(Nearly) live from Oslo…

Yes, folks, it’s that time of the year again. The Eurovision Song Contest, that multi-nation celebration of spandex, mullets, outrageous lighting effects, blatant nationalism and really cheesy pop music. I’m intending to watch the whole thing – well, intending to meaning that I put it on Sky+ so that I can fast-forward through the crap bits once I reach my pain threshold, which usually happens about 20 minutes into the show. ANYway. What follows is a collection of random thoughts as they occur to me as I watch fast-forward through the broadcast.

1. Nadia and Haddy (the female presenters) seem relatively sane. Erik (token male, a Norwegian kids’ TV presenter) does not. His grin is bizarre. I think his mouth might be made out of silly putty.

2. Alexander Rybak (last year’s winner). He sings! He gurns! He plays the violin! People do backflips behind him! It’s going to be a long evening.

3. The phone lines are open. Before any competitor has sung a note. I think we can guess how the public voting is going to play out tonight, can’t we? Probably the same way the panel votes go – so blatant nationalism, with very little to do with the talents or otherwise of any competitor. Cool.

4. First entry. Azerbaijan. She’s dressed as a gas flame, and she’s singing a generic midtempo thingy about lurve. It isn’t too bad… except for some reason it’s called “Drip Drop”. Why?!?!

5. Spain. Daniel Diges.  Algo pequeñito.  A horrifically cheesy waltz sung by a man in a shiny suit with Simon Rattle hair, while grimacing imbeciles dressed as toys dance around him. There are high notes, despite the unfortunate fact that Diges can’t sing them. If there’s any justice, this will receive nul points. There’s also a stage invasion from a deeply odd man wearing a black T-shirt and what looks like a red condom on his head. He’s more interesting than anyone in the actual act.

6. Graham Norton is warning us that Norway’s entry is a big power ballad. Duly noted. And it is. Third song of the night, second shiny grey suit. The singer – one Didrik Solli-Tangen – is flat, singing just under the note all the way through. The song is so bland that this actually improves it. Unlike Daniel Diges, though, he does manage to hit his big high note at the end. Unfortunately that’s the only note he hits dead on in the entire three minutes.

7.  Moldova’s entry has a neon blue violin, and the group’s singer is dressed like a Primark Lady Gaga. The song’s a bit like “Just Dance”, only crap. It’s called “Run Away”. I’m following their advice, and pressing the fast-forward button.

8. Cyprus’s entry, from a certain angle, looks a bit like Kevin Bacon in “Footloose”. He looks Very Serious, but the backing singers are smiling like they’re on drugs. The song is even blander than the Norwegian one.

9. Bosnia and Herzegovina field a singer who clearly fancies himself as a sort of one-man metal answer to Coldplay. Fast-forward time again.

10. And we’re off to Belgium. Tom Dice, “Me and My Guitar”. And that’s all it is, at least for the first verse. He looks very nervous, but he sings quite nicely and it’s rather charming… so it isn’t going to win.

11. Serbia. Milan Stankovic. White jeans. Sequins on his mid-blue tails. Blond pudding-bowl haircut. Pink Docs. Backing dancers doing robotics. Speeded-up oom-pa-pa backing track. This is the point where my eyes and ears start to bleed.

12. Nadia – who is wearing earrings that, under the lights, look like droplets of solidified urine – tells us that Spain will perform again at the end because of the stage invasion. Graham Norton, in VO, reminds us that the invader was more interesting than the performance he interrupted.

13. And we’re off to Belarus. Black suits (men), silver/gold/bronze sequins (women). Terribly sincere hand gestures, nice singing, bland ballad that, oddly, has a military drumbeat underneath. As the song lurches into the climactic verse, the womens’ dresses suddenly sprout butterfly wings (the song’s called “Butterflies”) – a moment of kitsch that goes a little way towards redeeming a rather dull song.

14. Ireland. Naimh Kavanagh, bringing us what sounds like a cross between “The Rose” without the harmonies and “The Wind Beneath My Wings”. There’s a Celtic flute between the verses; I don’t think Ireland are allowed to put in an entry without one. Someone should have told Ms. Kavanagh before the show that purple is not her colour. The song crashes to a melodramatic climax, and she gets a standing ovation. It’s a big, bland ballad – it’s pure Eurovision-bait. It’ll either do very well or very badly.

15. Greece. Omigod. White jumpsuit and, I think, fake pearls. It’s a bit like watching a number from  a really bad production of “Zorba!”, set to a techno beat and choreographed by one of the Muppets.

16. And now it’s the UK. Stock, Waterman but no Aitken. The song’s called “That Sounds Good To Me”. Compared to the previous entry, yes it does. Actually, it sounds like every record SAW made in the 80s – written by a robot, irritatingly catchy, nicely sung by someone with an OK voice but not much personality. It’s a competent pop single, in other words. We’re toast.

17. Graham Norton is being interviewed by Haddy while Graham Norton provides commentary in VO on a separate channel. My brain hurts.

18. Georgia. Sofia Nizharadze singing “Shine”. Nice ballad, creepy staging – the poor woman has to keep singing while bare-chested dancers manhandle her, lift her up, paw at her and writhe at her feet. Then the electric guitars come in, and it gets really overwrought. She’s very pretty, though, and is probably the best singer so far.

19. Turkey. We’re being told to clap our hands.  They look like they really want to be Muse. I like Muse, but it’s fast-forward time.

20. Albania. Juliana Pasha, costumed in castoffs from “Blake’s 7”, with a disco number in 6/8 time called “It’s All About You”. Her backing singers have to be on drugs. So does the violinist. It’s actually not bad – unabashedly tacky, but fun, and she can sing – but those backing singers are either high or performing at gunpoint.

21. Iceland. Hera Bjork. No, not Bjork. Hera Bjork. She looks a bit like Sookie off “Gilmore Girls”. Big nightclub dancefloor anthem, she’s got a good voice, but the actual performance is very static – the lights move more than her backing singer/dancers. Odd.

22. Ukraine. “Sweet People”. Oh. My. God. Jewel soundalike wearing a flesh-coloured slip, red bondage chains and a black Grim Reaper hood, singing in an increasingly overwrought manner about… something, while someone aims a wind machine at her. I’m sure it’s all terribly meaningful. Every red light in Scandinavia is going off behind her. It is, at least, relatively short.

23. France. Described, accurately, by Graham Norton as ‘cheesy europop’. I assume Jessy Matador is not his real name. The kind of song that one suspects might work better played at a campsite disco somewhere near the Mediterranean.

24. Romania have a perspex tandem piano. Yes, two keyboards. The song is quite scary. Imagine David Gest and Catwoman singing a musical collaboration between Peter Allen and Bananarama, with operatic high notes thrown into the middle eight. Yikes.

25. Russian entry. Maudlin, sincere, sounds like a throwback to 70s folk rock, and none the worse for that. It’s a resolutely un-showbusiness performance, though the singing-to-the-photograph bit should have been cut in rehearsals. We know it’s a maudlin ballad, thank you. It sounds a bit like the sort of thing you’d expect to hear someone singing as they crawl out of a bar half an hour after closing time, after drinking an unfeasible amount of vodka.

26. The Icelandic team’s table has a volcano centrepiece. Heh.

27. The Armenian entry. She’s gorgeous. People appear to be acting out prehistoric tableaux behind her. I can’t tell why because the lyrics make no sense. What the hell, it’s Eurovision.

28. Germany. Lena. “Satellite”, it’s called. The bookies’ favourite, apparently. Catchy, fun performance of an upbeat song with a nice swing to it. She’s possibly trying a little bit too hard to be quirky, and in some ways it’s a very un-Eurovision performance – by which I mean that nothing about it is notably bizarre and it doesn’t make you want to poke your eyes out with a toilet brush – but this is pretty good.

29. Portugal. We’re in full-on Céline territory here. She’s very pretty, but the song is sludge.

30. Israel. I’m sure he’s very pretty too, but this song, also, is sludge.

31. Denmark’s entry seems to have been created and performed by someone who is fixated on Synchronicity-era Police and ABBA – the song sounds like someone put “Every Breath You Take” in a blender with side one of “Super Trouper”. If the thought of that scares you… it should.

32. And Spain gets to perform again because of the stage invasion, the perpetrator of which is apparently now in custody.

…and it’s voting time. Erik is showing us how to vote by phone. He  has very odd eyebrows, and he’s just ripped off his tux to reveal a lime green sequined fitted shirt. There’s only another 15 minutes left in which to vote. Damn.

The thing is, the contest is sort of a joke, but it’s also a platform. It’s more or less irrelevant to the British music industry (which might be why our entries are routinely so dreadful), but it’s a means for singers/groups from countries that don’t have the same kind of entertainment infrastructure to get to perform in front of a huge worldwide audience. It doesn’t happen very often, but huge careers have been launched via Eurovision – most notably ABBA, though I’m not sure that there was anything at that level among the entrants this evening. And it does, at least, usually yield a compellingly overblown TV show – a kind of variety show of the damned, with bad hair, sequins and strobe lighting, followed by voting conducted along blatantly nationalistic lines (you’re not allowed to vote for your own country, so you vote for your neighbours/allies – and if you’re in Eastern Europe, you cast all your votes behind the former Iron Curtain).

But before the voting starts, it’s time for a flash-mob style interval act, in which a lot of people planted in the audience get up and dance, with video links to flash mob audience dancing in other countries. It’s a nice idea, but it doesn’t quite come off, because the location shots from various cities across Europe are actually more fun than the scenes in the Telenor Arena itself.

…and we’re back. Now Erik has sprouted butterfly wings, and it’s time for the results. Whoopee. Nadia’s removed the pee earrings. I miss Katie Boyle. It’s time to fast-forward through the country-by-country announcement of the results, because life’s just too short.

And, ooh, the results are fun. As usual. Germany wins – deservedly, they had the best song, a good performer, and managed a performance that didn’t look completely ridiculous. Lena, the very young singer (she’s 19) looks genuinely shocked; Alexander Rybak shows up again to hand over the gong. He leaps into the air for no apparent reason. Poor Lena’s trying to give an acceptance speech in English, and doing quite well, but she’s not enthusiastic about singing again. Norwegian Erik’s grin is now truly disturbing. I think he’s about to eat Oslo.

The UK, of course, came last, though unfortunately we didn’t get nul points. Bummer. Somehow, at Eurovision, total ignominy is better than simple failure. Still, there’s always next year. Meanwhile, for your viewing pleasure, here’s this year’s winner:

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