/ Leigh Alexander / 12 am Sun, May 27 2012
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  • Pop and politics collide at Europe's awesomely trashy song contest

    Pop and politics collide at Europe's awesomely trashy song contest

    You know the Ameri-centricism Europeans make fun of? I might have been an example of that, having not really heard of the Eurovision Song Contest until 2010 – and even then, the only reason I’d heard a thing about it was because of the Epic Sax Guy meme, spawned by Moldova’s hilariously neon-infused, incredibly euro-centric performance that year.

    This year, a bottle of cranberry Finlandia and nearly four hours of completely un-ironic enthusiasm opened my eyes.

    Luckily, I have a lot of British friends. One of them, game developer and unapologetic pop music aficionado Ste Curran, is spending the weekend with me here in Brooklyn, and although he’s quite a flexible houseguest, one of his immutable demands was that we get a group together and tune into the Eurovision Song Contest, which was streaming so that we could get it here in the U.S. this year.

    Ste’s one of those people who’s absolutely immune to irony, and occupies every one of his interests with absolute sincerity. That means to join Ste in anything – even in what you’d assume is absurd, trashy Europop – means it crosses from ironic game into eager analysis.

    The Brits generally wrap Eurovision in a veil of cynical commentary, but it was fun to gather a group of friends and dive into this weird, complicated political competition in a state of total innocence.

    First up, a prebriefing on some of the most exciting contestants: Ste’s favorite was Loreen from Sweden, an exotic-looking soloist of Moroccan heritage. Her ingenue’s concentration and endless dark hair put me in mind of Molly from Widowspeak, a band presently popular here in Brooklyn.

    Then there's Lithuania’s entry, a sincere young man whose song starts out a bit Clay Aiken before busting straight up into Jamiroquai territory. My favorite, though, was Norway’s entry Tooji, whose hoodie-clad frontman (of Iranian origin) is jaw-achingly handsome, despite the fact you get the idea nobody with lady-parts would have a shot at him. Look and swoon!)

    Let’s back up: in the Eurovision competition, each nation elects an act to represent it in a pan-European competition – a sort of musical Olympics. The prize isn’t just national honor, but the opportunity to host the competition the following year. Yes, hosting nations earn essentially a four-hour advertisement for the glories and victories of their turf, as Azerbaijan showcased this year (“Land of Tea!” it promised in an interstitial, much to the consternation of my British guests) – but it’s also quite expensive. Azerbaijan built an entire new stadium, complete with all the special effects and fireworks of the post-Idol era.

    Also, I know little about Azerbaijan beyond civil rights abuses my Euro friends tell me of; it's fascinating they’ve gone to such expense to stage this show, with all its swivel-hipped males and bondage-danger body displays.

    The same friends have also explained to me nobody really wants to win Eurovision and end up bearing that hosting cost--just to make a proud showing. Each participating nation can allocate points toward their favorites, the exception naturally being that no nation can vote for its own entry.

    Naturally, this means politics and national allegiances bear heavily on the outcome--Greece and Cyprus, as usual, each allocated their largest share of points of one another, to zero applause.

    Lordi, Finland’s ambassador to the contest results, came onscreen wearing his heavy-metal monster costume, promising to award its share of points to the “hottest, cutest” contestants.

    It is, in fact, the greatest collision of Europop aesthetics with bloc politics of which any naïve American could conceive. Even if you have more arch appetites than mainstream pop songs, you can be persuaded to appreciate the particular recipe of factors that reliably cause everyone to jump up and down in a club, potentially with shrieking. And when it comes to Eurovision, it seems pop acts can nail that recipe – and still lose, because the Eastern European nations all want to give their points to one another, same for the Scandinavian nations, and the songs with the greatest international top 40 potential can go completely overlooked. Seriously, it is so weird.

    A total of 26 nations entered the Eurovision Song Contest. I was passionately interested in Norway’s entry, with its guaranteed song structure – thrumming beat, implacable middle-eastern choral flavor, iconic dancing, babe frontman – but also an advocate of Sweden’s wonderfully weird Loreen and her logic-defying body movements.

    I’d love to be enlightened on what factors determine the contest performance order, but the UK was first, and their entrant was someone I’ve actually heard of: balladeer Englebert Humperdinck. I ultimately adored his song, a painfully sincere British Johnny-Cash-meets-Barry-Manilow universal love tune ("It’s like we’re actually trying this year,” reflected one of my UK companions). I could honestly picture myself having a little cry to this after a late night in the bar. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if an old-world tune, sung by the plastic-surgeried lips of a past-era chanteur, ended up sweeping this entire bass-pumping lightshow?

    It finished second from last.

    “We are to Europe what Japan is to the rest of Southeast Asia,” laments my UK pal. “Because we’re on an island, and because of our accomplishments, we’re seen as a bit smug. Of everyone in Europe, we were the last ones to have a great empire.”

    If there were an international song contest, which suddenly seems to me a way more spiritually-sound way to promote national pride and global unity than the hyper-expensive Olympics, America would not often prevail.

    I recommend that everyone watch all of Eurovision’s contestants for themselves, even thought there are panflutes and rock violins.

    Much of the music would be embraced at a renaissance fair. Russia’s entry stages a handful of elderly grandmothers performing traditional song and dance to a club beat – it’s either the sweetest act of subversion you’ve ever seen or a total cop-out, an ironic pitch to the late ‘90s cynics who thought Hampsterdance was rad. It’s the most obvious avatar of the weird line these contestants straddle between ironic awareness and wide-eyed obliviousness.

    As each contestant unveiled its three-minute act (all are time-constrained), part of the fun is compulsive hashtagging. I’m a video game journalist; my readership is mostly into interactive entertainment and social media and has little tolerance for my regular stints spamming my feed about party behavior. I expected to lose hundreds of followers as I virtually livetweeted Eurovision – but instead I gained hundreds, had dialogues with people in countries I barely knew existed. I’m embarrassed that I underestimated the size of the #Eurovision juggernaut.

    When one of my friends thought it funny to tweet a quip I made about Malta (“isn’t it just a place made up for James Bond to go to?”), I heard from incensed Maltese. When I tweeted my staunch desire for Norway to win with its epic Timberlake-esque dance jam, I got thanks and debate and virtual beer toasts.

    I thought the Ukranian entry was brilliant: A parallel universe Cher with incredible pipes, a set of hologram-neon backing dancers and a sprinkling of dubstep backbeat, she has the potential to be an international direct-to-gay-club superstar. Turkey’s group was memorable and bizarre – ripped from an imaginary Broadway pirate musical, the dancers even formed a boat with their capes by the end. And Macedonia’s black-haired metal queen rocked it, evoking a kind of late 1980’s metal drama that probably makes that woman from Evanescence wish she had been born a decade earlier.

    When the voting phase commenced, though, I saw what I’d been warned about in terms of Eurovision's politics. My beloved Norway – they brought the best pop song, and it is a song contest – was shafted constantly. Meanwhile, Serbia, whose entry was not memorable enough to register at all, received support from almost every country for obscure reasons: my friends think they had a lucky place in the song order.

    That said, I’m not at all displeased that Sweden’s Loreen won. Her impassioned, snowflecked solo was just the creative side of commercial, the kind of song that broadens horizons. She's adorable. I don’t have any data about the degree to which Eurovision leadership translates to universal success (Once in a while — Ed.), but I’d totally be first in line to buy tickets to a Loreen show around here in Brooklyn.

    After it ended, though, we totally played that Norway song again. I wish we could go out tonight and just ask for it from the DJ. What a fun time; what a weird time.

    Photo: Loreen of Sweden performs her song, "Euphoria", after winning the Eurovision song contest in Baku. Photo: David Mdzinarishvili / Reuters

    / / COMMENTS

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    1. Good grief. I was raised in Africa and I heard of the Eurovision contest as a child, thanks to my grandfather’s hand-me-down collection of Giles annuals.

      I’m guessing no-one in America used to read Giles annuals either.

      1. It’s true that 99.9999 percent of Americans have never heard of the Eurovision Song Contest. But there’s really no truth in the assertion that the EV Song Contest is somehow alien or anathema to the American pop culture experience. I mean, Americans invented this type of over-the-top mega-glitzy pseudo-entertainment (LIBERACE, anyone?) – the modern Eurp-Pop experience only reaches America in fits and shudders (SUSAN BOYLE, anyone?) 

        I think it took the Spice Girls an added two years to break in America after their fast  and obscene successes in Europe in 1996. An outstanding Euro-pop figure such as ROBBIE WILLIAMS has never truly made the grade in the USA. The list of Euro-only pop music successes is infinite. There are at least three decent video documentaries floating around the Internet regarding the Eurovision Song Contest and scores of other scathing articles about the phenomenon, if one wants further EV flogging and analysis

        Personally, my favorite EV Song Contest winner is “Angelo” by the Abba rip off quartet BROTHERHOOD OF MAN. It’s a tender love song set on a Spanish mountainside. Worth seeking out. From 1977 I think

        1. “Angelo” was never entered in the ESC – that year we entered Lynsey de Paul & Mike Moran (who had home advantage and came 2nd). BoM won the previous year.

          1. I stand, corrected. I was thinking of ‘Save Your Kisses For Me’ (which has nothing to do with Spanish mountainsides!)

        2. From what I’ve seen, there are a huge number of UK acts in America right now. Adele, Leona Lewis, One Direction, Coldplay, Calvin Harris, Ellie Golding, to name a few. Most of those I’ve picked out of the current Billboard Hot 100. And Susan Boyle is far more popular in America than the UK. Also, a lot of American music is produced by UK artists too.

          There are also many many other foreign artists in your charts. You think Gotye and David Guetta are from California? The American music market is not as American as you think it is. Sure, it’s going to have a lot of homegrown artists in it (the UK chart of course has many more UK artists, like Robbie Williams), but the music industry is very global, especially music sung in English.

          And while you say the number of ‘Euro-only’ pop music successes is infinite, look the other way. Only a select number of US artists trickle into the global mainstream. 

          Not that this is a bad thing, it’s a great thing. I think you just need to open your eyes and look at what’s around you. By trying to point out how multi-cultured Americans are, I think you’ve ended up proving the opposite. 

          1. As everyone knows, the pop charts continue to be as rigged as a circus tent – payola is as commonplace as it was during the Alan Freed years. Even well-seasoned groups have to basically pay to be voted into such sham vanity organizations as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. At least the Eurovision Song Contest is overt and somewhat above board in its gaudiness and tackiness.

            1. I know that Europeans have a lot of influence on dance music, but in the UK at least, not a huge amount of other styles of music come from Europe. I can’t say for America how much influence non-UK European music has.

    2. awesome report! i guess you had a big TV set, otherwise it ‘s like watching  Game of Thrones stream on a laptop, wondering who is who and why characters move so much in the dark!

    3. Not trying to be an interweb bastard, but that “be my guest” song is horrible. Is there some layer of irony i’m missing? What’s the worst thing about pop? Is it autotune? is it almost dub step bass prrrrrp ings? fark, it is all in that song.

    4. actually some of the countries have to pay a share of the costs each year, and thus auto-qualify for the final. 

      The UK is one of them.

      I think we should just let Ireland go on for us, though Jedward apparently did fairly dismally too. Perhaps the antipathy for us is rubbing off on our culturally closest neigbour? (we also have a penchant for voting for each other).

      1.  The problem with Ireland is that  it was represented by shrieking homoerotic king Joffrey twins in full plate armour.

        Something TOO awesome to comprehend.

          1. But… the shower at the end of their show…

            “Wet Twins on Shiny Spandex Armour”

            If it doesn’t sounds erotic enough…  

    5. I can’t help but think of what a US version of Eurovision with each state participating.  My first thought is that it would either suck or soar.  Kitchy spangled outfits or battle of the bands on steroids.  Maybe both at once.  Even more interesting would be an absolute lack of voting blocks based on politics, but more based on region / preferred music style.  Each state hates its neighbor, but has no love for the ones farthest from it.

      Worse things have been on TV.  But that’s a low standard to beat.

      1. One thing to bear in mind is Eurovision’s political voting isn’t *that* bad. A lot of those “blocks” are groups of countries that share the same culture and therefore listen to the same music. I imagine it will be the same with the States.

      2. The main difference would be all Eurovision contestant countries have different cultures and even though it’s just horrible pastiche pop, it shows in the contest. Each US state would have the same, uniform McDonald culture.

          1. Are you comparing the variety of cultures, traditions, languages in Europe to the variety of… what, exactly?

            And yes, been to the States many a time. Have YOU ever been to Europe?

            1. Really? Where in the US exactly? 

              So, you’re saying that the U.S. culture is completely homogeneous? So, zydeco is exactly the same as country-western which is the same as jazz which is the same as rock n’ roll? And you believe all of those were developed in a Disney theme park, no doubt without any other context.
              Arguing that America has a paucity of regional variety in a thread about a European contest which turns out the same pop-drek sung in English by the majority of the entrants is… shall we say… unconvincing. 

            2.  No, I think Toby is kind of correct here to an extent.  The south has a strong folk tradition (bluegrass from appalachia, blues from the Delta, jazz from New Orleans), the Mid-West inherited the blues into the electro-blues tradition, as well as lots of central European musical traditions (Polka, balkan music, etc), the North saw the rise of hip-hop and punk rock, and the west coast gave us more aggressive forms of those kinds of music, and the roots rival of the 1960s (amongst other things).  I’ll put our roots music on par with European roots traditions any day, although I’d argue that our musical traditions are deeply influenced by both European and African traditions.  Does the US music industry put out lots of insufferable pop, sure thing!  It’s hard to argue against that.  But scratch the surface of American musical traditions, including the roots of pop music, and you get an interesting mix of musical traditions and cultures.  And what people often listen to is influenced by their region of birth often times, just like the voting blocks in the Eurovision contest.

            3. Ummm you guys do realize that America is made up of people from every single one of those European countries, as well as Asian countries, African countries, etc. etc. etc. etc. Or do you honestly think that America is simply 300 million white folks?

              Come ON! America isn’t a melting pot. It’s a salad bowl! It’s ingredients from all over the world. Toss them into the same bowl, they flavor one another, but a cucumber doesn’t suddenly become a bell pepper because it’s in the bowl with the cucumber. 

              I’m from Boston, MA. now living in Copenhagen DK. I can tell you that Boston is a heck of a lot more multi cultural than Copenhagen is. Where my dark skin means I’m assumed to be African. Yes, by way of BOSTON. HUMPH. 

              Can we REALLY just knock this chest beating silliness off. Seriously. 

              In spite of what some of the badly behaved people on the news would like you to think, you are NOT expected to lose your national identity just to be accepted in America. Little Italy, Japan Town, Korea Town, China Town, and various other closed, yet open neighborhoods can attest to that fact. 

              Last I read the East Coast of the US of A had almost as high a concentration of Irish people as Ireland, and as of a few years ago there were more Puerto Ricans on the main land, than there were on the Island. ALL of those people brought their music, their food, and their culture with them. The tossed it into the salad bowl, and it helps to create the dish that is America today. 

              So can we PLEASE move along from this annoying idea that every American sups on the teat of pop music drivel because ummmm I live in Europe… y’all have a pretty meaty set of teats of your own. Spice Girls anyone? and Aqua for the Danes reading. *shudder*. 

              Cyn, who enjoyed the EuroVison Song Contest… but who let Turkey in? That was just ODD! LOL

        1. It actually depends how they select the musicians to send.  If it is American idol style solo cover singers, yes, it will be uniformly awful.  If it was selected by local musical tastes from local bands, I think you would have a pretty wildly diverse show that I might to roped into watching.  

          The shit that the US exports around the world in terms of its culture is often the shallowest and most easily digestible layer of crap.  It is well produced by rich corporations, easy to understand with relatively little cultural context, and shallow.  What happens on a local level one step below that layer of shit is fantastic and diverse.  A musical tour of the US where you just avoid stadium sized music productions would show off some diverse and skillful musicians.

          In my hometown of Boston, places like the Middle East, T.T. the Bears, O’Briens, Club Passim, and places like that don’t host anything that is even a relative of American pop music. If you were to hit up those same sorts of venues in the other 50 states, you would find that what rolls through would be wildly different than what you hear in Boston.  You might confuse what you hear in New York and Boston, but you wouldn’t confuse Boston with Austin, Los Angeles, or Atlanta.

          Don’t get me wrong, popular American culture is shit, but local culture isn’t popular culture.  That goes double and triple when you are talking about local music that is generally city-centric.

      3. “I can’t help but think of what a US version of Eurovision with each state participating”

        you have that. it’s called “America”. 


    6. The singing order is drawn randomly, and going early is considered a bad idea because people tend to forget, and some people don’t tune in until half-way.

      Oh and there were 43 songs in the Eurovision this year – but the rest got eliminated in the two semifinals earlier in the week. The really awful entries, like the Austrian rap song about what butts like, the belgian entry that seems to have been recorded at the wrong speed and the San Marinoan novelty entry about social media all got kicked out then.

    7. My favorite Eurovision entry EVER, was delivered by Monaco Murder Squad’s Chief Inspector, Jean Paul Zatapathique.

        1. From Season 2, Episode 9, titled “How To Recognize Different Parts Of The Body”.

          1. YES. This is definitely my favourite Eurovision entry ever. It represents the utter ridiculousness and FUN that is eurovision. It’s impossible to listen to this and NOT have a good time :D

    8. Abba made their big start in Eurovision, and Celine Dion is another famous winner. Often the winners will go on having great success in their home and sometimes neighbouring countries thanks to record deals, fame and good / patriotic will.  My favourite Spanish winner was Mocedades (1973)  which I know from listening to my dad’s records…

      This year it was an all-family affair. Our two daughters (6 and 7) watched it with us, and as the adults cackled at the very cynical, very British commentary, our girls were totally into the singing and dancing, discussing dresses, stage design and singing along, and learning about the variety of European culture all throughout – as we pointed on the map the countries as they were being announced, and answered questions about the language spoken, what was interesting about each country and having to resort to Wikipedia ourselves to fill in gaps or answer tricky questions. :)

      So yeah, as an alternative music-loving person, Eurovision can be painful. But with the sharp wit and presentation of Graham Norton (check him out on the YouTubes!) and a few friends to discuss music, stage and politics, it can be a lot of fun and function as a strange sort of Trivial Pursuit.

      1. Another Mocedades fan!  That song was big in the US as a result.  I loved it then, and still love it: http://youtu.be/1s3BIX0duKs

    9. dioptaste: It’s not a new idea – apparently NBC has had the format licensed for a decade now, but has yet to decide when and if to launch it.

    10. I think the ESC is about as well-known in the US as the Superbowl is in Europe. I can’t say I’ve ever seen anything in Swedish media about the Superbowl. They probably do write something, but as I don’t usually watch any sports broadcasts or read the sports pages in newspapers, I honestly can’t say I’ve ever seen it mentioned.

      1. The big difference being that in Europe we know about the Superbowl and we know the US exists. :)

        1. I have to say I think I must have been at least 25 years old before even hearing about the Superbowl, and even then it’s because I’m unusually interested in American culture. I just asked two friends if they knew what the Superbowl was, and one had never heard of it, and the other thought it was some sort of a sports thing, perhaps baseball, that he had heard mentioned in American movies.

          1. The Superbowl is what you pull out when you want to get superhigh, obviously.

          2. Most of my friends know about the Superbowl – because of the 1984 Apple commercial, or Michael Jackson’ 1993 performance, or Janet Jackson’s nip-slip, or a lot of famous commercials, or the fact that Americans go totally nuts around that time, or how it’s come across in movies, TV series, etc…

            Although I was just making fun of that Ameri-centrism Leigh was mentioning at the beginning of the article. I am sure not everyone in Europe knows about the Superbowl. :)

        2. Also, if we had something in Europe called the “World Series”, we would probably remember to actually invite the rest of the world :D

            1. Cricket has the biggest audience ever for a world cup match smashes all other sports by a long way about a billion and a half

            2. The point is that who does or does not take part in any contest is more a question of historical accident than a deliberate process of invitation or exclusion.

      2. I don’t know what it was like in the past but these days you can actually watch the Super Bowl live on broadcast TV (including national public broadcasters) in many (maybe even most) European countries.

        So… the comparison doesn’t really hold ;-)

      3. superbowl was shown last year,this year on channel 10(TV10) live.  it has been broadcasted on channel 3 before i think.   
        So superbowl is shown in sweden but u know the time difference don’t u.
        And it was written who won on sportspages,news in sweden.

        Do you even live in sweden?

        1. If you’d read what I actually wrote, I said: “They probably do write something, but as I don’t usually watch any sports broadcasts or read the sports pages in newspapers, I honestly
          can’t say I’ve ever seen it mentioned.”

          The above is all true, as well as the fact that the first two people I asked about it had no idea what it was (well, the second one guessed it was sports-related). I’m not saying that it’s impossible to get information about the Superbowl in Sweden, just that most people, as far as I can tell, know nothing or very little about it.

      4. for some time the superbowl has been brodcast in sweden, although you probably slept through it.

    11. Well about different areas voting for each other: Serbias song was performed by a well known artist in the former Balkans – its not just alliegances. Typicly though you vote for your neighbours. Sweden, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Finland all vote for each other (because allot of us live in one of the four other countries). BUT theres an extra detail to it. Like Norways artist made some jokes or something about the Swedish artist before the show that got some news coverege – minimizing the chance for votes from Sweden. 

      But it is shit. I mean most people KNOW its shitmusic and music you wouldn’t really bother yourself with normally but, at this specific contest its somehow ok. 

      Also we (Sweden) actually did want to win the songcontest, so the idea that “no one wants to win” is nonsense. 

    12. FUN FACT: Spanish representative was told NOT to win because Spain doesn’t have enough money to be next year host.

      SUPER FUN FACT: Portugal gave us 12 points.

      1. That would be a stupid thing to do. I don’t think the winning country is required to host it. In the past several winning countries have declined to host it due to the expense. The UK usually steps in and hosts it in those cases.

        1. I think that’s only happened a couple of times in my recent memory – 1972 in Edinburgh & 1974 in Brighton (I do actually like how the the BBC usually avoids the obvious cities and venues  and it was Harrogate in 1982)

      2. I am sorry for the contestant, but I think it’s an unusually ballsy stance. ‘We don’t care how it makes us look – we just can’t afford it and won’t put the economy of the country in jeopardy’ … an attitude that should be adopted for all other mega-shows that place unduly financial burden on a host country – the Olympic games, for example…

      3.  Would be even more fun if Greece have won with the help of votes from Spain and Portugal and other PIIGS :-)

    13. “Americans: to explain ‪#eurovision‬. Imagine the Super Bowl half time act, over 3 hours, consisting of everything Rick Santorum wants to ban.” – wordshore on Twitter.

      1. I was lucky enough to be in Helsinki the year after Lordi won. I still have the Lordi comics somewhere. Sadly, they never became the Kiss of Finland…. Well, I say “sadly”….

      2.  I said this below, but it bears repeating, it’s like Kiss and Gwars “love” child…  It’s the stage gear of gwar with the musical sensibility of Kiss…  I’m not sure I’d categorize them as “metal” though, given what other actually metal bands came out of the Nordic lands. 

    14. I haven’t watched this. Apart from the bits and pieces thrown at me ’cause I’m living in, well, Europe. Anyway reading this made my day. Thankyou.

    15. Setting up friends parties to follow the contest and laughing with the incredible and delirious performances became a tradition in my country, Spain, although I guess is spread in all EU . Taking this contest in a serious way is a big mistake: none of the countries want to win . There’s a mix of gay style + freak style + serious style in all the performances, that create big space for commenting.  #Eurovision hashtag was the most boring of them .. if you had followed (in Spanish otherwise) hashtags like #eurosion or #wayomini or #eurostropido you would have spend some hilarious tons of funny jokes and comments from hundred of thousand of people not interest in the songs or the singers just in the show and laughing on it. An example of the songs quality : http://youtu.be/nZJt6Gv4XPk

    16. 42 counties actually entered this year. After two semi finals 36 made it to the finals. About voting for neighboring countries:
      Yes, people do vote for their neighbors, but that doesn’t decide the winner. The winner has to be  good in it’s own right. And I believe it’s more about the music culture than politics.
      Coming to specifics: A lot of really good songs don’t make it because they’re not Eurovisionescue enough. Certain types of song do well, even if they’re sometimes dreadful. I guess those who cast a lot of votes like the Eurovision-sound. I was really surprised Serbia’s song did so well, but I’ve heard he’s a huge artist in Serbia and neighboring countries – as well as being a ESC-veteran who’s collected fans over the years (incl. my gf).

    17. One of the things that always annoyed me when I lived in Brooklyn was when people who lived there in Brooklyn were so proud of living in Brooklyn that they had to drop phrases like “here in Brooklyn” multiple times into every conversation regardless of whether or not it actually added to the discussion. We get it. Living there in Brooklyn makes you super hip, and the experience is really fun, but please do stop.

      1. I think New York has become a living cliche where it’s in simultaneous states of ‘we do everything better here, so fuck you’ and ‘things used to be better in the old days’

      2. Yeah. I know. But it’s completely relevant in this case: We have an obsessive music culture here, yes, people are a bit holier-than-thou about it, so where I’m coming from — not only an American, but a BROOKLYNITE (!) watching eurovision contest  for the first time is important. 

        1. Sorry, Leigh, I don’t see the relevance. There’s an obsessive music culture all over the place, and plenty of cities that are too self-consciously full of themselves (I’m looking at you Austin, Portland, NOLA, Asheville, et al). The experience of Eurovision is going to be as weird, musically troubling, appealing, and educational for folks who live in those places, too.

          You’re by no means the only person I’ve seen who’s guilty of shoehorning the “I’m from BK” thing into their writing. I used to be a little guilty of it myself. It makes sense sometimes. Other times not. Beware of falling into big city provincialism.

          Good piece, though!

        1. Nah man, Brooklyn is in a class of its own. Melbourne is indeed a bit of a vacuum sucking up ‘polaroid-only photographers’ and ‘sparse, ambient electronica artists’ much like the borough. But in Brooklyn they’re quite condensed and seemingly more disaffected. Love Brooklyn though and enjoy riding my Brompton around the place with a bagel in hand. 

          Melbourne kids (I guess I can count myself as one, even though I’m from Perth way back when) only just complain about Sydney, but usually in a tongue-in-cheek way (“Why do you need good weather when you can get a cheap coffee or some awesome craft beer?”, says a mate). I do hear about the ‘old days’ though. I don’t think Melbourne in the early-to-mid nineties would be as good as it is now. It beats hearing “Man, Perth is so boring, soooo gonna move to Melbourne!” which is what I’m hearing right now on a visit. 

    18. If only someone could write a song that would bring all the nations of Europe together in Peace.

    19. Of course, Britain and Ireland voting for each other doesn’t constitute block voting, because we do not do such things.

    20. The fact that seven of the songs in the final were (co-) written by Swedish songwriters shows that commercial interest trumps national pride even in ESC.

      1. Ten songs, actually: Sweden, Cyprus, Ireland, Italy, Norway, Greece, Spain, UK, Azerbaijan and Malta.

    21. Congrats to Sweden, but I thought the drowned girl from Ring had climbed out of my TV to sing power disco at me. I liked Denmark; they actually played their instruments. Romania didn’t do much for me but I liked the Dr. Seuss horn section.

      Graham Norton made me miss Terry Wogan, but I suspect Graham had been told not to make any jokes about the mafia government. When it became clear England would be screwed again, he didn’t care so much, and he made unkind comments about Azerbaijan’s finale. It was exactly what you’d expect of someone who’s not too bright but has total artistic control since his father-in-law owns the country. I almost wanted Azerbaijan to win anyway, so they could host the contest again. After the revolution, that is. But I’m thinking Russia gave them 12 points like they’ll give Hajduk Aliyev 12 tank divisions in case of trouble.

        1.  Both Graham Norton and Terry Wogan are Irish. 

          Since 1971 (apart from a couple of gaps in the early Wogan years) the BBC has contracted two Irishmen to be the voice of the BBC commentary.

          I prefer Graham Norton by far. He always seems to have done a lot of background research on the acts and broadcasters – which makes his comments all the more interesting and amusing. 

          Also, most people would not have noticed but towards the end of the evening when he was reading out viewers’ names from  ‘back home’  he mentioned a Mrs Walker from Bandon (County Cork, Ireland) – that’s his mum!

    22. Excellent article. A couple of things, though.

      More than 26 countries entered. There’s a semi-final held the Wednesday before to sort the even chaffier from the wheat and the chaff that get to sing in the final.

      Also, I’m not convinced about the block voting. The UK gave Jedward 10 points, not because of some English-speaking axis or the large number of Irish ex-pats in the UK but because Jedward are celebrities in the UK – in fact they were discovered on the British X-Factor. Likewise, a lot of the Eastern European and Balkan entries are famous in other Eastern European and Balkan countries. I remember there being a lot of cynicism when the Russian Dima Bilan won a few years ago. He got lots of votes from Eastern European countries and next to none from Western European countries. The British press called it a fix because of block voting. But Dima Bilan was and is a genuine star in Eastern Europe – he had consistently won at the MTV Europe awards for a few years before. Popbitch said it best at the time:
      http://evelovesporkchops.blogspot.co.uk/2008/06/late-popbitch-email.html (see about half way down the email).

      Edit: There are, of course, 2 semi-finals. The number of countries now in Europe compared to my childhood is eye-boggling, and I’m only 30.

      1. Not to mention, it seems England wins anyway this year. How many of the songs are in english anyway?

        1. We could probably blame ABBA for that as much as anyone. I believe they were the first act from a non-English speaking country to win with an English language song. Before them, most winners sang in French or in their native language. Then with the Irish domination of the contest in the late ’80s and early ’90s, English almost completely supplanted French as the language of Eurovision. This year there were actually a surprising number of native-language songs compared to recent years, but still little love for French. During the semi-finals, the Azeri hosts made it seem like speaking a little French was the greatest chore they’d ever endured. 

    23. Watching Eurovision is kind of traditional here in Serbia, even though there is about an equal divide between people who view it as a super fun-packed evening of family entertainment and people who view it as a super fun-packed evening of kitschy ironic pleasure.  Still, the “institutions” take it quite seriously, and Serbia (whatever “Serbia” in this context means – I guess: the media and the political establishment) was officially delirious in 2006 when our representative won. Anyway, to explain how Serbian entries get so many points every year – we have a pretty big diaspora all over Europe, so besides a guaranteed substantial number of points from ex-Yugoslavia countries, our entry always gets at least some (if the song is pure uninspired drivel) or a bunch (if the song is inspired pop drivel) of points from Austria (it is said that Vienna is the true capital of the Balkans), Germany and Switzerland, as well as, to a lesser degree, Scandinavia and France. Of course, there is at least some “orthodox cameraderie” guaranteed, so we also get some from Russia, Belarus etc, depending on who got into the finals. So, that – alongside our contestant’s relative popularity from his previous entry – explains the third place this year.

      1. There was also a brilliant conspiracy theory floating around that Serbia was going to win as a concession towards granting Kosovo independent status.    Imagine if you had actually won!!

    24. The ungracious amount of xenophobic tweets from Spain (in spanish) directed at the Romanian people and artist under the #eurovision tag was unsettling.

    25. The UK has won 5 times which meaning only Ireland (another island) has won more times. Explain to me again about block votin!?  The English aren’t alone feeling singled out. Every nation below nr. 14 feels singled out for various reasons every time and has stupid reasons to feel so. England even has the benefit of singing in English every time while Eastern block countries tend to be only understandable to neighboring countries. 

      Engilbert Humpherdink wasn´t bad but the song was boring and he didn’t really carry it as a power ballad which tend to do ok. Ireland was sort of fun but disturbing. 

      Sweden wasn’t bad but the next 7 songs where absolute trash. Albania had a screaming hunchback and the Serbian song was so bland it didn’t even register as jokeworthy to the any of my guest or the announcer. Norway and Greece where pure Eurotrash. Macedonia, Malta, Lithuania, Denmark, France, Italia, Iceland and Cyprus all had decent songs. Russia should probably have won just for the novelty. 

      1. Englebert just plain sucked…Englands national traditional Eurovision shame was unabated. btw…that ‘s the 4th year in a row that Ireland was represented by the bizarre twins…they never have won or come close…there’s a very twisted story here….yes they are disturbing.

    26. Your friend was missing or ignoring the obvious politics behind the UK’s latest  bad run of results in Eurovision. The UK used to do well, winning five times in the past, and we’re still the country to have placed second the largest number of times. Therefore the island nation thing hasn’t really affected us in the past. To see the real reason behind the results, just look at the annual trend: 2002- 3rd place, 2003, Zero points and last place. The UK’s position has barely recovered since. It looks like a continent of Europop fans really hated the Iraq war.

      1.  The Iraq war has something to do with it. Also does that UK is already overrepresented in the rest of the European charts so that weights against them among voters and so does that UK has send bad performers lately.
        The Eurovision is lame as a high performance musical event. It is a one time consumption event where countries muscle their efforts in gaining votes using a combination of favors, appealing choreographs,  lights and music… all in 3min and with tens of competitors. UK usually gets last because it is very bad combining all these elements, simple as that. Iraq is no a factor now.

      2. I doubt it. People dont really distinguish  between Afghanistan and Iraq and most of Europe is in or has been in one or the other. 

        I just cant think of a good Eurovision song coming out of GB for the longest time and certainly not something that was supposed to win. The winners from circa 2004 have all been pretty decent songs and at least simple and catchy. Hard Rock Hallelujah, Fairytale, Believe, Satellite are all pretty decent songs. Love Shine a Light the GB song which won 1997 was very unEurovision like and still won. 

        1. I think the most popular but least talked about reason is indeed the middle east invasions. Many middle eastern nations are involved in the contest, after all.

      3. Our main problem is song selection (not that political baggage), the choices of recent years were mediocre, either really cheesy pop songs or what I would call, soundtrack music, which disappears into the background. To win Eurovision you need a really memorable song and performance that crosses cultural music preferences.

      1. Winner 2006
        Lordi – Finland

        Best songs never to make it:

        Brainstorm – Latvia

        Sylvia Night – Iceland

    27. “When one of my friends thought it funny to tweet a quip I made about Malta”… really?

      Perhaps someone should do some reading about Malta – the most bombed place on earth during the Second World War. The island itself was awarded the George Cross for bravery under the siege it suffered. The European opinion of America not having a clue about the rest of the world existing isn’t lessened any by the above comment.

      1. Yes, stupid Americans, not knowing about all facts and every little bit of history!  BTW, did you know the Japanese bombed the US mainland during WWII?  If not, don’t worry, my opinion of you hasn’t gone down a bit.

        1. are you talking about the balloon bombs? the most damage was a forest fire. no populated areas were affected. yea, that’s comparable to dresden or malta.

        2. Yes, actually – I did know that, though a few incendiaries and a couple of sub attacks don’t really compare in any way, shape or form, so I’m not sure what your point was at all. Also – I wasn’t the one belittling one of the most resilient (and strategically vital) islands on the planet.

    28. I watched it with some friends and  great fun was had. Making fun of everything we could, enjoying what we could, bullshitting a bit… The Eurovision song contest is just so wonderfully tacky that crosses over into being fun. Okay, so my country didn’t do so well, but that’s not the point :D
      I would love to see the same contest filled with better music (more relevant music, maybe. Most of what was on display fit better into the cheaper parts of decades past..), but that just isn’t going to happen anytime soon.

    29. It’s nothing but appaling though that a dictatorship – in Europe of all places! – got to hold the ESC 2012 though, and that nobody seems to give a flying fsck about it.

      Also, this is arguably the best Eurovision entry of all time! (It finished last..)

      1.  Nice… reminds me of Kraftwerk, but more upbeat.  I want that synth behind the singer… that rules.

        Actually, it was all anyone seemed able to talk about, the fact that Azerbaijan is a dictatorship, and all the crappy things they did in preparing for the contest.  Al-jazeera had good coverage of that aspect of the ESC.

    30. Did anyone notice Montenegro’s entry?  Rambo Amadeus…  Actually I just saw that Maia Maladi just referenced it… What a fantastic song!  Everything I’ve heard by this guy rocks:


      After discovering this, I spent yesterday digging up scholarly articles on the Eurovision contest.  I had read one previously in the anthology on culture in Yugoslavia “Remembering Utopia”.  The article was by Dean Vuletic, and was called “European Sounds, Yugoslav Visions.”  I think Eurovision is a means of defining the limits of Europeanness. 

    31. Eurovosion is a bizarre ritual for me…I watch in utter and horrified fascination, but there is always a surprise…this year was pretty disappointing as the lowest common denominator of blandness seemed to rule. It was gratifying to see France sink to #21 or so after the big headed hype…but then that’s what always happens with France…they have no pop allies. Turkey had to seen to be believed…This year Moldava was just okay… a little campy and stereotyped  Eastern European Eurotrash….for some reason, Moldave has had some the best entires in the last few years. If it wasn’t for Eurovision, I would never have discovered my favorite band in the world, Zdob si Zdub….they were the Moldava entry twice…last years, So Lucky was one of the best things I’ve ever seen on Eurovision. 4 Years ago, Zdob si Zdub did their classic Granny Plays the Drums….Check them out…
      But Englebert Humperdink? Britain’s National Shame! Again!

      1. Moldova also gave us O-zone, but sadly they broke up and Arsenie had to do Eurovision with some woman instead of with the geniuses that gave us Dragostea Din Tei.

      2. “You have never been at my show
        You haven’t seen before how looks the trumpet
        But the sound goes straight to your soul
        Gets you out of control
        This trumpet makes you my girl”

        How can you not love these lyrics from the Moldova entry, and the dancing was just hilarious, I thought Moldova was the best one this year. 
        “Best” being judged on entirely different criteria than usual

    32. “…, and because of our accomplishments, we’re seen as a bit smug.”

      Well, you DID write your UK pal is completely immune to irony.

    33. Never, ever, ever miss the Eurovision semifinals, or at least go back and review them via Youtube.  Half of the Eurovision ritual is screaming at your television as (awesome / insane / both) acts fail to go through while boring crap makes the finals. 

      Missing the semis this year meant you missed out on Spanish Inquisition Guy Morphing Into Vegas Lizard, the most cringe-inducing Ode to the Internet ever, an amazingly catchy Israel entry, the aforementioned Euro Neuro, the unlikeliest Native American homage ever, Skid Row’s illegitimate nephews… and that’s just THIS year.  We haven’t even gotten into the turkey puppet or the glory of Sha-La-Lie yet.

      On the plus side, Jedward have threatened to keep coming back until they win.

      1. I liked the Netherlands’ song, but that costume came off as unintentionally racist. I know none of my European friends would understand the issues, history and inaccuracies involved, but to my sensibilities as the great-grandchild of homesteaders who has American Indian relatives and friends, Dutch girls wearing turkey feathers and turquoise belong in the same category with black face. 

    34. Ugh, Disqus and “Post as…” still apparently throws away the comment they are admonishing me to attach my identity.

    35. Living in a country that has won the ESC 5 times, but hasn’t participated in the last 20 years, I have a little bit more mixed feelings towards it. The entire event sure has changed a lot during the years, especially in the 90’s.

      It started in 1956 as a small contest between 9 countries and it received a lot more respect until the 90’s. In the 80’s I remember sitting with my parents on that one Saturday evening in front of the TV (as did almost everyone in Europe) and watching the then called “Grand Prix Eurovision de la Chanson”. It was a somewhat serious matter and the singers and groups were trying to represent their countries in a more dignified way. Nowadays (at least in Western Europe) no one really cares about it anymore

      The event itself lost a lot of spectators in the 90’s (there was an increasing competition with new TV channels and an expanding music industry). I think one of the turning points was in the late 90’s when german entertainer Stefan Raab send acts like Guildo Horn to the ESC. That was also the time when they changed the voting system from a very small professional jury in every country to a more democratic but often silly voting system. The influx of eastern european countries in the late 90’s has shifted the balance more towards them.  The organisers tried to modernize it and changed the name to ESC, trying to give it a more modern feeling, but missing the point. Now it’s just one singing contest like there hundreds of them over the world.

    36. “Because we’re on an island, and because of our accomplishments, we’re seen as a bit smug. ”

      It’s got nothing to do with that. Europe can’t stand the Brits, because the Brits can’t stand Europe. They never participate in anything and are always against everything european.

      1. We like some parts of Europe… the Swede’s sexual openness, the cheap booze from France (as long as you don’t have to deal with the French), and Hollands less than strict attitude to most of the common vices. I think it’s a British thing to be very ‘dry’ towards our neighbours, and to be honest – ourselves, but we’re always quick to defend our allies, even if they are cheese-eating surrender monkeys.

      2. Until 2003, the UK entries did OK – usually in the top half of the table if not the top five. Then a certain war happened, and it’s been virtually nil points ever since.

    37. Yep, Norway’s guy was impossibly handsome. At least you’d think you would be able to have a shot with 2009’s contestant. I was entranced by the girl Cypriot though. Bangarang.

      Musically though (and that’s what it is all about, right?), I enjoyed Denmark the most. No stiff choreography and backing tracks for them!

      I’d like to point out Australia’s take on Eurovision. We have a network called the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) that broadcasts Internet, Television and Radio. It was a government mandated and quasi publicly-funded service and you know four things will be broadcast on SBS TV; Der 90. Geburstag (Dinner For One) played on NYE, European football, foreign films (yellow subtitles) with tits and blood. And Eurovision. 

      My introduction was with a Serbian mate of mine and we’d watch it every year with his family out in the backyard, and there’d always be spit meat and grappa. This is how I imagine a lot of anglo kids had come across it. And yeah, I’d notice those of the former Eastern Bloc would take it more seriously than current French or Swede friends of mine. But it’s fairly popular to have parties revolve around it and drink copious amounts of alcohol; a good effort for a country so many thousands of kilometres away and was for so long so english/irish/scottish-tainted vanilla. We must take it seriously if we have an Australian produced documentary called ‘The Secret History Of Eurovision’ that played on BBC, 4, yle, DR, NRK and RTÉ.

      SBS would televise it straight for many years. I think we got our own commentator in the early 2000’s but I think many thought of the guy as overly sarcastic and was constantly talking over the entries. We now have a female/male team that do a good job.

      1. Des Mangan (what happened to him? Used to do the cult movies.) was the sarcastic guy and SBS went back to taking Wogan’s commentary. Then he quit. :( It’s also worth noting that it’s rebroadcast on the Sunday night, when most people know the result (because the result doesn’t really matter).

        Speaking of Luxembourg, wasn’t Love Is Blue one of their entries from back in the 60s.

        1. Des Mangan was great on the movie introductions. They had a really old guy on ABC with thick-rimmed glasses doing the same thing in the 90’s; I wish I knew his name. They should really keep things like that, but I guess we all have Wikipedia and IMdb instead. 

    38. Dear Americans: Please don’t judge the rest of us Europeans by the wackos who are into the ESC ;-)

      1. It’s Moldova’s answer to the Bloodhound Gang. I really need to visit Chisinau.

    39. Good God… And I hoped it would remain a secret… Trust a Brit’ to drag Europe’s name through the mud ;-)

      1. Yes, but I’m not sure you’ve had one that has run for over 50 years?!  That’s what makes it special, even to those of us who enjoy making fun of it.  (It’s also worth noting that the ESC is only one part of the whole European Broadcasting Union “cultural” work, but it is – perhaps unfortunately – the highest profile.)

    40. Next weeks viral video in Sweden. The royal guards playing Euphoria: http://youtu.be/4_yhPw-SS3g

      1. What is it with Iceland, the long dark winters?  That country has less population than a middle-sized city, and look at all the bands that come out of there, starting with The Sugarcubes.  I guess they avoid staring at the darkness by drinking, screwing and/or forming a band!  Oh, and reading, Icelanders are the most literate population in the world.
        They’re also among the world’s happiest, so they must be doing something right.

    41. The thing with the Serbian entry is in the actual lyrics, not the melody and/or performance itself. Had they bothered to write the song in proper English and sing it as well, it probably would have won.

    42. The 6 Russian Babushki singing Europop around the revolving crematorium should have won.

    43. My nation always took great pride in taking the last or second last place in this musical atrocity. Then the Hard Rock Hallelujah atrocity was committed by Lordi.

    44. Worst thing about European travel!  Hearing all those gawdawful pop songs everywhere you go. Summer of 1999  I must have heard that,  “Little bit of Monica”  over twenty times in one day.. Other than that, Europe’s great !

    45. A repatriated Yank here…

      Well, I’m bound to get clobbered with lots of Euro-Chips-On-The-Shoulders for this but I lived and worked in Sweden for several years, and in addition to the utterly wretched sounds of “dansband” progammes, the Swedes loved to watch the televised competitions to determine who would represent good old Svenska in the Eurovision contest.

      It was morbidly fascinating, like a farcial parody of the most garish and vapid American “entertainment” stereotypes. American Idol seems almost classy in comparison.  I didn’t imagine that things could get even trashier…until I witnessed the Eurovision extravaganza.  I was pleasantly surprised to learn that ABBA and Riverdance emerged from the Eurovision competition. Judging by what I’ve seen, things have wandered pretty far afield since then.

      There’s a reason why Americans don’t know or care much for the Eurovision programme: we’ve got more than our share on cultural inanities to make fun of here in the good old USA.

    46. As a displaced American in Amsterdam, I have grown to really, really love the Eurovision as a great night out.  It makes my May, I really get so into it.  Next year, play along with these rules: http://www.aleth.talktalk.net/eurosong.html

    47. I’ve watched Eurovision every year since Ukraine won in 2004 (I was living in Kyiv at the time). Since coming back to the US, I’ve hosted a party here in Nebraska. All of my fellow Americans I’ve introduced to the contest love it, and they tend to come back every year for the party. Since we can’t vote for real, we hold our own internal vote for our favorite songs, with each of us giving huit, dix and douze points to different acts. Unfortunately, a win in our vote usually predicts a dismal showing in the real vote. For the last two years, Denmark has won our vote with songs that wouldn’t sound out of place on our playlists, but have done very poorly with their co-continentals. We were pretty glad Loreen won though, she at least was in our top three. 

      Taste has a lot to do with the winner, but so does marketing. The countries that choose their entry early and go on an aggressive trans-continetal concert tour tend to do better. With winners like Lena, Dima Bilan and Loreen this year, the winning songs have already topped the charts in several countries. I think when we hear songs several times, we build a familiarity that increases our enjoyment with them and creates a somewhat proprietary sense of involvement with the song and the singer. Even with songs we started out hating, it’s amazing how we can warm to them over time, to the point of getting them stuck in our heads on repeat. You could almost call it a “cultural Stockholm syndrome” as we slowly start thinking, “Hey, this isn’t so bad.” I actually think the five countries that get to go straight though to the finals (Britain, Germany, France, Italy and Spain) have a disadvantage since people haven’t seen them perform already. 

      That brings me to a slight nitpick: this year 43 countries (not 26) competed. The “big five” and last year’s winner go straight to the finals. The other countries compete in two semifinals to choose the remaining 20 for the final competition. 

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