The Null Device


Well, that time of year is upon us again; that's right, it's the Eurovision final, this time coming from Copenhagen, and presented by Kaspar Juul from Borgen.

Eurovision is, paradoxically, a bigger thing in Australia than the UK; some of that is undoubtedly due to there having been mass immigration from continental Europe to Australia in the mid-20th century, and an infrastructure of ethnic broadcasting set up during Australia's progressive era, which ended up priming the public to better get Europe. In contrast, in the UK, Europe seems paradoxically further away, being something that one feels obliged to put some distance—as much as possible, really—between oneself and. The UK is technically part of Europe but half resents its place there (as a glance at any British tabloid newspaper will show) and in any case feels a bit above all those ridiculous garlic-eaters across the Channel and their daft customs. In that there may be a sense of insecurity; the continent is perhaps regarded much as the class beneath one's own is, as something which one is at risk of being categorised in by observers if one doesn't do a good enough job of distinguishing oneself from it.

Were I in Melbourne, I would probably be at a Eurovision party. (Actually, were I in Melbourne, I would probably be asleep, and going to a Eurovision party some 18 hours later, but I digress.) In the UK, I have only been to one Eurovision party over the past almost ten years here, and that was a somewhat sedate affair compared with the ones back home, with more filling out of scorecards. One won't find any respectable local pub airing Eurovision on their big screen, and the handful of bars that do sell tickets, hire performers to hype the crowd up and otherwise double down on the kitsch, to the point where the activities in the pub drown out the actual contest on TV. I am told that this is not the case on the Continent; that you can't throw a currywurst in Berlin without hitting a Kneipe that's showing Eurovision. However, being neither on the continent nor in possession of sufficient articles of sequinned clothing, here I am on a sofa in North London with an iPad and a laptop, watching it and liveblogging about it. This post will be updated as things happen.

20:03: And here come the BMX Ninjas.

20:14: And here's Kaspar. And was that an inflatable boxing kangaroo being waved above the audience?

20:19: Ukraine's entry sounds like the filler from a Mariah Carey album in the early 90s, or an off-brand Whitney Houston substitute. Meanwhile, neighbouring Belarus's effort seems to be syncopated R&B from deep in the Uncanny Valley.

20:34: Azerbaijan seem to be quite into visual effects. Their intro video was an interesting use of light painting, and the background projections were pretty nifty (though the gothic cathedral graphics didn't look very typically Azeri). The song, a tasteful piano ballad that almost survived the belted vocals, seemed to have been sourced from Scandinavian songwriters.

Was that Skögafoss in Iceland's intro video? Anyway, their number was fun; colourful costumes and a lot of energy. Slightly trite subject matter, but that all goes with the territory.

20:36: Norway had a tattooed dude singing a morose yet soporific number in a minor key; a bit of a downer, and I suspect it won't do spectacularly well, but I could be wrong. Romania seem to have entered the usual Eurodance ballad, with 90s rave synth presets galore and gratuitous high-note hitting. Their intro video was clever; reflections of fireworks on water to form the Romanian flag.

20:41: Armenia going from generic piano-balladry to NIN-lite industrial-glitch with cinematic strings.

20:44: And Montenegro brings a Slavic take on My Heart Will Go On, right down to the tin whistle. The projection-mapped sparkles from the rollerblader's skates are aa nice touch, though. I wonder whether they're added to the broadcast or actually appear under the glass floor?

20:47: And here's Poland's answer, whose gist seems to be “Slavic girls are hot”. They even sing the third verse in English for those whose Polish isn't too good. Inauthentic folk costumes and a Missy Elliott-styled backing track.

20:51: Here comes Greece, with its London-raised rapper toasting over a fairly standard Eurodance backing. Also, a trampoline.

21:01: And here is Austria's entry, fronted by bearded drag performer Conchita Wurst; whose presence caused the Russians to demand a boycott or the right to ban Austria from their broadcast. I'm guessing that they didn't get it, given that Russia's still in the running. Lebanon famously had to pull out some years ago as they couldn't get their demand to ban their citizens for voting for Israel. Mind you, Russia is not Lebanon; it'll be interesting to see if this very camp and distinctly non-straight performance will be aired in Russia; the EBU may have to slap the Russian state broadcaster's wrist if they don't.

Anyway, Austria's performance was a classic torch song; poignant and melodramatic. Meanwhile, neighbouring Germany has three ladies with a double bass and an accordion. The singer is another soul/gospel belter in the Carey/Houston vein.

21:13: Sweden seems to be in with a chance; a somewhat conservative choice, but well executed. Conservatism, however, is not a chance one can make against France this year; they've eschewed the customary white-gowned-lady-and-grand-piano in favour of three zany dudes clowning around and rapping (in French) about being unable to grow a moustache, over a nicely varied dance beat. Whether that puts them behind or ahead of the hipster zeitgeist is up for debate.

And more twins, this time from Russia, this time female and with hair tied together. The set they're standing on looks like a temporary bridge (possibly a reference to the annexation of the Crimea?); anyway, I suspect that they might do as badly, through no fault of their own, as Britain did in the wake of the Iraq War.

21:18: Italy probably wins the most-appetising-intro-video award. Their song, meanwhile, is vaguely rock-styled, in a slightly 1980s way. Lots of white jeans and flying-V guitars; and golden laurel leaves.

21:28 Slovenia's entry seems fairly generic, in that off-brand-Roxette-knockoff vein that is part of the Eurovision formula, though the singer plays her own flute. Finland has a band that look like what Cats On Fire would have been like, had they been influenced by Robbie Williams rather than Morrissey.

21:40 Switzerland are in the running for the most-innovative-intro-video gong. Their actual song was a sort of quasi-Mumfordian dance-pop. Hungary, meanwhile, has a half-American singer whose father was a soul singer who worked with Lou Reed. This guy can sing. And then the chorus breaks into 1990s-vintage jungle beats.

21:42: Malta are doing Uplifting Soulful Folk. Great Cthulhu help us.

21:50 Denmark get points for the song title (Cliché Love Song) and for the use of forced perspective in the intro video. The song itself stays in the pop formalism, winking through the fourth wall; it's self-aware kitsch. It doesn't come anywhere near the realms of the sublime that Eurovision touches at its best, but then again, this year hasn't so far been a good year for that; no monster metal, Romanian vampire opera or other heavy weirdness.

21:53 The Netherlands have a tasteful piece of slow-burning Americana. It's pleasant and not overwrought, and thus probably won't do well. Nonetheless, in terms of songcraft, it is a particularly nice example.

21:55 San Marino? Ah, San Marino; one of those weird tiny European enclave-states. Anyway, their song is pretty standard Eurovision fare.

21:57: And here comes the United Kingdom's entry; the intro video, of course, was made of Routemasters. The song, meanwhile, is a welcome improvement on the usual half-arsed fare Britain sends in. We might just finish in the top half of the rankings after all.

22:12: And, in the break, the Danish sense of humour manifests itself, in a humorous ditty, embodying every Eurovision cliché, about the number 12 (the maximum score a country can get), which kept segueing into a song about China, for some obscure in-joke-related reason. This was followed by a contribution from Malta's Junior Eurovision champion, an 11-year-old whose voice is, unfortunately, not quite as melodious as it is powerful.

22:45: Anyway, the votes are starting to trickle in. First in is Azerbaijan. Austria and Poland got 1 and 2 respectively; seems sexuality, either homo- or hetero-, aren't vote-winners over there. Russia bagged 12, followed by Ukraine, unsurprisingly; when Russia's douze points was announced, boos could be heard. Austria made up for it with 12 from Greece.


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