overthinking the idiot box

May 31, 2005

Bonafide British Person C.J. Quinn covers the strange intersections between British television and American television in

London Calling
Cheap Tats, Shiny Dresses, and Bad Pop Lyrics:
The 2005 Eurovision Song Contest

by C.J. Quinn

Now obviously, being a bright young urban thing living in the throbbing heart of the nation's capital, my Saturday nights are generally glamorous, glitzy, drink-fueled affairs, and this Saturday was no exception. This Saturday, you see, was a day that people all across Europe await every year with bated breath — the day of the Eurovision song contest.

The glory of Eurovision Eurofashion.
Astoundingly, Eurovision celebrated its half-century this year, which I guess makes it a genuine cultural institution. It's certainly one beloved of all wannabe-ironic young hipsters, and as such, it behooved me to tune in this year, I felt, and share some of the magic and cross-cultural beauty with you, dear readers.

In the event that you've never been exposed to the miracle of Eurovision, it is basically Europe's biggest, most expensive annual showcase of cheap tat, shiny dresses and bad pop lyrics. Thirty-nine countries are eligible to compete, including some that no sane person would count as part of Europe, such as Israel. In the spring, every country votes to choose their entrant and song — this year, the UK went with "Touch My Fire, " an unremarkable piece of Middle Eastern-tinged R&B by the feline Girls Aloud-wannabe Javine. The 39 songs then go to the semifinals, where they are (thank God) whittled down to 24. In a festival of Euro-fraternity, the competing nations then send their entrants to that year's final, which is held in whichever country had the misfortune to win the previous year. All 39 countries then broadcast the final, a three-hour marathon of singing, dancing and telephone voting.

This year's Eurovision came from the Ukraine, proving that there's more to that corner of the globe than bloodless revolutions and steel production. As ever, BBC 1 brought us the agony and the ecstasy complete with commentary from the peerless Terry Wogan, aging Irish chat-show host. For your sake, I tuned in, and for your sake, dear reader, here are the edited highlights of my descent into the fifth circle of the Inferno, Eurovision 2005.

Javine is very, very anxious for you to touch her fire. She looks to be wearing a torn yellow hankie as a dress. Perhaps her fire burned bits of it away.
8:10 — United Kingdom
Touch My Fire. I tune in shortly after the start and just miss Hungary's percussion-heavy act (damn it!). Javine is a skinny malinky wench, but has the requisite big boobs and ironed-straight hair needed to make it big in Eurovision. Sadly, one of her boobs does not pop out of her dress during the act, as it did during the semifinals. Javine is very, very anxious for you to touch her fire. She looks to be wearing a torn yellow hankie as a dress. Perhaps her fire burned bits of it away.

8:15 — Malta
Angel. Malta has gone with the interesting tactic of actually voting for someone who can sing, rather than trying to win votes by filling the stage with scantily-clad high-kicking girls. Their entrant is a big, big girl, with a big, big voice, upholstered in about five acres of metallic fuschia lace, who belts out a power ballad about being someone's angel. The crowd likes it a lot, but it won't win.

8:25 — Norway
In My Dreams. Second favorite to win, the Norwegian act is called Wigwam, and is mining the rich vein of glam-rock revival opened up by The Darkness. Its lead singer is wearing a silver Lycra catsuit and lots of dark red lipstick. He easily seduces the ecstatic crowd with an orange flag attached to his mike stand, which he waves around constantly. I'm puzzled at first as to why this is so effective, until I remember that they dig orange in the Ukraine. Saucy!

8:30 — Turkey
Rimi Rimi Ley. The world's shiniest woman is up for Turkey, wearing a bright green raccoon mask of eye shadow matching her top (which has neon pink and gold streamers attached to the sleeves, matching her skirt and the bit of her bra left showing). Eurofashions are the bestest.

8:35 — Moldova
This song bodes well for the use of drums (a bit of a motif this year at Eurovision), being titled Grandmama Beats the Drum (no, really). "You will see, for the first time in Eurovision, a mobile commode on stage," promises Terry Wogan. I just can't describe the gloriousness of the ska-punk act — the singer wears fingerless striped black and grey gloves, no shirt, a black and red diamond-patterned band painted diagonally across his chest, and some kind of kilt over red tights and platform sandals. There's a lot of pogoing around and twirling 'round in circles, while a little old lady in what I presume to be Moldovan folk dress sits in a wicker bath chair behind the group: smiling serenely, rocking back and forth, and then getting up to vigorously beat an enormous drum ("Ladies and gennelman, dis is da grandmama! " the singer beams, embracing her). "Let's make looooooooove," roars the singer at the end. Not tonight, love; I've got 16 more acts to watch. Extraordinary. I hope they win.

"I know it's early days, but if I never heard another drumbeat between now and Christmas, I'd be a happy man" muses Terry, before the Albanians come on. I feel you, Terry.

8:45 — Cyprus
You're There, I'm Here. It all goes a bit late '70s here, with dancing girls with massive 'fros (very Cypriot) in silver minidresses, who threaten to whip their coochies out at any second as they do complicated dances involving shoving big mirrors around behind the tight-white-T-shirted singer. There is MORE singing about touching someone's fire. His female backing singer shrieks and wails like Kate Bush while draped in yards of highly-flammable white satin. I love this shit, you guys. I am so proud to be a European citizen right now.

8:55 — Serbia and Montenegro
Zauvijek Moja, a song that appears from the English translation of the lyrics to be about the Apocalypse ("And the sun will shed its golden fire/And the sea will become an endless pyre/ And the mighty voice of angels' choir/Will be blessing you and me/Eternally."). Swooning violin, huge booming drums (drink!), and a couple of Serbian boy-band types in tight leather trousers. One of them plays air violin at one point, which is just wonderful. They and their backing dancers keep pausing to dance as if they're at a Serbian country wedding. My flatmate's Serbian boyfriend texts to promise to perform this very dance next time he's over. "At least now I know it's not just him, his whole country dances that way," sighs my flatmate.

9:00 — Denmark
Before we can continue, the hosts do a bit of "comic" fussing about with the Eurovision 50th anniversary trivia book. I am distracted by the hostess's orange-tanned cleavage and her frock, which is a tiered-skirt monstrosity apparently made out of purple rubber. "Who tinks this sorta stuff up?" asks Terry, sounding as if he's in pain.

Mercifully the Danes now come on, with Talking To You. Denmark's entrant is not actually a pro singer, but a teacher of autistic kids, believe it or not. He's a bit of an adorable camp Muppet in a purple velvet suit, red shoes and a bright pink paisley shirt. I am so relieved by the absence of tits and drums that I'd love this song even if it wasn't so cute and peppy and 1950s. Aw, bless.

9:15 — Ukraine
The home country is up, and the crowd goes mental for a performance of Razam Nas Bahato, the anthem of last year's Orange Revolution. It's not a great pop song, but it's a pretty good song to storm the barricades by, with a pleasing mix of a Ukrainian chorus and stirring English-language rapping about not taking it anymore and being strong together. Halfway through, my friend Pella texts me to note the brilliance of the singer wearing a Che T-shirt to celebrate the election of a pro-US politician.

9:20 — Germany
Run and Hide. This song is a weird hybrid of a thrash metal guitar number and a power ballad, which makes it very German, I suppose. The chorus is, I realize, "You'd better run and hide," but it sounds to me like "You're better off high," and I have to say I would be at this point. Instead, I go and pour a large glass of wine.

9:30 — Croatia
Wolves Die Alone. I'm beginning to wish I could. Some kind of shrieky Croatian bagpipe, and the obligatory drumming (the timpani here being worked by a man who is either wearing body paint or Europe's tightest T-shirt).

9:35 — Greece
My Number One. Appropriately named, as this is the favorite to win. This song wins my prize for best rhyme in a European pop lyric since Snap's "Rhythm is a Dancer" ("I'm serious as cancer/When I say that rhythm is a dancer") with the beautiful couplet "You're delicious/So capricious." Just as I am thinking this one is quite dull, one of the male backing dancers drops prone on the floor, and the singer yanks a load of strings from the back of the dancer's top and uses a cane to pretend she's playing a giant fiddle. Jesus.

That's a pretty big fiddle.
At this point, possibly freaked out by the giant human fiddle, I start to lose the will to live, or at least the will to recap Eurovision, despite the Bosnian-Herzogovinian ABBA clones and the soothing guitar strumming of the Latvians. It's an experience that reminds me of my visit to Shanghai's Museum of Ancient Chinese Sex Culture — titillating and fascinating at first, but after a while inducing a brain hemorrhage in response to the sheer numbing weight of weirdness. Mercifully, the 24th song (France) eventually grinds to a close, and the telephone voting begins.

Ukraine has decided to wheel out its two most famous citizens to open the voting — Vitali and Volodymyr Klytschko. I know, I know. I was so over-excited at this point I nearly wet myself. Apparently they are famous brothers who box. Volodymyr assures us he already has a favorite song, "and I will wote for it as schoon asch woting opens!" As schoon as it does, I attempt to text in my wote for the Norwegians, but the system is immediately overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of Britons also spending a big night in, and I can't get through. Ten minutes later, the woting has closed, and the Klytschkos play some wind chimes to signal this, prior to the interval act, which features not only Ukrainian modern dance (like really slow breakdancing) but also entire banks of drums. "I don't know about you," says Terry, "but I go to find consolation in drink." Wise man. I take a big slurp of wine.

Next, the results come in. For some ungodly reason, we have to hear the full results breakdown from a representative of every one of the thirty-nine Eurovision nations. It is mildly amusing to see the traditional voting allegiances playing themselves out (the Baltic states will always vote for each other; Monaco and France can be relied upon to scratch one another's backs). I myself drink more wine and start writing my Year 10 reports. I hang on just long enough to see Javine scrape a miserable 18 points, and the winner (with 233 points) declared to be Greece's delicious-capricious act.

With the morning will come calls for Eurovision voting reform to end the power of the Balkan bloc...and anxiety over whether the rest of Europe voted Javine down to punish us for invading Iraq
Confetti falls from the ceiling, the human fiddle plays once more, and then it's all over for another year. Around Europe, ironic young hipsters drink to the call "Next year, in Athens!" With the morning will come calls for Eurovision voting reform to end the power of the Balkan bloc; anguish at Britain's total inability to climb out of the bottom of the league table, and anxiety over whether the rest of Europe voted Javine down to punish us for invading Iraq. For now, our revels now are mercifully ended, and with a final slug of Semillon Chardonnay, your loyal correspondent is off to round this little insanity with a sleep.

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Return to Vol. 1, Episode 5.