Once again the Eurovision Song Contest has come and gone, and left bewilderment in its wake. With The Lovely Jo off with university friends camping in Wales, of all things, I had no alternative but to watch it. That's my excuse, anyway. Much more cheese but far fewer fatalities than its gangsta rap equivalent, the Eurovizzle Song Shenizzle. (Incidentally, that's pronounced "chenille" - this is the reason why so many interior designers are killed in drive-by shootings. It's all a terrible misunderstanding.)
I took field notes of the specimens on display, so that the final result wouldn't come as a complete surprise. Naturally it still did. First, let it pass that the presenters were bad. The presenters are always bad. The pink fairy third presenter was very, very, very, extremely, horrifically bad, but let that pass too. Soon your mind will scab over the mental wounds, as mine is already beginning to do. Highly amusing film inserts - full marks to Finland for these. My, there are quite a few goths in Finland, aren't there?
Final thing to say at the outset: after last year's leftfield win by a horror-themed hard rock band - Eurovision's all-time high point, in my opinion - it was to be expected that there'd be a few attempts to tap into that winning vibe this year. (Even the interval act seemed determined to cash in, presenting the customary acrobats and so on but with a very hard-rocking trio of long-haired, head-banging cellists and a phalanx of "alternative culture" fire jugglers. Made the Cirque du Soleil look like the Cirque d'Alan Bennett, I can tell you.) Although the imitators wouldn't go so far as to have Satan on guitar and the Mummy on keyboards, settling instead for a generic gothy-ish-esque female lead and a slightly heavier bass line. Anyway, here were my thoughts on the contest as it unfolded:
Bosnia-Herzegovina. Unless I've lost my touch at second-guessing Eastern European languages based on Russian (the overlap must be close to 90%, surely), the song's title translates as "River Without a Name". The choreography sees four water-nymphs swaying a bit while the singer duets with a lutenist from the French Foreign Legion. A bit limp, but inoffensive.
Spain. Oh, it's Los Bambinos Backstreet. Hack shit. Is there a key change? Of course there is. Can the band sing in the higher key? Of course they can't.
Belarus. Sung in English. It's some kind of musical arrangement of a David Copperfield show. Somewhat bizarre. The singer's voice is... regrettable.
Ireland. Oh begorrah, we're just lovable simple cheery rustic Oirish folk, so we are, to be sure. Rather nasal voice on the singer. Poor effort.
Finland. Sung in English. Looks like Elvira, albeit more tastefully dressed. This'll be an attempt to ride the coattails of last year's winner, then. Although it is actually a pretty good alternative pop/rock number.
FYR Macedonia. Points for singing predominantly in their own language. Sadly all I could make out was a chorus of "Niner niner niner, niner niner niner". Passable.
Slovenia. See Finland. Elvira again, but with an interesting new operatic angle. I have to admit I like it. Damn, so far the only ones I like are the half-hearted female goth acts. Not sure what/how/if this reflects on me at all.
Hungary. Sung in English. Hey, a blues song! Points for this novelty. More points for not using any explosives on stage. Singer's a bit too shouty though. And what the hell is the Bus Stop sign all about?
Lithuania. Sung in English. Again, no resorting to explosives, so points here. I like it, and I like it well. Tiny female singer/guitarist in her shiny silvery jacket. Bongos and many guitars - kind of a Latin lounge flavour. Strange to see the backing band only in silhouette, until you consider that they're actually even tinier than the singer and have to be positioned way backstage, right in front of a lightbulb, just so that the audience can see them.
Greece. Sung in English. Did I hear the word "Lord-a-mercy" in the chorus? A bad Ricky Martin clone. The dancers seem to be doing some strange mix of limbo dancing and sumo stomping. Burns my ears and my eyes.
Georgia. Possibly sung in English, although it's a bit hard to tell at times. Appears to be a Georgian version of Charlotte Church with an orange permatan, backed by techno Cossacks. The song's... Bjorkish. Very Bjorkish. Not entirely horrendous.
Sweden. Sung in English. What the hell's this? Glam rock? With psychedelic back projection? Get with the picture, daddio! The lead looks like Marc Bolan, and the song sounds like everything Marc Bolan ever sang.
France. Sung in Franglais. Jolly bon, vieux chap. Is that Richard O'Brien on backing vocals? Stone me, is that Anthony Worral-Thompson on drums?! Not good in any technical sense, and yet I strangely like it...
Latvia. Sung in... Italian? Oh look, they've hired Il Divo to represent them, or so it would appear. Top hats and dress shirts all round. Verdict: hum-ho.
Russia. Sung in English. What's this, Puritan sorority rock chicks? My immediate thought: The Worst Witch meets Britney Spears. And indeed, the song sounds uncannily like "Oops I Did It Again".
Germany. Mmm, jaaaaazz club. Nnnnnice. Swing with a trumpet and a sax and everything. Yes, this is what Eurovision has been waiting for! Sounds fantastic. My surefire tip for the laurels.
Serbia. Blimey, Harry Potter's let himself go a bit. Bland in the extreme.
Ukraine. Sung in some sort of pan-European Babel. What. The feck. Was that? Good ol' Terry Wogan got straight in there with the references to Christopher Biggins, but let me just add that if you dressed Elton John as a silver Christmas tree and made him perform something by the Pet Shop Boys, it might not look unlike this. Truly, the biggest mindfeck of the evening. Dada points: over there. Musical points: nul. Unless Europe goes for the novelty vote again.
UK. Is it Steps, the Vengaboys or the opening routine from The High Life? The one who looks particularly like Alan Cumming seems to be delivering his cheap doubles entendres with unnecessary venom. He's scaring me. He really looks angry.
Romania. Sung in everyone else's language but their own. Bloody hell, there's Richard O'Brien again. A hideous patchwork mess of a song. A shambling Frankenstein's pop monster.
Bulgaria. Comes on like Dead Can Dance. Develops into something more like "Open Up" by Leftfield. And then it's percussion a-go-go. Not too shabby at all - I'd expect to see it place in the top ten, but possibly not the top five.
Turkey. Sung in English. Is that Garry Bushell? Is he singing "I'm telling you now"? It's... curiously acceptable.
Armenia. Sung in English. Enrique Iglesias sings on the set of Waiting For Godot. Woops, you've smeared chocolate on your shirt there, mate. Hard to take seriously.
Moldova. Sung in English. A violin! Wahey! Another act making a half-hearted effort to tap the gothy/rocky/Lordi vibe, although it starts to look a bit bad when the singer's black-and-white dreadlocks turn out to be a wig. Stone me, though, she can actually sing. And well.
Interesting to note that only seven of the acts from non-Anglophone countries sang predominantly in their own language. I'm a bit surprised the French act got their Franglais past the censors, to be honest - the Academie Francaise used to be a bit draconian about this sort of thing. But anyway.
My predicted top five: Germany, Lithuania, Slovenia, Finland, Moldova. The actual top five: Serbia, Ukraine, Russia, Turkey, Bulgaria. How did Germany not even appear in the top five, with such clear talent? How did they end up 19th?! How did the vote go to Serbia's bland Harry Potter? It does seem as though the accession of more Baltic states to the EU, coupled with the familiar old Eurovision block voting, is having some effect here, but even so. Germany, 19th? Indeed, not one of my predictions appeared in the top five, and of the actual five I only cared for 4th and 5th place. Dammit, I remind myself that the Brotherhood Of Man's "Save Your Kisses For Me" won this contest once, and I know that the moral victory is mine...
Edit: Astonishing follow-up news. Malta reveal that their mysterious douze points for the UK (well, I did wonder) was a protest vote. Doesn't that just make it worse, knowing that our entry's biggest supporter didn't mean it? (Still leaves us ahead of Ireland, who gave us more points than they received from the rest of Europe, but it does mean that in principle the camp Frenchmen beat our camp airline stewards.) Meanwhile, according to Paul Gambaccini, everyone else protests by not voting for the UK. I'm just not convinced about this - the UK's entries for the last few years have been bad enough to fail on their own merits, without blaming it all on politics.