The Null Device
Well, it's that time of year again, and so I will be providing live commentary on Eurovision; this year, live from Vienna. So watch this space:
It's kicking off with style; for the introduction, the Austrian hosts have done a good job of melding sophisticated 1990s club pop à la Robert Miles with Austria's historic musical institutions, including the Vienna Philharmonic and the Vienna Boys' Choir; orchestral strings and brass and smooth synth pads; or as Graham Norton said, “most things you'd want there, and some things you wouldn't, like an Austrian rapper”.
Slovenia; 20:20: a red-haired woman in a white lace dress sings her lungs out, accompanied by a mohawked dude on piano and an interpretive dancer; Mohawk Piano Dude tries to steal the show, winking cheekily at the camera, and the dancer plays frenzied air violin.
France; 20:25: a chanteuse in black sings something melancholic, over gentle minor-key piano and strings, imploring a lover to not forget her; projected behind her is a computer-generated wasteland, a metaphor for her forlorn love. Symbolism, and we're only two songs in. As the song wends to its climax, she gives it everything.
Israel; 20:29: Funky and muscular, in a boy-band sort of way, with Latin beats and middle-eastern violin in the chorus. It lifts the tempo a bit.
Estonia; 20:33: another faintly anguished male-female duet in overwrought minor key, like the musical equivalent of a Brazilian telenovela. I think the female vocalist actually cried towards the end; method acting.
UK; 20:37; the UK's entry this year calls itself Electro Velvet. Their shtick is a sort of MIDI-ragtime, underscored by a 4/4 house beat, and blinking LED costumes. This is what happens when steampunk electro-swing gets diluted for mainstream consumption, I guess.
Armenia; 20:41; six musicians, of Armenian heritage, all from different continents. Figures in black cloaks standing in the mist over projected celtic knotwork. The music itself doesn't live up to the witchy visuals, instead sounding like a Whitney Houston B-side, with the obligatory chugging power guitar riffs kicking in in the choruses.
Lithuania; 20:45; I think this one could be in with a chance; it's a catchy, inoffensive pop number, with little about it that is odd or weird in any way.
Serbia; 20:49; a Classic Eurovision Power Ballad, which halfway through, casts off its costumes and turns into a hi-NRG disco stomper.
Norway; 20:53; “A Monster Like Me”; another for the Anguished Ballad genre; this one's quite subtly done. I think they're also in with a shot.
Sweden; 20:58; another song which starts introspective and explodes into a stomping hands-in-the-air club anthem. Also a strong contender.
Cyprus; 21:03; a chap in 1950s-style glasses singing over an absentee guitar accompaniment. The way they break it down and bring it back up is quite subtle, though this may be too inoffensive to win.
21:06; and here comes Australia, who, by rights, shouldn't be there, and who are represented by former reality-TV contestant Guy Sebastian, who comes across as a bargain-basement Bruno Mars; the brass in the song is also a bit reminiscent of Uptown Funk. I'm not going to bet on it winning, but if there's any justice (and there isn't in Eurovision), it'll get more votes than the UK.
Belgium; 21:11; the singer looks about 14; Belgium's entry is a minimal affair, all black and white and a sparse electronic beat.
Austria; 21:14; Austria's The Makemakes, not to be confused with Australia's The Fuck Fucks; though to be fair, it'd be difficult to get the two mixed up. The Makemakes are soulful piano-driven soft rock, though to their credit, they do set the piano on fire halfway through the song. Also, I wonder if they chose a guy with long hair and stubble on purpose.
Greece; 21:20; a sequined blonde lungsmith brings the minor-key melodrama, with her ballad of emotional anguish, One Last Breath
Montenegro; 21:25; the second song not in English today (after France); by coincidence, its title, Adio, means goodbye in both French and Montenegrin, the language it is sung in. Balkan strings and stomping beats are the order of the day. It's a well-crafted Eurobanger, which should do better than it probably will.
Germany; 21:28; Germany exports most of the world's electronic music software, and quite a bit of it undoubtedly ended up in the production of this number. It could do well.
Poland; 21:32; no saucy milkmaids this time; instead, an understated minor-key piano ballad which is actually quite decent. The singer, Monika Kuzynska, is a former professional pop star whom a car accident left in a wheelchair; during the middle of the song, screens on the side of the stage show black and white footage of her earlier career.
Latvia; 21:36. “Love Injected” is the title of this song; perhaps it sounds more appropriate in Latvian. The song itself starts off as glitchy electropop, though soars into torch-song territory in the chorus, as per the Eurovision rules, before a wonky breakdown. Not bad.
Romania; 21:41; the third non-English-language song, peformed by veteran Romanian band Voltaj, shares its title with an abandoned children's charity the band supports. The suitcases on the stage underscore this connection, marking the band out as Good Guys, which is probably just as well, as with his bald head, goatee and all-black wardrobe, the frontman looks like a Satanic film villain. The song is a competent number, and the emotional angle and production may work in its favour.
Spain; 21:44; urgent strings, percussion, capes and a bare-chested male dancer; this is (part of) what Eurovision is about. Should do well.
Hungary; 21:49; Hungary's chanteuse swapped her unpronounceable-in-English name for her nickname, which is, perhaps unfortunately, Boggie. The song never gets beyond a simple guitar accompaniment and some platitudes vaguely about war and injustice.
Georgia; 21:53; from peace to war, Georgia's entry is titled “Warrior”, and starts with smoke, lightning-like strobes and thunderous drums. The singer appears on stage attired in what looks like crow feathers, fixing the camera with her gaze. It's almost as if Björk's Hunter were a Eurovision number.
Azerbaijan; 21:57; more mist and moonlight in the near east; this time, an earnest young man sings his heart out as two dancers gyrate in the smoke-machine fog. The song's title is Hour Of The Wolf, which is perhaps more dramatic than the song itself.
Russia; 22:01; quite slickly produced, and likely to do well; Russia presumably really want to win, partly to make up for the humiliation of having been indirectly responsible for last year's victory. The song itself is fairly neutral, though the theme (a million voices singing in unison) could, in some contexts, sound ominous.
Albania, 22:05 Strings, pounding drums, acoustic guitar and soaring female vocals; Eurovision-by-numbers.
Italy; 22:09 More operatic than most; a bit of Pavarotti, a bit of Mantovani and the inimitable style of Italian screen drama; the images of Roman statuary shrouded in smoke and flames underscores the classical drama, as three tuxedoed tenors belt it out.
22:54: and the votes are being tallied. First up is Montenegro. Serbia got douze, but that's to be expected.
22:56; Malta voted; the UK was saved from ignominy with one point, but Australia got six. I suspect Australia will do best from the countries it had many immigrants from. 22:57:; Finland voted, Sweden is leading, with Russia close behind.
22:58: Greece gives Australia five points; also not unexpected. Also look for strong Italian backing. Speaking of which, Italy is leading.
23:00; Sweden, Italy and Russia keep changing places at the top. Russia is leading.
23:05; looks like Russia will get it. Wonder whom they'll invade during next year's final. Perhaps Latvia, who only gave them 10 points?
23:08; Russia's vote is supposed to come up, but is met with boos. The announcer has to admonish the audience to refrain.
23:10; Australia gets 8 points from Denmark. They're at number 5, with 47 points. The UK, in contrast, has one point.
23:11; Australia gets a further 8 points from Switzerland, and has now overtaken Belgium.
23:17; Sweden just gave Australia douze points, taking them to 79
23:19; and Australia votes, represented by cult icon Lee Lin Chin. Sweden gets the douze. The UK gets bugger all. At the halfway mark, Russia leads by some 14 points, with Sweden in second place.
23:26; Australia gets its second douze, from Austria.
23:27; Russia only got five points from Slovenia; Sweden got 12, being just nine shy of the top.
23:29; Russia only got six from Hungary, with Sweden getting 10, and Belgium the 12.
23:30; and here's Nigella with the UK's results. Russia gets six, Australia gets 10, and the 12 goes to Sweden, taking it to the slimmest of leads.
23:33; Lithuania has spoken; the other two Baltic states did well, and Sweden did as well. Russia got zilch.
23:36; now Sweden has a commanding lead, after the Russian vote collapsed in several countries. Ten countries to go.
23:38; Russia's vote comes up (this time for sure!), people boo. The Russian anchor chews the scenery: “Twelve points from Russia go to RUSSIA! Just kidding”
23:40 Looks like Eurovision will be in Stockholm next year.
23:42 Australia gets 8 points from Iceland; is comfortably holding on to number 5. Sweden's lead extends further.
23:43 Cyprus; Russia gets only two, and Greece only eight.
23:44 And Sweden has it. Grattis på din Eurovisionseger.
23:49 And the final tally is: Sweden 365, Russia 303, Italy 292; Australia is at number 5 with 196. The UK, meanwhile, languished third from last, with five points; only France (four points) and the two German-speaking countries, with nul points between them, were below it. Which is hardly surprising, given that the UK appears to be averse to be seen to be taking Eurovision seriously. Being one of the funding members, the UK's place in the final is guaranteed; and so, the UK plays the thick posho of the Eurovision scene; the rich kid who isn't particularly good at anything, but has never had to be, because of their privilege, and consequently regards everything with an air of condescending boredom. This does not go down well with the other European nations; meanwhile, their earnestness appears irredeemably naff from across the Channel.
Australia, however, gets Eurovision in a way that Britain, ostensibly in Europe, or at least anchored off the coast of it, though not of it, doesn't. Perhaps for the same reason that Australia gets coffee in a way that eluded the UK until a decade or so ago. Because more of Australia's cultural DNA comes from the Continent, via a few waves of mass migrations, diffused via the SBS TV network; a sort of Australian proto-Channel 4, only initially set up to show news and programming from the home countries of migrants, and eventually imbuing a proportion of Australians of all backgrounds with an appreciation of everything from Krimis to giallo. At some point, SBS started broadcasting a delayed feed of Eurovision on the Sunday following the final, and this eventually became an excuse for a party. Unlike in the UK, the subject was not regarded with sniffy disdain; perhaps there was no need to defensively stand apart from the Europeans as, on the other side of the world, nobody would mistake you for one, or perhaps it's a sort of Neighbours/Eastenders contrast between sunny, easygoing (if, arguably, at times naïve) cheer on one hand, with an eeyorish, beaten-down misery and/or barely repressed anger on the other.
In any case, for whatever reason, the EBU invited Australia to participate, strictly as a one-off, and Australia, fielding a reality-TV contestant, came a respectable fifth, with almost 40 times as many points as the Old Country. Australia has thrashed the Poms this way before, but this usually took place on a cricket oval. And this was with a reality-TV contestant; think of what Australia could have done if they made more of an effort, and sent its real talent. Like, say, TISM, or Regurgitator, or the musician who played the Doof Warrior in Mad Max: Fury Road. Of course, this was a one-off, and Australia will not be participating in Eurovision again; unless, of course, whoever makes the rules up as they go along decide to invite them back.