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.)