Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Do the Continental

Year after year, the British public are fed the same tired, slightly xenophobic line about the Eurovision Song Contest: we’re far too sophisticated to treat something so ridiculous with any respect but Johnny Foreigner clearly laps this rubbish up. We’re the land of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, how could we possibly enjoy this carnival of the grotesque. It’s probably what daytime radio sounds like in Eastern Europe anyway!

If we do watch the show, it must be with a knowing, ironic detachment. We celebrate the kitsch aspect by hosting themed, fancy dress parties and the whole event is treated with as the most snobbish phrase in the English language: “a guilty pleasure.”

It’s baffling why we’re not allowed to enjoy Eurovision for the spectacle it is. After all, the UK has a rich tradition of talent shows and end-of-the-pier entertainment, and a population which laps up The X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent.

That said, my sub-three hour stint in front of the finest music in Europe didn’t get off to a great start. The interaction between the hosts is never the high point and this year was no exception. It’s never easy to keep the funnies going in at least two languages, but some of the material was fist-bitingly bad. It was the same story when we were taken round the continent for the scores; forced bonhomie with each nation’s representative is very wearing, but forty-three countries later, my eyelids felt weighted down with bags of sugar.

However, when it came to the music, it was fast-paced, slick, professional, and there really was something for everyone. You’d struggle to find a radio station producingso much variety across two hours. Sure, there was the rubbish your prejudices expected: the Italian entry was pitched at the terrifying point where Harry Connick Jr. and Jamie Cullum meet; Georgia appears to have fully embraced nu-metal a decade after the rest of the world and Azerbaijan’s song was so bland, I forgot how it went halfway through. It still emerged victorious at the night’s climax.

Yet amongst the chaff, we had Moldova’s wonderfully bizarre performance featuring musicians with giant conical hats and a unicyclist. There was a French tenor singing in Corsican. We watched a retro girl-group chic from Serbia and a Ukrainian vocalist accompanied by a live sand artist (though, as Caitlin Moran correctly pointed out on Twitter, she’d have been in trouble had she sneezed). We even saw, er… Jedward!

Jedward genuinely are a curio. While decades of research may suggest identical twins have an almost telepathic connection due to their genetic and environmental similarities, Jedward display all the coordination of two drunks who have never met. Nevertheless they turned in the most entertaining performance of the show, aided in no small part by an extremely strong song, ‘Lipstick’ - a cross between early Depeche Mode and latter-day Take That.

Possibly because of poor results in recent years, the UK selection committee decided to put a bit more thought into our own representatives. Blue may be more famous for displaying their staggering ignorance in interviews than their pop stylings, but they were extremely popular in their heyday and undertook an extensive promotional tour across Europe before the weekend’s festivities. Their song was one of the better efforts too; a sleek, toe-tapping slice of contemporary R&B. Treating Eurovision with a bit more respect paid some dividends – Blue finished eleventh with a century of points, a far cry from the measly dix points of last year.

Of course Eurovision has its faults. While trying so hard to appeal to the largest possible demographic, it can end up throwing its faux jollity in your face. However, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be seen in the UK as it is viewed by the rest of Europe: accomplished primetime entertainment. It might be counter-intuitive, but the more seriously you treat Eurovision, the more fun it becomes.

No comments: