From bizarre to enthralling, it’s the greatest cultural entertainment we miss out on in America.
“If there’s one thing that I love as an entertainer, it’s a spectacle.” –JC Chasez
Whatever political, social, economic or other differences may divide the nations of the world, there’s one language that truly is universal that speaks to us all: the art of entertainment! Of song, of music, and of spectacle. Last year, I had the pleasure of encountering Eurovision for the first time, and my life was never the same. Although it was won by Denmark, my heart was won by the Greek entrants, Koza Mostra and Agathon Iakovidis, who sang the inimitable Greek-and-English hybrid song, Alcohol is Free.
But 2014 is a new year, and as such, thirty-seven countries from mostly Europe each sent one act selected to represent their country in the competition. The song contest features a variety of costumes, genres, entertaining acts and spectacles of all varieties, but some countries really take things to the next level.
Estonia’s entrant — Tanja, above — sang her heart out while dancing and performing partner acrobatics, an impressive physical feat by any stretch.
Described by the British semifinal announcers as “the Wiggles gone horribly wrong,” Iceland’s entry Pollapönk sang a human rights and tolerance song called No Prejudice (and dressed the part as well), but was maybe most notable for using the word “trigonometry” in their song’s chorus.
If you missed any (or all) of it, you can always catch it on the Eurovision.tv website, but I’m sure I can’t do it justice by mere descriptions. So hang onto your seats, while I share with you my five favorite spectacles from this year’s Eurovision song contest!
5.) Ukraine’s entry by Maria Yaremchuk, singing Tick-Tock. The song is pretty typical of Eurovision: very pop-sounding, inoffensive, with a forgettable vocal. But there’s a man on a human hamster wheel in the background! That looks like so much fun, it’s been making me think about why gyms don’t have those instead of treadmills? Seriously, could you imagine how much fun exercising would be with one of those?
Like I said — for the uninitiated — Eurovision is only nominally a “song contest.” For me, the spectacle is what takes the cake! And speaking of spectacle…
4.) Poland’s Donatan & Cleo singing We Are Slavic. Subtlety is clearly a strong suit in this Polish masterpiece. Here’s the English verse, in case you missed it:
This special thing we have in our genes
Makes us proud of our natural shapes
On our lands you have everything you need
So pour the Vodka straight, no need to mix.
Cream and butter taste so good
We will prepare for you delicious food
Our beauty is famous all over the world
You gotta see it for yourself and then you will know.
3.) Austria’s Conchita Wurst singing Rise Like A Phoenix. Okay, look, I’m not going to lie. When I first saw Conchita Wurst, I may have mistakenly asked why Prince was competing at Eurovision. The drag queen alter-ego of musician Tom Neuwirth, Conchita’s performance was controversial in countries like Belarus and Russia, because those countries haven’t learned lessons of basic human decency and dignity yet.
Well, guess what, haters? Conchita won Eurovision 2014, Austria gets their first win since 1966, and everyone who snubbed their noses at it gets to look like the intolerant jackasses they chose to be in front of the whole world. Good on you for rewarding creativity, bravery and quality, Europe. Good on you.
2.) Switzerland’s SEBalter singing Hunter of Stars. And playing violin. And whistling. And drumming! (Kind of!) He’s self-professedly known as “SEB-ine Dion” after the much more famous one-time Eurovision participant (and winner) from Switzerland: Celine Dion, but as you can see, he’s charismatic, highly entertaining and puts on a show for the crowd. Indeed, this may have been the best gimmick-free entry in Eurovision this year.
But that would be neglecting the greatest injustice — with apologies to Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, Napoleon, Franco, Milosevic… the list is long — in the history of Europe…
1.) Latvia’s entry, Cake To Bake by Aarzemnieki. Do you remember the early 1990s, where Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Stone Temple Pilots, Soundgarden and Radiohead were all the rage? When Dr. Dre and Ice-T were changing music forever? When Guns n’ Roses and Metallica were still producing amazing music? And among all of that, a song unlike anything else at the time — No Rain by Blind Melon — came out of nowhere?
Well, that’s what “Cake to Bake” was to me when I saw it in the Eurovision semifinals! Somewhere, Michael McKean, Christopher Guest and Harry Shearer are kicking themselves for not writing-and-performing this child-like entry themselves. The catchiest, silliest, most amazing and memorable song of the entire contest somehow didn’t even make the finals. And how much do you love the guy holding what appears to be a shake-weight whose only line is to impassively deliver “A piece of cake.” Such a shame.
Other things I’ve learned from this year’s song contest?
- Albanians singing in English have a very strong accent to American ears.
- Finland’s entrants are going to sell a ton of albums, marketing directly to the 13-to-15 year-old female demographic. Titanic was the #1 movie of all time for this same reason; good luck (you won’t need it), Softengine.
- The United Kingdom must really have a vested interest in not hosting Eurovision; that’s the “reward” for winning the song contest. For a country that produces so much amazing music, their last three Eurovision entries have failed to rise even to the level of “mediocre.”
- Russian sisters who sing with their hair intertwined with one another’s heads are a little creepy. Come on, Putin, just do Eurovision yourself next year!
- Singers with a really solid set of pipes on them but not a very well-written or arranged song tend to not make the finals. Sorry, Moldova and Belgium; particularly Belgium, whose Axel Hirsoux sang his heart out about the security of moving back into his mother’s basement.
- Lithuania’s entry… should have been titled “Tron Lake.” And finally…
- Graham Norton’s really got it. Here are some gems from his commentary tonight:
“Oh three points, thank you very much, now I won’t be rude about your jacket.”
“That wasn’t embarrassing at all.” (On Finland failing miserably to announce their votes.)
“Someone take a picture! This will never happen again!” (When the UK was in first place, for about 5 minutes.)
“I know that looked like a load of ugly people up a ladder singing. But it was worse.”
“Is that the same Poland that produced a Pope?”
“It’s like the gay wedding I will never have.”
And best of all, when the Eurovision host said, “And if you don’t know what a hashtag is, join us in the 21st century,” he just deadpanned, “Yes, I’m 51, not dead.”
I hope you enjoyed my Eurovision redux (and had a chance to enjoy the spectacles for yourself), and I’ll see you back on Monday for more wonders of the Universe, and hopefully again in 2015 for the next Eurovision song contest!