My European readers and the more worldly among the non-European readers are probably going to find this post repetitive and boring. My apologies.
Last night, my friends introduced me to Eurovision, an annual music competition among the members of the European Broadcasting Union that has been going on for over fifty years. Each country enters a musical artist (or artists, up to six) performing a previously unreleased song; citizens of the participating nations vote for their favorite songs (excluding the entry from their own country).
We watched every entry on YouTube; admittedly, we couldn't sit through most of them the whole way.
"But if these songs are supposed to represent the best the country has to offer, why couldn't you listen to them?"
Because these songs are designed to be palatable to as many people as possible, they end up being (for the most part) the blandest, most inoffensive, middle-of-the-road easy listening pop imaginable*. Take, for instance, Britain's entry. Remember now, this is the country that gave us the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Clash... I'm going to stop before I depress myself.
Listening to that song, all the corporate executives and government officials and marketing consultants and endless focus groups are practically a section of the orchestra. And Ms. Ewen came in 5th.
Some of the entries were pretty good. I quite liked Estonia's Urban Symphony:
My friend Ziggy was a fan of the Armenian entry, "Jan Jan" by Inga and Arnush:
There was also Gipsy.cz, the Romani rapper/superhero representing the Czech Republic:
Anyway, I was Wiki'ing furiously during this smorgasbord of mediocrity, and oh man I learned so much about Eurovision! Bullet points away!
- The song that Georgia entered, "We Don't Wanna Put In" by Stefane & 3G, was withdrawn from the contest due to the political content of the lyrics (specifically, a criticism of Vladimir Putin).
- Even more controversial: Spain had to preempt their live feed by about an hour, and had to rely on a jury to cast their votes, instead of public voting.
- Entries are allowed to be sung in any language. "This linguistic freedom led to the Belgian entry in 2003, 'Sanomi,' being sung in an entirely fictional language. In 2006 the Dutch entry, 'Amambanda,' was sung partly in English and partly in an artificial language. In 2007, Romanian participants Todomondo sang 'Liubi, Liubi, I Love You' in six different languages and in 2008, again a Belgian entry, 'O Julissi' was made in an imaginary language."
- "The most notable winning Eurovision artist whose career was directly launched into the spotlight following their win was ABBA, who won the Contest for Sweden in 1974 with their song 'Waterloo.' ABBA went on to be one of the most successful bands of their time." See, told you not all the entries are awful. Yes, I like ABBA. No, I am not a middle-aged gay man.
- "The Contest has long been perceived as politically influenced, where judges —and now televoters— allocate points based on their nation's relationship to the other countries, rather than on the musical merits of the songs. According to one study of Eurovision voting patterns, certain countries do tend to form 'clusters' or 'cliques' by frequently voting in the same way. Defenders of the Contest argue that the reason certain countries allocate disproportionately high points to others is because the people of those countries share similar musical tastes and cultures and speak similar languages, and are therefore more likely to appreciate each other's music... Another influential factor is the high proportion of expatriates living in certain countries, often due to recent political upheaval. Since residents of a country cannot vote for their own entry, countries where a large minority of the population are ethnically tied to a neighbouring country and votes for their entrant can distort the vote considerably... Following these criticisms, it was announced that juries would return to the Contest in 2009. Two systems will work together, with 50 per cent of the vote decided by the jurors and the other 50 via televoting."
- "The 'Big 4' countries (United Kingdom, France, Germany and Spain) as they are the 4 largest economic contributors to the contest, and are rewarded with automatic spots in the final." Aw c'mon you guys, that's not fair!
- "No restriction on the nationality of the performers exists, which has resulted in countries being represented by artists who are not nationals of that country. One of the most well-known winning artists, Canadian Céline Dion represented Switzerland in 1988 (It seems to be a Swiss tactic, as their 2005 performance was by Estonian group Vanilla Ninja and their 2006 performance is by the multinational group six4one with performers coming from Israel, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sweden, Malta and Portugal as well as from Switzerland)." Switzerland! Where's your national pride? You make delicious chocolate and useful pocketknives, surely you can come up with some talented musicians.
- "As of 2009, the country which has entered the longest with no wins to their name is Portugal. They started entering in 1964, and are still awaiting their first win." Now that is a shame. I thought the 2009 Portuguese entry was really good.
This is probably the longest TILfW entry ever, and there is so much more to say. What were your favorite Eurovision entries for 2009?
Oh, and for those of you who missed it and can't stand the suspense, this year's winner was Norway's Alexander Rybak, performing "Fairytale:"
* And I am aware that my own country is responsible for more than its fair share of bland, inoffensive pop. I shudder to think what the American entry would sound like; it would probably make Kelly Clarkson sound like Kate Bush.