…and brought a lotta schlock home

Ibuprofen? Check.

Barf bag? Check.

Crackers? Check.

Everybody ready? OK, we’ll begin. It’s time, once again, for the year’s biggest onslaught of televisual cheese. There will be sequins, there will be glitter, there will very possibly be blood, some of which may be mine because before this is over my eyes and ears will very likely start bleeding. Yes, it’s Eurovision night. Whoopee.

A disclaimer before we begin: I am not witnessing this live, because I don’t drink – since I can’t use alcohol to dull the pain, I lack the testicular fortitude to put myself through this without the ability to resort to the fast-forward button if necessary. And I got new glasses last week, and the new ones don’t have the anti-glare coating (most of the time, it doesn’t seem to make a lot of difference for me, and it starts to rub off if you have the habit of absent-mindedly cleaning your glasses on your T-shirt), so I reserve the right to hide behind a cushion if things get really dicey. The secret to surviving a Eurovision telecast, remember, is to prepare in advance for every eventuality. Including, possibly, your own death in a tragic and horrible sequin/wind machine accident.

Anyway. So. Last year’s winner, if you’re lucky enough to remember, was the fabulous Loreen. No, not Soreen, Loreen. I remember her name, but not her face or her song, which at Eurovision is par for the course for acts that don’t dress like Rosa Klebb after a glitter explosion. Loreen is Swedish, so this year le concours Eurovision is coming to us from beautiful sunny Malmö, capital of Scania and home of the Twisting Torso. That’s a tall building, not a corpse in a Henning Mankell novel, Ystad is 35 miles away.

Our host – in the UK, at least – is Graham Norton. Again. We open with a montage starring a caterpillar, which appears to be touring Europe by boat, train and moped. I think it’s supposed to be cute. It’s not. And of course the caterpillar is now turning into a butterfly in front of the Oresund bridge. A Swedish footballer welcomes us to Malmo (I found the right accent once, I’m not going to do it again) from the side of the Twisting Torso, and now a big choir starts off the proceedings by singing something tuneless. The music is by Benny Andersson, the lyrics are by Bjorn Ulvaeus, and one of the ladies in the choir has a very large gap in her teeth.

Ooh. Now people carrying the flags of all nations are entering via a catwalk over the audience. One young woman seems to be wearing a swan and pink hotpants. These are either the contestants, or a glimpse of Vivienne Westwood’s Primark collection.

Yes, Mr. Andersson, we know you know what a pedal point is. The choir are singing something about a legacy in song. It is, shall we say, statistically unlikely that any of this evening’s victims contestants will end up leaving us a musical legacy that in any way approaches that of Mr. Andersson and Mr. Ulvaeus, but hope springs eternal. That’s why we’re all watching.

Synchronised flag-waving. It’s like ‘One Day More’, without the knowledge that nearly everyone on stage will be dead by the end of the second half.

Here’s our Swedish hostess. And a lot of animated butterflies. She’s wearing what looks like a fuschia replica of the Shard. Her name is Petra Mede, and I’m not going to attempt a pronunciation. She’s talking about Bjorn and Benny, and three lines in she’s winkingly referred to ‘Dancing Queens’. Abba were sadly unavailable, so we have to make do with bb. Agnetha and Anni-Frid seem to have elected to stay home. Probably wise.

Ah, I see. The base of her pyramid dress is wide because it has to hide the tug-o’-war team pulling ropes to keep her smile in place.

Lines do not open until all acts have performed. Seems sensible, but this is only the second time they’ve done this.

May the best song win, Petra says. It usually doesn’t, but what the hell.

Aaaand we’re off. Song #1. Amandine Bourgeois, representing France with the charmingly-titled ‘L’enfer et Moi’ – ‘Hell and Me’. We’ve just seen a montage of Amandine shopping and having her hair done. Hell, presumably, is what happens next. She’s wearing a leather feather duster that’s cut well above her knees, and she seems to want to be a cross between Amy Winehouse and Courtney Love. Team France have possibly put more effort into artfully smudging her eyeshadow than crafting her song’s melody. It’s not bad, and for Eurovision it’s refreshingly rough around the edges, and… oh. Now she’s screaming. Possibly she’s already seen this.

Song #2. The next performance contains flashing images and strobe effects, says the caption on the screen. Don’t they all. Lithuania, Andrius Pojavis, ‘Something’. His favourite part of his body, according to Mr. Norton, is his arms. He wrote the song himself. It’s a sort of u2/early-era The Killers mashup. He’s terribly sincere – white T-shirt, black leather jacket, zombie poses, closes his eyes a lot – but not terribly charismatic. Again, not bad, but pleasantly inoffensive and not really memorable for either the right reasons or the wrong ones. This isn’t what we’re here for.

Now the butterfly is taking us to Moldova, represented in the montage by horses, dancing, and flying lanterns. Song #3, ‘O Mie’ by Aliona Moon. Piano intro, musclebound dancers dressed in white, she seems to be standing behind her dress rather than wearing it, and Emeli Sandé wants her hair back. It’s all Very Meaningful. She’s got a nice voice, and it seems to be about to get very overwrought. Her skirt, strangely, is glowing red as if lit from within, and lightning is being projected across it. And she’s getting taller. Ooh. A lift. And flames projected onto her skirt as the music approaches – please, God – a climax. She ends the song four feet taller than when she began it. At least she didn’t sing ‘Defying Gravity’.

Finland. Song #4, ‘Marry Me’, Krista Siegfrids. I’d rather not, Krista. Thanks anyway. Ah, she’s the lady who was wearing the swan with the pink hotpants in the opening procession. Her backing singers are wearing red frilly rubber aprons, and she’s being carried around by three Inigo Montoya wannabes in Batman masks. The song is generic Eurodisco, and not even good generic Eurodisco. Nicely trashy choreography, but this won’t win. Oh – now she’s got a wedding veil, and a lot of fireworks are going off. That’s what I love about Eurovision. The subtlety. She ends by snogging one of her backing singers.

Song #5. Spain. Y viva Espana. She’s got a Polaroid camera. Who still has one of those? ‘Contigo Hasta El Final’, by ESDM.  Not BSDM, ESDM. Don’t get your hopes up. It starts with a Spanish bagpipe. It’s folksy, the singer is wearing what looks like a courgette flower with gold shoulder trim, and they’re using the wind machine. The guitarist in the brown suit with the shaggy hipster hair has to be on drugs. You possibly would be too, if you’d rehearsed this a few times. Particularly since staying on – or, really, anywhere near – the note is not one of her better skills.

They travelled to Malmo by boat, apparently, and it took a week. How lovely they made it in time so we could all see this.

Belgium. Song #6, ‘Love Kills’ by Roberto Bellarosa. He’s only 18, apparently. Bless. He’s in a dinner jacket and no tie, standing in front of what looks like a selection of IKEA floor lamps, and I think he’s singing in English but I can’t quite tell.  Now the lamps have flown out, and the choreography begins. Oh, bloody hell. Dire sub-Michael Bolton ballad, and the dancers seem to be doing some bizarre cross between a Robert Palmer video and the Funky Chicken. Love kills over and over, apparently. If I don’t fast-forward this, they’re in danger of taking me down with them, and there’s a whole shitload of songs still to go. Moving swiftly on…

…to Estonia. Song #7, ‘Et Uus Saaks Alguse’, by Birgit. Hi, Birgit. A restrained, sweetly sad piano ballad, judging by the first verse. Oh – no, the drums and guitars have kicked in. It’s a 70s MOR knockoff, and I can’t take any more.

Song #8, Belarus,  ‘Solayoh’, by Alyona Lanskaya. The pre-song film montage featured carrot juice and monkeys. This has to be a step up from the last one. Alyona emerges from a six-foot glitterball, her dancers are wearing… well, something white that words can’t really describe, except you can see their bare chests most of the time. The song is a full-on onslaught of Eastern Europe disco WTF, and they seem to have borrowed a bouzouki from Greece. Jets of flame shoot up from the front of the stage, presumably to burn away the shattered remnants of everybody’s dignity. Including mine, for watching. This is pure Eurovision.

Song #9. Malta. He’s a doctor, apparently, and in the pre-song montage we see him walking down a corridor with a stethoscope around his neck. His name is Gianluca, and his song is called ‘Tomorrow’. Hopefully, it’s not that ‘Tomorrow’. He doesn’t appear to be a 10-year-old-girl with red curly hair, but you can never quite tell where the costuming with these things is going to go. We’re back on the folksy side of things again. He’s grinning a bit too much – seemingly with his very prominent eyebrows as well as his mouth – and it would be more charming if he grinned a bit less. Fast-forward time.

Next, Russia. No grandmas this year. Song #10, Dina Garipova, ‘What If’. I think we’re heading into Céline territory here – possibly not a bad tactical move, since Céline, once upon a time, actually won this thing. The song is adult-oriented pop sludge with uplifting/inspirational lyrics, there are four very cleanly-scrubbed backing singers behind her, there’s a melodramatic middle eight, and she’s selling it with absolute conviction. She’s also – and you have to have watched a few of these things to know how unusual this is – hitting all the notes dead-on, even the big ones. Not bad.

Germany. We are again warned about strobe effects, which is redundant at Eurovision. Song #11, ‘Glorious’, by Cascada. It’s an odd cross between full-on Eurodisco and full-on power-ballad, and the strobe effects are more interesting than the song. This is many things, but Glorious is not among them. You can barely hear her singing over the programmed synths. From what I can hear, this is not a problem. From Germany, this is a disappointingly by-the-numbers entry. Better luck next time, Deutschland, this won’t win.

Song #12, Armenia, ‘Lonely Planet’ by Dorians. Generic stadium rock, and yes, they’re using the wind machine. The keyboard player looks a bit like John Goodman. The guitarists are scowling. The song is Not Very Good. Still, the singer has a good, raucous rock voice, and they’re certainly giving it their all. Oh, look – those jets of flame again, accompanying the obligatory post-bridge key change. I have no idea what they’re singing about.

Well, at least that was mercifully short. Back to Petra, who’s still wearing the Pink Shard. She’s got better English than a lot of British presenters. Break for a short “comedy” film featuring Linda Woodruff, a Janet Street-Porter soundalike played disturbingly convincingly by a Swedish actress called Sarah Dawn Finer. She’s better than her script. Long, laboured joke about Abba being the Swedish Royal Family. Oh dear.

And we’re off again, this time to the Netherlands, who haven’t even been in the grand final for a while (no, I did not watch the heats myself – what do you think I am, a masochist?). Song #13, ‘Birds’, by Anouk. We are warned that if you don’t like Lana Del Rey, you’ll loathe Anouk. Noted. I like the idea of Lana Del Rey better than I like Lana Del Rey… and better than I like this. Minor-key music-to-slit-your-wrists-by in 3/4 time, delivered with what’s supposed to be a knowingly gloomy smile. I lasted almost two minutes, I hope you appreciate it.

Song #14. Romania. Again with the strobelights warning. Mr. Norton tells us it’s going to be special. I have a cushion ready. ‘It’s My Life’ by Cezar. Black sequinned Wicked Witch coatdress, overwrought music, dancers writhing under red satin, a falsetto chorus drawn from the very lowest circle of Dante’s Inferno, and the dancers seem to be wearing only flesh-coloured loincloths. This is, indeed, special, and it’s getting more and more special by the second. Cezar looks like a male Dynasty-era Joan Collins who has prepared for an audition for a vampire movie by modelling his vocal stylings on a drunk Kiri Te Kanawa and his facial expressions on a bilious attack. ‘Special’ doesn’t begin to cover it.

And it’s us. Song #15, the UK, Bonnie Tyler. Love Bonnie Tyler. Love, love, LOVE Bonnie Tyler. She is fabulous, and ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’ is a genuine pop classic. This song – ‘Believe In Me’ – unfortunately is not. She’s as charismatic a performer as we’ve seen so far, she’s selling the song with everything she’s got, but the song is sludge and she won’t win. Shame, because she’s obviously having a good time, and if anyone deserves another moment in the spotlight, she does.

Home entry. Song #16, Sweden, ‘You’ by Robin Stjernberg. He’s sort of Gary Barlow-ish, until it gets unhinged. OTT chorus, five dancers on a red flying saucer doing choreography that seems to be the result of a collaboration between Twyla Tharp and the Muppet Swedish Chef, and a barrage of fireworks as we enter the final chorus. If you were trying to stage an aneurysm, this is possibly what it would look like.

Hungary. Song #17. ‘Kedvesem’, apparently in the Zoohacker Remix, like that means anything to any of us viewers at home, performed by ByeAlex, and yes, that is supposed to be all one word. He looks strangely like French Nouvelle Star (= American Idol) winner Christophe Willem, his song is slightly folksy hipster-ish pop, and it’s refreshingly low-key and rather charming. He’s toast.

Song #18. Denmark. The favourite to win, apparently. ‘Only Teardrops’ by Emmelie de Forest. She’s very pretty, it’s a perfectly attractive Europop song with a slightly military drumbeat underneath and a penny whistle solo in the intro. Pleasant, cute, but not terribly memorable. She can sing, though, and she’s having a lovely time singing her lovely song, which is nice. Huge cheer at the end, but I’m not sure what for, although it’s got a catchy chorus.

Iceland. Song #19. Montage film includes, yes, lots of snow and ice, and heavy sweaters. ‘Eg a Lif’, by Eythor Ingi. Sung in Icelandic. His look is lounge-singer-goes-RAWK, the song is a dull, rather old-fashioned pop-rock ballad that’s positioned somewhere between Abba and Meatloaf, and he’s got a terrific voice. It’s not unpleasant, but it isn’t going to win.

Azerbaijan. Song #20. ‘Hold Me’, by Farid Mammadov. Oh dear God, this has STAGING. He’s grinning like an evil doctor on an American daytime soap, perched on top of a six-foot perspex box that has a dancer in it mirroring his moves – yes, upside down. For the second verse, Farid jumps off the top of the box and they do an old-fashioned side-by-side mirror act. Then a woman enters in a red dress whose train probably stretches the entire length of Azerbaijan, and the perspex box fills with petals, and everyone grimaces meaningfully until it ends, two choruses later. The song is the sort of overwrought rock ballad people slow-dance to in every disco in every Mediterranean resort, which means it won’t make your ears bleed and you won’t remember a note of it two minutes after it ends. This could do well, although the staging is possibly too batshit insane for it to win.

And now, Greece. Song #21, ‘Alcohol Is Free’, Koza Nosta featuring Agathon Iakovidis. Greece, clearly, didn’t even try this year, and have just kidnapped a cheesy folk band from a backstreet bar in Piraeus, then force-fed them amphetamines to make them play at double speed. I lasted a little over a minute.

Ukraine. Song #22, ‘Gravity’, sung by Zlata Ognevich. She enters carried by a man who is apparently 7’8″ tall, and proceeds to sing a song that starts as a drippy ballad, and turns into a full-on festival of WTF – thumping beat, showy high notes, but it just sort of meanders in search of a point. Still, she’s gorgeous, and she’s got a hell of a voice. It’s wasted on this, though.

Song #23. Italy. ‘L’Essenziale’, Marco Mengioni. He’s probably very nice, the lapels on his suit are very shiny, his song is really boring, and he just stands there. This could really use some half-naked dancers and projected lightning forks. Or a pulse, even, because I’m not sure Mr. Mengioni’s got one. Has the doctor from Malta left the building already? Please, someone check. I’m not sure everyone is going to make it to the end of this song alive.

Another warning about strobe effects and flashing lights. If there weren’t strobe effects and flashing lights, we’d want a refund. Song #24, Norway, ‘I Feed You My Love’, sung by Margaret Berger. It’s a battle sequence from Star Wars with a techno beat underneath, coyly sung by Hayden Panetierre’s twin sister, who is wearing a dress so tight that it had to be put on in hospital under a general anaesthetic. She really goes for it, but it’s not quite demented enough to be a Eurovision classic, and it’s probably too bombastic to win.

Nearly the end of the songs now. Song #25, Georgia, ‘Waterfall’, by Nodi Tatishvili and Sophie Gelovani, whose song is a huge power-ballad duet about how their LUUUUURVE is LIIIKE a WATERFALL. There are fireworks, there’s dry ice, the wind machine is going full blast, and every time they hit a big-ass high note they look like they need to poo.

Ireland. Last song, #26. Not Jedward this time, but there will be flashing lights and strobe effects. Ryan Dolan, ‘Only Love Survives’. Camp Celtic drummers who’ve been sprayed with cooking oil, a big anthemic chorus, strained high notes – this is a slab of toxic Eurodisco that’s sung, apparently, by a computer-generated Danny Zuko wannabe. It’s awful – less awful than Jedward, obviously, but possibly awful enough to do well.

And that’s all the acts. I’ll spare you the pre-voting recap because I’m fast-forwarding past it myself, obviously – I mean, really, if I couldn’t even make it through some of those songs once, I’m not going to stick around for the recap.

Petra’s back to announce the interval act – last year’s winner, Loreen, singing a medley of her biggest hit and wearing a black-and-white feathered thingy on her shoulders that could potentially poke out the eyes of several of her dancers if they get too close. ‘We Got The Power’, she’s singing. She looks quite angry. Possibly she didn’t choose that outfit, or possibly she’s just pissed off because she knows that if she moved a little to her left, the wiring in her shoulder-feather-thingy would pick up a much better TV show from Denmark.

Ooh. There are acrobats on wires, and the music just got worse. She’s taken off the feathers now, and replaced them with a black-and-white copy of Joseph’s Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. The stage lifts her back into the air, the end of the coat stays on the ground, she finishes the song 15 feet above the audience to a wall of cheers. Not a tough crowd, this.

Another recap. Fast-forward time.

Petra has now changed into the colours of the Swedish flag, and before we start in on the points we’ve got film of Bonnie Tyler’s lovely week in Sweden. What this mostly reinforces is that yes, she’s great,  but why couldn’t we find her a better song?

Interval act #2 – Petra, leading us in a song-and-dance celebration of Swedish kitsch, complete with dancers toting elk antlers, nods to the Muppet Chef, ‘The Seventh Seal’, vikings, IKEA,  and ‘The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo’, and thirty seconds of choreography about recycling. It’s even got a chorus-line of high-kicking footballers and a woman writhing in a martini glass full of milk.  It’s utterly cheesy, and possibly more completely fabulous than nearly anything else we’ve seen this evening.  And Petra, amazingly, knows how to sock a big production number across the footlights.

Voting now. I’ll be skipping a lot of this, because who cares? Oh, wait. No, we’ve got Sarah Dawn Finer as herself, giving us her self-consciously arty cover of ‘The Winner Takes It All’. Ms. Finer clearly does not feel compelled to stay too close to the song’s actual melody. No wonder Agnetha stayed home.

So, yes, the voting. This hasn’t been a banner year – even the camp kitschfests were fairly subdued, there was nothing as demented as last year’s Russian Grandmas, and we can all predict which countries will vote along which nationalistic lines well in advance. And getting through this part of the broadcast takes about forty minutes, and I can’t be arsed. We all just want to know who won, and who got nul points. Denmark have an early lead, Estonia are bottom, Bonnie Tyler is also near the bottom of the board.

Now Ireland are bottom, nobody has nul points – shame – and we’re still languishing in the bottom half of the bottom half of the board.

…and with four countries still to vote, Denmark have won. We are still in the lower half of the board, so the battle now is a race for the bottom. Rather like the whole competition, if you’re cynical. And who isn’t when they’re watching this?

Oh. That catwalk over the audience is supposed to represent the Oresund Bridge.

Ireland’s bottom. Surprising, even given the blatantly nationalistic voting – he was far from the worst. So next year we’ll be in Denmark, and now we get another blast of Emmelie de Forest, with an extra glittergasm on the last chorus.

Overall: B-, apart from the Swedish Smorgasbord number, which was a knockout. Let’s hope Denmark can bring back the kitsch next year.

This year’s winner:

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