This last weekend marked the finals of the Eurovision song contest’s 2008 edition…. What, haven’t heard of it? If not, you’ve missed out on years of amazing spectacle, full of slinky costumes, little-heard languages, and some of the most painful strains of Euro dance pop we’ll never hear widely on this side of the pond. But seriously, Eurovision is the longest-running television program in most of Europe (and parts of the Middle East and northern Africa), going since 1956 now.
Here’s a basic rundown: While “Euro” is in the name, technically the contest isn’t about strictly the continent of Europe (whose Eastern borders are hotly debated these days anyways). Rather, the contest is sponsored by the European Broadcasters’ Union, and any country with an EBU-affiliated station can enter. This means that Israel has competed in recent years, and even places like Morocco and Iceland are eligible. (Morocco has only entered once, in 1980; Iceland has done so 20 times since 1986, but never won). Each country that wants to participate agrees to broadcast the final competition live, picks a previously unreleased song to represent it (either by a national televised competition, like Sweden’s Melodifestivalen, or by an internal jury), and sends the artist off to the semi-finals. This year, there were two semi-finals arranged in various regional heats, and one final showdown, held this past Saturday at the Belgrade Arena in Belgrade, Serbia.
But the voting system is confusing and hotly contested. With the advent of cell phones, text messages, etc., since 1998 most countries’ votes have been determined by people calling or texting in their ratings for each song, on a scale from 1 to 8, then 10, and 12. (Their favorite song gets a 12, the next a 10, and so on.) Then, each country duly assigns a national 12/10/8/whatever vote based on how its people voted.
So, with all the changes in Europe lately, this has led to a million charges of political voting, and for good reason. Scandinavians have long been accused of voting for fellow Scandinavians – if Norway, say, didn’t make it to the finals, Norwegians would just vote for, say, Iceland or Sweden. (These countries have also turned out some of the best pop music for years, but whatever. Also, since the creation of Estonia, Estonians usually vote Scandinavian, thanks to their geographical proximity just across the Gulf of Finland.) Now, with all the former USSR countries each getting an entry, Moldovans or Georgians or whoever just vote Russian if their countries get knocked out – and there are a lot of former USSR countries, with many citizens.
So it’s no surprise that Russia’s entry, “Believe,” by Dima Bilan, won this year. It’s your typical piece of R&B ballad dreck, not any worse than 75% of the competition, but probably not the best.
Beyond the political accusations, many countries have gotten fed up with the songs themselves, which, to garner enough votes, have tended to the extreme middle-of-the-road, or the insanely gimmicky, full of bizarro circus-style performances, often full of scantily clad female back-up dancers. The songs generally fall into a few categories: treacly power ballad, vaguely R&B pop, or that scary, scary, super-fast-BPM Euro dance stuff – think the stuff you hear in all those scary spangled-denim stores on Lincoln Road.
Also, somewhat ironically, while most of the songs are sun g in English, England typically does very, very badly in the competition, and has done even worse since entering the war in Iraq.
What all this means is that a few big countries refuse to participate (Italy for a number of years, Austria this year), but you also get to see what translates to a big hit in many countries that most Americans probably don’t even know exist – Andorra, Malta, San Marino.
And it also means that some of the big countries continue to enter, but with FTW entries that are deliberately stupid or bizarre. Which brings us to Spain’s, “Baile el Chiki Chiki” by Rodolfo Chikilicuatre. Seems that reggaeton has finally washed back to the colonizers’ land, and many people aren’t a big fan (we should assure them that it seems to be waning here too – why else would La Mega 94.9 have changed formats, now playing things like Shakira, Sin Banderas, and even Juan Luis Guerra?). It’s a pretty amusing parody, from the generic beat to the guy’s name and made-up catchphrase slang.
Among the other funniest sarcastic entries: Ireland and Estonia. Seriously, Ireland sent a puppet turkey who sang about the state of the contest in general, and apologizing for Ireland’s past musical missteps (“We’re sorry for Riverdance!”).
And Estonia, well, they sent a couple of fat guys singing a crappy, crappy dance song in a mixture of English, German, and Finnish, complete with ridiculous over-the-top choreography. That these countries would take the time and expense to snub their nose at the contest with this stuff is hysterical, belies an amazingly dry sense of humor, and makes them winners in my book. Alas, Ireland and Estonia did not make to the finals, although Spain, in fact, did. -- Arielle Castillo
Ireland: Dustin the Turkey – “Irelande Douze Pointes”
Estonia: Kreisiraadio – “Leto Svet” (Summer Light)