as an opportunity to circumvent the Geneva Conventions. But once the drinks are flowing and your party crowd is in full swing, they can drown out even the most powerful surround sound – rendering the show little more than a fashion show as envisioned by Timothy Leary. As a consequence, this recap of last night’s action will show scant disregard for musicality, and focus entirely on the trousers.

Coming to us live from Malmö, the show opened with a Europe-wide travelogue, as a CGI caterpillar visited all the competing countries, stopping occasionally to pose on a salad and put me right off my food. By the time he reached his destination in southern Sweden, he’d transformed into a butterfly as Benny and Bjorn’s new Eurovision anthem kicked in. This is the closest we’re going to get to an ABBA reunion, so we shouldn’t quibble that it sounded like a reject from the Isles of Wonder CD. While the Choir was busy emoting, a spectacular bridge lowered into the stadium, allowing the parade of performers to take to the stage. For one terrifying moment, I saw a flash of bleached blonde hair and panicked that Emile Sandé had found a way of squeezing herself into the show. Elsewhere, there were several beautiful women in very tight frocks, who really needn’t have bothered.

Our host for the evening was Petra Mede, who introduced herself with a bunch of superfluous syllables – the prerogative of anyone who can order an egg-white omelette in five languages. She even gave a special shout-out to the gays in the audience, all 98 per cent of them.  This year, 39 countries competed, but only 26 took part in the final. But even with 13 cut from the line-up, the broadcast still managed to make most wars seem brisk by comparison. And through it all, we had Graham Norton attempting to fill Terry Wogan’s tasselled loafers with his own incredulous commentary.  Graham helpfully pointed out the each country has its own jury, and the UK’s includes Tony Hatch and Tony Blackburn, proving once again that ‘contemporary’ continues to be our watchword.

It’s thirty six years since France last won the Eurovision; a trend that Amandine Bourgeois seemed in no hurry to break. As the opening performer in the contest, her heavily percussive performance established an unofficial theme for the evening. If nothing else, we may have finally uncovered the cloning capabilities of Florence’s machine. As for Amandine herself, picture Diana Vickers waiting in a nightclub cloakroom for the attendant to find her umbrella.

Lithuania’s Something was more of a nothing, performed by Andrius Pojavis who seemed to be styling himself after Charlie Sheen’s cameo in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Moldova didn’t fare much better, with a La Roux lookie-likey who over-emoted in an enormous frock. However, the standout moment in Aliona Moon’s performance came when it was revealed that she’d got a scissor lift tucked into her gusset. As she calmly ascended towards the ceiling of the stadium, her undercarriage began to glow pink, giving her the unfortunate appearance of being fingered by E.T.

Finland offered up a peppy, poppy paean to marriage, as Krista Siegfrids jumped around the stage in a wedding dress and ridiculous shoes. The twist, of course, came at the end when she kissed one of the female backing singers, revealing the song to be an infectious endorsement marriage equality. This didn’t go down too well in Turkey and Azerbaijan, who both threatened to edit that part of the broadcast.

Spain presented us with ESDM, who looked like Carly Rae Jepsen doing Karen Carpenter on Stars In Their Eyes. At one point, she was joined on stage by Vernon Kaye, who thrashed his guitar and triggered the indoor pyro. Despite all this excitement, I’d forgotten the song before it had even finished playing. At this point, SVT thoughtfully put up a sign that read “Warning – the next performance contains strobe effects and flashing lights.” However, by the midway point of the show, I’m prepared to bet that half the show’s viewers were praying for some kind of seizure.  

Remember Anthony Hopkins’ creepy ventriloquist’s dummy in Magic? I do, because he’s now a Belgian singer called Roberto Bellarosa. Love Kills is one of those generic pop songs that starts as a ballad and builds into a dance anthem, but it’s hard to concentrate when the singer looks like he’s terrified of his own microphone. Points were also deducted for the derivative dubstep breakdown.

Estonia was represented by Birgit Öigemeel, who sang a pretty song and looked nice enough, but it felt as though the 12,000-strong audience had all begun to look at their watches. Even the camera crew were playing Candy Crush.  Belarus didn’t fare much better, with Kylie doing a Holly Valance song in Madonna’s disco ball. Still, credit goes to Alyona Lanskaya for taking the time to Ronseal her legs beforehand.

The prize for happiest performer of the night went to Malta’s Gianluca Bezzina, who was grinning so hard he’d make a kids’ TV presenter look like an EastEnders extra. His song was about an IT-worker called Jeremy, and sounded like something Bruno Mars could barely muster the energy to sing. Russia gave us Katie Holmes belting a power ballad, and Germany showed its fun side with cheesy dance act Cascada, who’ve been accused of plagiarising last year’s winner Euphoria. After that upbeat interlude, things got momentarily sinister, as the video postcard from Armenia looked like an outtake from Taken 2. The theme for Dorians was clearly ‘moustache’, as the lead singer looked alarmingly like Ron Jeremy on the WeightWatchers.

Halfway through the show, the music performances were put on hold long enough for Swedish singer Sarah Dawn Finer to reprise her ‘comedy’ character Lynda Woodruff from the Melodifestivalen. Much of the humour was derived from mispronouncing things, but it was still more sophisticated than anything Matt Lucas and David Walliams have ever done. Even Petra got in on the act, telling the Malmö crowd that they just hadn’t met the right girl yet. Had last year’s Azerbaijani host tried the same shtick last year, the comment might have been taken very differently.

Back to the music, and The Netherlands struck a surprisingly sombre tone with Anouk’s Birds, which sounded like something you’d hear as the curtains close in a crematorium. At the opposite end of the scale was Romania’s Cezar, who seemed to be fusing Rylan with Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty. He sang a weird blend of pop and opera in a woman’s voice, prompting several of our guests to ask for smaller measures in the next round. By the time Mel B crawled out from under the billowing blood-red silks, we were in full-on nightmare territory.

Finally, it was time for Bonnie Tyler, and a flurry of ‘Holding Out For A Zero’ jokes to be recycled on Twitter. Despite a creaky start, Bonnie gave a pretty good performance, even though she’s starting to look as if she’s been stitched together from the bits that have been cut off the Nolans. It didn’t help matters that her contract had clearly stipulated the generous application of Vaseline to every camera lens – enough to trigger a petroleum shortage across Northern Europe.

Robin Stjernberg gave a good showing for the host country, with his catchy and rhythmic You, although the costumes looked a little too Mos Eisley for my tastes. Hungary, on the other hand, was going for a hipster motif, performing with all the verve of a listless somnambulist checking the fridge for a half-eaten yoghurt. Denmark gave us Emelie De Foret, who sat on the floor to sing her folky ballad, and offered the cameraman a tantalising glimpse up her fjord. Iceland was represented by Thor, who performed like a rocker at a corporate gig, and Azerbaijan’s Farid Mammadov appeared to be wearing a soft grey suit made of mouse ears. The song was spectacularly generic, but momentarily enlivened by some gay business with a man stuck in a Perspex box.

Greece provided us with the show’s most authentic folk moment, as Koza Mostra gave us Madness on the bouzouki. This was so authentically Greek, I could have been sitting in a Skiathos Taverna – all that was missing was a tin jug of retsina and a dog with a tumour like a spacehopper. Ukraine attempted a beauty-and-the-beast theme, as Shrek brought on Eva Longoria for a mid-tempo dance number, and Italy was represented by Marco Mengali – a Dolce & Gabanna shop mannequin in Ray Liotta’s eyeliner. Norway’s Margaret Berger tried to feed us her love, but left most of the audience hanging a ‘Nil By Mouth’ sign off the end of their bed. The song was part Bond theme, and part contemporary Scandopop – either way, Robyn was sitting at home, laughing her tits off.

Georgia managed to rope Swedish songwriting legend Thomas G:Son into writing their song, Waterfall, but I doubt he broke a sweat with this sub West End duet. Finally, it was up to Ireland’s Olly Murs impersonator Ryan Dolan to close the show. Those who weren’t thrown by his drag queen eyebrows and pleather outfit, could watch the background projections, which had the effect of flicking through the designs book in a tattoo parlour.

With the songs out of the way, it was time for Loreen to reprise her winning performance from last year. In fact, she performed a medley of hits, which served only to remind us of how similar all her songs are. Jean Paul Gaultier got a shout-out for designing the trophy, then Petra led a rousing performance of a mildly amusing song about Swedish culture. Not all the jokes worked, but credit to anyone who can come up with that many words to rhyme with smorgasbord.

I’m not going to recap all the voting, since it was as predictable as always. However, snaps go to Albania for rocking the ice-wash denim, and Spain for making ‘congratulations’ sound like ‘coloured relations’. Half the presenters made some lame attempt at referencing ‘Thank You For The Music’ and Montenegro showcased the worst green screen effect since Blakes 7. Throughout it all, Petra remained dignified and stately in an enormous white frock that gave her the appearance of the Matterhorn in a black beehive.

Denmark took an early lead, with Azerbaijan its only real competition. But in the end, the Danes had it in the bag with four countries still left to vote. Who’s up for a trip to Copenhagen next May?

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