The Null Device
The Eurovision final is once again upon us, this time from Kiev. The Ukrainians are making the most of their geopolitical situation, from the slogan, “Celebrate Diversity”, with its dig against its enemy's homophobia. Russia is, of course, absent because of its contender's connections with the annexation of Crimea. Once again, I'll be blogging this until the end, or the commencement of Russian bombardment, whichever comes first.
First up is Israel, represented by a buff dude singing a stomping piece of EDM-pop with more than a slight debt to the recently departed Robert Miles, replete with the standard pyrotechnics. Pretty much par for the course, and could do decently.
And Poland brings the big minor-key torch song, performed by a blonde lady with a mighty, soaring voice, accompanied by her brother on fiddle.
And Belarus brings the evening's first dose of oddity. A pair dressed in white (he in a white cloché hat and a medicated-looking grin, she with vaguely Leia-esque buns), doing an upbeat ballad in Belarussian, on a tiny boat in a lake of smoke-machine fog, and finishing it off with a vigorous snog. Slightly odd, but a catchy, upbeat number.
Austria has a dude in white singing a sort of generic folk-meets-soul ballad beside a disco-ball moon. The set decoration is actually pretty good. The song doesn't shy away from clichés, right down to the early-90s synth-string chord stabs at the end.
Armenia's entry is the first Eurovision Goth of the night. Eastern scales, purple flames, and three women in black, singing and dancing. They could go well.
The Netherlands has brought Wilson Phillips out of retirement, it seems. They're over-egging the pudding a bit with the key changes. Still, Eurovision is Eurovision.
Moldova has three chaps in suits who call themselves Sunstroke Project, doing a sparse, reggaeton-inspired number named Hey Mamma. One of them has a saxophone and is also wearing sunglasses, which with his haircut makes him look a bit like Max Headroom. Slightly silly dancing, but a competent number.
Hungary gets points for traditional hairstyles, for the singer's topknot. There's a milk churn on the stage, which the singer uses as a percussion instrument. It started as a melancholic ballad, combining eastern scales with understated Eurodance electronics, but then broke into a rap in the middle.
Italy keeps with the reggaeton influence, bringing it into an upbeat song with anthemic choruses. There's a chap dancing in a gorilla suit on stage for some reason; I think the song's theme has to do with evolution, judging by the visual projections.
Denmark's entry is one of the two Australians competing, a young woman named Anja (who, I'm guessing, goes by Anna or Annie or something back home). 90s R&B vocals over Eurodance backings. Competent and somewhat hyggelig, though not all that memorable.
Portugal: a chap with ornate facial hair, animated facial expressions and a songbird-sweet voice, singing a rather lovely understated ballad over piano and strings, in a virtual woodland setting. Subtle, but rather nice. Could do well.
Azerbaijan has a lady in a silver-white trenchcoat in front of a blackboard with all sorts of darkly evocative words like EXTREME, SKELETON and THORNS written on it. And there's a guy in a horse-head mask sitting atop a stepladder. The pounding drums say Eurovision Goth.
Croatia's entry, a goateed chap in a hybrid dinner/biker jacket, alternates between soprano and Pavarotti-esque tenor, accompanied by a string trio. It started off with an inspirational monologue. Croatia seem to be embracing the ridiculousness of Eurovision and running with it for all it's worth. I expect them to get the UK's douze points, just because they represent the Platonic ideal of what the UK expects Eurovision to be about.
And here's Australia, represented by a teenage boy in a long coat. Quite competent, again, but doesn't really stand out. They might not come within a hair's breadth of winning this year.
Greece has an E'd-up rave stomper, sung by a lady in a long dress, as two half-naked men splash around in a paddling pool, with the usual pyrotechnics.
Spain ramps up the kitsch, with three surfer dudes in Hawaiian shirts miming with guitars, as a computer-animated VW Kombi van boogies on its suspension in the background. The song, titled “Do It For Your Lover”, is cod-reggae over a drum loop.
Norway has a guy in a rural hat singing, and another guy in a Daft-Punk-meets-Hellraiser mask doing something vigorous with electronics. The drummer is wearing a hooded robe, which makes one wonder whether he was borrowed from a black-metal band. Either the transmission is breaking up or they are inserting digital glitch effects into the video. They've adopted the EDM trick of demoting the chorus to a pre-chorus and having its place taken by a few bars of chopped-up vocal samples. Technically, pretty good.
And here comes the UK, with Never Give Up On EU, sorry, Never Give Up On You, as if in preemptive apology for her country. It has the elements: minor-key piano and subtle electronic beats. The singer sings decently, and the visuals provide Eurovision-grade pyrotechnics on a par with Eastern Europe's finest. That was actually quite good; better than any UK entry I remember, and better than Australia's entry. Perhaps she'll get a pity vote and end up in the top 5; perhaps the UK, having taken Russia's place as the villains, will get its geopolitically anticipated kicking; time will tell.
Cyprus has a chap in black singing heartily. The visuals appear to be lifted from the Groove Coaster iPhone game.
Romania has taken Eurovision weirdness as a prompt and run with it; their song is a rap about yodelling. Which sounds kitschy and naff, but they pull it off. And then they brought out some old-fashioned cannon, for no reason, just to avoid not being weird enough.
Germany is living up to being the world's premier manufacturer of electronic music software, bringing in a piece that's essentially a sequence. This could have been the demo track shipped with Cubase or Ableton Live.
And here comes the home team, Ukraine; they're bringing a rock band, whose promo video has them looking sullen in black leather. “The style is rock”, the announcer said, but it's really a more rock-flavoured Eurovision-pop, with some U2-style guitars in the verses, and some crunchy power chords under the soaring vocals in the chorus. Then comes the bridge, and it goes Metallica for 16 bars and then back to U2-meets-Muse. Not bad, but nobody's going to mistake these guys for Lordi any time soon.
Belgium returns to the singing-lady-in-a-gown formula; their lady, though, seems frozen as if struck by stagefright. I really hope she's alright.
Sweden brings the electro-funk, with a song seemingly made for H&M changing rooms. Very slick, but that's to be expected.
Bulgaria has a teenager singing soaringly over melodramatic minor-key piano chords and glitchy beats. They seem to have the Eurovision formula down pat.
And finally, here comes France. A young woman in a mini-dress singing, half in English, half in French, as computer-animated panoramas of Paris swirl in the background, Inception-fashion.
And, after the interval acts (Ukrainian Fake Kraftwerk weren't half bad), the voting is over, and here come the tallies:
Sweden gave their 12 to Portugal, and 10 to Australia. San Marino, Latvia and Israel also gave 12 to Portugal, who are building up quite a sizeable early lead. Meanwhile, the UK is near the top of the second quarter of the chart, an uncommonly good position. Of course, it's still early days.
With half of the votes in: Portugal has a clear lead, with 186 points; second is Bulgaria, with 132. Australia, meanwhile, is at #5 with 70 points. The UK is near the bottom of the second half, with 39 points, which, by British standards, is an exceptionally good result.
And here comes the UK's first douze points, delivered by Lee Lin Chin from Australia, elevating it to near the middle of the first half. At this stage, it's probably safe to say that Portugal's got the jury vote.
Spain, meanwhile, is doing very poorly, being the only country stuck with nul points, on the opposite end of the table from its neighbour. The second-last is Germany.
The jury votes are in, with Portugal winning. But the audience vote is yet to come; last year, Australia won the jury vote, but Ukraine beat them on the popular vote.
And the winner is: Portugal (758 points), followed by Bulgaria (615) then Moldova, Belgium and Sweden. Australia came 9th. Meanwhile, the UK dropped to 15, second from the top of the bottom half, which is still an extraordinarily good result for the UK. (The country I voted for, Norway, came 10th.)
Seemingly inspired by Turkish strongman Erdoğan's resounding 52-48% victory over the weekend, UK Prime Minister Theresa May has called a snap general election for 8 June, calling a vote to overturn the 2011 Fixed Parliaments Act in the process. With Labour in disarray, the election will almost certainly result in a Conservative landslide and an Erdoğan-sized mandate to reshape the United Kingdom as it leaves the European Union to become a sort of Singapore of the Atlantic; undercutting the decadent vino-drinking continentals with lower taxes, wages and regulations, and a workforce that knows its place (because any other places it could have gone for a better deal have forever been closed off) and making common cause with the world's tyrants, no longer shackled by politically-correct notions of “human rights”.
The Labour Party would nominally be the opposition to the Tories, as they were throughout much of the 20th century, though are not providing much of an opposition. Under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, a pre-Blairite socialist once written off as a relic of a bygone era, they have swung firmly in favour of Britain leaving the European Union, whipping their MPs to support Article 50. This is either in an attempt to win back the xenophobic vote or out of some delusional belief in the myth of “Lexit” (left-wing Brexit): the delusion that, having cut its ties with the neoliberal free-marketeers of the European Union, Britain will be free to become a sort of rainy Cuba, a pre-Thatcherite socialist arcadia where the coal mines never closed, the state-run supermarkets only stock one variety of tea, and we're all somewhat poorer and shabbier but equal and happy, all watched over by a cadre of shop stewards in ill-fitting brown suits. On the issue of leaving the EU, there is no difference between the two parties; only on the mythology and teleology of what doing so will signify.
It wasn't always like this, but it was for longer than many would think. When Corbyn ran for the Labour leadership, he was an outsider candidate, put forward half-jokingly next to a field of focus-grouped Blair-manqués struggling to find a selling point for Labour. (One of them actually said that one of Labour's values is “having strong values”; the mutability of those values, presumably, making it easier to respond to polling and market research.) A candidate who actually believed in something—not to mention something as radical as socialism (but not to worry, democratic socialism)—was quite exciting. Corbyn prevailed by a broad margin and saw off several leadership coups (attributed to either traitorous neoliberal Blairites or ordinary Labour MPs questioning their new leader's ability to actually lead, depending on whom one listens to); he is currently presiding over the “regeneration” (and, inevitably, downsizing) of Labour into a more traditionally leftist direction, albeit without the benefit of shipyards, steelworks and mines full of dues-paying industrial workers to provide a natural constituency for a party of labour. (Labour, of course, started as an offshoot of the union movement, a parliamentary party for those whose stake in the system was their labour, rather than property or pedigree. This raison d'être began to diminish with the shift away from heavy industry, which started in the 70s but accelerated under Thatcher; by the 90s, it was a ghost of its former self. It was mostly Britpop-fuelled euphoria and/or Tony Blair's Bonoesque charisma that kept Labour going, with New Labour's Tory-lite policies attracting a critical mass of centrist careerists who wouldn't have touched socialism with a bargepole, and whom Corbyn is now doing his best to purge. That and Thatcher having tested the hated Poll Tax in Scotland, delivering virtually that entire country to Labour, in time for it to shore up Blair's successive administrations; though the Tories shrewdly wiped this out by convincing Labour to lead the No campaign against Scottish independence, and so deliver their entire base there to the Scottish National Party, effectively holing Labour below the waterline. So, in summary, the revival of Labour in the 90s was about as substantial as the revival of Swinging Sixties cool that the music journalists of the time were going on about the latest Blur/Oasis/Elastica single being the epitome of.)
The problem with this new direction for Labour is that it jettisons many of the tenets of liberalism and openness. Corbyn made only the most half-hearted and token attempts at campaigining to remain in the EU, and once the result was in, enthusiastically jumped to the victorious side. Protectionism trumps openness; nationalism trumps solidarity. The traditional anglosocialist utopia of Labour looks a lot like the traditional Little England of UKIP, with its distrust of all things foreign; the only difference is, in one case, there is a strict hierarchy, with everyone knowing his or her place, whereas in the other, everybody's equal (though some are more equal than others; every socialist utopia needs its cadres and vanguard party, after all). As neoliberalism dies, it's the “liberalism” part that is jettisoned; the hierarchies of oppressive power continue, as they always have. (Similarly, across the centre-right parties and think tanks of the world, the dry, bloodless academic writings of Hayek and Friedman are quietly being bumped from reading lists, replaced with Julius Evola and translations of Aleksandr Dugin; Ayn Rand, however, retains her popularity, her message of the inherent rightness of power and privilege, predating the Mont Pélerin Society, will outlive the myth of the tide that lifts all boats.) That Labour is facing electoral slaughter is not much comfort, given that the result will be the coronation of an authoritarian unelected leader into a position of unassailable power to remake the United Kingdom in her image; our own Lee Kwan Yew, or perhaps a British Erdoğan.
I currently live in the electorate of Islington North. Jeremy Corbyn is my constituency MP, and I voted for him in the last general election, as he was a fine constituency MP. However, he has not shown himself to be a plausible party leader, and after his betrayal on Brexit, I will not be able to vote for him in the upcoming election. I am thinking of voting for the Lib Dems; they are the largest party standing against Brexit and its attendant xenophobic isolationism, and the most likely to unseat Corbyn in liberal, cosmopolitan Islington North. Ordinarily, I would consider the Green Party, or the Pirate Party if they ran here, but in this election, and under the first-past-the-post system, it is important to vote for the lesser evil rather than treating electoral choice as a litmus test of purity of convictions. (See also: Jill Stein, the US Green Party candidate whose electoral messaging seemed almost precisely calculated to undermine Clinton and get Trump into power.) And right now, with the two largest parties offering two different variants on the same Scarfolk-meets-Royston-Vasey dystopia, the role of opposition and/or lesser evil has fallen on the Liberal Democrats.