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So that was Eurovision 2007. A bit of a surprise; the Serbian entry which won it seemed rather lacklustre compared to some of the others, but romped home in the voting, presumably due to Serbia being located in a geographical/demographical sweet spot. Interestingly enough, Eastern Europe dominated the voting, with the highest-scoring western-European nation being well in the bottom half of the rankings.
There were a few highlights: Georgia's entry started off as a traditional torch song by a woman in a red dress, but then morphed into eurodance, and then the dancers whipped out swords and started dancing about, Cossack-fashion, with a wild glint in their eyes. France eschewed the usual white-gowned piano balladeer in favour of a troupe of Dadaist mimes in Jean-Paul Gaultier costumes, highlighting the ridiculous side of Gallic culture. (Fat lot of good it did them, they ended up something like third-last. I guess it's back to the chanteuse and pianist next year.) Romania's entry was a bit like France's on a budget; five blokes dressed like the habitués of a slightly unsavoury tavern, singing "I love you" in every language on earth. The music was vaguely gypsyish, and sped up dramatically towards the end. Neighbouring Bulgaria's started off like Dead Can Dance with extra percussion, and then went electro. And, of course, there was Ukraine's entry, with its sequined, uniformed drag queen, looking like Elton John crossed with Austin Powers. It had camp and kitsch in spades, and raised a few questions. What, for example, was the significance of them counting in German, and did they really sing "I want to see Russia goodbye", and if so, how did that make it past the vetting process?
The lowlight was probably Ireland's entry, which was pure, unadulterated Celtic kitsch of the most obvious variety, and quite deserving of its final position at the bottom of the board. This year, though, nobody got a nul points, and they limped home with 3 points or somesuch. Britain did a bit better, largely thanks to Malta giving them 12, though their song was stuck firmly in the mid-1990s. And the teeth on that stewardess were frightening; granted, Scooch, as uninspired as they may be, were a lot less cringeworthy than last year's entrant (a middle-aged bloke pretending to be a teenage hip-hop street thug, surrounded by dancing "schoolgirls" who, apparently, were borrowed by Turkey this year). And I'd have to give a dishonourable mention to Russia, whose entry was a piece of soullessly machine-extruded commercial pop, trading on sex appeal (sample lyric from the three immaculately coifed girls doing the singing: "put a cherry on my cake and taste my cherry pie"; ooh-err!) lacking any of the madness or wrongness that makes for an interesting Eurovision entry.
The other competitors: Belarus (incidentally, the last remaining state with a KGB) had black-clad female dancers scaling walls like assassins and John Barry-esque strings over its power ballad. The full might of the Swedish culture industry was unleashed in the form of 1970s glam rock attired in monochromatic retro cool. Latvia's entry was in Italian, and like a low-rent version of The Divs. Germany had a bloke named Roger Cicero (son of Herr und Frau Cicero, I presume) doing a Sinatra-lite swing number, in German. Armenia's entrant seemed to follow, stylistically, in the footsteps of that other great Armenian singer, Charles Aznavour, only with an overwroughtly woeful and somewhat strained ballad. And Turkey's entrant was a short, hirsute man wearing a red jacket and a broad grin, surrounded by belly dancers Terry Wogan persisted in pointing out were British. Presumably giving the United Kingdom something to be proud of even should they have ended up with nul points.
While some speculated that Lordi's astounding triumph last year (reprised in the Lord-of-the-Rings-esque opening video) would have opened the door for a flood of hard-rock/heavy-metal bands, this did not entirely come to pass. Finland followed up their win with a new genre, which could be dubbed, Tolkienesquely, MOR-Goth, consisting of torch songs with emo-esque lyrics and plenty of black clothing and gothic makeup. The other main Lordi-influenced act was Moldova, whose song sounded like the sort of alternative-rock song that ended up on Hollywood action-film soundtracks in the late 1990s; all minor-key strings, crunchy metal power chords and drum loops.
The promotional videos played before the musical numbers were done quite well, executed as whimsical stories featuring elements of Finnish culture. Some of the odder ones featured a goth riding a rollercoaster, hackers coding computer demos at the Assembly festival, a heavy-metal festival full of corpsepainted teenagers, a troupe of clowns giving an athlete an instant makeover so he could enter a restaurant, a twattish-looking bloke in DJ headphones playing the pipes at the Sibelius monument, and Santa Claus playing chess with one of the Moomins. Oh, and lots of mobile phones (Nokia, of course); the Finns, it seems, use them at the dinner table, and even propose marriage with the help of their cameraphones. Other than mobile phones, heavy metal appears to be a big part of the Finnish national identity; other than the promos, there was the entertainment during the vote-counting break, which featured the heavy-metal string quartet Apocalyptica, as well as acrobats.
Last but not least, one has to mention the astonishing phenomenon that is Krisse, the somewhat frightening-looking young woman with the pink puffer jacket and big ponytails plucked from the audience to interview competitors, stumbling through questions and going on about herself (sample question: "on a scale of 9 to 10, how beautiful am I?"). For some reason, she reminded me of Leoncie.
And Greece's entry is Bonnie Tyler trapped in Anastacia's body, and a rather unique costume.
And here comes Finland, with the mighty Lordi doing "Hard Rock Hallelujah". They're a bunch of blokes in sci-fi monster/alien latex costumes doing a somewhat tongue-in-cheek metal-pop, replete with unusually comprehensible Cookie Monster vocals. Check out the impressive bat wings on the lead singer (that's the chap raising the battle axe towards the sky). I am informed that Lordi are a mainstream pop radio fixture in Finland.
Ukraine, meanwhile, have Eurodance with cossack dancing.
An interesting account from the recent Ukrainian election, which pitted the country's Russian population (a legacy of Stalin's mass population transplants) against its Ukrainian-speaking one:
The sense of persecution was not alleviated by a spectacular official cock-up in the run up to the election, which left many disenfranchised. Computer software translated Russian names into Ukrainian ones. Mr Shkvortsov (Mr Starling) became Mr Shpak and could not vote because his passport did not match the electoral roll.
Medical specialists from Britain, the US and France claim that Ukrainian opposition leader Viktor Yuschenko was poisoned in the run-up to the country's (now invalidated) presidential election. Who ordered the poisoning (believed to have been done with a rare poison) is unknown, though it could go all the way to Moscow (which stands to lose influence if the pro-Western Yuschenko comes to power).
In the background of a protest rally, Ukrainian pop music sounds a lot like Stock/Aitken/Waterman Hi-NRG from the 1980s.
Ukraine recently held a presidential election; exit polls suggested the pro-Western, reformist challenger was to win. Imagine the surprise when the pro-Moscow incumbent declared victory. Russia immediately announced that he had won fairly, but observers from the EU and US claimed widespread voting irregularities (and the Ukraine didn't need butterfly ballots or Diebold trick voting machines, when a few thugs intimidating voters and pouring acid into pro-opposition poll boxes would suffice). The public didn't buy it and took to the streets in mass protests; several cities have also refused to recognise the result. The "winner", Viktor Yanukovych, is ready to put down the protests "quickly and firmly". I wonder whether we're going to see another Ceaucescu-style fall of the ruling regime, another Tienanmen Square, or something in between. And whether anyone's blogging the unfolding events.
In the Ukraine, cars with certain number plates are exempt from road laws. These are normally given to the ruling elite (naturally) and police, though they can be yours for a price:
KM gives you total immunity, EO works only in the east and 777 looks cool but doesn't really mean anything.
This reminds me of the situation in the Soviet Union, where, apparently, the Communist Party nomenklatura had a wealth of privileges, including special reserved lanes on the motorways, a special phone system (which worked better than the one the ordinary plebs got) and even a private underground railway in Moscow.
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