At Last the 2010 Show

After weeks of dealing with things like, you know, child-rearing and our actual jobs and stuff, we’re finally going to wrap up this year’s Eurovision Song Contest. First off, here’s a couple of words about Portugal‘s entry: it sucked.

Moving on. Overall, it was a good, solid show, although not necessarily a fun show if you’re a big fan of camp. Oh sure, you have a few overstaged numbers and one outright disaster, but if it weren’t for Belarus and their butterfly wings, kitsch fans would have been suffering horribly by the end of the night.

Let’s take a look at what we predicted and what actually happened. Italics mean right top 10 finish, bold means correct placement:

Jen:

  1. Denmark
  2. Germany
  3. Azerbaijan
  4. Israel
  5. Ireland
  6. Turkey
  7. Armenia
  8. Belgium
  9. Greece
  10. Iceland

Last: U.K.

Chris:

  1. Germany
  2. Azerbaijan
  3. Turkey
  4. Belgium
  5. Armenia
  6. Israel
  7. Denmark
  8. Georgia
  9. Ireland
  10. Romania

Last: U.K.

Europe:

  1. Germany
  2. Turkey
  3. Romania
  4. Denmark
  5. Azerbaijan
  6. Belgium
  7. Armenia
  8. Greece
  9. Georgia
  10. Ukraine

Last: U.K.

The U.K. had finished fifth in 2009 with Jade McEwen and Andrew Lloyd Webber, and clearly the people organizing the 2010 effort thought they had a hit formula: take a song by a famous songwriter, find an unknown singer, and viola! Unfortunately, Pete Waterman struck gold writing songs for acts like Kylie Minogue and Rick Astley in the 1980s, and the song he, Mike Stock and Steve Crosby came up with sounded like some unsold number that they dusted off for the occasion. With its dated arrangement, it was going to be a hard sell, but Josh Dubovie struggled to pull it off. He sang fine at first (unlike his god-awful back-up singers), but then he went flat twice at the end of the song, putting a rancid cherry on top of an already moldy cake.

Even then, the U.K. could have avoided finishing last if Georgia hadn’t somewhat inexplicably awarded Belarus 12 points towards the end of the night. They had given U.K. three to pull the Brits out of the cellar, then cruelly slammed the door and knocked them down the stairs.

To get a sense of how disastrous the U.K. entry was, take a look at the other “disaster” on the night. During the initial performance by Spain‘s Daniel Diges, infamous pitch invader Jimmy Jump came on and joined in the performance. Security seemed slow to react, probably in part that a back-up singer was meant to run out and join Diges right around the time Jimmy Jump came on. Give Diges credit for barely batting an eye during the stage invasion. In fact, he sang the song a bit better even with the distraction than he did when the Eurovision organizers gave him a second chance to perform. Of course, he couldn’t hit the high note at the end in either performance.

Similarly, Harel Skaat’s voice broke at the end of “Milim,” Israel’s entry, meaning that his performance pretty much ended on the wrong note. That might of cost him some votes, but otherwise, the song was a strong ballad performed professionally.

It seemed that any ballad that smacked of being old-fashioned was going to struggle on the evening. Niamh Kavanagh of Ireland, a former winner, seemed to have a good shot at making the top 10 with “It’s for You,” with the added bonus of performing later in the show than Norway’s Didrik Solli-Tangen, who sang the similar-sounding “My Heart Is Yours.” In retrospect, both of these 1990s, Celine Dion-style power ballads suffered compared to the more modern sounding numbers, such as “Shine” by Georgia’s Sopho Nizharadze.

Georgia finished ninth, even though its number was really, really overstaged. Watch this performance and count how many times you think, “Put her down and let her sing, for crying out loud.”

Sopho wasn’t alone in that regard: “Apricot Stone,” Armenia’s entry, was just ridiculous, with a giant apricot stone sprouting a less than impressive tree. Meanwhile, Safura from Azerbaijan suffered in part due to ridiculously overdone staging that featured a dress that lit up, a stroll down the catwalk into the crowd followed by a run back to the main stage, and stairs she couldn’t walk down in her high heels without help from the back-up dancer.

In fact, having the back-up dancer come out to help kind of ruins the staging, since he’s supposed to represent the heel of a man that the song is about. He comes out to escort her down the stairs, runs and hides, then makes his dramatic entrance. That said, though, Azerbaijan’s bigger issue was probably having to go first on the night. Ultimately, the bookies’ favorite going into the song contest ended up dropping to fifth.

Still, it was a top 10 finish, and certainly Georgia and Armenia finished strongly despite having cluttered staging. But simpler staging certainly benefited Tom Dice from Belgium. Compare “Me and My Guitar” to Cyprus’ “Life Looks Better in Spring” and you may not see too much difference. And it’s not that Jon Lilygreen and the Islanders did much more besides get up and play the song. But after their big song with the big back-up vocals, Dice came out, at the end of the catwalk, surrounded by the audience, and just sang and strummed, and it just stood out more. He had back-up vocals, to be sure, and strings and drums, but it really did feel like it was just him and his guitar, and he soared to sixth.

Ukraine’s Alyosha went more stripped down for her performance of “Sweet People.” No back-up singers, no gimmicks, just a raw, effective performance of a song that, really, had very little melody and isn’t all that good. That Ukraine finished 10th, after the chaos of their selection process, is miraculous, and you can credit Alyosha with performing that miracle.

Anyone who wants to complain about bloc voting can point to the success of Georgia, Ukraine, and Russia this year as evidence. Personally, I loved “Lost and Forgotten,” because it played like a parody of the dark Russian soul, but certainly there was a lot of booing going on whenever Russia received big points during the voting.

On the other hand, bloc voting didn’t help Bosnia & Herzegovina and Serbia, who both finished well out of the running. Of course, Bosnia’s song was horrid, but Serbia’s “Ovo je Balkan” is probably my favorite crazy pseudo-traditional number of all time, so I kind wanted to see it do better. Greece’s “OPA!” seemed to get all the votes for the pseudo-trad enthusiasts. It’s certainly Kieran’s favorite song on the night. OOO!

Jen pointed out that the two big dance club tracks, “It’s All About You” from Albania and “Je Ne Sais Quoi” from Iceland seemed to cancel each other out. You’d think, given how poorly Albania, Iceland, and Moldova finished… and let’s face it, Moldova’s 22nd place finish is pretty tragic, given how utterly awesome the song and the sax guy were… that cheesy dance music was passé. Even “Allez Ola Olé” from France’s Jessy Matador only finished in 12th, even though it was probably the most surprisingly entertaining number on the night.

But then Paula Seling and Ovi landed Romania in third place with “Playing with Fire.” It was gimmicky, with the double piano that has fire come out of it. But it was well-staged and well-performed. Jen noted in particular that Paula hit a really high note while sitting down and wearing a really tight catsuit. Moreover, the pair promoted the heck out of the song, with extensive touring around Europe after they were selected to represent Romania.

And despite that, they didn’t seem bored with the song the way Chanée & N’evergreen did with Denmark’s entry “In a Moment Like This.” I find that love songs about wanting to get back together after a break-up play better when the two singers don’t look like they don’t really like each other. Despite that, they finished a respectable fourth, because it’s just a good, solid Eurovision number.

Then there are the top two finishers, and they round out a top 10 that feature a lot of songs that don’t go for the traditional song contest formula. I would argue that five of the 10 (Germany, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Belgium and Ukraine) break from the Eurovision template, and the fact that the top two songs were by far the least conventional sounding of all might be harbinger of what’s to come.

Of course, everyone thought Lordi’s win in 2006 was going to lead to years of gimmick acts, so you can’t really judge the future of the show based on one year. That said, Lordi did open the door for hard rock bands, and Turkey certainly took advantage of that this year. That an act as successful as maNga would participate in Eurovision certainly bodes well for the future of the song contest. (Morrissey, still interested in participating?)

Since we’ve started following Eurovision as closely as we have, we’ve seen the quality of the acts, and the efforts of the participating nations, rise considerably, with the Western European nations beginning to realize that if they take it as seriously as Eastern Europe, they can do well.

And that is part of the lesson in Germany’s win. So many former [INSERT NATION HERE] Idol contestants have participated in Eurovision the past few years that it makes perfect sense to take the Idol format and turn that into the selection method. That was what Stefan Raab did, and aside from just selecting the Song Contest winner in Lena Meyer-Landrut, it also developed among Germans a sense of national pride and a vested interest in the outcome of Eurovision. Everyone wanted their new national darling to do well. Compare that with the U.K., and you get a sense of what a remarkable accomplishment Raab has achieved.

It’s interesting that Raab has decided that Lena should defend her title when the song contest comes to Germany next year. Given the expense of hosting the show, Germany probably doesn’t want to win it again, but it may be a lot of fun to see her try.