The Null Device
In two days' time, things will once again come to a head. I am, of course, talking about the Eurovision final. Unfortunately, I will not be able to view it live due to prior commitments, so I took the liberty of watching what I could of the semifinals (I am living in a country where Eurovision is taken about as seriously as football is in Australia, and the broadcasts don't begin and end on the final night) and artist videos; here are my impressions.
The talk of this year's contest is, of course, Iceland's Hatari. They dress like BDSM gimps, all muscle, latex and spikes, and sound like something Wax Trax put out around 1990. Their name means The Haters and their song is about the triumph of hate over all (in Icelandic). They hail from Iceland, but they also hail from a parallel universe where MDMA was never discovered and psytrance never displaced hard EBM from the goth clubs. They also are provocateurs—they're essentially Laibach on goofballs—and went to Tel Aviv partly if not wholly to expound at every opportunity about what rotters their hosts are to the Palestinians; apparently the EBU have warned them numerous times and are at the end of their tether, so it remains to be seen who, if anyone, blinks. If they stay in, they could well end up taking the prize. See you at Harpa in 2020?
Another contender with a solid chance is Australia's Kate Miller-Heidke, whose act is equal parts Kate Bush, Frozen and the stunt sequences from Mad Max: Fury Road; she also has a really good voice, and may be the one to win it for Australia.
There were a number of other noteworthy entrants. Norway's starts as trancy club-pop, but then a bald guy appears and intones some words in a baritone, and we're in the realm of arctic shamanism, with sweeping auroras and lo-poly reindeer totems. Germany have some deceptively nice-sounding pop with somewhat dark lyrics. Sweden have a soulful ballad erupting into the standard chorus breakdown, with house piano and melismatic backing vocals; the singer also wrote the UK's song, and another Swede is representing Estonia. Denmark brought the hygge with a slightly twee number, sung partly in French. Czechia are represented by Lake Malawi, who are named after a Bon Iver song, though don't sound the least bit woodsy; their entry is jittery, funky electropop with Mondrian-coloured visuals and perhaps a touch of Parklife. Also funky is San Marino, with a slice of electro chanson, delivered by a Turkish artist based in Germany. Meanwhile, both Malta and Switzerland combined reggaeton beats with middle eastern riffs.
A number of notable contenders fell short of the grand final. Georgia brought the weird intensity usually associated with Romania; moonlit mountains, black-clad wraiths in the mist, columns of flame, and a singer with a manbun singing about, at a guess, blood vendettas or something; a song best appreciated with a shot of something that burns the throat. Romania, meanwhile, toned down their characteristic weirdness to 90s-Depeche-Mode levels. Croatia had a chap named Roko, in a white suit, surrounded by digitally projected hellfire and abseiling angels, which makes one wonder whether this is some kind of AI cult propaganda. If he ends up working with Grimes, all bets are off. Ireland's entry was stylishly retro, echoing midcentury American cool. Latvia entered Grand Salvo/Sodastream territory with their double bass, pastoral guitars and brushed drums. And Israel seemed to go for the Conchita Wurst factor with their torch song about transcendence and empowerment, delivered in an operatic voice.
Then there is the UK. What can one say? They're not utterly awful this time; they're not deliberately talking down to Johnny Foreigner and sending in a light entertainment troupe from a provincial Butlin's lest anyone accuse them of taking it seriously. Their entry is a slick, saccharine big-hearted ballad, delivered by an Everylad who looks like he was decanted from a vat at the Ed Sheeran manufacturing plant a few days ago. It grasps with thick fingers at the heartstrings and gives them an unsubtle tug. And, in doing so, it pulls out all stops: the soaring choruses, the backing choirs, the truck driver's gear change, over a heartwarming video telling a story about teenage travails somewhere up north, shot partly in slow motion. There is technical polish, but little finesse; one can tell that, with the audience on the other side of the Channel, Britain has all the rapport of Theresa May proposing a Brexit deal, and hence no better options than to throw a load of sentimental goop over and hope for the best..
I don't think the UK should win on merit, because there are many better songs in the final this year. Though I do think that if everyone in Europe gave Britain douze points, forcing them to host Eurovision in the first year of the Farage/Rees-Mogg administration, that would easily be the most epic troll in the history of the contest. On merit, however, my vote would be with Iceland, or failing that, Australia or Czechia.