The Varnished Culture had night sweats and knotted stomachs awaiting the return of the Eurovision Song Contest. On ice in 2020 due to something or other, we had only Will Ferrell’s lovely tribute to sustain us for a year. Even now, Covid’s ugly head reared and “prevented” the Australian contingent from attending Rotterdam in person. This perhaps caused Australia’s offering, “Technicolour” by Montaigne, to fall at the semi-final stage, which is patently unfair and unjust. Still, Eurovision is the byword for dazzling, iridescent mediocrity, so there we are.
Our points system, you’ll recall, rates each song on ‘real world merit,’ (now out of 5 points) but has a separate scoring Euro Points System, given for ‘Eurrovisionness’; in particular, Dry Ice, Contortionists, Bad Dancing, Any item of Clothing being Torn Away, Dwarves, Angel Wings or Mock Flying, Clowns, Piano as Furniture, Bearded Ladies and Puffs of Smoke. We have mutated these to a maximum score of 5 for general Eurovisionness.
And the TVC jury declares:
A competent singer in a beaded leotard. A dull start. No points for anything.
A vast, caterwauling Albanian in another bespangled leotard. “I scream silently”, she bawled. 1 Euro point for awful background effects but 0 for the song
It was difficult to tell if the singer’s loopy headdress was made from her hair or recycled tyres. It was difficult to tell what the dancers had in mind. There was a dress rip off, which revealed the skinniest frame ever seen on the Eurovision stage, and the highest note ever heard on Eurovision was hit, so there’s 1 Euro point for all that and again, 0 for the song.
Following the UK’s exit from Brussels, Belgian singers have forgotten how to pronounce English words in a comprehensible manner. All the hairdressers have fled and the people are bedecked in dreary 1960’s dresses and boots. All black. Like the song. Only Belgians could base their band brand on a domestic appliance. ‘Hooverphonic’ were what they sang: “You’re in the wrong place.”
This time the immense peasant grandma dress was stepped out of, not torn off or worn throughout for comic effect. The song had a beat, of sorts, and was something ‘messagey’, sung by a woman in a headscarf and red boilersuit. Truly. So at last we can award 3 Europoints but still 0 for the song.
At least the vast caterwauling Malteser had attitude and a voice. Her bespangled dress, boots, poppy 1990’s retro number, hot pink dancers and raining fire effects have earned her 1 Euro point and 1 for the song.
Finally a great song. A black and white start. A black and white palette. An intriguing guy singing like Randy Newman – but well. Weird and sophisticated. Cool, except for some distracting video for which they get 1 Europoint. 5 for the song.
Horrible. A Cher and two Beyonces in long wigs and way too much Botox energetically and pointlessly wiggling their way through some nonsense. “I’m cute and nice“, they warbled. Whoever told you that? Nothing for the song. 1 Euro for the sheer Eurovision horror factor.
UNITED KINGDOM[TRIGGER WARNING: “Pas de points”]
The UK’s automatic qualification seems to induce more torpor in their contenders each year. 2021’s loser was a cheery fat guy pathetically intoning something boppy while under threat from huge suspended trumpets. 1 Euro for the dancers “playing” saxophones. 0 for the song, as Europe also said. Is this a joke? [Bring back Engelbert, Katrina or Sandie Shaw! – Ed.]
Stefania wins our outfit of the night award. 5 fashion points for the purple, skin-hugging thing with detached gloves and attached boots. The dull song deserves yet another 0 points but we award 5 Euros for the green-screen effects which rendered the dancers almost, and the stairs entirely, invisible (why?) and she winked. Twice. [The wink is Greek for “Put 300,000 bitcoin on Italy – Ed.]
The Swiss entry was one of those acts which only the Europeans could love, and they did. A stumpy Split Enz manqué belted out A Big Ballad while parked on some huge white angular things. Think Plastic Bertrand gone serious, perched on the H of the Hollywood sign, backlit by a lot of flashlights. 4 for Euro peculiarity. 1 for the song because millions of Europeans can’t be wrong.
Due to the COVID positive status of one of the band members, Daði og Gagnamagnið were permitted to show their rehearsal recording. But that doesn’t excuse this deeply distressing novelty act. It could not have been worse ‘live’. Would-be nerds imitating The Wiggles on a Tiny Towers set. Every member was trying as hard as possible to look cheerful and ugly – although this did have the side benefit of meaning that at least the women were dressed. One even wore glasses! It was hard to determine if there was a song in there somewhere, blind-sided as we were by the pixilated green jumpers. The round keyboard played by three people who stood INSIDE the ring of magic was true Eurovision, as was the whole hideous concoction, really. 5 Euros and guess what for the song? [Evokes nightmarish flashbacks to ‘Accidentally Kelly Street.’ – Ed.]
At last a handsome (by Eurovision standards) guy with high black hair, shiny black clothes, a good voice and lots of appealing (by Eurovision standards) reaching to the camera. The achy-breaky breathy song is another nil pointer. But Blas Cantó gets 1 Euro for not being frightened off by the huge constipated moon balloon.
We give this smug woman in a glittery silver leotard (we think she borrowed it from Cyprus) 1 point for a bearable song. 1 Euro for sitting on her male dancers before they began their inexplicable twisting about.
Germany, we are disappointed in you. And that’s not something you hear often. We would award negative points if we could, or require some sort of reparation, perhaps. A camp guy in a pink jacket, backed by Mondrian-styled dancers ‘playing’ instruments (except for the one in a hilarious giant hand costume) cavorted about, playing the ukulele, telling us that he doesn’t feel hate. We do. What would have been genuine and amusing in 1971 was turgid and cynical in 2021. Like an advanced form of AI, The Eurovision Song Contest may be self-aware, but the individual components must not be.
Blind Channel divided the TVC jury. One cohort found this metal entry from the land of Loki (“Dark Side”) refreshing and tight. The other thought it an outdated Red Hot Chilli Peppers copy. Either way, Finland’s 53rd Eurovision entry was different and carefully grungy, right down to the plain, plain tunics. The head-banging TVC voters gave 3 for the song and 1 Euro for love of the old-fashioned. [They’re not ‘Lordi’ (2006) – Ed.]
At least this red-headed cutie was wearing clothes, if that’s what you call grey pyjamas and desert boots. The staging was unusually thoughtful, a rock to sit on in a lake on an alien world while warbling like Bjork. This was another song that only Europeans can, and do, really like. But it grew on the TVC jury, as all sentimental, soulful, messy and dull things do and we gave it 2. 2 Euros as well for discovering Bjork’s home planet.
The laughably awful ‘Discoteque’ team wore yellow for ‘positivity’. (We thought positivity was Iceland’s problem). The neon yellow outfits were hilariously oversized to ensure that no reviewer could forget to use the word ‘zany’. Somehow these crazy guys managed to sing while dancing the 4-step and being zany. Nothing for the song, 4 Euros though. These people were kitsch, but real, Germany.
One of the actually good performances, if strange. A scary Trinity (The Matrix) wearing a fabulous green fringey bolero over her cyber leathers seemed rooted to the floor by dead trees while dancers played around her with Nintendo ring-fits. There was an eco-message, chanting and a flute. That’s a full 5 Euros right there. Someone ought to check if the Eurovision lyric sub-titlers are having a laugh. In this number we read “weave a cover of periwinkles” quite a few times and “an owl blows upon the water” (Can owls blow?). Anyway, it was a great song, even in the real world – 4 points.
Again, only a song that Europeans could and did love. The French entry was, as always, boring, touching and yearning. With short, dark, curls and wearing austere black (but not in a good way) our pale-skinned chanteuse released a flock of electronic sparrows, just in case we had missed the reference. She moved from pleading torch-song into a shouty circus broken-heartedness and we gave her no points. Not even for the dry ice. [Piaf is whirling in her tomb – Ed.]
These girls have been assiduously practising their Ariana Grande pony-tail spinning in their bedrooms. It’s a shame that there was no back-view mirror there when they first laced themselves into their complicated cut-out leotards, garters and gloves. Wobbling bum-fat is so not Eurovision. “Mata Hari! Mata Hari!” they shouted amid some confused Arabic-Hindi sounds. Not even a Euro point, ladies.
One of the few worthy entries. TIX, so-called because of his constant eye-twitching (demonstrated for a few seconds when he took his dark glasses off) gave a measured and sophisticated soft pop performance dressed in all-white, including wings. The dancers, of course, had black wings. TIX’s voice, reminiscent of Gilbert O’Sullivan’s is good, but not strong. The whole thing was very Eurovision – 5 Euros; but impressive, nevertheless, 4 for the song.
O dear. As with United Kingdom, automatic entry can result in indifference. The host nation’s African-influenced, super-funky, ghetto-cool song and dance was all over the place. And nonsensical. “I’m half a cent. You can’t break me“. Is it those fun-seeking translators again? No? Well, then, not even half a song point for you, Netherlands. 1 Euro for bringing us the sole contortionist of the evening.
No spoilers here, by now. Italy’s glam-rock, marshmallow-metal Måneskin won. Reminding us of the 1980s high school band put together by the bad boys (+ 1 tomboy) of the town, they pounded out such parent-baiting lyrics as, “Sorry Mum if I’m always out, but I’m out of my mind” and the teenager’s lament, “I’m out of my mind, but different from them“.1 Euro for a strobe, wearing a tie on a bare chest and the laced burgundy leather-look. The sole female member tried to show off her great sleeves by jumping up and down and adding a few high kicks. As if she had sniffed something. [Careful, now – Visage and Ultravox weren’t into the nose powder, so why should Foreskin?…or whatever they’re called – you haven’t heard the last of them! Ed.]
Thankfully, the only nod to ‘gender-fluidity’ of the show. An excellent entry. The singer, resplendent in a sleek red and black silk suit with silver bling bling bling, appeared. Followed by a large choir in black. There was nothing strained about it all. 1 Euro for – well, bling and 3 for the song.
Another contrived try-hard, beginning with the singer’s awful Aztec costume and not improved by the fluffy Cossack outfits and 80’s harem-pants of the dancers. The singer wore her three-ton Chaka Khan wig very carefully indeed and the dancers did some acrobatics. Then a wrestler-rapper appeared. A top Eurovision effort – 5 points, and 0 for the incomprehensible rest of it. But it was genuine – are you listening, Germany?
EDITOR’S BRIEF NOD TO TERRY WOGAN:
The Eurovision “Voting System,” neither a system nor a counting of votes, is not to be taken seriously. It combines the worst features of the United Nations and some of the dodgier electoral booths in Atlanta, Georgia or the South side of Chicago. Some countries get in automatically; ‘expert panels’ generally set the top ten, neighbour countries vote for or against their neighbours [when did Cyprus cast their 12 votes for a country not called ‘Greece’ ?] and televotes see the lucky – “luck” being the operative, albeit ironic, word – act win the prize. Anonymous, multiple, tactical televotes – what could go wrong? Donald Trump could say. (For amateur psephologists, see this link https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voting_at_the_Eurovision_Song_Contest.]