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Eurovision Song Contest, 2008: a report from beyond the pale.

The Eurovision finals, the annual kermesse of pop schlock, beloved by teenyboppers, ice skating costume designers, campy queens and all lovers of bad taste throughout Europe is a guilty pleasure that I look forward to every year. Imagine if the Europeans were allowed to create their own pop music without the overwhelming artistic bullying of Afro-American styles, Caribbean beats, Indigenous melodies from Mexico and Afro-Lusitanian creativity from Brazil? A frightening thought, and one that is brought to terrifying life every Spring!

On Saturday, May 24, the 2008 final evening took place. A long parade of mostly amateurish songs went by in a gleeful blur. But that’s okay, because although a true fan finds the whole show thoroughly entertaining, it is always somewhat tongue in cheek, and half the fun is hating it. I watched it on French TV and had the chatter of Julien Lepers and Jean-Paul Gaultier to keep me company. Here was my take on the proceedings:

The first song was from Romania. Nico and Vlad singing “Pe-o Margine de Lume.” I think Romania has done the Italian bit to death. This love duet was done half in Romanian and half in Italian, and it was an artful song, but that wasn’t be enough to make it at all interesting.

UK: Andy Abraham, singing “Even If”. Considering that the U.K. could never sink lower than the 2007 entry, which will probably go down in history as the worst Eurovision song EVER, this was great in comparison. Funky soul disco from the 1970s, and a pretty good performance from Andy, as well. Jean Paul Gaultier called him elegant in his form fitting funksuit.

Albania: 16 year old Olta Boka sang “Zemrën E Lamë Peng.” Well done, in the French soul diva mode. But since Albanian doesn’t sound at all like anything else, it was hard to tell what she was getting all worked up about.

Germany: No Angels sang “Disappear”. Yes, that’s right. Disappear. Please! Imagine the Pussy Cat Dolls if they couldn’t carry a tune or bust even the lamest move. Obviously, Germany was getting back at Eurovision for the snub 2007’s entry got.

Armenia: Sirusho sang “Qele, Qele.” The Balkan beat that is familiar from so many ex Yugoslavian entries over the years mixed with a bit of Pink. Not terrible, as the French would say, mostly because of her strong and musical voice.

Bosnia Herzegovina: Laka singing “Pokusaj”. Just what we needed: Theater of the Absurd within the Theater of the Absurd. The singer looked like Captain Kangaroo assisted by the bride of Frankenstein in a miniskirt. The song sounded like an old novelty song from San Remo, vintage 1985.

Israel: Boaz sang “The Fire in your eyes.” An excellent singer with an original pop song with a Balkan tint. The first really good song in the show.

Finland: Terasbetoni singing “Missa” something or other. Yikes! More scary heavy metal from Finland. Mercifully, this time they left the Star Trek Klingon masks at home. Gruesome screaming and ear splitting guitar licks gave me very unwelcome bad trip flashbacks from the 1980s.

Croatia: Kraljevi Ulice and 75 cents with a song called “Romanca.” Croatian ballads always tend dangerously to the schmaltzy, but the melodic instinct usually saves them. This time it just didn’t work, and screamin’ Grandpa and the clumsy dancers didn’t help.

Poland. Isis Gee sang “For Life.” A nice ballad and a good singer, but it was a very old fashioned tune that sounded at times like an airline commercial.

Iceland. Euroband singing “This is My Life.” Jean-Paul said it all. He called it “Ice Tektonic”, a new trend, marrying the latest euro-disko drum machine pap with that squeaky clean toothpaste smiley Icelandic look. I can just imagine the teenage hooky-players practicing their moves to this on the sidewalks outside of Les Halles, minus the toothpaste, of course.

Turkey: Mor ve Ötesi sang “Deli.” With a very cool lounge lizard look and a very strong rock sound they were a real success. Creative, original and musical. When I read that the Turkish entry was selected “internally” at TRT, (Turkish television), I imagined the worst. However, they chose a well known group with a strong sound. Hard rock, alla turca, with a real stage presence. One of the strongest songs this year.

Portugal: Vania Fernandes. “Senhora do Mar.” A pretty successful number. It had a big stagey sound with a touch of Portuguese fado. It almost sounded like the grand finale of some Broadway musical and was perfect for this stadium atmosphere. It was very well received.

Latvia. A group called Pirates of the Sea singing a song called Wolves of the Sea. A pirate novelty song. The Baltic countries have a tendency to shout that they are too cool for Eurovision just a little too stridently with these irritating novelty acts. Jeez, if you’re too cool for school, then just stay home, like the Italians do.

Sweden. Charlotte Perelli singing “Hero.” Jean-Paul was concerned about the Battle of the microdresses. I was more concerned about checking my blood sugar levels from the syrupy disco, in the sweetest Eurovision style.

Denmark. Simon Mathew. “All Night Long.” Scandinavians should be prohibited from singing in English. With their excellent accents, they sound like they know what they are saying, but then the lyrics are so mind-numbingly stupid that you have to wonder about the singer’s sanity. Every English lyric cliché strung together for this feel-good ditty, including a pair of blue suede shoes.

Georgia. Diana Gurtskaya sang “Peace Will Come.” Strong beat. Actually, it was not bad, and Diana was almost equal to the difficulties of this song. Why was I not surprised that they were all dressed in black? Because that’s the only color they wear in Tbilisi. The change to white clothes halfway through the song was the shock. Good song, though.

Ukraine. Ani Lorak. “Shady Lady.” Shake it, baby. She outdid the Swedes at their own game, and impressed Jean-Paul with her spangly microdress. One of the better songs and performances in the contest. Jean-Paul called her torrid.

France. Sebastien Tellier. “Divine.” The countdown to the French song was over, and Julien and Jean-Paul finally shut up for a couple of minutes. However, it may have been just because they didn’t know what to say about this somewhat messy song. With a shoo-bop pop style from the 1960s, a flighty melodic line and odd costumes, it sent very mixed messages. At least it was very French, despite the cockney English lyrics.

Azerbaijan. Elnur and Samir. “Day after Day” started off with a countertenor blast to knock your socks off. Azerbaijan con las plumas, you could say. It went on with a hard rock Gothic sound that actually worked. Not too bad.

Greece. Kalomira. Chirping with “Secret Combination.” Was it the Jenny-from-the-block accent or the head not screwed on tight enough that made this sound like 1990s Latin hip-hop with a Greek guitar riff? What happened to the guys with the hairy chests and the disco divas? She was pretty and simpatica, but please, send her back to Astoria, now!

Spain: Rodolfo Chikilicuatre. “Baila el Chiki Chiki.” Apparently the Spanish think that this is some kind of variety show. We take our bad taste seriously here, muchachos! This year, instead of sending the usual Macarena wannabes and rotten Tomatoes, they decided to introduce Europe to Reggaeton, in the most grotesque manner possible. The song is full of humor and puns, most of which I didn’t get, but I did like the dance step that looked like the moonwalk and was named, appropriately, el Maiquelyason.

Serbia.: Jelena Tomasevi featuring Bora Dugic. “Oro.” Well sung and with an appropriately big orchestration for the host country entry, but the song was unfortunately, nothing to get particularly excited about.

Russia. Dima Bilan. “Believe.” Well, now that he has finally chopped the mullet off, Dima can do no wrong. But that’s not from lack of trying. He sang this mediocre song in the most melodramatic smarmy way possible. The awful English pronunciation didn’t help. He has great stage presence, though, so he managed to pull it off. The audience was in love, and he was definitely the star of Eurovision.

Norway. Maria. “Hold on be strong.” A good pop song with a touch of R & B, and a good performance. Really boring clothes, though. Jean-Paul kept his mouth shut diplomatically.

And that was it. There followed fifteen minutes for voting by phone and SMS, during which the host and hostess engaged in the usual amusing chit chat. I was rooting for Israel, U.K., Norway, Turkey and Ukraine, not necessarily in that order. As usual, I hoped that at least a couple of them would do well, but I was fully prepared to be totally appalled by the winner: that is also part of the fun. In any case, five songs that I really liked was not a bad harvest, I thought.

With the voting over there was still more time to burn, so miraculously, they cut out the corny jokes and the tacky repartee and introduced Goran Bregovic and his Wedding and Funeral Band. Finally, a few minutes of real Serbian music, to clean the palate after all that syrup and slop! Yes, there really is good music in Europe beyond the glare of the American music industries.

Then the votes were counted, using a time honored method of split screen dialogs with TV personalities in the various (forty three!) European capitals that participated. The conversation will typically begin something like this: “Hello, Andorra, can you hear me?” answered by, “Hello, Eurovision! This is Andorra calling!” The usual voting cartels weighed in: the Balkan mafia, the ex-Soviet lockstep, the Scandinavian barbarian blok, the Iberian inquisition. But some drama did manage to develop. For a while there, it looked like the hideous Greek song would end up on top, but then reason prevailed, and Dima Bilan won. He wasn’t my favorite, but he made up for it by returning to the stage to accept his trophy and to sing with this shirt totally unbuttoned, with a Russian flag waving in his free hand. A pure Eurovision moment.

Thus the Eurovision song contest came to a satisfactory end. As the winner gets to host the next show, it will Moscow in 2009. And just like every other year, I am left with the consolation that it could have been worse. Now I can go to sleep happy, and tomorrow not admit to ANYONE how I spent my Saturday night in Paris.

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Source by Dominic Ambrose