It’s that time again. That time when Europe goes a little crazy, it’s Eurovision week. Thirty-seven nations competed in the 2014 Eurovision Song Contest held in Copenhagen, Denmark today, one of the biggest music events on the continent. Some folks may notice a resemblance to “American Idol” or “Pop Idol,” but Eurovision did it first, and has been doing it for almost six decades. Check out my thoughts on this year’s competition after the jump.
What is the Eurovision Song Contest?
Held once a year, in the nation of the previous year’s winner, Eurovision is a music and entertainment phenomenon. Between thirty and fifty nations (some had to drop out this year due to financial reasons, but curiously enough, not because of war), mostly in Europe, some from Western Asia and a few from the Middle East, enter an original song performed by an artist or group representing that nation. They are each given three minutes, with a maximum of six performers to do the song during a continent-wide live broadcast in three parts, two Semi-Finals and one Grand Final.
Currently it is the most watched program in Europe, this year pulling in more than half a billion viewers, and who knows how many more worldwide through streaming live on the internet. Now it’s broken down to three broadcasts, over the course of one week, two Semi-Finals, and a Grand Final with twenty-six participants. Eurovision is big. But big is what Eurovision is about, big, crazy, and loud.
At the end of the performances, all of the citizens of the nations involved call a special phone number to vote for the song they liked the most. The catch is you cannot vote for your own nation’s entry. This last rule makes it a bit tricky, and a little bit more fair. The winner earns bragging rights for their nation as well as the honor of hosting the event the next year. That last part brings millions to the country helping the economy and building their tourism budget.
In previous years, some competitors have been shut out either for political reasons, like Israel, or because they are on an island, like the UK and Ireland, so recent competitions have brought in a panel of judges to make it a bit ‘more fair.’ I guess it depends on how you look at it as to how fair it is. I’m sure the aforementioned nations appreciate it, as do aggressors in war like this year’s Russian entry, a good performance that was booed mercilessly because of the war in the Ukraine, but it should be noted some nations have refused to participate because of the judges panel, including always impressive competitor Turkey. This year, the judges panel counts for 50% of the vote.
This entertainment extravaganza has been happening since 1956, started by the then-fledgling European Broadcasting Union. An international song contest broadcast live throughout all of Europe was considered the perfect concept for the network, and has gone on from there. The ambitious project is now celebrating its fifty-eighth year and has become a tradition.
While almost unknown (except to the cool people) in the United States, some of the winners and participants over the years may be familiar. They include ABBA, Julio Iglesias, Celine Dion, Cliff Richard, Katrina and the Waves, Lordi, Johnny Logan, Brotherhood of Man, Jedward, Engelbert Humperdinck, and believe it or not, last year, even 1980s pop icon Bonnie Tyler, at the ripe old age of 76.
The Semi-Finals 2014
Hosted by Pilou Asbaek, Lise Ronne, and Nikolaj Koppel in Copenhagen, also the hosts of the Grand Final, the two Semi-Finals each narrow the running of sixteen countries down to ten who will go on to the Grand Final to compete with the big five and last year’s winner. The big five – France, Germany, Spain, Italy, and the UK, along with Denmark, the hosting nation and reigning champion – are always guaranteed a spot in the Finals. They contend with the twenty chosen from the Semi-Finals.
Broadcast live on Tuesday and Thursday of this week, the competition was furious. I liked the Donovan impression that Aarzemnieki of Latvia did with “Cake to Bake.” Tanja of Estonia kinda did a rift on “Euphoria” from a few years back. Hersi of Albania did not get through, despite what looked like getting a painful tattoo, and the Susan Boyle of the competition, Axel Hirsoux of Belgium, didn’t get through either. Moldova and Portugal raided the wardrobe from “Game of Thrones,” but didn’t get through either.
Firelight of Malta channeled the Indigo Girls, and Lithuania did the same with Toni Basil to no avail. Two of my favorites, Can-Linn of Ireland and Mei Finegold of Israel, also fell in the Semi-Finals. Going through to the Final were Montenegro, Hungary, Russia (and man, did they ever get booed big time), Armenia, Azerbaijan, San Marino, Ukraine, Sweden, The Netherlands, Iceland, Switzerland, Slovenia, Poland, Romania, Norway, Greece, Malta, Belarus, Finland, and Austria. Wow, more than a few upsets there.
The Grand Final 2014
Now I have to add that while I watched the Grand Final here alone in New Jersey on my computer laptop, The Bride actually got an extra special treat watching the Finals. She and her friends were at the Danish Embassy in Washington DC for the event. Quite an honor and a treat, at the Embassy of the winner, the party was awesome gigantic. Wish I’d been there, but alas, I’m here for you folks. It’s a dirty job, but somebody’s gotta do it.
The entry intros are always a bit of insanity, this year it is the creation of that nation’s flag by creative means, and by the performers themselves. Some of these aren’t bad. Some are downright clever. Usually these things are a subject of ridicule and wtf-ism, but some this year they are kinda cool. As I said above, I loved Albania, with the contestant getting the flag symbol as a tattoo on her back, and it looked like it hurt too. Norway was pretty cool too, but the flag winner was definitely the UK, a flag made of buses and people.
Distractions and Derivatives
In the Grand Final, Ukraine dazzled us with not just a great song by Mariya Yaremchuk, but also with a clichéd Eurovision tactic – the diversion or distraction – she was accompanied by a man in a giant hamster wheel. Teo of Belarus similarly dazzled with great dance moves and one of two ‘cake’ songs in the contest, a guaranteed earworm that you’ll be humming involuntarily later. Azerbaijan also used the distraction, a trapeze this time. Russia also joined the gang in that their entry is all gimmick (twins with hair woven together on a giant see-saw), and it’s a good song that didn’t need one.
And then there were the derivative songs. Paula Seling & OVI of Romania invoked the Black Eyed Peas every time he sang “I got a feeling.” I kept hearing Toni Braxton’s “Unbreak My Heart” in the Sweden entry. Denmark rocked the house and have a very good chance of winning again this year with Basim’s “Cliché Love Song” even though it sounds just like Bruno Mars. The Netherlands brought American country music to Eurovision while invoking the Police’s “Every Breath You Take.” And don’t remind me how many entries sound like rejected James Bond movie themes. It’s shameful really.
Speaking of James Bond, one entry that actually could be a good theme to one of the Bond flicks is by one of the most controversial entries this year and for many years. Transgender Conchita Wurst, noted for her beard as well as her wonderful singing voice, entered “Rise Like a Phoenix” for Austria and brought the house down in both the Semi-Finals and the Grand Final. Hers was no doubt the most anticipated and powerful performance of the entire competition.
Now while Eurovision has a huge gay audience, one of my favorites as a straight male was Poland. Donatan & Cleo brought the sex with “My Słowianie – We Are Slavic.” In a video rife with amply buxom women churning butter and milking cows, Cleo doing her best Lady Sovereign meets Swiss Miss rocked my world. And they brought all of those sexy elements of the video to the stage as well. Sooo good.
The Rest and The Winner
Spain was strong, France had a novelty song in the spirit of Scooch or Dustin the Turkey, and Switzerland and Finland grew on me more each time I heard them. Hungary did a song about the horrors of child abuse. Italy brought the rock however with Emma. They were all sparkly togas, gold leaf crowns, and a sexy rock chick – this was a pleasant surprise. She even did an old fashioned sultry Tawny Kitaen crawl across the stage, very hot. Germany could have benefited from the ‘practice’ of the Semi-Finals, and the UK actually is trying to win this year for a change. “Children of the Universe” by Molly is a powerful ballad, and sometimes ballads win.
The winner was chosen after a short live voting period. Each country gives their points individually, and surprisingly Russia had a strong start, with the crowd in Denmark booing loudly each time they got points. Alternatively they cheered loudly each time Austria got points. There’s an obvious heroine and villain this year. When Russia reported their points, the booing was long and brutal. It was very close.
The winner of the 2014 Eurovision Song Contest is Conchita Wurst of Austria!
Long live the queen!