Category Archives: Music

Eurovision Song Contest 2016: Politics, comedy and a man in a hamster wheel

Sod the haters. The 2016 Eurovision Song Contest was actually pretty good. The Swedes were, as ever, superb hosts, there was passable comedy throughout, and the new voting system made for a genuinely exciting climax – even if the final outcome did leave a bad taste.

After three and a half relatively short hours, it was revealed – with a new voting system that split the jury and public votes – that Ukraine had pipped Australia to the post, overturning a huge deficit thanks to the popular vote – not that it didn’t go without controversy.

No politics we were told. “Come Together” they preached. Thus, why were Ukraine allowed a three-minute slot to deliver an obvious message to Russia? Jamala’s winning effort sung of the Soviet Union’s deportation of Crimean Tatars in ‘1944’, which was also the song’s title.

Officials allowed it since it was historical, not political. But two years after Russia’s annexing of Crimea. Come on, really?  It was heartfelt, passionate and all the rest of it, but its intentions were clear – previous songs have been denied entry for less. This was not Eurovision’s finest hour.

Russia is not liked here, but is tolerated (just about). However, one wonders whether they will be welcome in Ukraine a year from now. The nation is also desperate to win again. The bookies’ favourites relied on a catchy – albeit unoriginal – track with magnificent visual effects. It ended up third, behind Ukraine and Australia.

So, what to make of the Aussies, Eurovision’s unlikely insurgents? Dami Im’s ‘Sound of Silence’ was the jury’s pick by a mile, but came up a long way short in the popular vote. Perhaps the good folk of Europe disapprove of Australia’s involvement, or maybe the contest was always ordained to stick one to Russia. Should they come back again? I don’t see why not, but part of me was glad they didn’t win it. It might be time for them to go and start their own contest closer to home.

Scandinavia has pretty much owned the event lately, with Finland, Norway, Denmark and Sweden (twice) hosting in the past decade, with the last-mentioned proving themselves to be the doyens of Eurovision. In the legitimately funny and ever-popular PETRA MEDE, along with the affable Måns Zelmerlöw, the show had presenters who didn’t look like they’d be hung, drawn and quartered if they put a foot wrong.

The half-time act was littered with brilliance: we were whisked back to ABBA and the glory days, greeted with Eurovision darling (Cockney accent required) Lynda Woodruff and treated to a smorgasbord of the contest’s good, bad and excellent in Petra and Måns’ ultimate Eurovision mashup, ‘Love Love Peace Peace’, which executed parody perfectly. Lordi, the Russian grannies, Alexander Rybak all turned up for cameos.  Oh, and Justin Timberlake made an appearance too.

As for the United Kingdom, the less said the better. We are simply out of ideas. The jury gave us more love than we’ve become accustomed to (Malta awarded us 12!), but the televote just consolidated the known fact that Europe bloody loathes us. ‘Joe and Jake’ did what they could, but our trial with generic pop was shunned.

Now 19 years bereft of top spot, it is high time we took it really, really seriously or give up and go back to sending trash – our “proper” attempts in recent years have reflected an ungodly neediness.

But while the UK isn’t going to be staging Europe’s biggest party any time soon, Sweden showed for the second time in four Eurovisions that it’s in safe and competent hands.

Yes, it was cheesy, and there were plenty of “in” jokes, that would have befuddled those who don’t have the shameless tag of being a ‘Eurovision addict’. But in an era where the contest has developed a reputation for being a joke, to turn it on its head and embrace that was a stroke of genius.

Eurovision is something I usually love to hate, and that feeling will probably return in Kiev(?) next year. But credit where it’s due. Stockholm 2016 was fun, fresh and paid homage to what Eurovision has become. Can Sweden have it every year?

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Eurovision Song Contest 2016: Revelling in the Farce

Watching the Eurovision Song Contest these days tends to be a masochistic experience. Lacking class, respect and even a couple of night-redeeming songs, it’s hard to believe that the graceful Katie Boyle hosted this contest in its infancy.

But on we plod – some of us have nothing better to do on a Saturday night – to another year, safe in the knowledge that even if the music’s crap, our eastern European geography will get a much-needed brush up. Nice and easy this year. Stockholm… Sweden.

So what’s to enjoy in 2016? Not that much in all honesty. The usually trusty Scandinavians took a battering in the semi-finals, leaving only Sweden to carry the flag in Saturday’s Grand Final. The trashy Europop that normally floods the show – providing multiple chances to sneer – is notable in its absence. Even the Greeks have shied away from sending over a bit of skirt, evidently not prepared to take even the slightest risk that they might have to host it.

Armenia, however, has followed the unwritten rules, and Iveta Mukuchyan’s risqué outfit should be enough to keep Europe’s red-blooded males until the 26th – yes, TWENTY-SIXTH – and final act of the evening.

To only enhance the farce, Australia, those adopted Europeans, probably have the best entry with Dami Im’s Sound of Silence. The bookies’, late to the news that other countries’ X Factor winners can actually sing, have slashed her odds from 20/1 to 4/1 since her semi-final performance on Thursday.

It has not gone unnoticed that the last few years have seen Eurovision become an LGBT celebration of sorts. Hence, that Russia – cue the boos – is the runaway favourite to swoop to victory adds an element of interest for those who just like to watch the world burn. Since the “anti-gay laws” coupled with the annexation of Crimea in 2014, Russia has been Eurovision’s bad boys. And for that reason alone, there would be plenty amusing about seeing the carnival rock up in Moscow a year from now.

But enough about the rest, what about the best? The nation that has sent the nil-point Jemini, a half-cut Bonnie Tyler and the frankly pathetic Scooch to compete since our last victory in 1997, has cobbled together “Joe and Jake” this year – no, I hadn’t a clue either. Both took part in BBC flop ‘The Voice’ last year, but they have a chance of doing better than many of our recent entries… look, I’m trying.

Once the initial tricking of results confirm the British entry has bombed yet again, the drunken debrief can begin. Trashy song? Bloc voting? Probably a combination of both. What about if we put a transvestite up? That worked for Austria, and Israel. Suggestions, suggestions. If only Adele would bite the bullet and prove once and for all that the rest of Europe just loathes us, we could stop pouring in megabucks and FUND OUR NHS INSTEAD!

However, while the music itself – you’re not actually here for that, are you? – will be instantly forgettable, in Sweden, we have a country that knows how to put a show on.

Thankfully for us in Blighty, the Swedes’ humour is not all that dissimilar to ours, so expect popular host Petra Mede to deliver a snigger-inducing innuendo-filled performance. An appearance from another Eurovision “favourite” (she is, in fairness, mildly entertaining), Lynda Woodruff, “spokesperson for the European Broadcasting Union” is expected, as she reprises her role from 2013, the previous time the contest came to Sweden.

A pre-warning: it’s scheduled to last three and a half hours, but expect it to go on even longer. Not that it will matter if you are suitably plastered, as is Eurovision tradition. So, how will I be getting into the spirit of things? A homemade curry – to celebrate the Indian diaspora in Europe, of course – is on the menu, which will be appropriately washed down with Germany’s finest weissbiers. Any excuse.

It’s a shambles, but it’s Europe’s shambles. There’s something still relatively charming about its awfulness – and anyway, what respectable Brit would pass up the opportunity to have a 210-minute moan? And, on the off chance that you still need a reason for Brexit, it won’t hurt to give this a try.