The Null Device
After one plague year off, they managed to hold Eurovision this year in Rotterdam, with social-distancing protocols in place and contestants prerecording videos and self-isolating if they didn't test negative.
The winner this year was Italy, who had a group of grungy-looking young dudes with tattoos and slicked-back hair playing some alternative rock like it's the 90s again; the vibe was four parts dive bar to one part Jim Rose sideshow; in any case, they were in the top 5 with the juries, and catapulted to #1 by the public vote. Not my top pick, but a fair cop, and more inspiring than the runner-up, Switzerland (who won the juries, but appeared too forgettable for the public), or arguably France (who seemed sweet and earnest though not quite up to her Piaf-esque number).
My choices were Iceland, Germany, Finland and Lithuania, not necessarily in that order. Iceland's entry, a slab of jittery electrofunk with pixel-art aesthetics and a routine with semicircular keytars, came a respectable third, giving hope that we may yet see Eurovision go to Reykjavík. Germany had a chap named Jendrik, whose name suggests an Aldi version of Jedward, strumming a ukulele and singing a song titled I Don't Feel Hate, on a pastel-coloured set with a number of dancers including one costumed as a hand sticking its middle finger up. It was a bit silly, though fun and well done; unfortunately for them, the audience didn't share its sentiment, giving it 0 points on top of the 3 from the juries. Finland also did hard rock with an industrial edge, though perhaps their mistake was leaving the monster costumes at home, which let Italy's brand of rock get the charisma edge, leaving them at #5. And Lithuania did a competent minimal-house number almost industrial in places, with the clever touch of it being about dancing alone, a relatable theme in the Ronacene; they came 8th.
There were other contestants worthy of note. Belgium brought the late-90s trip-hop-adjacent chillout crew Hooverphonic out of retirement, playing an all live set, with not a breakbeat or a rompler-based epiano patch in sight. Cyprus had famously offended their local religiots with some mild Satanic themes in what was an otherwise generic piece of Gaga-lite eurodance. Israel brought some tasteful Mark Ronson-esque electrofunk, which, at a different time, might have done better. Russia brought a song railing against sexism, which was probably as rebellious as they could get away with (Dad: "We have Pussy Riot at home"). Malta did respectably well with a Shakira-meets-Gnarls-Barkley number with extra sass. Greece's visuals promised a glitch aesthetics which their sound didn't deliver (and it's not hard; we've had vaporwave for over a decade, and surely some must have filtered down to the Eurovision plane by now). Bulgaria had a rather nice song in a somewhat Phoebe Bridgers vein, Ukraine went cyber-Slavic, Azerbaijan had a Middle Eastern-styled club banger titled Mata Hari that you know will be booming out of car stereos at kebab o'clock all summer, and Norway's entry looked like the writing session was a game of Telephone which started with “let's do something like Robbie Williams' ‘Angels’”; i.e., a bit of a mess, albeit technically well executed. The Dutch entry was a bit cringeworthy, coming across like every postcolonial struggle distilled into a high-concept perfume commercial. Meanwhile, plucky little San Marino managed to get the American rapper Flo Rida to do a guest verse, though it didn't get them anywhere.
Sweden's entry was competent though unexciting, which is arguably not entirely an un-Swedish thing to be. Australia failed to make it through to the final this year, for the first time since being admitted as a participant. As for the UK, the less said the better. It wasn't their worst entry in recent years by far; it didn't look like a routine by the resident entertainment crew at a second-tier Butlins, for one, and wasn't an egregious show of contempt for Johnny Foreigner and his silly song contest, and the performer looked like an agreeable sort of chap you could have a drink or a board game with. All that was immaterial, though, as Britain, and Britain alone, got nul points from both the juries and the audiences. Presumably by now Britain's pariah status is so ingrained that they have a decade of rock-bottom results baked in no matter what they do, and so it becomes debatable whether there is any point in sending someone to 2022 to receive the annual ritual humiliation. Perhaps an independent Scottish entry will fare better (and one knows an independent Welsh one would, should this ever happen).
Anyway, it looks like it's in Rome next year.
The results are mostly in on this Thursday's round of elections across the UK, but the dust is yet to settle.
A big upset was Labour losing a byelection in Hartlepool, giving the Tories the seat for the first time in 62 years. Which they had been bracing for, though the size of the winning margin was still shocking. Keir Starmer, Labour's post-Corbyn leader, initially accepted blame for the loss, claiming that Covid restrictions cramped his ability to get his message across, and/or blaming the lingering poison of Corbynism. (As one wit said, Jeremy Corbyn should do the decent thing and resign as ex-leader.)
Labour did well in other places; winning the first directly elected mayoralty of Liverpool, making gains in Wales, holding Greater Manchester, and so on. In all those cases, the victories seemed to be on the strength of a left-leaning grass-roots localism. Hartlepool, though, was a test of Starmer's Westminster policies, which have recently been tacking rightward to win back the “Red Wall” seats in the north of England; former working-class strongholds, now populated largely by the retired, their populations stereotyped as spiteful reactionaries, who, nonetheless, decide elections; hence stunts like posting St. George flags to voters in lieu of pamphlets. While it is conceivable that a chastened Labour could pivot towards presenting a sweeping social-democratic vision for building back better, it is more conceivable that they will come to the conclusion that they were insufficiently gammony, and move to aggressively remedy that. (One claim to look for is that Starmer hasn't won the people's trust because he has not yet sufficiently repudiated his past as a human rights lawyer, and every Daily Mail reader knows that human rights lawyers are very much not on their side.) Early signs bear this out; Starmer has sacked the party secretary Angela Rayner, a leftwinger, in what could be the opening salvo of a redoubled purge of Corbynista holdovers.
Meanwhile in Scotland, the SNP made gains, and while falling short of an outright majority, has one jointly with the equally pro-independence Greens, with the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, vowing to push for a second referendum in the coming term. Westminster has already ruled out any such referendum, so the question may end up in court, or somewhere messier (possibly a Catalan-style standoff, or direct rule imposed), unless one side blinks. Meanwhile, Alex Salmond's rebel pro-independence party Alba (who, unlike the other two, oppose rejoining the EU, and also hitched their wagon early on to the reactionary side of the culture war, such as an anticipated groundswell of anti-transgender sentiment) fizzled, failing to win any seats.
And in London, Labour's Sadiq Khan has been returned as Mayor; the Tories did respectably, especially given that their candidate, Shaun Bailey, appeared to be clueless on a lot of issues. The plethora of protest/novelty/crank candidates who piled up at the bottom can console themselves with more hits for their YouTube channels and/or publicity for other projects (such as a mask-free pub serving only British food and hosting right-wing comedians). This may be the last London mayoral election held under the current system, as the Westminster government has made noises about replacing it with first-past-the-post.
Forth Bridge is down. Prince Philip, the husband of Queen Elizabeth II, has died, aged 99.
All of Britain is officially in mourning for eight days; all non-funereal programming has been suspended on the BBC (with the exception of the childrens' channel CBeebies). In normal times, theatres, music halls and other such establishments would have been shut by law, though given that it's the Ronatimes, they're shut anyway. Presumably the authorities will order Netflix and Animal Crossing to be blocked at ISP level and repurpose the BBC detector vans to find people seditiously watching comedy shows on Zoom.
At any time, this would have been disruptive, though at this moment, it is particularly so. Britain now stands several months after the completion of Brexit, the total triumph of small-minded xenophobic reactionaries against the liberal, cosmopolitan tendency within, and is engaged in a sort of scourging of the shires; this is partly to distract attention from the monumental cock-up the whole project has been on any level other than the quick amphetamine high of chest-thumping nationalism. (Though, to those cheering it on, this is what counts; the Brexit agreement itself, for example, has been negotiated by the UK to be deliberately harsher than necessary, particularly to punish those of the defeated party; consequently, Britain has pulled out of the Erasmus student exchange programme, and pointedly refused to allow visas for touring artists. After all, the reasoning seems to go, we don't want our young people fraternising with the garlic-eaters, do we? The only way a young Briton post-Brexit should meet a European is in the trenches, with bayonet fixed.) In any case, the few months of Britain's post-EU existence have been met with businesses that do any sort of trade with the EU going to the wall, and the government engaging in a spiral of performative nationalism; mandating the flying of the flag on all government buildings, defending the statues of noble slaveholders from Antifa/BLM extremists, introducing laws criminalising protest, and blaming the lack of promised post-Brexit sunlit uplands on stabs in the back from treacherous metropolitan liberal remainer elites.
In a sense, Prince Philip is the Princess Di of Brexitland, the People's Prince 2021 Britain deserves. As Lady Diana—youthful, glamorous, relatably insecure, and caring about people in the way those around her didn't—embodied, in retrospect, the mood of the lifting of the dead hand of Thatcherism in the Cool Britannia New Labour Spring (how little we knew!), Philip—a geriatric racist who, even while alive, looked uncannily out of place among the living, known for his callous “gaffes” and celebrated by taxi drivers and pub bores across the country for his “robust views”—embodies the identity of post-Brexit Britain, indeed, the definition of True Brit in 2021.
Meanwhile in Australia, life goes on mostly as normal, with events going ahead as planned, with one exception: apparently the ABC not only replaced its main channel programming with wall-to-wall royal hagiography but simulcast that to its music channel, preempting a planned Rage tribute to a popular recently deceased musician in Melbourne. It is not clear whether they were required to do so by some imperial-era laws held over from the Menzies era (or possibly reintroduced in the contemporary conservative era), or whether some executive made the call to preemptively fold to the conservative culture warriors before their budget gets cut any further. Meanwhile, in Melbourne, a standup comedian started a routine mocking the Royal Family, not knowing that Philip's death had just been announced, and executed a perfect 360⁰ pivot.