It’s here again, and I am ready. I have chocolate, I have paracetamol, I have a barf bag, and I have a clear run between where I’m sitting and the nearest bathroom. If you are going to face the Eurovision Song Contest without alcohol, it’s best to be prepared. To that end, while I am watching this completely stone-cold sober, I am not, as usual, watching it live. We all need a little something to help us get through this; if you don’t like tequila, the only thing left is the fast-forward button.
Anyway. So. This year we’re in beautiful Copenhagen, home of the Little Mermaid, a lot of knitwear, and some really good TV drama. We open with – according to Graham Norton, providing snarky commentary again for the BBC – a snatch of last year’s winning entry, about which I remember absolutely nothing. Said winner – Emily – is seen making her way over the Oresund Bridge from Malmo, where the contest was held last year, to the disused ship factory that’s been tarted up to serve as tonight’s venue. This opening sequence is like ‘Mission Impossible’, only boring, but fast-forwarding this early in the show would be cheating.
Oh, sod it.
OK. Flags of all nations being carried onstage by demented-looking black-clad dancers. Let the insanity begin. This year, we have indoor fireworks right at the top of the show. This is Eurovision; it’s just about the only place on television where a full minute’s worth of pyrotechnics counts as minimalism. Opening parade of contestants across the stage; this year, not all of them look like escaped mental patients, which is nice. But some of them do, and we wouldn’t have it any other way, would we?
Aaaaand here are our perma-grinning hosts, cueing the audience to set off 10,000-odd party-poppers. Again, around here, this is what passes for subtle restraint. Mr. Pilou Asbaek, Ms. Lise Rønne (and that’s the first and last time I will be using that special ASCII character this evening), and Mr. Nikolaj Koppel. Mr. Asbaek is a Serious Actor (and was brilliant as the duplicitous, tormented spin doctor in ‘Borgen’); he told the Guardian the other day that he took this gig because he felt he couldn’t turn down a party. I’m sure most of us feel the same way – that’s why we’re watching, and it’s also why we bought painkillers before tuning in. Mr. Asbaek is wearing a very-definitely-NOT-clip-on bow-tie (oh yes, and a dinner suit, obviously) which he couldn’t quite get straight before the show started, Ms. Ronne is in beige-ish gold with a tulle skirt and lots of diamanté, accessorised with a metal butterfly in her hair, and Mr. Koppel seems to be dressed for a funeral. Given that music is about to be pushed to the edge of death and possibly beyond, this is not an inappropriate choice.
Their scripted banter is awful, but that’s par for the course. Voting lines will not open until all acts have performed; this is an innovation that was only introduced a couple of years ago, which should tell you all you need to know about the integrity of the voting process.
So. Performance number one. Mariya Yaremchuck, representing Ukraine, with a song called ‘Tick Tock’ whose title has absolutely no subtextual symbolism when considered in the context of recent events in her home country. Each song is preceded by a short film in which the singer attempts some kind of novelty recreation of their country’s flag; Ms. Yaremchuck chooses to perform this task by sticking blank post-it notes to the platform of a Metro station in Kyiv, and I suspect it’s probably better not to ask why. She’s got long black hair, a generic voice, a flowing purple gown, and boobs, and there’s a guy in a hamster wheel behind her. The song is bland, well-produced Eurodisco – not good, not terrible, and not even slightly memorable, which is probably why she’s using a blinding light show and the wind machine. Oh yes, and there’s a bit in the middle where she looks like she’s about to dry-hump the hamster wheel, which is tasteful.
We’d all love to see the contest staged in Kyiv next year, wouldn’t we? That would be special.
Number two. Teo, representing Belarus with ‘Cheesecake’. He and his four male backing singers look and sound like insane Slavic cheesy-listening clones of Take That, only (hopefully) without the tax avoidance scheme headlines. Teo’s bow tie is untied, presumably because all his pre-show prep time was spent getting his hair to stand up at precisely 90 degrees. Mr. Norton informs us that no song in position two in the running order has ever won the contest. This one isn’t going to buck that trend.
Three. Azerbaijan – we see more footage of those gas-flame skyscrapers before her song. Dilara Kazimova, ‘Start a Fire (But Don’t Mention Human Rights Abuses)’. Ms. Kazimova is allegedly singing in English, but seems to be not entirely familiar with consonants. ANY consonants. There’s a trapeze artist behind her. It’s a drippy, overwrought piano ballad, and… bugger that, a minute of it is all I can stand.
Four. Iceland. Footage of men with beards walking towards a waterfall in snow. One of the backing singers apparently is an Icelandic MP. ‘No Prejudice’, by Pollaponk. Bright coloured suits, big drum-beats, guitars, beards… this is nearly as macho as Eurovision gets (so, um, not very macho, then). It’s basically the Hipster Teletubbies. The song is catchy, completely demented, and great fun. And… oh. Now they’re line-dancing. This won’t win, but it should. It’s fresh, fun, and there’s an eight-bar bit near the end where the audience is invited to clap along. They end in a pose, and I think their yellow-suited bassist might have just dislocated something.
Five. Norway. Their singer has a Very Serious Tattoo on his arm, but apparently no experience as a singer. Carl Espen, ‘Silent Storm’. Sound is coming from his mouth – at least I think it’s coming from his mouth – but I’m not sure if it’s singing or just the sort of noise you’d make when you were coming round from an anaesthetic. The song is a really, really boring piano ballad. I miss Bobbysocks. And I am NOT going to watch this to the end. So there.
I fast-forwarded. It started quiet and boring, and now it’s overwrought and boring. Fast-forward again.
Mr. Norton thinks Mr. Espen must be delighted that’s over, “as are we”. Word.
Six. Romania. Paula Seling & OVI, with ‘Miracle’. Mr. OVI looks and sounds a bit like a Carphone Warehouse salesman, and Ms. Seling reminds me of nothing so much as a cross between Amanda Lamb and a gerbil. They have no chemistry at all, which isn’t exactly a surprise given that they also have no charisma. They do have a completely circular piano; it’s way more interesting than their song, but so is being in a coma. We’re back in the land of Generic Slabs of Eurodisco, and it’s fast-forward time. Again.
Seven. Armenia. It’s possibly an ominous sign that the pre-song filmlet shows a guy melting metal down. He’s making a lovely brooch in the colours of the Armenian flag, then photographing it with his iPhone, presumably so he can cover the fare back home by flogging it on eBay after he doesn’t win. Aram MP3 – I assume that’s not his legal surname – with ‘Not Alone’. Another drippy piano intro, which so far seems to be this evening’s recurring musical theme. He has shiny leather boots, a nice tailored grey coat, and no personality. The song is obviously Very Meaningful to him, because he’s singing with his eyes closed. And now it’s getting overwrought, and he’s bellowing and grimacing like he’s giving birth while constipated. Lovely. Sorry, Mr. MP3, the pyrotechnics behind you won’t disguise the absolute dreariness of your dreary, dreary song. But then, Armenia often score surprisingly well; at Eurovision, entering a crappy song isn’t necessarily any barrier to success, as long as you have the right kind of crappy song – and that was the right kind of crappy song.
Eight. Montenegro. ‘Moj Svljet’, sung by Sergej Cetkovic. Wispy folk intro, ballerina on rollerblades, Very Sincere singer, projections of trees and flowers behind him. The floor lights up behind the dancer as she rollerblades across the stage, which is cool; the song unfortunately mutates from its charming, folksy intro into a far more generic soft-rock ballad in triple time. The high notes aren’t very high, but Mr. Cetkovic does manage to hit nearly all of them. It’s rather charming, and it won’t win.
Nine. Poland. Donatan & Cleo, with ‘My Slowianie – We Are Slavic’. They’re in yoof versions of folk dresses, one of them has a milk pail, there’s a stomping beat, and their hair is in unfeasibly long braids. The milk pail lady churns butter on the edge of the stage, and seems to be constantly on the verge of getting her tits out. Aside from the accordion break in the middle, it – bizarrely – reminds me a bit of Toto Coelo’s ‘I Eat Cannibals’. It isn’t good – at all – but it’s very entertaining. It’d be even better if it had any kind of tune, but you can’t have everything.
Ten. Greece. Freaky Fortune featuring RiskyKidd, with ‘Rise Up’. A Greek rapper, rapping in English. The chorus is insidiously catchy, but we’re back in Eurodisco land AGAIN. Someone must have spent, ooh, minutes programming this backing track. They have a trampoline onstage, because their backing track wasn’t bouncy enough already. Next week, this will be in every bar and disco in every resort on the Mediterranean… and the week after, the staff in every bar and disco in every resort on the Mediterranean will lose the will to live.
Eleven. Austria. Conchita Wurst, ‘Rise Like A Phoenix’. Mesmerisingly-staged bearded-lady drag act. Arresting stage presence, fabulous gown, dramatic song – you could imagine Shirley Bassey singing it. Her voice is only OK, and frankly a little underpowered for this particular song, but the performance is so compelling that it doesn’t matter. It’s not necessarily good music, but it’s great television, and at Eurovision, that’s what counts. She ends to a huge ovation, and is probably the favourite to win.
Twelve. Germany, Elaiza (that’s a trio, not a girl’s name), ‘Is It Right?’ They have an accordion onstage with them and one of them is actually playing it, so no it isn’t. Oom-pa-pa verse with a big drumbeat that kicks in for the chorus. They’re performing very enthusiastically, and they’re mostly doing a very good job of demonstrating to the world once again that there are vast areas of German popular culture that anyone who isn’t German just. can’t. understand.
Holy shit, she went into head voice a bit near the end. Someone please make her never ever do that ever again. Presumably Germany really don’t want to pay to host the contest next year. I hope there were no low-flying aircraft nearby. Or seagulls.
Short break. Mr. Koppel – still in his funeral tie – is explaining to us rubes at home what a hashtag is, because apparently none of this show’s 180 million viewers are on social media. Somebody got paid to write his links. That’s profoundly depressing.
There’s a Eurovision Book of Records, apparently, if you don’t have a life. Whoopee. Quick flash of last year’s Romanian Vampire and his big falsetto note, which – unlike the lead singer we just saw in Germany’s Elaiza – he hit dead on, because of course we all need to relive that particular trauma over and over again. I mean really, who doesn’t have that video clip bookmarked?
Lise and Pilou are back. Back. BACK!!! Yay.
So is their scripted banter. Boo.
Apparently when the venue was a shipyard, it was full of beautiful men with big sweaty muscles. Mr. Asbaek did not sound entirely convincing as he delivered that line.
Back to the songs. Thirteen, Sweden. In the pre-song filmlet, she’s blowing up yellow lilos in a swimming pool, which of course is the first thing that comes to mind when we think of Sweden, isn’t it? Sanna Nielsen, ‘Undo’. Elegant black sequinned dress, better-than-decent voice, and the song is a full-on power ballad complete with a cheesy key-change into the climactic refrain. This is a formula that has won several times before, and she does it very, very well indeed. Even if it doesn’t win, she’s going to sell a lot of records.
Fourteen. France. Twin Twin, with ‘Moustache’. Two of them really are twins, apparently.
Oh. My. God. It’s like someone took the worst elements of Jedward, Weird Al Yankovic, the Village People, and every middle-class white-boy rapper who ever lived, put them in a blender, and dumped the resulting mess onto a stage with a load of day-glo lighting effects. This is extraordinarily awful, even by Eurovision standards.
No, France. NO. Go and sit on the naughty step until you’ve thought about what you’ve done.
More twins, this time from Russia. Fifteen. Russia. The Tolmachevy Sisters, with ‘Shine’. They start the song back-to-back with their hair intertwined, grinning like loons, standing at the centre of a giant seesaw, each holding a perspex rod for no apparent reason. All of these things are more interesting than the song itself, which sounds like an offcut from an 80s Bond soundtrack. They have nice matching dresses and a hunky male backing singer, and they’re singing in tune, but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of love for Russia in the room this evening, apart from among the actual Russians in the audience. Gosh, I can’t imagine why.
Sixteen. Italy. The pre-song filmlet shows her arranging tomatoes, mozzarella slices and basil leaves on a platter. She’s a big star already in Italy, but if this whole music thing doesn’t work out, a career in salad awaits. Emma, with ‘La Mia Città’. Lots of eyeshadow, fake gold laurel leaves in her hair, white dress, gold sequins, and she’s here to RAWK. Someone in her band has a keytar. This is straight from the early 80s – the song, the attitude, everything – and I love it. Of course it won’t win.
Seventeen. Slovenia, Tinkara Kovac – I love typing that – with ‘Round and Round’. At this performance, Ms. Kovac will be playing the role of a spasming flautist in scary gold eyeshadow. Sludgy ballad, and now she’s brandishing the flute like she’s about to hit someone with it. On the whole, being knocked unsconscious by her flute would be better than having to listen to the rest of this song. Moving on.
Eighteen. Finland. Softengine, with ‘Something Better’. After that last sorry excuse for a song, it would pretty much have to be. It’s a proper uptempo guitar-drums-and-piano-driven pop/rock song. I’ve no idea what they’re singing about – and yes, they’re singing in English – but the music is terrific. It’s somewhere between the Killers and what Coldplay would sound like if they weren’t crap, and at least – unlike Coldplay’s Chris Martin – they have an excuse for the English-as-a-second-language lyrics. Great chorus, and they perform with absolute conviction, without relying on any tacky staging gimmicks. This isn’t going to win, because stuff like this never wins, but it’s the best song of the evening so far.
Nineteen. Spain. Ruth Lorenzo, who was apparently on X-Factor a few years ago and just wrote a song for Dannii Minogue, with ‘Dancing In The Rain’. It starts with rain effects on stage – I had to look twice, because it’s also peeing it down outside right now. It’s not a bad song, but her high notes in the chorus are truly unpleasant. And when she goes to belt the big notes in the bridge, she looks uncannily like Sporty Spice, if Sporty Spice was a vampire. Veins in her neck start to bulge as the music gets more and more overdramatic, and if she doesn’t calm down soon there’s going to be blood – either hers or mine. Fast-forwarding now before my ears try to throttle my brain.
As Mr. Norton reminds us, that’s Spain’s strongest entry in several years. Let us not dwell on any of the previous ones.
Twenty. Switzerland. Sebalter, with something called ‘Hunter of Stars’. In which a gaggle of overeager hipster waiters attempt to do rockabilly. They’re very energetic, very nice, and almost completely plastic. On the bright side, their lead singer can sing in tune, and it’s fun. Given that there is a banjo onstage, that’s quite an achievement.
Twenty-one. Hungary. ‘Running’, sung by one András Kállay-Saunders, who seems to really want to be Seal. He can sing, and it’s a pretty good song, but he might be better off without the slightly ridiculous interpretive pas-de-deux being performed behind him as he sings. Apparently it’s a song about child abuse, but the lyrics are almost completely unintelligible. Score one for the sound system.
Twenty-two. Malta. More hipster beards. Firelight, with ‘Coming Home’. Yep, hipster folk pop, which is a slightly bizarre thing to take to Eurovision if you have any expectation of actually winning (given that the ‘prize’ is the chance to host next year’s very expensive show, and pay for it, I imagine Malta is not praying for the top spot). They’re great – everything the Swiss act was pretending to be but wasn’t, and with a better song and better voices and music that clearly is authentically who they are – but they seem to have wandered in from a different concert. It’s like watching Mumford and Sons do Sunday Night at the London Palladium: entertaining, but somehow wrong.
Twenty-three. Denmark, our hosts. Basim, with ‘Cliche Love Song’ (don’t yell at me about the missing accent, I’m just copying what’s on the caption). He’s like Glenn Medeiros on crack. This is so peppy that it’s almost frightening. Basim is also not the first performer this evening to be wearing an untied bow-tie. I know he’s very young, but surely someone backstage could have helped him with it.
Twenty-four. The Netherlands, ‘Calm After The Storm’ by the Common Linnets. Eurovision goes country-and-western. If Johnny Cash and June Carter had ever done Eurovision, this is what it would have sounded like. The song is lovely, and the performance – the singing, the playing, the projected-highway staging concept, the costume design, and all the rest of it – is absolutely impeccable. They’re great, but like the Maltese band, they seem to have parachuted in from a different, much classier show.
Twenty-five. San Marino, which has a population of about three, with a song called ‘Maybe’ sung by Valentina Monetta. The song and the performance are both straight off some second-rate 80s TV variety show. It’s lovely that San Marino got this far, and Ms. Monetta is obviously very, very pleased and excited to be here, but when the voting starts this’ll be toast. Still, at least Ms. Monetta got to indulge her obvious passion for ruched fabric on a global stage, so that’s nice for her.
Twenty-six. Last. Us. Molly, with ‘Children of the Universe’. Mr. Norton thinks this could be our year, so I’m guessing we’re going to place in the bottom ten (voting was over hours ago, and I know who won, but I don’t know yet how the rest of the scores panned out). The song has a big catchy hook and a stomping beat; I’m afraid there’s just something about it that I really, really dislike. Between the bombastic beat, the fauxspirational lyrics, and Molly’s nasal voice, the result is more irritating than uplifting. Still, it’s better than our last several efforts – but really, given that you could do better than Englebert Humperdink simply by showing up on time and having a pulse, that’s not much of an achievement, is it?
So that’s the songs done with. I think there might have been a couple of them that didn’t begin with a warning about strobe lights, but I lost track.
The presenters are back, and Mr. Koppel is STILL wearing his funeral tie. The scripted banter hasn’t got any better; the funeral might well be for his and Mr. Asbaek’s dignity, which died less than ten minutes into the show. Mr. Asbaek is now trying to joke with Graham Norton in Chinese. You know how funny that sounds? Precisely. Now someone is showering Mr. Norton with confetti, some of which has gone in his wine glass. That’s just cruel.
Voting open. This means one thing for the TV audience at home, and one thing only: interval show. Recap of all the songs so far = fast-forward time. Mr. Asbaek introduces the interval act, which involves people in white suits on big ladders singing ‘Ode To Joy’. One of them has a harmonica, which in a less liberal country than Denmark might be grounds for arrest. It’s deeply strange and slightly pointless, and the original version was apparently much longer and stranger, but it got cut way down in rehearsals. Thank the Lord for small mercies.
Now Mr. Koppel – STILL wearing his funeral tie – is at the piano. We’re treated to a video of him, Mr. Asbaek, and Ms. Ronne singing a song Mr. Koppel wrote about Eurovision. Mr. Asbaek throws himself into it gamely enough, but singing – let’s be kind here – isn’t really his strength. The lyrics are about the number 12 – the highest score in the voting process – with an excursion in which they discuss the Chinese calendar, whose leap years have thirteen months instead of twelve. Plus, obviously, chopsticks and opium. It’s three minutes of WTF, performed by the three presenters with all the grace and subtlety of a car crash.
Next, we have the 11-year-old Maltese winner of Junior Eurovision, whose BIG voice, God help us, seems tailor-made for belting out ‘Tomorrow’ in a revival of ‘Annie’. She’s charming, though, and better than some of the adult contestants.
Voting over. Mr. Koppel introduces a segment about a ‘Museum of Eurovision History’, in which Mr. Asbaek once again gets to show off his immaculate comic timing.
Part of that last sentence may not have been meant entirely sincerely.
Sorry, Denmark. Any fifteen seconds of the Swedish Smorgasbord number in last year’s interval act was funnier than the whole of what you just gave us.
And we’re back onstage. Ms. Ronne is still wearing the dress she was in at the beginning. It’s not a proper Eurovision unless at least one presenter wears a succession of hideous gowns. It doesn’t absolutely have to be one of the women, but Mr. Koppel seems strangely attached to his funeral tie. But she’s just delivered a full English breakfast to the Maltese lead singer, whose mum is from Yorkshire, so that’s nice. And now she’s talking to Molly about cake. They’ve just given Molly a curly-wurly cake from Borough Market. Molly thinks it’s ridiculous. Molly is right.
Ms. Ronne knows an awful lot about Molly’s family. If I was Molly, I’d be looking for the webcam.
Now Ms. Ronne is talking to France. Fast-forward time, because those people are scary.
Shut up about China, Mr. Asbaek. Now we’re back to last year’s winner, whose winning song I still don’t remember. This may or may not be it, but she’s singing it backed by a chorus-line of dancing trees. It looks strangely like a choreographic representation of Birnam Wood removing to Dunsinane. I wonder who is going to die in the final portion of the show? Apart from my sanity, obviously. That died half an hour ago, how else do you think I’m still able to watch?
And the scoring begins. Thank God I can fast-forward through a lot of this. If you watch it live, it seems to go on for about four days.
Holy shit. Albania gave Spain 12 points. Are they deaf?
There’s booing from inside the theatre as the Russian presenter gives her scores. And then big boos whenever Russia gets one of the top four scores. Again, I can’t imagine why.
It is unfortunate for the Russian contestants, who are very young. They did their best, and the audience’s outrage at Russia – the mess in Ukraine, the appalling and indefensible anti-gay legislation and all the rest of it – is nothing to do with them, and it can’t be easy to sit and smile while their country is being booed. The reception Russia is getting tonight, though, is entirely understandable.
No, Mr. Koppel, I don’t particularly care which Eurovision entry contained the most repetitions of the word ‘la’.
Back to the votes. Once again, the UK is doing really badly. Guess a lot of other people liked our entry about as much as I did, then.
The Finnish presenter is rapping his introduction. He is very, very white.
Ukraine gave Russia 4 points. Wow.
It’s clear with a few countries still to go that Conchita Wurst has won this for Austria – and so it proves. There were better songs in this competition, and better voices, but not a better performance. Very popular winner – and thank God, the scripted banter from the presenters is almost over.
So, as Ms. Wurst – no sausage jokes, please – gives us her song again, a recap. There were some genuinely surprising acts in this year’s competition, and some of the music was actually good. More surprising still: some of the good stuff scored surprisingly highly. And speaking of surprises, this year’s roster of acts included surprisingly few flaming camp catastrophes. Nobody got five feet taller during the final verse of their song, or performed suspended above the stage, or walked out wearing a swan. Depending on what you’re looking for from Eurovision, that’s possibly disappointing. And the Danish-scripted parts of the show, even by Eurovision standards, were lame. The presenters were stiff, the script wasn’t even slightly funny, and the interval act was dismal, and paled in comparison to the show Sweden put on last year.
So next year… presumably Vienna. The odds are at least even that this will be in the show somewhere. In the meantime, I think congratulations are in order: I got through the entire show on only four squares of chocolate and two paracetamols. I think that might be a record.
This year’s winner: