Saturday, 17 May 2014

Eurovision Grand Final recap

Well, it took me a while to survive from my Eurovision hangover but now that that's done, let's do a bit of a recap - the Eurovision-themed article series wouldn't be complete without one! (For previous posts, click the following links: Semi-Final 1, Semi-Final 2, Grand Final.)

So, the dark horse of the contest (or more precisely, the dark horse number one) turned out indeed to be Austria's bearded drag queen, Conchita Wurst. Delivering the possibly most solid performance of the night, Wurst rightfully claimed the victory in this year's Eurovision Song Contest, held in Copenhagen. The Bond-esque number rose like a phoenix and conquered the hearts of Europe across geopolitical borders and cultural divisions, earning a grand total of 290 points, besting the runner-up by 52 points. Garnering votes even from Eastern Europe, the song "Rise Like A Phoenix" received points from 32 countries out of 36 and was awarded with the coveted 12 points a whooping 13 times, resulting in Austria's first win since 1966.

Most fundamentally, Wurst's success served as a powerful message of tolerance from Europe which definitely had an impact in the voting. This was fittingly reflected in Wurst's acceptance speech: "This night is dedicated to everyone who believes in a future of peace and freedom. You know who you are. We are unity, and we are unstoppable!" Would the song have still won even without the controversy? Perhaps, perhaps not. The song is powerful and dramatic enough to stand out on its own, but of course it wouldn't have done as well if sung by your average Eurovision crooner in a pretty dress. Nonetheless, the anthemic "Rise Like A Phoenix" is an amazing tune and still worthy of winning, delivering an important message as well.

Unsurprisingly, the winner caused an outcry among the more conservative Eurovision countries, especially in Russia, where the contest has been described as "a hotbed of sodomy" and "the end of Europe", while Wurst has been branded as "pervert". Russian politician Vitaly Milonov - the principal sponsor of Russia's anti-gay propaganda law - accused Wurst of turning the Eurovision into a "Sodom show", while more than 15,000 people have requested the Russian state broadcasting company RTR not to air the Eurovision anymore, claiming that "Russia is one of the only European countries that has managed to maintain normal and healthy family values based on love and mutual support between men and women." (Gender- and sexuality-related controversy is nothing new to Eurovision, though - 1998 winner Dana International was openly transsexual, while the Russians themselves were represented by the "lesbian" duo t.A.T.u in 2003.) Communist Party deputy Valery Rashkin stated that the contest's results "exhausted our patience" and went on to propose a "family-friendly" replacement for the Eurovision titled Putinvision Voice of Eurasia which would be held among the former Soviet countries. In other words, they'd be pulling a Turkey. Interestingly enough, the country still awarded the Austrian performance with five points, and the winning entry has topped the iTunes charts in seven European countries, including Russia and Belarus. Whaddya know.

Meanwhile, others have been more supporting towards Conchita, and she's been praised by the likes of Elton John and former Eurovision winner Lordi. Even ultimate pop diva Cher has expressed her fondness in a very typically Cher way over on Twitter:

"This is NOT SHADE *lightning bolt*"

The other definite dark horse was the Netherlands' representative, The Common Linnets. After qualifying for the final, they climbed the betting lists faster than you could say "hashtag Join Us", overthrowing previous winner favourites such as Armenia and Norway in a blink of an eye. Indeed, scoring 238 points, the duo earned their country's best place since 1975 when they won. I was highly skeptical of their chances but they proved me wrong - good job there. What really pleases me regarding this year's results is that the highest-placing entries garnered a surprisingly widespread vote, surpassing the traditional bloc voting. Also, I'm sure that the Netherlands' success with a very unusual ESC entry encourages other countries to send more varying songs next year which would bring more musical range to the contest, as opposed to a majority of the songs being very traditional Eurovision ballads or dance pop songs.

Personally I was also delighted to see the Nordic countries doing relatively well, all placing in the top 15 (Sweden #3, Norway #8, Denmark #9, Finland #11, Iceland #15). And all of this with an exceptionally low neighbour vote - only Denmark gave their 12 points to a fellow Nordic country (Sweden), while other recipients of the Nordic top points were Austria (from Finland and Sweden) and the Netherlands (from Norway and Iceland).

Sweden's Sanna Nielsen delivered her explosive "Undo" just as brilliantly as before, and although there was nothing new to the performance that we wouldn't have seen already, it was still a very solid rendition. A well-earned 3rd place.

Norway's "Silent Storm" sounded even more emotional and touching than before, and in my opinion, that was Carl Espen's best performance of the song we've seen. The build-up to the final climax was especially wonderful.

Denmark's "Cliché Love Song" was my least favourite Nordic entry this year, and even seeing it performed live a while ago couldn't make me warm up to it. Scuba-duba-dab-dab whatever, overly saccharine feel-good songs just aren't my thing. All the same, way to go Denmark - 9th place! I went to Copenhagen to see the final, and as you might imagine, this really got the crowd dancing in the centre where there were several big screens from which the people could watch the show. Alright, I might have been dancing as well. But I blame the atmosphere. And the beers I had. Oh what the hell, I blame nothing, it was fun! (Still don't like the song, though.)

GO FINLAND, GO SOFTENGINE!! I was so freaking proud of the boys as I'm sure the whole country was: young as they are, they earned us our best position since Lordi's victory back in 2006! Singer Topi Latukka's vocals were loads better than they were in the semi-final, and the band did a high-energy take on their song. Finland's success in the Eurovision Song Contest tends to be more on the modest side, but this year's 11th place was an exceptionally good placing and the country received votes from a total of 16 countries. Am I biased? Yes. Do I care? Nope. Excellent guys, just excellent. Let's see if the spotlight they had on them will serve as a springboard for a future career in the international scene of indie rock. Who knows.

And the final member of the Nordic Five, Iceland, also achieved a nice result, placing 15th with their colourful pro-tolerance sing-along number "No Prejudice". A pleasant surprise - before the semi-finals, I was initially expecting them to be eliminated straight away. Way to go!

Two other favourites of mine were Hungary and Italy. I was hoping for Hungary to win (which they obviously didn't do), but they did come 5th in the end so it's still an amazing result and their second best result of all time after their 1994 debut when they came 4th. Hungary's been sending rather good songs lately - songs like "Unsubstantial Blues (2007), "What About My Dreams?" (2011), "Sound Of Our Hearts" (2012) and "Kedvesem" (2013) have all been among the better entries of their respective years and at least some of my personal ESC favourites - and if they keep going like this, I have a feeling that it's only a matter of time before the ESC tourists will find themselves in Budapest.

Italy, however, didn't do quite as well. As a matter of fact, they came 21st which is their first non-top 10 placement since their return in 2011. Such a shame, I really did love the song. She had a great stage presence, although her live vocals were not as good as they could've been, truth be told. Still, it would've deserved a higher result than 21st. Unfortunately, I was right - it did indeed suffer the same fate than France did last year: an eccentric rock-influenced song sung by a fierce woman goes unappreciated by Europe. Too bad.

The Swiss entry "Hunter of Stars" also stealthily grew on me (despite his quite awkward English pronunciation) and I was happy to see it coming 13th.

In other news, the excessively hyped-up former winner favourite, Armenia's Aram MP3 came 4th, ultimately missing the top 3 by more than 40 points. I still find the song too repetitive and boring (outside of the build-up) but good for them, anyway. (Look at that clip's preview pic, though! Quite unflattering.)

Conchita's victory sent a meaningful message of togetherness, but the community didn't exactly practice what they preached. I was appalled by the horrible treatment that the Russian participants received: they were booed after their performance, they were booed whenever they got points, even the Russian spokesperson was greeted with booing. I do understand people's dissatisfaction with Russia's recent policies and I feel just the same way myself as well, but are the Tolmachevy Sisters really to blame? Imagine how it must've felt for them. Fire shouldn't be fought with fire, and seeing all these people (who elsewhere preach about love and unity) demonising the 17-year-old twins sickens me. Once again, I don't agree with the Russian government a bit, but in that moment I was so ashamed of the Eurovision fans' horrendous behaviour. Is this how you express that peaceful co-existing you so passionately call for? And no, you shouldn't tolerate intolerance but you shouldn't channel your anger into innocent people either. I'm so sad that these two had to serve as a lightning rod for anti-Putinism when they had done nothing wrong.

Furthermore, if we'd love to see a 'Westernised' or a more open-minded and tolerant Russia, I'm sure this is not the way to spread the message. To treat people disrespectfully just because they come from a certain country hardly represents tolerance, does it? On the contrary, that's racism. If you don't approve a country in Eurovision, just don't vote for it - we shouldn't forget our civilised manners that we're otherwise so proud of. Do you think this reaction made the Russians reconsider their stance on gay rights? I definitely don't - if anything, it only widened the rift between Russia and Europe. We can do better than this.

Anyway, in the end they came 7th, while Ukraine came 6th. You could clearly see the effect of the Crimean crisis in the results, as there was clear protest voting on both sides.

There were some surprise flops as well. The UK's Molly, while popular on betting predictions, had to settle for the 17th place...

...the usually successful Greece's club banger "Rise Up" failed to rise further than 20th, even despite the aid of a trampoline (this was actually an all-time low for them, alongside their 1998 result)...

...another all-time low came from Azerbaijan's Dilara Kazimova who came 22nd, resulting the country's first non-top 10 placement since their debut in 2008, and while the song is lovely, the live version was arguably a bit patchy...

(Interestingly enough, this occurred immediately after the EBU tightened measures to make sure the voting doesn't suffer from corruption after the voting scandal of 2013. Coincidental or not? Now, I don't want to make unjustified accusations or anything, I'm just throwing it out there. I do find it interesting.)

...but most hilariously, France flopped completely with their cringeworthy "Moustache", coming last for the first time with a mere 2 points. No douze points for France this year then, just... deux points. A bit awkward, isn't it. And how did the band celebrate it? Well, by appearing stark naked (save for the socks covering their privates) on national TV. How else.

And speaking of voting scandals, we did in fact have one this year: after having the exact same top 8, the Georgian jury vote was annulled and subsequently, Georgia's points were entirely determined by the televote. The 12 points were given to Armenia, while 10 and 8 points went to Austria and Russia, respectively.

Oh, and poor Valentina Monetta of San Marino came 23rd. Well, at least she (and her country) finally made it to the final. Still, "Maybe" was her most forgettable entry out of her three songs so far (yes, even that Facebook song was more rememberable in its horribleness). I do hope there's not going to be a fourth one. No offense, but perhaps it would be time to pass on the torch, maybe...?

Soooooo yeah, that's the Eurovision Song Contest 2014 all wrapped up then! It was a nice journey, there were great songs among the usual Eurovision fluff, and I had a lot of fun. I hope you did too! Now the Eurovision fever will subside for a year, only to rise again (like a phoenix) next year when the contest is held in (most likely) Vienna. Meanwhile, do stay tuned for other music-related stuff! Popheaval's Eurovision series over and out.

Top image via, © Sander Hesterman (EBU)

No comments:

Post a Comment