Well, there went Eurovision again. As ever, the presenters were bad, although (with the possible exception of the Serbian Bradley Walsh in the green room) not as bad as last year's. As ever, the previous year's winner informed the style of several of this year's contenders, but consider what that means: 2006, Lordi win, 2007, lots of attempted goth rock knock-offs; 2007, a bland ballad wins, 2008, lots of bland ballads. As if Eurovision weren't full enough of them already. Overall this year's contest was but a pale shadow of last year's.
So the show opened with Serbia's Harry Potter impersonator reprising her winning song from last year, but this time with the added twist that she kept removing layers of someone else's clothing while she sang it. Meanwhile a phalanx of stripping brides danced behind her in what sadly turned out to be one of the most avant garde performances of the evening. All this on a stage that looked strangely like a diagram of the human bladder. (Or the womb, but no, I think perhaps the bladder is a more appropriate organ.) On with the show. As with last year's show, I took field notes and present them here for your perusal.
Romania. The male singer seeks out the camera with the predatory gaze of a snake preparing to strike. The female singer's voice is... hard to ignore. They're both pretty flat. The key change scores +2 damage.
United Kingdom. What's happened here? It's a good entry! We've fielded a good Eurovision entry! But... but how?! Looks like the bassist is on happy pills. Then again he could just be fired with euphoria at the startling fact that we've fielded a good entry! What a shocker.
Albania. A relatively subdued number. Or perhaps "restrained" is the word I'm looking for. No key change, no pyrotechnics, no excessive cleavage - in fact, the only gratuitous element is the wind effect in the singer's hair. (But where are the hidden fans?)
Germany. Sung (I use the word advisedly) in English. Wouch. (Because sometimes, neither "wow" nor "ouch" are quite strong enough for the job.) Four unconvincing trannies, and not a single one of them could stay in tune with any of the others or the music. We're reasonably sure one of them was actually a set of bagpipes in a wig. At the end someone kindly set off ground flares in an effort to hide them from view, but too late, too late. There could have been key changes throughout this one and we'd never even know.
Armenia. Half sung in English, in the traditional one-verse-on-one-verse-off format. A graduate from the Shouty School of Singing and three convulsives, the poor unfortunates being put to work as her dancers. She's bouncy but she's off-key. Is there a child standing off-stage playing the recorder?
Bosnia & Herzegovina. What is this, brides again? Is there some unspoken theme this year? A scary schoolboy erupts from the laundry basket while Looby Loo hangs the clothes out. This number scores highly in terms of Eurovision style, but not so well as a song. Terribly, in retrospect this was the weirdest entry of the evening. Come back, last year's Ukrainian entry, all is forgiven.
Israel. Half sung in English. The entry from the only Middle Eastern country in Europe (?!) is good, very good. The guy can actually sing. It's a bit boy-band-ish, mind you, and it doesn't look as though anybody's choreographed the backing team at all. Still, a strong contender.
Finland. Ah, no prisoners from the nation that speaks Spinal Tap's language. Battle drums, attack! Gratuitous pyrotechnics throughout, but we won't hold it against this entry.
Croatia. "75 Cents"?! Is he singing (or meant to be) while the gangster sings, or is he just trying to start a conversation with the flamenco dancer? I think he's had too much to drink, either way. English translation (a rough guess): "You bloody kids, turn that noise down!" I'm as confused as 75 Cents. Like the musical wine bottles, though - good effort.
Poland. Sung in English. Is this what happens when you splice Jordan with Bonnie Tyler? Quite a lot of gratuitous cleavage on display here, but it looks like it's trying to spare our blushes by heading south of the camera. Average pop song.
Iceland. Sung in English. The unexpected shift from pop into rave seems to have caused serious cameraman failure. And lighting failure towards the end. Another act that skipped the technical rehearsal, perhaps? This duet between Vanessa Feltz and Gary Barlow has failed to capture my heart.
Turkey. Appears to be Mr Morden from Babylon 5, backed by a group that sounds like Supergrass. It's good! Of course, he does have the power of the Shadows behind him, so I'd expect him to go far this evening. I just wish he'd stop staring at me like that.
Portugal. Those hidden fans are back again. Although actually, with the opera singer's dress billowing like that... Too much chorizo? Considering the operatic overtones, this song comes across as somewhat dull. The extreme key change doesn't help.
Latvia. Sung in English. Come on guys, the Pirates craze was two years ago. I can't help feeling The Mighty Boosh have secretly fielded this entry - "Future sailors, we're future sailors..." Look at those cheap hire costumes - we've got that exact same plastic cutlass! On the face of it this ought to score highly for Eurovision style, but as it's sung in English and has an ill-advised key change and features pyrotechnics and cleavage, we must mark it down, down to Davy Jones' locker.
Sweden. Sung in English, or a close approximation. Now there's a woman who's had too much plastic surgery. Note the robbery of classic pop lyrics ("Staying alive" et al) - tsk. Deserves a point for the arty monochrome opening, but we must dock that point straight off again for the key change.
Denmark. Sung in English. What's with the cheeky chirpy Cockney costume? Note again the robbery of classic pop lyrics ("Celebrate good times, come on"). Average.
Georgia. Sung in English. Wins the award for outstanding costume change of the evening. "Now that's magic!"
Ukraine. Sung in English. What's with the giant mirror wall? Will Muppets appear over the top halfway through the song? (Well, in a manner of speaking...) Tolerable pop, but alas, no vestige of the weirdness of last year's entry.
France. Sung mostly in English. Now, last year I commented on this issue of English lyrics in French songs, but this year it actually got mentioned in the news. I'm glad the French let this one through, though. Those BeeGee beards, even on the woman... the golf cart... the helium... that's not Euro-weirdness, they're trying! They're being wilfully odd! But even without the oddness, it's still quite a good entry.
Azerbaijan. Sung in English. Pure hilarity. If you remember one image from this year's contest, try not to let it be the bloke wearing angel wings singing falsetto. The devil character's costume change might, we suspect, have looked quite nifty if the cameraman hadn't ruined it by nipping round the back and making it look clumsy.
Greece. Sung in English. Bland pop from some young woman in her nightie. What's with the Birdie Song dance in the middle? And the set dressing is rubbish.
Spain. Half sung in English. Lovely start with the child's musical toy. Thereafter Rapping Rolf Harris' act goes downhill. There's one really rubbish dancer - surely that must be deliberate? Surely they must have choreographed her to be rubbish? Or is it all down to pre-show hospitality?
Serbia. Once again, a bland ballad. Who else heard the percussion from Chariots of Fire? This isn't too bad, apart from one or two bum notes.
Russia. Sung in English. Oh my, it's the Russian Peter Andre (or Pyotr Andrei, as we shall henceforth call him). Looks like the Moscow Mafia have done his kneecaps - oh no, there, up he gets. Apparently belief is symbolised by a bloke on roller skates. This one's the bookie's favourite and Terry Wogan's winning tip, but come on, surely they won't go for this?
Norway. Sung in English. At last, this year's "Ooh" song (there had to be one). Rather ordinary, to put it mildly. Still, they can at least sing - well, until the last note (oof).
A less appetising selection than last year's, with noticeably fewer weird/joke entries (shame!). Once again, only a third of the non-English entrants fielded English-free songs (shame!). My personal top five: Turkey, Finland, France, Israel, and oh, what the hell, the UK! Actual top five: Russia (bah!), Ukraine, Greece, Armenia, Norway. Not one song that I'd consider better than average. No surprise there - we've established before that I can't predict Eurovision winners. But the real shocker was the UK finishing last. (At least it wasn't nul points...) Equal last with the German entry - that's just insulting. Surely, even allowing for the institutional political voting, we should have scored more highly than that?