Sunday, June 29, 2014

Eurovision Song Contest 2014: The Grand Final, Saturday 10th May 2014

The waiting is over.  On a personal note, it's been a particularly enjoyable fortnight's lead-up to the contest, for a number of reasons.  Firstly, the timing - I'm usually either on holiday on Eurovision week, or the week after, but this year I timed it perfectly and was able to follow all the rehearsals and the week of the contest itself.  And then there was Twitter.  All my best Twitter friends who were in Copenhagen really brought the contest alive.  For various reasons I can't go to Eurovision so this was like the next best thing to being there, for this stay-at-home fan. 

But on Saturday, 10th May, it's just me, mum, and the telly.  And mum is not in Eurovision mood. For which I apologise in advance. As ever, don't expect detailed analysis (you'll find that on many of the excellent ESC sites out there in internet land), just some musings by (a) an obsessive fan and (b) someone who isn't.

The show begins with that oh-so-21st-century thang, an X Factor-style recap of last year's festivities in Sweden.  Which makes way for an army of James Bonds (or Milk Tray men!) - delete as appropriate -  making their way from Malmö to Copenhagen, (to the soundtrack of Denmark's first ever ESC winner, "Dansevise" from 1963) ending in a very athletic flag parade.  As it turns out, that's not the last James Bond reference of the night.  Anyway it's not quite as spectacular as last year's 'Bridge' entry in Malmö but it's still pretty good.  I like the way they're introducing the artists who all come out on stage individually to that "woo-hoo" song which was a hit a few years ago and still gets up my nose if I'm honest.  Austria's Conchita Wurst gets the biggest roar of appreciation from the audience and there are also big cheers for Basim (Denmark) and The Common Linnets (Netherlands) whilst the UK's Molly also receives a warm reception.

Then it's time for confetti pyros! I don't envy the poor cleaners who will have to clear all this up: Graham Norton agrees.  The three hosts, Lise, Pilou and Nikolaj 'join us' (groan) on stage.  Pilou kicks off his running Chinese gag which would, um, run and run and run.  The boys are in nice suits and Lise is in a rather drab beige ballgown - perhaps a subtle tribute to the queen of beige herself, Emmelie de Forest? 

In the technically advanced land that is the UK, "UK viewers cannot vote by text".  (This doesn't really matter to me as it takes me about half an hour to send a text anyway...!).  UK viewers can't app-vote either. At least Graham Norton is explaining that the jury final took place on the night before the Grand Final, and this was which the international juries voted on.  Their votes are worth 50% of the overall total. What no-one really mentioned was the influence which the jury ranking system would have on that overall total. 

As it turns out I don't get to hear much of what the presenters say, and can't really tell if Graham Norton's commentary is any good or not, as my mum talks over everything from the beginning to the end of the show.  She hasn't been very well over recent months so I will let this go, and rewatch some parts of the show later to complete my review. 


UKRAINE: "Tick-Tock" - Mariya Yaremchuk.

The hamster wheel's still there, she is still wearing that midnight blue dress and she is still stunning. However it's also still too gimmicky and the song just doesn't cut it for me: it does nothing to change my view that Ukraine hasn't sent a decent song to ESC since "Shady Lady". However you have to hand it to Ukraine for maximising the potential of every entry they send.  Talking of recreating flags, at one point the guy in the hamster wheel recreates the three-legged Isle of Man flag.

Mum: Would this song be called Tick Tock?
Laura: Indeed.  There's too many props here.  Ukraine is notorious for throwing everything including the kitchen sink at their songs.  This will be top 20 but probably more to do with the current Ukraine-Russia conflict and sympathy votes accordingly.

BELARUS: "Cheesecake" - Teo.

A funny thing happened on the way to Eurovision.  When "Cheesecake" won the Belarus final I thought it was ok but nothing more.  Yet it was one of those songs which grew on me as it became more and more familiar.  So far so good.

And then it happened.  Behold the cult of #TwerpyHamsterDave.

This started with the misheard lyric in the song's chorus which started in our little Twitter fan bubble - it has become "I don't wanna be your twerpy hamster Dave" to the point where I am completely disinterested in actually learning the real lyrics. I explain the whole twerpy phenomenon to mum but she doesn't really understand.  Graham Norton doesn't seem all that keen on this one.

M: He looks familiar - have I seen him before?
L: Yes he was on the other night.
M: I like that little dance he does.
L: This whole song has just reached a new level of greatness thanks to #TwerpyHamsterDave.  I really like it now.
M: I can't see this doing very well.

AZERBAIJAN: "Start A Fire" - Dilara Kazimova.

She has a presence and dare I say, a sense of wonderment about her, which is wasted on this non-song.  I've heard this song countless times and still struggle to make out the lyrics apart from "start a fire".

M: This is boring me.
L: Ditto here.  The trapeze act is just a distraction.  They've always been up there in the top 5 but I can't see this keeping that record going.

ICELAND: "No Prejudice" - Pollapönk.

As in the semi-final, it's an animated and infectious performance which sticks out after the Azeri snooze-fest. 

L: Ppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppp.  I really love this now.
M: It's very colourful, but not much of a song.
L: I disagree.  The lyrics are actually very good and there's a strong message in there. 

NORWAY: "Silent Storm" - Carl Espen. 

Or according to Graham Norton, Carl Epsen.  Que??  Whatever way you pronounce it, Carl's vulnerability when performing this song never fails to move me, and I don't know about you but I'm in bits by the end of it. 

M: I remember him!
L:  This is a bloody great song.  And listen to the cheers from the crowd!
M: He reminds me of someone.  This is a very hard song to sing, but he sings it well. If this doesn't finish in a high position it will be a fraud!

ROMANIA: "Miracle" - Paula Seling and Ovi.

Remember when Simon Cowell used to say on all those talent shows that "this sounds a bit too cruise ship cabaret?".  Where once in 2010 they were an appealing couple, in 2014 they're just annoying.

M: He's a wee man isn't he, compared to her.
L: Although he's probably not wearing 4-inch heels.
M: I remember this from the other night.  He's getting on my wick now.
L: The song is just far too generic. 
M: And it's too loud.  Turn it down.  These songs are too samey.
L: I don't think you could ever say that any of these songs this year sound the same!

(things are getting pretty heated at this point so let's move on).

ARMENIA: "Not Alone" - Aram MP3.

Once an absolute pre-contest fave, and then its chances spectacularly bombed.

M: My main problem with this is that there are too many strobes and lights.
L: He's not doing it for me tonight at all: I've heard him sing better than this.
M: And then the wind started up.
L: OK you're not alone.  We hear you.

This is perhaps the most disappointing performance from a favourite that I can remember in a long time.  I don't think ESC will be heading to Armenia next year.

MONTENEGRO: "Moj Svijet" - Sergej Cetkovic.

I then go into ranting mode about the completely unnecessary use of a figure skater on stage.  Rant out of the way, let's talk about the song.

L: The Balkan ballads always do well here, and I think this is rather lovely.
M: (goes into inexplicable rant) I can't believe what I'm watching.  The songs are all so forgettable beyond belief.
L: I really don't understand where all this is coming from.  This is one of the best contests in recent years so please stop slagging it off!!

POLAND: "My Slowianie - We Are Slavic" - Donatan and Cleo.

L: Boobs, that's all.
M: Typical Eurovision!
L: They're like the Babushkis' younger Polish cousins.
M: This is hellish.  Where is this from?  I hate this. 
L: But it has to be said, they sure as hell know how to churn butter in a seductive manner ;)

GREECE: "Rise Up" - Freaky Fortune featuring Riskykidd.

The excitement is all too much for Risky who is going off on one in his opening rap. 

L: We'll see how long until you say...go on, say it.
M: Is this song called Rise Up?  I'm surprised everyone doesn't rise up and walk out!
L: Now come on, I'll admit that the vocals aren't the best, but I still like the song.  And I really wish I was on that trampoline with them ;))

Now....the wurst is yet to come!

AUSTRIA: "Rise Like A Phoenix" - Conchita Wurst.

If winners were judged by cheers from the audience, then she's already a winner. 

M: I still can't really understand what he/she is about.
(At this point, I have to give mum yet another explanation about Conchita).
M: She looks great though.  I love her eyes too!
L: Is ESC going to Vienna?  Looks like it!

GERMANY: "Is It Right" - Elaiza.

Otherwise known as "Is It S***e" at EuropeCrazy HQ.

L: I still don't like this.  At. All.
M: The German public must have been really stupid to pick this one.
L: This didn't deserve to win their final (I go on to explain to mum that Unheilig should have won the national final....)
M: Her outfit is terrible too.  There is nothing good about this at all.
L: It's still my tip for the bottom of the big 6, and even the whole scoreboard.
M: If it's yes or even no? Get off!!

Break time brings another instalment of the book of records: the highest note.  Which belongs to Croatia's entry from 1996, which, fact fans, is one of my least favourite contests ever. 

SWEDEN: "Undo" - Sanna Nielsen.

Another of this year's major contenders.  It's an impressive set, and the audience is singing along.

M: What age is she?  She looks quite old.
L: She's 29.
M: Never!
L: It's true.
M: This is the worst Eurovision ever for dazzling lights!!

My migraine-suffering mum is really struggling by this stage.  As Graham Norton would say: "Many of the songs contain flashing images".

Even though I have never particularly liked this song, I can probably now understand its appeal. It's a very well-staged professional product which is guaranteed votes.  But for me, it's still crucially lacking any heart.

FRANCE: "Moustache" - Twin Twin.

Twin Twin Oh Yeah!!
L: This is catchy.  I know that not many people like this, but I do.
M: Are they a group?
L: yes.
M: Interesting hair.
L: Je veux ci je veux ca.  I like the lyrics, and the song has a message, but I think that will be lost on a lot of people.  This is probably bombing.
M: All the flashing lights have completely ruined my night. 

RUSSIA: "Shine" - The Tolmachevy Sisters.

And now from one set of twins to another.  This time, with interlocked hair and ready-made booing.

L: This is a very confident "we're on our way to invade you" performance. 
M: They don't deserve the boos.  They are just a couple of young girls and they don't deserve that.
L: But it's what they represent which is being booed.  I'm not advocating booing them at all, but I can understand why it's happening.

The main problem I have with this song and performance is that it's just too forceful and sterile.  Their professionalism is not in any doubt though, and I think that will be rewarded with votes.

ITALY: "La Mia Citta" - Emma Marrone.

Another one of the big 5.  I explain to mum that Emma is a big star in Italy but this is not a patch on "Non è L'Inferno" which won Sanremo 2012.  But all of this pales into insignificance as the lights are flashing again.  Emma's dressed as a 21st century Roman empress, but does she impress?

M: Not more bloody flashing images!!  Can they not just sing?  I don't like this.
L: She is capable of much better than this, but having said that, I like this song. 
M: Eurovision is far too serious's lost its humour.
L: It's still very enjoyable though.  I hope Emma does well, as I love Italy in Eurovision.
M: I just wish the song was more....melodic.  More traditional Italian.
L: I'm just glad it's in the Italian language.

SLOVENIA: "Round and Round" - Tinkara Kovac.

It's a competent flute-flaunting performance from Tinkara.  Slovenia in the final is a rarity indeed, so it's just lovely to see them here anyway.

M: This is ok, although quite bland.
L: I can't see it doing that well though.  There is such a high standard this year that this one will probably get lost. 

FINLAND: "Something Better" - Softengine.

Yay!!! But mum.....
L: Warning - the next performance contains strobe lighting, etc etc.  I'm really glad this made it though!  They have really made the best of their staging/lighting.
M: The lighting is (still) getting on my wick.  I like this group though.  Good song.

SPAIN: "Dancing In The Rain" - Ruth Lorenzo.

I explain to mum that she appeared in the British version of X Factor and is therefore known to British viewers.

L: I'm not liking this at all.  Get the woman a hairdryer.
M: She's taking the song title a bit too literally.
L: I'm off for my toilet break now because Switzerland is on next!!!!
M: She's far too loud.

SWITZERLAND: "Hunter of Stars" - Sebalter.


I explain to mum that she missed him in the semi-final but that is not going to happen again. Never mind the fact that I am completely and utterly under the spell of Sebastiano Pau-Lessi, isn't "Hunter of Stars" such an infectious song?  If you head over to this blog around Christmas time you probably won't be surprised to find this song in my year-end top 10.

L: God, that guy could charm the birds out of the trees.  I love him.
M: Yes he is very good looking...strange song though.
L: I absolutely love it now, so catchy and likeable. 

And if you're participating in a pyro curtain drinking game, drink now :)

HUNGARY: "Running" - Andras Kallay-Saunders.

As I said in the semi-final, I'm not too happy with the interpretative dance.  The subject matter would have been fine on its own.

M: I don't like this song, I'm not impressed.
L: See, I do like it, but I would have changed the staging of it.  I really want Hungary to win it one of these years - they've entered some good songs over the years. 

Of which "Sound of Our Hearts" remains my favourite.  I wish Compact Disco would come back and represent Hungary some time.

MALTA: "Coming Home" - Firelight.

Another pre-contest favourite of mine.

M: Not more bloody flashing images!!
L: You have to admit though that it's some show.
M: Some size of set anyway.
L: I still like this song a lot.  Their performance tonight is much better and more confident than in the semi-final.

DENMARK: "Cliché Love Song" - Basim.

This has become one of my pre-contest favourites and finally, local favourite Basim gets the chance to wow the viewers across Europe.  "Cliche Love Song" might annoy a lot of people, but for me it has a smashing feelgood factor, and puts a big smile on my face every time I hear it.

L: I still think this is going to do very well, although it's not a patch on the staging in the national final.
M: (sings) "You to me are everything..."
L: I know it sounds as if it's ripped off another song, and he's a bit of a Danish Bruno Mars, but I still really like it!

There is a silly 'love' banner draped towards the end of the song where the Danish flag used to be in the national final.  Why?  They should have kept the Dannebrog in: it would have been a nice nod to the fact that the contest is coming from Denmark this year.

NETHERLANDS: "Calm After The Storm" - The Common Linnets.

Sing along with the Common Linnets...
What everyone didn't expect was that since the semi-final two nights ago, "Calm After The Storm" has soared up the iTunes charts all over Europe - even here in the UK!! - and become a major contender.  The song/outfits/staging/performance is just the complete package and whilst it's a million miles from "old" Eurovision, I'm delighted that a song like this is doing so well, if only to help to change the (non-fan) viewing public's perception of the contest, and break down that peculiar stigma which still exists in this country about ESC.

M: (sings) "Tulips from Amsterdam"/"Every Breath You Take".
L: Since the semi-final the other night this has become a really big hit so it's going to do very well tonight - serious contenders. 3rd from last is a very good draw.
M: This does have a very good chance.
L: Netherlands haven't won for almost 40 years.
M: So it's about time they won it then!

SAN MARINO: "Maybe" - Valentina Monetta.

Unashamedly, unapologetically, 'old Eurovision' with a wind machine and a talky bit and Ralf Siegel doing a Lloyd Webber 'featuring' bit on the old piano. 

L: She's been in it 3 years in a row and everyone's happy that she's made the final.
M: This is very, very old fashioned compared to a lot of the other songs. 
L: "Maybe" (groan) that's why it appealed to a section of the voters then.


UNITED KINGDOM: "Children of the Universe" - Molly.

I'm not being patriotic here, but I have to say that the postcard - a Union Jack made out of London buses, Post Office vans and an army of willing volunteers in blue cagoules - is probably one of the best and most ambitious postcards this year.  Could we say the same about our song and singer?

The previously unknown Molly Smitten-Downes was chosen to represent the UK this year, using the 'BBC Introducing' process.  During one of the programmes on the excellent pop-up radio station BBC Radio 2 Eurovision, I think it was Guy Freeman who said that this is part of a long-term strategy for the BBC at Eurovision.  Maybe the Beeb has finally got the message that they must try harder to attempt to win the contest.  This year's UK singer and song have certainly had a much warmer reception from the fan community in the weeks leading up to the contest, the "Children of the Universe" video received lots of airplay on Chart Show TV but there could have been more promotion both here and on the continent.

It's a pity that Molly's performance is a bit of an anti-climax after that impressive postcard.  Molly is all post-apocalyptic gold lame and gladiator sandals.  There's an enthusiastic drummer and some reliable backing singers, and Molly gives a good enough performance; that in itself is a nice change for a UK entry (!) but crucially, the spark is missing, and Molly fails to make that vital connection required of a winning entry. 

M: (scoffing): Power to the people! 
L: It's a good performance but that's all.  We need something more special than that.
M: It's too repetitive, and not a very likeable tune. 

Then the commentators get a little tribute from Pilou and Nikolaj - and they single out Graham Norton.  Is that an omen?  Anyway it's more work for the cleaners tomorrow as this tribute culminates in a shower of confetti.

Europe - start voting now!!  Which here at EuropeCrazy HQ means....dialling the number for Switzerland!

Interval act time, by a group of people called Momoland.  They are defying gravity, sitting at the top of ladders, singing a "Joyful" song to the tune of Ode to Joy.  On first viewing, I really don't get the point, and neither, it seems does the audience, given their rather muted reaction.

I rewatched this segment again after the contest and listened closely to the lyrics (which are just lovely) after which time I felt a bit more positive about this interval act.

Next up, the three hosts sing this "twelve points" song - yes, 12 is such a mindblowing number - and cue more of that running joke about China.  Nikolaj to Pilou: "you keep going on and on about China...!" Of course I like Pilou, but I'm getting bored with that running joke.

Back in the green room, Lise introduces Gaia from Malta, a little girl with a huge voice, who won Junior ESC last year and I have no doubt that we'll see her back in the 'big' ESC representing her home country in a few years. 

M: I didn't know there was a junior Eurovision.
L: Yes there is, it's been going for a few years, the UK used to be in it!

Yet another recap to gather up the last of the votes.  Then....Europe - stop voting now!

Whilst the votes are counted, Pilou takes us to the museum of Eurovision history - including an interactive Johnny Logan, kiddie-scaring Lordi, and gyllene skor-wearing Herreys.  I wish that such a thing existed!

Lise's in the green room, providing a full English breakfast to Richard from Firelight, a curly wurly cake to Molly and Twin Twin's favourite meal - they certainly react a lot more enthusiastically than Molly, whose reaction briefly becomes an internet sensation.

Here's a 'fun fact', Pilou - EMMELIE DE FOREST IS NOT WEARING BEIGE. Appropriately for her name, she's got twigs in her pink and white dress.  A brief recap of "Only Teardrops" leads into a performance of this year's official ESC song "Rainmaker".  The stage is spectacularly transformed into a giant pool, and the dancers jump into the moat around the side of the stage.  Then this year's contestants all join Emmelie on stage for the song's finale, singing, dancing and waving flags.  It's a very satisfying end to a modern, stylish, professional production by DR.  But it's now on to the voting results and all the predictable and unpredictable craziness which that brings.

The 12s to Russia from Azerbaijan and Belarus are greeted with mass booing, whilst there are various 12s being thrown around in the early part of the voting to Spain, Sweden, Hungary, Belarus, Italy, Armenia, Montenegro and an 'interesting' (to say the least) 12 from San Marino to Azerbaijan.  What does become very clear, very quickly though, is that the pre-contest worries that much of Europe would not accept Conchita Wurst, turn out to be unfounded.  12s start to fly Austria's way - including from the UK - and particularly in the final half of the voting, the 12s are shared almost exclusively between Conchita and her closest competitors, The Common Linnets from the Netherlands.  With 3 juries to declare, Conchita is announced as the winner.  With their first Eurovision win in 48 years, it's finally time for Austria to "rise like a phoenix!!"  Both of us on the EuropeCrazy HQ were particularly delighted by Conchita's win.

In Conchita's winning speech, she dedicated her win to "...everyone who believes in a future of peace and freedom....we are unity - and we are unstoppable".  Conchita represents everyone who has ever suffered bullying or intolerance, and for those who just want the freedom to be who they want to be; the lyrics of "Rise Like A Phoenix" are pretty inspirational. She is certainly a memorable and worthy winner in a time when hate and intolerance is on the rise across our continent, as sadly demonstrated by the European election results just two weeks after the contest.

If at first you don't succeed.....

Who'd have though that we'd have seen the day when Austria and the Netherlands were fighting it out at the top of the ESC scoreboard?  Austria's first and only win was in 1966, whilst the Netherlands last won it in 1975, and in recent years both countries have spectacularly underachieved at the contest.  The success of these two countries screams 'don't give up!' to all those countries thinking of quitting the contest because they don't achieve good results from one year to the next.  These songs are absolute opposites - a big diva ballad and a subtle, quiet country song.  Both are a long way from the boom-bang-a-bang stereotype perpetuated by those in our country's media who refuse to accept that the Eurovision Song Contest has moved on to the modern, contemporary entertainment event which it is today.

Something rotten in the state of Eurovision

There remains a dark side to the glitter and glamour though: the current split voting system between juries and televoting.  After recent voting scandals, the EBU attempted some transparency and revealed the names of each country's jury members before the contest, and revealed their scores and rankings after the contest.  I'm not going into detail about this - there are some excellent ESC fansites out there with all the analysis that you'll ever need - but suffice to say that there continues to be something rotten in a jury ranking system which completely overturns the televoting result from a particular country, and makes you wonder what's the point of televoting if it's not going to count.

Eurovision is just tweeter than ever!

ESC has also spectacularly evolved over the past couple of years into a massive social media event.  As I mentioned at the start of this post, Twitter completely brought this year's contact alive, and the contest dominated the full top 10 trending topics in Glasgow.  That particular site may have some dark, nasty aspects from time to time (the current debate on the Scottish independence referendum being a case in point), but I can honestly say that when it comes to Eurovision, it's been an incredibly welcoming and inclusive community which I am happy to feel part of. 

What happened next....

The immediacy of downloading music has also had a very significant impact on the contest.  Once upon a time, we had to wait weeks for the release of Eurovision singles.  1974 was a massive year for the contest, with Abba, Gigliola Cinquetti and Mouth and MacNeal all making the UK singles chart.  Fast-forward 40 years and on the day after the contest there were, I think, 7 (maybe more?) ESC songs in the UK top 50 iTunes singles chart.  At one point, "Calm After The Storm" was as high as no.2, and achieved an overall chart position of no.9 in the UK Official Top 40 the following week, with "Rise Like A Phoenix" at no.17. 

For although Conchita won the contest, The Common Linnets won the chart war all over Europe.  Then something very strange happened.  Just at the height of their fame, at the end of May, Waylon issued a statement that he would be leaving The Common Linnets; this was never going to be a permanent project for him - it was Ilse's project, which would continue, but Waylon is now going to focus on his own solo career. 

Russia got annoyed by Conchita's win (quelle surprise) and announced their own Turkvision-style breakaway song contest, the revival of the old Soviet-era "Intervision", and it was reported that some Russians had even shaved off their beards in response to Conchita's win.

As for Conchita, she certainly had a dramatic impact and went on to dominate the media for quite a while, and will be appearing at several events over the summer. So where does Conchita Wurst go from here?  I just wonder if she will pursue a recording career out of this, or focus on being a TV/media celebrity?  One thing's for sure, she will remain one of Eurovision's most memorable winning artists, long after her song has been forgotten.


1.  Austria - 290 points
2.  The Netherlands - 238 points
3.  Sweden - 218 points
4.  Armenia - 174 points
5.  Hungary - 143 points
6. Ukraine - 113 points
7.  Russia - 89 points
8.  Norway - 88 points
9.  Denmark - 74 points
10. Spain - 74 points
11.  Finland - 72 points
12. Romania - 72 points
13.  Switzerland - 64 points
14.  Poland - 62 points
15. Iceland - 58 points
16. Belarus - 43 points
17.  United Kingdom - 40 points
18.  Germany - 39 points
19.  Montenegro - 37 points
20.  Greece - 35 points
21.  Italy - 21 points
22. Azerbaijan - 33 points
23.  Malta - 32 points
24.  San Marino - 14 points
25.  Slovenia - 9 points
26.  France - 2 points

So, as I post this seven weeks after the contest, our thoughts turn to Eurovision 2015.  Countries are already announcing their participation and seeking song submissions; Austria has confirmed it will host the contest next May but the host city has yet to be announced although I can't imagine it being anywhere else but Vienna; and just think, it's only 6 months until Festivali i Këngës. And then it all begins, all over again.....

Let's get summer out of the way first though!! :))

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