16 May 2009 (gig)
18 May 2009
I am writing just a few minutes after the latest Eurovision Song Contest came to an end, with Norway, the favourites making a clean sweep and clinching the title with a record number of points. They would have also become the first country to surpass the 400 point mark. They were only 13 points shy from doing so. When one comes to think of it, it is indeed a great feat, getting so many points from so many countries. The bookmakers and the fans did get it right. It is all the more emphatic because this year the points were distributed by both a televoting as well as a jury system, where each country was assigned a jury with a 50 per cent stake. Nonetheless, language and other cultural affinities still managed to creep in. Yet, it is really significant that notwithstanding any perceived preference between neighbouring countries with common cultures and other interests, Norway managed to obtain the admiration of all and sundry, --and this despite some sections of the English press lobbying against Norway, for the way the referee treated Chelsea in their Champions League semi-final against Barcelona. Nonetheless, the UK awarded Norway eight points.
I may not be a fan of the Eurovision Song Contest, and time and again, I was more interested in Terry Wogan’s comments than the songs themselves. This time, BBC Prime did not bother to air this year’s edition despite the fact that Britain paid more attention than ever before to this festival. Lord Andrew Lloyd-Weber’s presence with Jade did curry in more favour though the song itself was not really extraordinary.
This year’s Eurovision Song Contest was admittedly one of the best ever in terms of content. Banalities were not exactly the order of the day but there were much less trite and pathetic songs than ever before. A lot of participants gave all they could give and performance standards were high. Chiara in her quest to at least keep up a good image and position for Malta found the going hard. She presented herself with verve and zest and though she failed to ensure a Top 5 placing as many were expecting, she did manage to give an excellent rendition of 'What If We'. Only she and the French participant performed solely in order to fully concentrate on their songs, which is what after all a serious singer should do.
However, in a disposable pop world where image is just as important as the talent, it was the turn of a few flashier songs to take the upper hand. Thus, there was no surprise at all that the likes of Azerbaijan, Armenia and Turkey fared very well. They had very good choreography. The Croats took their choreography to London as a way to enhance their act but failed. The Germans brought Alex Christensen, of Das Boot fame, and a popular actor, together with Oscar Loya a dancer and choreographer as well as a few other dancers, including a former wife of Marilyn Manson, to perform a swing revival song, Alex Swings Oscar Sings. It too, failed to impress judges and televoters alike. The Greek entry, represented by Sakis Rouvas sounded more like a Vengaboys take, and Ukraine’s entry, the first ever Eurovision song to feature two titles, namely Be My Valentine/ Anti-Crisis Girl was frankly too bombastic and the choreography was simply an overshot affair, which could have done away with the skimpy clothing,.it didn’t get them much mileage anyway. Svetlana Loboda may be a very creative person, but I feel that she and her entourage failed to rein in many loose ends. This is indeed what renders such a festival as kitsch, even though this time around, the organizers said that they intended to make it 'the most serious festival ever'.
To be fair, the quality of most songs was much better than in previous editions, and there wasn’t the sort of anticipation for styles and directions. Most countries and singers were plainly,themselves. This was indeed the case of the Sweden’s Malena Ernman, France’s Patricia Kaas, and even Malta’s Chiara. Kaas composed herself as she sang on the day which marked the 20th anniversary since her mother passed away, and Ernman, like Chiara exuded all the warmth, depth and passion her voice could conjure. She and Chiara were the only two performers who sang without any accompaniment whatsoever, since they preferred to wholly concentrate on their songs, --that is indeed, a most sincere approach to professional singing. Romania’s entry was also quite intriguing. Their representative, Elena is half Romanian and half Macedonian and her entry Balkan Girls provided a mixture of syncopated dance beats that sounded alluring just as they sounded eccentric. Like Chiara, the UK and the Icelandic entries were plain and unpretentious. Denmark, despite having a Ronan Keating composition, a song that was actually meant for Boyzone, also failed to make inroads this year. The song, Believe Again, had a country pop feel but it seems as if this genre is still rather misunderstood in Europe, judging from performances by many other new and not so new hopefuls. At the end, the favourites won handsomely.
The Norwegians fused pop, fine, very accessible violin arrangements and the Frikar, a tough, halling dance tradition, hailing from Viking times. Norway’s Viking tradition goes beyond the saga of Erik The Red. It helped to bring along the existence of the very nation that hosted this year’s Eurovision. It was a good song, devoid from blandness though still not exactly the most influential Eurovision winner ever.