Eurovision Song Contest 2011

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At last I found the time (and the internet) to watch this year’s Eurovision song contest. Lena is back for Germany, Dana International is trying again for Israel, Dino is trying again for Bosnia, Zdob si Zdub for Moldova and one of the performers for Iceland has tried his luck before as well.
With 43 countries participating, it’s the largest number of countries ever, on par with three years ago.

The show had three presenters, roughly covering French, German and English, the show being held in Duesseldorf this year. The three presenters tried to be somewhat funny, but these being Germans, comedy appears still to be a bit of a challenge.
That said, one of the three, Stefan Raab, with a backup band, did an excellent rockabilly rendition of last year’s winning song, Satellite, which, on stage, included some 50 Lena lookalikes as well as the actual Lena (now with tattoo) in a short appearance.

This year, all the country’s songs were introduced by a short film partially shot in tilt-shift promoting bits and pieces of Germany. Rather gorgeous for its beauty, but also fantastic as a way to highlight the relative insignificance of every individual, or, if you will, the equality of us all, echoing Multatuli‘s quote that, “as seen from the moon, we are all the same size“.
Able to generate a feeling of united European-ness, exactly what an event like this should and can do, this year’s show wasn’t as spectacular as last year’s, when specific households and a bunch of public showings all over Europe were integrated into the main event.

As usual, some excellent and some less excellent songs were performed, some songs deservedly made it to the finals, some, undeservedly didn’t and a decent enough song, but, in my opinion, not the best one, won the show. 

How is it possible that the rather gorgeous, Polish, long legged, very decent singer Magdalena Tul, who pushed some typical, but catchy, Eurotrash, didn’t make it to the finals by a very long shot? Meanwhile, Norway, who just two years ago submitted a fantastic song by Alexander Rybak, born in Belarus, now went for a lady from Kenya who sang a chorus which was catchy but opened the song rather painfully. Why, Norway, why?
A similarly odd fielding was Macedonia’s, where Vlatko Ilievski sang about the beauty of a Russian girl in a song that leaned on a more typical folsky Russian sound. How does this make sense?
Perhaps to compensate, Belarus itself came up with the tacky title (and long legged babes) of I love Belarus by Anastasia Vinnikova whose smoky voice didn’t do the ethnically laced bombastic song justice, and, justifiably, didn’t qualify. Not surprising, as any song which, seemingly, requires the censor’s approval is likely to be punished for it by the European crowds.

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The last decade and some, or so, pretty much everyone (who watches) in western Europe has been decrying the rise of eastern Europe through those countries voting for each other, reality is different, if confusing. Decent enough submissions from Albania, Armenia, Croatia, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Macedonia didn’t make it even to the finals. And, sadly, neither did a few very decent, if not good submissions, like the both musically and theatrically excellent submission from Turkey. Perhaps because that submission was too ‘western’ and performed by beefy blokes?
In fact, I suspect that eastern Europe’s decent results are because of, if anything, their persistent fielding of rather hot babes (with impressively long legs) singing typical Europop. Western Europe might just have to get over not being, typically, clever enough to field the right song with the right candidate, even though winners from eastern Europe are still an exception.
Then again, babes are in no way a guarantee for good scores. The no-worse(or-better)-than-many (and certainly hotter than most) Slovakian TWiiNS didn’t make it to the finals. Hot babes were the primary artist fielded by 12/19 countries, in the first semi, 8/19, in the second semi, including Israel, and only 10/25, in the finals (with 2/5 of the big 5).

Switzerland went for Anna Rossinelli, who seemed to present herself as a sophisticated, or perhaps 1920s, Lena. The song she performed wasn’t really interesting, but her voice was rather perfect, which, I hope, was what propelled her into the finals, even though there, she finished last.
Or was it the whiff of early 20th century Europe, as Iceland’s Sjonni’s Friends, known in Iceland as Sigurjón’s Friends, who also performed in a bit of a 1920s jazzy big band style, got selected for the finals as well.
Sigurjón’s Friends are actually a tribute band, to Sigurjón Brink, who died, of a stroke, days before performing at the Icelandic national Eurovision finals.

It appears that ballads still stand a chance as the winners of 2006, Finland, fielded the unlikely named Paradise Oskar, with an excellent performance, but with a song straight from the saddest scene of a Hugh Grant movie, making it the third best scoring song during the first semis (but only the 21st in the finals).
Likewise, Lithuania, in the shape of the voluptuous Evelina Sašenko did a slow love song (and some sign language) and also made it through, but failed to impress the voters in the finals. As did Austria’s Nadine Beiler, whose song was almost painful in its Celine Dion-ness (though she has the legs), qualifying, but then coming in at a low 18th place. A bit more drama, but still a slow pace, was found in Slovenia’s submission by the young (19 years) Maja Keuc, who also qualified. But the youngest performer was Estonia’s Getter Jaani, at 18 who, though cute and enjoyable enough, finished second to last in the finals. Perhaps ballads stand a good chance to make it to the finals, but stand less of a chance to win?
Another slow song, an almost painfully slow rock ballad the Scorpions probably even would have been ashamed of, was fielded by Denmark. They, inexplicably, came second in the second semis and an impressive fifth in the finals.
Azerbaijan’s performance, the eventual winning one, just short of a ballad, in both the semi and the final wasn’t great. The song’s repetitive, while the lead singers both couldn’t always keep their voices under control. But that’s just my opinion, as all countries’ professional juries, though voting Italy as the clear winner, did vote for Azerbaijan as the clear runner up.

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And absurd folksy performances seem to have had their best time. Portugal’s street performers of Homens da Luta probably had a good time, but were unceremoniously kicked out (rightly so).
On a side note, Portugal’s mild absurdity made me involuntarily think back to Belgium’s submission from 1983, when Pas De Deux performed Rendez-Vous, a much vilified abomination (at the time), which, watching it back now, actually seems to have been light years ahead of its time while being reminiscent of Bowie’s glam rock years, while the mix of modern (of the band) and classical (of the orchestra) instruments both sound weirdly modern and would probably make Apocalyptica proud (and, for strange reasons, was the first song ever, apparently, to be played on Studio Brussel).
This year’s submission from Belgium, the six-man human beat box formation Witloof Bay was also, again, out of the ordinary, but also rather excellent. But also not appreciated enough, as they just missed making it to the finals.
And, really, you spend your money like you’re on death row, Ireland fielding the utterly camp and sublimely enjoyable Jedward, perhaps the most absurd, funny, campy, poppy song this year. The twins (two pairs of twins this year!) only need to improve their singing a bit, but the track does stick on repeated airings.

And there’s also some room for absurdity, judging from Greece’s opening with gangsta rap before going into almost operatic drama, interspersing it with some Greek folk, and scoring first place in the first semis with it (but only 7th in the finals). And, oddly, this mix kinda works. And rap has a good rap, it seems, as also Georgia and Latvia (rather excellent, but not qualifying) put some of it in their songs.
In the second semis, Bosnia’s primary chansonnier Dino Merlin, with a mildly folksy, but certainly quite eccentric, performance, performed well and made it through (and came in at a respectable 6th in the finals).
The most absurd performance this year came from Moldova, where everyone was wearing a tall pointy hat and a unicycling babe was moving around, blowing a trumpet. Zdob si Zdub, in their second performance after trying out for Moldova in 2005, just made it to the finals and then came in at a reasonable 12th place, considering.

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However, something appears to also have structurally changed as far as what spells success at the Eurovision. Dana International, a transvestite, again representing Israel with typical catchy Europop, if a bit timid, didn’t even make it to the final.

Of the big 5, France seemed to be making fun of the process, fielding the world’s youngest professional tenor, singing in… Corsican! An impressive singer, his operatic work did feel quite out of place.
Italy, hopefully back in the contest permanently, this being their first submission since 1997, fielded a slowly climaxing piano ballad which was loved by the critics, but less so by the viewers, coming in an impressive second in the finals.
The UK, fielding the boy band Blue, tried their luck with a competent, but not very interesting submission (which reminded me of the Dutch submission which didn’t even make it out of the semis).
Germany hoped they could convince Europe with last year’s cuteness (that smile!), but failed with horrendously artsy backup dancers and a smoky but not outstanding song. They need to think more happy thoughts and I can’t imagine there isn’t better stuff on the dame’s second album.
Spain, finishing 23rd, underperformed, only Russia scoring worse with the critics. Obviously, points can only be awarded once, but Lucía Pérez, something of a hip Gloria Estefan in her better days, wasn’t all that bad and her song seems to get better on repeats.

Unavoidably, a short note on Holland: a quite competent performance with a quite unremarkable song. This is, it seems, what Holland tends to field in recent years, having lost their ways since their regular wins up to 1980. The Dutch submissions aren’t any worse or better than many that do make it into the finals. What’s up with that?
Perhaps the world is no longer interested in boy bands. Cyprus, also sporting a (five-man, no less) boy band, even performing using shoes patented by Michael Jackson, didn’t make it through.

I have to make a plan to be there for next year’s finals.