Saturday, May 29, 2010

On the Eurovision Song Contest (yes, you heard me…)

I wasn’t going to blog about this. Actually, I wasn’t going to blog at all today, but there you go… See, the Eurovision fever has invaded Norway. For those of you who are not European, I will explain. For those of you who are, cover your ears (or actually, your eyes, since I am not reading this out loud) for the next paragraph or so – as I am sure you are accustomed to doing during the Eurovision final anyway…

The Eurovision Song Contest (ESC) is an annual spectacle where performers from all over Europe (one from each of the European Broadcasting Union countries) gather to show off their feather boas, fake folk costumes, hair extensions, silver hot pants (worn by men, I kid you not) and glittering veils. There are wigs, and epaulettes and skin-tight costumes that would make both Lady Gaga and Borat envious. Also, there are some songs, but generally the dancing and the costumes are more elaborate than the actual vocal performances. Frequent elements in the actual songs, however, include terrible English pronunciation or lyrics in obscure languages (like Norwegian, but it’s been a while since we sent a song with anything else than English lyrics), key changes, and – speaking of key – voices so off-key that it will burn your ears off unless you are careful. The purpose of this torture/so-bad-it’s-almost-good-sort-of-fun is to vote for a winner whose home country will be the host of next year’s final.

The ESC is one of those things you either love to hate, or hate to love (I have heard rumours that there also are those who love to love it, but I have never actually met any…). It is very nearly impossible to avoid, at least here in Norway it is a pretty big deal, and this year the deal is slightly bigger than usual. Last year’s final took place in Moscow, and the winner – you all guessed it, right? – was Alexander Rybak from Norway! Now, I am saying this in a “I-used-to-think-it-was-sort-of-cool-we-won-because-it-was-such-a-long-time-since-last-time-we-won-(1995, and then 1985 before that)-but-now-I-am-so-over-it-and-I-will-only-watch-parts-of-the-show-this-year”-ironic sort of tone. I’ve heard last year’s winning song, “Fairytale”, so many times I almost fell off my chair in spasms from just trying to find a YouTube clip of it for this post. Norwegian media have been filled with ESC stories for months – who will host, what will they wear, what will the intermission act be, what do the foreigners really think of us? That last part is the core of the motivation for every country hosting the ESC final – it’s a way of showing the rest of Europe what your country can offer. In Norway’s case, it’s probably going to have to do with either skiing or trolls, I’m sure.

Hosting the ESC is expensive, and with several European countries at the brink of bankruptcy it seems evident that they are sending poor contributions to avoid having to host the final next year. Actually, that could explain a lot historically as well… Norway has made sure that we won’t win two times in a row, since we’re sending a ballad (and only France and Switzerland has ever pulled those off – the latter only because they had Céline Dion, for some reason. Isn't she Canadian?). The Norwegian song is furthermore two parts cliché and one part overkill, so there shouldn’t be any risks that we win. In addition there are long traditions in the ESC history to only vote for your neighbor. Back when the Broadcasting Union only consisted of Western European countries we tolerated this, but the last decade a number of Eastern European countries have performed something of a coup d’état since there are so many of them. All of a sudden the Western European states have realized that the voting system is unfair… Every now and then a non-Easter European country still wins, like Norway did last year (though the aforementioned Alexander is originally from Belarus, so it might not actually count…).

One happy thing to report, though – Sweden didn’t make it past the semi final. The ESC is, along with Winter Olympics, the one competition Norwegians cannot stand to lose to Sweden (even though we frequently do). Since Norway is pre-qualified to the grand final we have already beaten them. Yay!

I do not recommend cancelling any important appointments to catch the final tonight, but if you are not doing anything other than sitting around the house drinking martinis anyway, watching current or past ESC clips on YouTube certainly can be entertaining. I’ve assembled a few samples for you to get started, just to give an idea of the treat you’re in for…

Portugal 1981 (the actual song starts at about 1:07, but it might be worth to listen to the Monty Pythonesque narrator as well…)

Finland 2006 (they actually won…!)

Belgium 1973 (LOOK at those costumes!)

And last, but not least, Johnny Logan, Ireland, 1987:
(this suit is almost as bad as the previous ones…)

(If this gets bagpiped up, it's just because I haven't ever posted videos on here before, so I'm not 100% sure it works...)


Brian Barker said...

Can I ask anyone who supports the cultural identies of individual nations in the Eurovision Song Contest to vote here

The rules should also be changed to enable the introduction of the international language Esperanto. The use of Esperanto is forbidden at the moment.

Cruella Collett said...

Brian - this fascinates me. Wouldn't the two (bringing back the rule of native language lyrics and introducing Esperanto) be incompatible? After all, no country has Esperanto as their native language..?
I guess that I too like the idea of seeing more cultural diversity in the ESC, but I am not sure that mandatory native languange usage is the way to go. One unfortunate effect is that non-English speaking countries would have an disadvantage because comprehensible lyrics definity helps making a song easier to listen to. English has just become too big, I think, and I doubt there will ever be possible to go back.
But an interesting initiative nevertheless! Thank you for visiting my blog!

Ylva said...

You absolutely should not post youtube videos... now I have been watvhing old grand prix (or eurovision if you like) videos for ages....
great fun though ;)

Watery Tart said...

Mari-I burst out laughing--LOUDLY when you talked about the goal of not hosting as the incentive for sending poor candidate. I've heard all my friends grumbling for years now about this or that embarrassment of a performer and that just struck me as REALLY funny.

And I am THRILLED that the men in silver hot pants are so popular among the Australians!

Bridge Marie said...

I actually didn't know Eurovision until this year (I'm studying abroad in the Netherlands) and it's been fun hearing all of my floormates talk about how awful it is, haha, especially the German ones, who are celebrating it, anyway.

Watery Tart said...

I just watched all those videos--I actually LOVE the finland metal one! But that Norwegian kid is DARLING. I'm not sure his singing is fantastic, but DAMN he can play the fiddle, and he has charisma like crazy. I know I wouldn't kick him outa bed, if youknowwhatImean...

Rayna M. Iyer said...

I have something for you on my blog. You may object to the name of the Award, but take it in the spirit in which it was given.

Cruella Collett said...

Ylva - sorry about that... You should have the time now, though ;)

Tami - glad you liked the videos :) It's funny how this extremely European phenomenon can be translated for the world to enjoy when put into its proper ironic context.... (And yes, Alexander Rybak is charming in his way - he won many hearts this past year, and I am sure he will continue to do so in the future, even if there are those of us who feel we have seen enough of him for a lifetime...)

Bridge - but did you get to watch it? It is worth watching simply because the quality is so questionable!

Natasha - thank you so much! I must try to think of someone to pass this on to(shouldn't be too hard).

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