Eurovision 2014

eurovisionwinnerThis was one of the best finals of The Eurovision Song Contest for a long time. I even liked the introduction video postcards this year, which usually bore me senseless. They had quite a good idea this time, getting the finalists to create an image of their country’s flag. Some used well known symbols of the country, such as Rubik’s cubes for Hungary, tulips for the Netherlands and for us in the UK, red London buses.

Our entrant this year was Molly, a singer-songwriter with a track called ‘Children Of The Universe’. It had a lot of praise going into the competition, but still didn’t do that well, finishing 17th overall. To be honest, I think it’s mostly because the song just wasn’t that great. OK, there was nothing wrong with it as such, but I can’t imagine many people would pick it as their favourite, especially with this year being stronger than most. The most interesting moment involving Molly in this contest wasn’t anything to do with the song, but an awkward interview with one of the presenters Lise Rønne, during which she gave Molly a Curly-Wurly cake made by Molly’s local baker, with Molly making various “WTF?!?!” faces throughout.

There was another British contestant in the final, London rapper RiskyKidd who featured on Greece’s entry, ‘Rise Up’ by Freaky Fortune. This track reminded a bit of ‘Carnival De Paris’ by Dario G or a lot of the other Euro-dance tracks that often chart during a World Cup year, but if it had been remixed by a UK rapper . The performance had a lot of “Make some noiiiiiise!” shouts to the crowd. Oh, and it had some trampolines too.

For my personal favourites this year, one I really enjoyed was Finland’s entry, a band of nice clean-cut lads called Softengine with an indie-rock track ‘Something Better ‘. The song was very elating and epic. It eventually finished in 11th place, which is Finland’s highest placing since they won with one of Eurovisions best ever winners, Lordi – ‘Hard Rock Hallelujah’ in 2006.

But my overall favourite was Romania’s entry, ‘Miracle’ by Paula Seling & Ovi, which like ‘Something Better’ was very uplifting but was more of an electro-dance track, which had a circular piano and Paula Seling’s vocals reaching for high notes. This was the second time Paula Seling & Ovi have entered. They came second in 2010 with ‘Playing With Fire’. This time they only finished 12th. I suppose it shows that I’m not quite in touch with most Eurovision voters as my two favourites this year Softengine and Paula Seling & Ovi finished 11th and 12th respectively, and that I didn’t reckon much to ‘Playing With Fire’ back in 2010. That said, the winner in that year was the time my overall favourite actually won, ‘Satellite’ by Lena for Germany.

I usually really like Iceland’s entry, and this year was no exception. It was a band called Pollapönk with a song called ‘No Prejudice’. It had a message of “wouldn’t it be nice if everyone was nice?”, specifically about a guy with a stutter saying he shouldn’t be bullied for it. The band were wearing white bow-ties and bright one-coloured suits in red, blue, yellow, pink and purple. On the internet it was a bit of a spinning roulette wheel as to which colour coded ’90s kids programme they’d be compared to, like the Teletubbies or the Power Rangers. It featured an MP from Iceland on backing vocals. Now it might not sound like it worked in theory, but it really did! The song was happy and very catchy, and the multicoloured suits, triangles, circles, squares and party balloons added to it.

France had a similar idea, but their’s didn’t work at all. TWIN TWIN – ‘Moustache’ ended up dead last in vote, and escaping membership of the dreaded “nul points” club by the skin of their teeth. One of them had Jedward hair, and another looked like Weird Al Yankovic dressed as Timmy Mallet. The song was about a guy who was upset because he couldn’t grow a moustache. I know this is Eurovision, but that’s kind of dumb and hard to get invested in whichever way you look at it. The multicoloured staging also went far over the line into colour vomit territory, meaning it was hard on the eyes as well as ‘meh’ on the ears.

Still, while it might have been the song with the fewest votes and while it might have been awful, I don’t think it was the worst. That by a long way was the Belarus entry, which was Teo with ‘Cheesecake’, and if it were a cheesecake, it would be far too heavy on the cheese and be over a decade past it’s use-by date. It had turntable scratches that were on a lot of songs circa 2002. I think it was trying to be modern in that it sounded like a knock-off of Robin Thicke’s ‘Blurred Lines’, but sounding like that song certainly didn’t help it look less sleazy.

Germany’s entry (Elaiza with ‘Is It Right’) was a bit rubbish too, and looked a bit thrown together in a “will this do?” sort of way. One girl with an accordion, one with a double bass, and a singer who could have been plucked out any random karaoke bar.

You can always rely on Eurovision for some interesting staging and backing performers. Poland’s entry, Donatan & Cleo with ‘My Slowianie – We Are Slavic’ was very bawdy, with busty women seductively working butter churns and washboards. It wouldn’t look out of place in a Carry On film or a ’60s seaside saucy postcard. Italy’s entry was singer named Emma with an angry rock-ish track called ‘La Mia Città’, and the performance looked like a Roman themed Vegas casino. Ukraine’s entry, ‘Tick-Tock’ by Mariya Yaremchuk had her dressed as some kind of half-Catwoman half-Vampira outfit, and featured a guy in a giant hamster wheel.

Those three entries were all quite good, but this year we had some boring ballads where the staging seemed to be there to distract from how dull the song was. Azerbaijan (Dilara Kazimova with ‘Start A Fire’) had a red dress and a trapeze, Montenegro (Sergej Cetkovic with ‘Moj Svijet’) had an ice skater, and Slovenia (Tinkara Kovac with ‘Round and Round’)
had… a flute.

While it was a decent year, there were a bit too many bland ballads. As nice as it was for as small a country as San Marino to make it to the final, and it being third time lucky for their singer Valentina Monetta, the song ‘Maybe’ was hard to care about. Norway’s entry, Carl Espen – ‘Silent Storm’, could easily be an X Factor winner’s song, especially with Carl Espen being an ordinary bloke with no professional singing experience who only auditioned to go into the contest because a relative thought he had a good voice.

Speaking of The X Factor, the final had a former contestant from UK X Factor this year, Ruth Lorenzo who finished 5th place in the fifth series. Here in Eurovision she was representing her native country Spain. Now Ruth Lorenzo is my all-time favourite X Factor contestant, so I was looking forward to her representing Spain, and I’m pleased she managed to finish in the top ten but unfortunately I didn’t like the track, ‘Dancing in the Rain’, much. It was just another addition the boring ballad pile. The best of that pile was Sweden’s entry, ‘Undo’ by Sanna Nielsen, which was at least sweet.

The acts seemed more like they had been paying attention to modern chart music as opposed to the usual state of affairs where they are just trying to sound like the act which won the previous year. We had some dubstep, from Armenia (Aram MP3 with ‘Not Alone’) which was a favourite in the bookies odds and finished third, but frankly I think Hungary’s entry ‘Running’ did dubstep way better, and the singer András Kállay-Saunders certainly had a better voice. Host country Denmark’s entry ‘Cliche Love Song’ by Basim wasn’t bad, and could easily have been a Bruno Mars hit, and the Netherlands with ‘Calm After the Storm’ by The Common Linnets did a song which sounded very like US country and western act Lady Antebellum, and it turned out to be surprisingly (and, in my opinion, bafflingly) popular in the final vote, finishing as runner-up.

We had two acts that seemed to be going for a Mumford & Sons vibe. The first was Switzerland’s entry, Sebalter with ‘Hunter of Stars’, and was probably the better of the two. It was more lively, and on a shallow note Sebalter was very handsome. The second was from Malta, a folky band called Firelight with ‘Coming Home’, which was OK, but definitely seemed more like a tribute band.

The winning song was Austria’s ‘Rise Like A Phoenix’, and sounded very like ‘Skyfall’ by Adele and many other James Bond film themes. But while it is a decent song , it was the performer, Conchita Wurst that sold it.

With hindsight her win was obvious. Before the final the most talked about contestant was “the bearded lady”, though she is actually a drag queen, the alter-ego of Thomas Neuwirth. Conchita Wurst is a good singer, and I think the reason the song won was because of how moving her performance was. A lot of the people connected emotionally to it, and the lyrics talking about a Phoenix rising from the ashes seem to fit well with Conchita, going through times so tough you burn out only to rise from it more powerful and striking than ever. I really liked that Ruth Lorenzo hugged Conchita after her victory. Apparently they are very good friends, and might collaborate on a song in the future.

There was some noticeable political feeling in this year’s Eurovision. With many of Russia’s current policies, such as their government’s homophobic attitude towards LGBT people and their recent invasion of Ukraine, you can see why they aren’t exactly the most popular country at the moment. You have to feel a bit sorry for Russia’s entrants really, which were two 17 year old twin girls, The Tolmachevy Sisters. They didn’t get booed much in their performance, and their song ‘Shine’ wasn’t bad, but when it came to the vote the audience loudly booed every time Russia got high points, and when Russia themselves were announcing their votes. There have been underlying political tensions in Eurovision before, but it’s rare that it’s been this obvious.

Many have seen Conchita’s win as, in its own way, a good sign for gay and transgender rights, especially as she got high public votes from all the countries, including the more conservative ones. It was heartwarming that so many people in so many countries rooted for her, and it became even more so when Conchita said in her winning speech “This night is dedicated to everyone who believes in a future of peace and freedom. You know who you are, we are unity and we are unstoppable”.

Denmark can be proud of themselves for setting up a good show. Not everything worked. The interval performance which was just people climbing up ladders, and a song about the 12 points score and presenter Pilou Asbæk doing an unfunny all night running joke about references to China. I know they need filler material to show while they are counting up the votes, but still. It was great to see Emmelie de Forest , last year’s winner for Denmark performing ‘Only Teardrops’ again though. I still listen to that song a lot on my iPod, and she performed a new song ‘Rainmaker’ which was written especially for the contest and to go with the whole “#JoinUs” countries coming together theme. As all 26 finalists came on the join in it has the distinction of being the first time all entrants have performed on stage together.

Eurovision does seem to be becoming even more international, with other continents liking it. It has long had a following in Australia, and thanks to the internet it is beginning to have fans in Asia and in North America. This televised contest also achieved high viewing figures in the UK this year. With a generally good set of finalists, an inspiring winner, political tension in the background and Denmark doing a fantastic job hosting it, it is definitely one of the best years I’ve seen of Eurovision, and I think it’ll be a bit of a challenge for Austria hosting the 50th edition next year to top it, but for now it’s a good set up for that.

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