Can you make a steamroller out of cheese?

Yes, it’s that time of year again. May. Spring is in the air… somewhere, it was bloody freezing here today. Flowers are in bloom. It’s light past 9pm. And, with crushing inevitability, the Eurovision Song Contest is rolling around again. Whoopee. I could ignore it, of course – and my ears and retinas would thank me for doing so – but where’s the fun in that? It’s got more cheese than Tesco Extra, and about the same level of musical sophistication.

I am afraid, however, that I lack the testicular fortitude to liveblog the event. Doing so would mean sitting through it all, which would probably lead to my doing something tedious, painful and messy, like gnawing off my own left arm and using it to club myself unconscious. I recorded it, and I reserve the right to make use of the fast-forward button. Particularly since I’m watching it sober. I also, I should say, lacked the testicular fortitude to watch any of the semi-finals. I mean, come on. There’s only so much anyone can be expected to take.

OK. So. We’re in Dusseldorf. Lovely. Our plastic hosts for the evening are Anke Engelke, Stefan Raab and Judith Rakers, with Graham Norton providing snarky voice-overs. Anke seems to be wearing a bright red feather duster. Judith seems to be wearing some kind of recycled foil takeout container. Stefan is wearing a black suit and tie, I assume in preparation for music’s funeral. Judith’s smile isn’t a real smile, it’s a cardboard cutout that’s been stapled to her chin. Two seconds in, and I’m already longing for the subtle presenting skills of, say, Davina McCall. Anke seems to be suffering from some kind of pain in the lower jaw – she’s wincing slightly (and you would, wouldn’t you?), and wrinkling her nose.

Oh dear God, the presenters are singing live. Anke is singing last year’s winning song. No, wait, Anke started it off, and now Stefan’s unleashing his inner rock god. I’m not sure children should be watching this. He sings! He plays guitar! He drums! He grimaces! And he’s joined by Lena, last year’s winner, who seems to be on a quest to discover her inner Ute Lemper. And it ends with lots of fireworks. When you start with the explosion, where do you go next?

Don’t dwell on that one too much. Anyway, it could always be worse. Imagine Terry Wogan doing ‘Making Your Mind Up’. The Cheryl Baker part.

Ooh. Speeded-up film of the process of converting a football stadium into the Eurovision arena. Apparently Take That will be performing there later in the year. That’s one to miss, then.

Earnest chat from the presenters. Anke’s French is pretty good. Stefan likes Judith’s Bacofoil. More fireworks. As usual, the phonelines open before anyone other than the presenters and last year’s winner has sung a note.

OK, we’re on to the candidates. Finland first. Paradise Oskar, he’s called. There’s film of someone who is not Paradise Oskar carrying a double-bass off a U-Bahn train in Berlin. Mr. Oskar is very, very young. Playing acoustic guitar, piano in the background, save our planet theme – ironic, given the amount of hairspray he’s wearing. I mean, seriously, that do could kill if you threw it at someone. I’m sure he’s very nice, and I’m sure his mother is very proud of him, but it’s a really dull song. He also seems to have Patti LuPone’s way with consonants. He ends with a big grin, to a roar of applause. I want kitsch and I want it now.

Bosnia-Herzegovina. Dino Merlin, Love in Rewind. A geography teacher and Amanda Lamb’s twin sister, a tambourine, a mandolin, a triangle, oom-pah rhythms, permagrins and lots of plaid. The last singing group I saw that was this perky was the New Main Street Singers in “A Mighty Wind”, and that was satire. They end by waving in unison.

Denmark. A Friend in London – no, really, that’s the name of the group – singing ‘New Tomorrow’. They’re apparently very popular in Canada. They look and sound a bit like the CBeebies version of The Killers. It looks as if spiky hair is one of this year’s recurring visual themes.

Lithuania. So of course we see film of a Lithuanian ski instructor. Mr. Norton tells us that the song comes straight out of musical theatre. Uh-oh, I love musical theatre. Evalina Sasenko, ‘C’est Ma Vie’. There’s a grand piano and dry ice, and many overemphatic gestures accompanied by a swooping string section. She signs the second verse for the deaf, and then the drums come in. She makes Shirley Bassey look like a model of subtlety and restraint. Nice voice, though, and the song wouldn’t be too bad if you trimmed away most of the schlocky arrangement.

Hungary. Retro-pop, apparently. Introduced via film of a Hungarian chef in a German market. Kati Wolf, ‘What About My Dreams?’ Blue lamé dress, routine Eurodisco song. She’s a bit like a lobotomised Lady Gaga. Fast forward time.

Ireland. Jedward. Yes, that’s right. Jedward. The song is called ‘Lipstick’. The hair is terrifying, the singing is worse, and the red sequinned military jackets with foot-high fake shoulders look like something left over from a low-budget sci-fi spoof. Their song is truly hideous, but a real earworm. And, bless them, they do it, ridiculous choreography and all, with absolute conviction, ending in a shower of red glitter. It’s simultaneously completely awful and thoroughly compelling. This is what Eurovision is about.

Sweden. Eric Saade. ‘Popular’. Thankfully not the witless “comic” “song” from ‘Wicked’. He’s wearing a leather jacket and a black T-shirt with straps across the front, unfortunately – given the nature of the song, my choice for him would have been a straitjacket and a gag. Bad boyband choreography with his backing singers. He seems to be trying for some kind of bad-boy vibe… but this is Eurovision, he’s about as threatening as mayonnaise.

Ah. Estonia. She’s studying fashion. We see film of an Estonian stockbroker. Of course. Getter Jaani, ‘Rockefeller Street’. She looks a bit like Lea Michele, and she’s wearing something fuchsia pink out of a five-year-old’s dressup box while dancers hide behind scale-model cartoon buildings behind her. There’s a fine line between kitsch and crap, and this crosses it. Fast-forward time.

Greece (is the word, is the word…). Loucas Yiorkas featuring Stereo Mike, ‘Watch My Dance’. White middle-class guy attempting to do hardass street rap, followed by a singer who looks like the Primark David Beckham belting out a banal melody over industrial percussion sounds. Watch my hand stretch out for the remote.

Russia. Apparently he’s a movie star. His name translates as Alex Sparrow. Alexej Vorobjov, ‘Get You’, co-written by one of Lady Gaga’s producers (according to Mr. Norton). Wobbly voice. Leather jacket, white vest, quiff. He looks like an understudy for Danny Zuko in the third national company of “Grease”. Again, bad boyband choreography with his backup dancers. Lacks the inspired inanity of Jedward’s effort. C- at best.

France. Unlike anything else in the competition, or so says Mr. Norton. He’s the youngest professional tenor in the world, apparently. Amaury Vassill, ‘Sognu’. Accompaniment nicked from inspired by Ravel, hair modelled on a dishmop, legitimate tenor voice, stiffly serious facial expression. It sounds a bit like something off a Russell Watson album. Projection of a stormy sky behind him, occasionally turning the colour of fire, with fireworks coming in towards the end of the song. Interestingly, it’s in Corsu, not French… and that is, in fact, the only interesting thing about the song. He’ll probably have a nice career doing crossover albums, but he won’t win Eurovision.

(Yes, the contest finished a while ago… but I have managed to remain spoiler-free.)

Ooh. Italy. For the first time in 14 years, Eurovision scholars. Raphael Guadalazzi, ‘Madness of Love’. Smug lounge singer from the cruise ship from hell. You know how earlier this week, Europe took a decisive step backwards towards reintroducing border controls in the Schengen zone? This song is the reason why, it’s nothing to do with immigration control. He attempts this sort of  raw wail at the end of each chorus. I think it’s modelled on the sound of a chicken being strangled. If only you could apply a taser via a TV screen.

And now Judith is interviewing the geography teacher from Bosnia. She’s wearing a new bacofoil dress, and is still grinning. Her mouth moves but, oddly, the grin doesn’t.

Oh. Denmark’s lead singer’s top is backless. I wish I hadn’t seen that.

Switzerland. Anna Rossinelli, ‘In Love For A While’. She’s wearing a slinky red dress, and she can open her mouth very, very wide. The song sounds oddly like ‘Wig in a Box’, only without the fun and the energy. She’s quite charming, and is better than her material, which is in nul points territory.

The UK. Us. Blue. ‘I Can’. Yes, they can. But I wish they wouldn’t. Anonymous, radio-friendly  manufactured pop, efficiently delivered and deadly dull.

Moldova. Sdob si Zdub, ‘So Lucky’. It’s like a cross between “Very”-era Pet Shop Boys, complete with pointy hats, and Chumbawumba, with a dose of Balkan folk and a unicycling fairy carrying a trumpet thrown in. Unabashedly bizarre, this is the kind of WTF TV we all tuned in for in the first place. You just don’t get this on the regular music channels.

Ooh. Germany. Lena, the defending champion. ‘Taken by a Stranger’. Slinky black pantsuit, backing singers in silver bodystockings, I think the tune is still in the dressing room. She’s a convincing pop star, but her song last year was far better. On this, she sounds like she’s trying to be Bjork, only without the accompanying psychosis. Oh dear. Fast forward time. Again.

Romania. Hotel FM. ‘Change’. I think the pianist is trying to kill the piano. It’s very 70s, and the singer obviously has his heart set on out-grinning Judith, our bacofoil-clad hostess. Two dancers holding trumpets do fake Fosse moves behind him. It’s rather sweet, slightly amateurish, and genuinely fun.

Austria. Nadine Beller, ‘The Secret is Love’. Judging by her hair – which is bizarrely rigid – the real secret involves quick-drying cement. It’s a sub-Whitney Houston power ballad, and she can certainly belt out the big high notes. It’s just really, really strange watching her move and her hair stay still.

Azerbaijan. Ell/Nikki, ‘Running Scared’. Big, confident slab of cheesy pop that would sound great blaring out of the speakers at a beach bar in a Mediterranean resort. Which is sort of the point of Eurovision. It’s not good, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s naff, syrupy, and irresistible, though you might hate yourself later.

Slovenia. Maja Keuc, ‘No One’. She’s wearing what looks like designer chainmail and thigh boots, and her song is… God, I can’t take a second more of it. Imagine the worst parts of Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera put in a blender and programmed into a robot. You know what you’re imagining? It’s better than Maja Keuc.

Anke’s talking to France. She’s still not smiling, but she’s also not wearing a feather duster any more. There’s a plug for the souvenir DVD, like you’d want to watch this again.

Iceland. Sjonni’s Friends, ‘Coming Home’. They’re actual musicians, the song is old-fashioned European folk-pop, the sort of thing the male half of Abba were doing before Abba, and it’s rather charming. It hasn’t, of course, a hope in hell of winning.

Spain. Lucia Perez. ‘Que Me Quiten Lo Ballao’. Again, a resort bar classic. She’s very enthusiastic. I feel like I should be wearing a loud Hawaiian shirt to watch this. On any objective level it’s dreadful, but – once again – resistance is futile. And yes, there are more fireworks.

Ukraine. Mika Newton, ‘Angel’. She’s made up to look like she’s in a vampire movie, wearing feathers on her shoulders, and someone’s doing sand-painting behind her. Oh. The song is possibly terribly meaningful, or maybe she just ate bad clams for lunch.

Serbia. Nina, ‘Caroban’. Very 60s, down to the Mary Quant pastiche dresses. She can sing, it’s a good song, but she’s not going to win. She might have, if she’d sung in English.

Final song. Georgia. Eldrine, ‘One More Day’. She’s wearing a black suit carrier with neon green Spirograph doodles taped to it, and she’s trying to rock out. And now her male colleague – another black suit carrier, but he’s got neon yellow Spirograph doodles and either a lot of eyeshadow or a black eye – is rapping. They’re terrifying. It’s like watching Satanic rock, as performed by the cast of ‘Glee’, with costumes made at home by someone’s drunk grandma and the ghost of Leigh Bowery. I’m quite impressed that the producers saved the worst for last.

OK, songs over. There were more songs in the final last year; this year, several were eliminated in semi-finals which I couldn’t be frigged didn’t have time to watch. I suspect that most of the real horror shows didn’t make it all the way through to tonight, because this evening’s roster of songs, taken as a whole, has been rather blander than usual. Oh well. Anke’s back in another new strange frock, and she seems to have discovered her smile. Perhaps she’s just relieved that Georgia’s performance is finally over. She’ll certainly never have to listen to that again.

I spoke too soon. Bummer. Quick reminder of all 25 songs. Pass the remote.

Oh. No huge cheesy intermission act. Eurovision without a big cheesy intermission act is like the Oscars without the Debbie Allen Dance Number. Yes, I know the Oscars have been without the Debbie Allen Dance Number for several years now. They’re not the same and I still want it back. Here, we have a German pop star with a Kid Creole fixation murdering what I assume is one of his own compositions behind a line of go-go dancers. This, remember, is the country that made David Hasselhoff a pop star.

Crap. He’s getting a second number. It sounds almost exactly like the first one.

Is this a third song? No, it’s the second one, it still hasn’t finished. I fast-forwarded.

Aaaand we’re back. Stefan’s first words as a baby, apparently, were ‘douze points’. If only those were going to be his last words tonight as well. No such luck. Anke can’t walk up steps in her bizarre dress, so he carries her. Bless. But then he gets his guitar out again. Where’s the giant anvil? The back wall of the stage splits to reveal all 25 acts in their green rooms on a riser behind the stage, presumably so we can catch the disappointment on the faces of the act that ends up with nul points.

I am, however, going to fast-forward through the endless, endless part of the show where all the participating countries dole out the points because, really, life’s too short. We’ve all seen it before, we all know what to expect. Nationalism, strange scoring decisions that seem to have little to do with the quality (or lack thereof) of any individual act, and a series of increasingly hilarious hairstyles. Now Anke’s smiling, she looks oddly like Amanda Peet. Apparently, she’s the German voice of Marge Simpson.

I stopped my fast-forward through the scoring. Ukraine gave Georgia 12 points. Wow.

And stopped again, to see that this year, sadly, nobody is going to end up with Nul Points. Damn.

The Danish presenter seems to be wearing something pink and demure, and she looks almost sane. This won’t do at all, so it’s fast-forward time again. 25 countries competed tonight, but all 43 countries are voting. Slowly. Sorry, can’t sit through another hour of that.

So. Tonight’s winner is… Azerbaijan. By quite a long way. Italy 2nd, Sweden 3rd, UK 11th, Switzerland bottom, nobody got either nul points or a single-digit score. The Azerbaijanis look very happy; the rest of us are left reeling from the knowledge that the Italian nightmare lounge singer came second. Here, for your viewing pleasure, is this year’s winning song:

Overall, I have to say, this year’s contest has been disappointingly tasteful. No trick costumes that sprouted butterfly wings halfway through a song, no stage invasions, and a surprisingly small percentage of really hideously terrible songs.  Do better next time, Baku. I will be watching. Possibly from behind a cushion.


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