Saturday, 2 May 2015

We are the worst people: Songs from Europe

It's just three weeks until the delights of the Eurovision Song Contest 2015 are upon us. Well, not quite as some of the participating countries chose their entries last November. Eurovision - the gift that keeps on giving.

This year's is the sixtieth event and will be beamed to us from some anonymous looking stadium in Vienna. No doubt it will feature many familiar scenes - three presenters bellowing "Good evening Europe!" in unison. An audience of balding middle-aged men wearing unflattering Holister t-shirts. An interval act that leaves us shrugging with bemusement. A confused looking septuagenarian couple waiting for Katie Boyle to make an appearance.The usual stuff.

Given that we are celebrating sixty years of all things song contest, much of what is on offer is reminiscent of something else. For Sweden see Aviici, Belgium (Lorde), Latvia (FKA twigs) and the UK (Peters & Lee). Whereas Eurovision used to be very much a brand in its own, pleasingly naff, right, nowadays the contest is often an echo of the mainstream pop charts.

It's fair to say that some of the songs can be dismissed. Some more easily than others. In preparation for this article I plugged myself into Albania's entry, "I'm alive" sung by Elhaida Dani. I forgot every nano-second of it so listened again. Then forgot it again. No grand final for the plucky Albanians this time. We can also probably wave a less than fond farewell to Switzerland's "Time to shine". Singer Melanie  Rene may be polishing this particular turd for a while in order for it to glisten in any way at all. Portugal's Leonor Andrade managed to win her local final by failing to hit the right note for three minutes. Also seemingly doomed is Hungary's turgid plea for peace, "Wars for nothing", a song so banal that I wanted to launch a missile at it.

In years gone by many countries stuck tirelessly to long-held musical stereotypes. The Greek entries always veered towards taverna pop, Israel fielded numerous Hava Nagila/Hokey Cokey combinations and Belgium . . . well, whatever. This year it falls to Montenegro's Knez to serve up something moody and Balkan with a slightly shouty chorus and some stringed instrument gamely being plucked   in the background. It's old skool song contest and I love it.

Saccharine Disney-by-numbers ballads have featured for many years and the prime offenders this year are Spain and Russia. The Spanish entry, 'Amanecer' performed by Edurne promises much yet manages to deliver little, save for the endless utterings of 'corazon' and some drums. Russia, meanwhile, offer us blue-eyed, blonde-haired Polian Gagarina who seemingly kicks off her effort with the line "We are the worst people". Who are we to argue? No doubt there will be there traditional annual booing of the Russian entry whether it be for incursions into Ukraine (who are not participating this year) or the country's lousy record on LGBT issues. Why waste breath booing? Just stand in silence - a much weightier message. Songwise though, Russia ticks every Euro box - stomach churning lyrics, key changes, thunderous ending. Anyone fancy a trip to Socchi next year?

Russia aside, the hot favourites for 2015 appear to be Sweden, Italy and ... err, Australia! Yes, in honour of the 60th contest, the Aussies are being allowed in this year. Their entry is deceptively simple in an Olly Murrs kind of way. No clever tricks or sickly lyrics here - just a rather catchy pop tune. Guy Sebastian may just have what it takes to make "Tonight again" this year's winner. Italy has opted for popera, that rather dubious Il Divo musical pottage popular with the likes of "Britain's Got Talent" audiences. Indeed, the Italian entrants are called Il Volo and "Grande amore" is exactly what you would expect of this genre. Their biggest challenge though is from five times winners, Sweden. Måns Zelmerlöw's "Heroes" is about as relevant to the charts as a song can be and though it seems to have many detractors, the Swedish entry is the one that sounds most like a winner. Which means it will probably finish 11th.

Of the rest, you can look forward to a woman in a wedding dress and chunky headphones (Slovenia), the world's oldest looking 16 year old (Israel), two separate entries called "Warrior" (Georgia and Malta), some large specs (Cyprus), a second consecutive year of long hair and a beard (Austria) and huge cleavage (both his and hers from the Czech Republic).

As for the UK, well at least we go into the contest with singers who can perform and who are not trying to jump start a flagging career. David Mindel's "Still in love with you" will be performed by Electro Velvet, out first male/female duo since . . . well, since that year we came 26th with no points whatsoever. No chance of that happening this year though and we will steel ourselves for a possible spot on the left-hand side of the scoreboard.

Viel Glück in Wien!