Friday, May 13, 2011

Guilty Pleasure: Eurovision Song Contest, 2011

UPDATE: the results of the 2011 Eurovision Song Contest are in and the recap is available here.

Eurovision 2011 Logo
Disclaimer: despite his proclamation and adoration for high art, the Blogger, like everyone else, has a guilty pleasure. His is the Eurovision Song Contest. Think of it as Martha Stewart having the occasional cheeseburger after eating healthy all week. No judgment.
Originally conceived in the mid-1950s by the European Broadcasting Union to unite a warm-torn, still-divided Europe, the Eurovision Song Contest was meant as a one-off light entertainment program. Fifty-five years after that first contest in 1956, the program has evolved into an annual international celebration of song showcasing the best Europe has to offer. It has also, in several corners of Europe, been met with much derision due to the rather, shall we say, extraordinary song choices. What may be considered hip, cool and cutting-edge in one part of Europe may be considered to be déclassé or outright vulgar. In North American urban nomenclature, one denotes this with the scathing words “Try Hard”. 

ABBA winning with "Waterloo" in 1974
Nevertheless, the Eurovision Song Contest has been indomitable and survived the Soviet invasion of Hungary, the Prague Spring of 1968, international incidents at the Olympics, Perestroika, the fall of the Iron Curtain, the formation of the EU and the rather alarming albeit mercifully temporary ubiquity of Fabio. The contest introduced the world to ABBA and showcased a teenaged Quebecois singer named Celine Dion who competed and won for Switzerland in 1988. The show has also, with the inclusion of several former Soviet republics, expanded to become more inclusive and focus less on the western part of the continent. Individual countries spend the winter months choosing their entries via popular vote, and this is undertaken with considerable seriousness and a surprisingly high degree of gravity. It is this writer’s opinion that the contest may be taken more seriously than many actual elections. In the end, the winner represents the nation to the world at large.

Russia, 2008 winner. Yes, that IS Evegeny Plushenko
"performing" with him.
Winners are chosen by the public via popular vote. This is done via text messaging and results are publicized in real time, much like a sporting event. Once votes are tallied, points are awarded by each country. Each nation’s top vote-getter is awarded 12 points, with 10 points to the second highest, and then 8 points down from to 1 for the remainder. The winner is determined by the number of points awarded per country, and not by the number of actual text messages or individual votes. Each nation reads out the top three vote-getters via satellite feed from a location with a backdrop distinct to their own country.

Armenia, 2009
The contest is presented in English, although entries may be in any language of a country’s choosing in order to showcase diversity and perhaps to encourage the transferability of a song into success on the international pop charts. This has also led to many singers with beautiful voices trill in heavily accented English that brings to mind Bela Lugosi in character as Dracula, at a drag show, dying of Tuberculosis. This has also lent the competition an air of cheesiness, and many strong vocal talents (particularly in the UK) have been mocked mercilessly for even having anything to do with the competition. To put it in American pop star terms: Mandy Moore or Leann Rimes would be considered to represent the US, but if you were to ask Madonna to perform, she would squash you under her yoga-fied, hyper-muscled thumb without blinking.

As with many elections and a few seasons of American Idol, this has produced some rather questionable entries (who I will not name) that may or may not have benefited from bloc voting along bi-national alliances. The twist is that the citizens of any particular country may NOT vote for their own entry, thereby encouraging the vox populi to choose from any other nation but their own. Perhaps the Coca-Cola ad from 1972 about teaching the world to sing in perfect harmony had it right all along. Observe for instance, 2007's epic "Danzing Lasha Tumbai", performed by Ukrainian entry Verka Serduchka:
(The Blogger admits that his attempts to download this as his ringtone have failed miserably.)

Twenty-five finalists are chosen each year from all of Europe, and over 50 countries enter every year. The so-called "big five" countries that automatically earn entries into the final are the UK, France, Germany, Spain and Italy. The other twenty finalists are chosen by popular vote in two live televised semi-finals broadcast the week before the finale.

Russia's entry, Alex Sparrow. Will get more votes
than American Idol. I wonder why.
This year’s competition will held in Dusseldorf, Germany, and features a number of high-profile entries. Chief amongst these are the reformed early 2000s British band Blue, who went on hiatus in 2005 at the height of their popularity but have promised to strip naked should they win the contest. (In the same article, if they receive 0 points, they claim that they shall emigrate from the UK.) They will face stiff competition from last year’s champion, Lena of Germany, whose winning entry “Satellite” became a smash across the continent. Not to be outdone, Israel’s 1998 winner Dana International returns with “Ding Dong”, a single that has already become popular in parts of Europe. What makes Dana so distinct is that Ms. International was born Aaron and became the first transsexual or transgendered person to win the contest (enter distasteful swipe on genitalia here). Sweden’s Eric Saade looks and sounds very much like Adam Lambert and is going for a big win, perhaps to put him in the same league as ABBA. 

Arguably the most intriguing entry is the Russian delegate, Alexey Vorobyov, who name has been Anglicized to Alex Sparrow for the contest (his last name literally means “sparrow killer” in Russian, interpret that as you will). His single “Get You” is written and produced by a certain RedOne, the Grammy-winning hit-maker who produced most of Lady Gaga’s repertoire. With his backing, it appears that Russia is pulling out the stops for the big win.

Here are some of this year’s entries, which you can also view at the Eurovision Song Contest’s YouTube Channel.

Alex Vorobyov (Russia) – “Get You” 
Blue (UK) – “I Can"
Lena (Germany) – “Taken By A Stranger”
Dana International (Israel) – “Ding Dong” 

Eric Saade (Sweden) – “Popular"
And finally, Ireland's Jedward with "Lipstick". This needs no explanation.

You can also view them all on Eurovision’s official YouTube channel. The Blogger may or may not admit that he has already lost hours upon hours of his life to this.

The 2011 Eurovision Song Contest is broadcast live from Germany on Saturday, May 14 at 21:00 CET (Central European Time) on their website. There are two semifinals to pare down the more than 50 entries into a final list of 25 entrants to be showcased on the big day.