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I've just finished watching the Eurovision Song Contest, held in Norway's Telenor Stadium in Bærum, a suburb of its capital, Oslo. My own predictions panned - the Netherlands never made it through to the final, and Spain ended fifteenth, despite having the opportunity to play twice due to a stage-invasion during their first attempt that I'd thought was part of the act.
It was very enjoyable, and I'd like to bring you what I thought was the best of the music - while looking at shadows that sometimes seemed to be lurking behind the industrial joy of what I'd hoped would be an uncomplicated night.
I don't think I'm applying for a stay in the Tower of London for saying that Britain's entry in this year's Eurovision was even a bigger turkey than Turkey (who did field one of their biggest bands, but disappointed with the absence of the usual belly-dancing act).
Manga (the band) is big in Turkey, and other countries were fielding artists who had written songs, recorded albums, and one even owned a recording studio. It would be churlish to suggest that the ten points given to Josh Debovie - landing us in 25th place out of 25 - it has to be said that the song is something I'd expect to hear Redcoats welcoming holidaymakers to Butlins with, or in a quondam Gang Show; I suspect it's not even sophisticated enough to make it into a franchise movie of the High School Musical genre. Maxima said it all when she commented that Jedward would have made a better job.
Last year's show in Russia was, it seems in a different world where lavish productions were possible - although news broke today that the expense may have put paid to Russia's chances of televising the World Cup. Given that the Russian show pulled Eurovision back from death by public apathy due to a tainted voting system, it was sad to hear booing when Russia was awarded points for Peter Nalitch and Friends' Lost and Forgotten, as the tale of lost love with a penitential streak was a really good piece and, like many songs this year, of an above average standard. Here they are at the finals of the contest to find a song for Russia:
Not that we were the only turkey, and this was when one started to see shadows. Giorgos Alkaios and Friends did a taverna-style dance routine that was pretty minimalistic in terms of costumes and background. Perhaps this was at the best as denizens of the northern Euro area, not least Germans, might have ended up asking their politicians what exactly they were contemplating mortgaging their future to. Likewise, the Serbian entry's chorus was "Balkan, Balkan, the Balkans!" and I wondered if the singer realised he was singing about the land the generation above him had gone a-slaughtering through.
On the other hand, Ukraine's Alyosha was much more demure live than in her video. An environmentalist from the land of Ukraine, she made no fatuous references to polar bears or ice but looked (in part) at the relationship between video games and the violence sweeping the world. This is from an earlier BBC recording showcasing the songs for Europe:
There was certainly no shortage of songs in English - but if this is an indication of the language's global ascendancy, in Eurovision terms the victory is a pyrrhic one. The cultural diversity that the European Broadcasting Union was set up to celebrate has lost out. Interestingly, however, Armenia's Eva Rivas got round this by sining, in English, a song themed around the country's national symbol, the apricot, which gives its colour to the flag's lower bar. There was a flurry of protest in Turkey about possible references to its genocide of Armenians in 1915, but it's not clear that the lyrics bear that out, and in any case Turkey gave Armenia 6 points. Rivas performs the song here in the second semi-final - note Jivan Gasparyan playing duduk (traditional Armenian flute) - at 83, he's the oldest musician to accompany a Eurovision act on stage.
Not to be outdone in the field of eminent musicians, Albania's Juliana Pasha was accompanied by Italian violinist Olen Cesari, who had recently played for the Pope, in It's all about you. Like a cross between Debbie Harry and Maddy Prior, she perhaps hoped that by going barefoot on stage she could emulate Sandy Shaw's winning performance with Puppet on a String in 1967. But even Cesari's heroic efforts couldn't rescue the song from its own mediocrity, which might have been disguised somewhat had it been sung in Albanian: so, as a hint of this was featured in the introduction to Oslo 10, I feel unashamed of bringing you Ms Shaw!
Later that year, Israel would launch a pre-emptive attack on Egypt fuelled by proof that the country was, with the help of all Israels neighbours and Arab lands from further afield, going to do the dirty first. If, in gaining Gaza, Israel is an occupying country, then it's probably the most benign occupier since Cyrus the Great. The burden of this is apparent in much of modern Israeli culture, and its 2010 Eurovision entry - sung, refreshingly, in the country's own language - is no exception: I think it'll take a while to unravel all the meanings contained, onion-like, in Milim, a love-song sung by Harel Skaat:
Belarus' entry, Butterflies, again sung in English, could have been a bit more rehearsed for pronunciation, and given that Eurovision posts translations of every song online would have lost nothing fron being sung in Belarusian or Russian. But they had an innovation towards the end of the song that announcer Graham Norton said would have every girl under eight shouting "I want one!" The video was great, but seeing how they represented the special effects live was sublime:
Ireland must have been another country watching Greece very closely, because my Irish friends tell me that back home they're not pleased that, after making such sacrifices in personal and work terms to mitigate the financial crisis in Europe, they are having to watch richer countries prepare to bail out Greece, which helped found the EU's instability by cooking the books in the first place. But Niamh Kavanagh, who won Eurovision for the Emerald Isle in 1993 - again an established star singing a song strong enough to storm any hit parade - gave a first-class performance with It's for You, another song this year looking beyond the precarious value of things to deeper truths.
Given that Belgium's French- and Flemish-speaking populations could be on the track for a messy divorce, it was perhaps wise of Tom Dice to sing Me and My Guitar in English. More than this, however, it was significant that a man alone on the stage with a guitar, helped just a little by strings on a backing track, should come 6th. Is this an indication that Europeans are rejecting showiness, or even setting their faces towards a new austerity?
Poor old Portugal has never won the contest despite, like Ireland, consistently sending great singers with great songs: this year Filipa Azevedo with a sentiment I know well: Há Dias Assim - It's One of those Days.
Germany's Lena was this year's Eurovision, with a throwaway pop tune that will be sung by young girls across the continent because it will annoy parents, especially Dads. Consider: "I went everywhere for you/I even did my hair for you/I bought new underwear that’s blue...I even painted my toenails for you..." 'Nuff said. The 19-year-old's enthusiastically-applied lipstick reminded me of what we used to call in quondam Glasgow "Jubilee lips" after the colour the ghastly iced concoction of that name, composed mostly of deep red food-colouring, would leave one's kisser.
The scoring was interesting: after French premier Nicholas Sarkozy humiliated Germany's Angela Merkel with a table-thumping tantrum over differences in how to overcome the crisis precipitated by Greece, the two countries awarded each other a lukewarm 3 points in the scoring; while Greece, having vented its spleen at having been found out in its own murderous tantrum, gave Germany, its potential financial saviour, 2 points in return for 8.
That said, the result was that a delighted girl won a prestigious contest, and this was her night. Here she is receiving the trophy:
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