Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Eurovision: It's Not Over Until the Bearded Lady Sings

By Drew Martin
I never tuned into the Eurovision craze when I lived in Europe in the 1990s. It wasn't until a quick trip through the Baltics in 2002 that I learned from an obsessed Estonian woman about these gaudy pop music contests. It has been more than a decade since that trip but this is the first year I noticed a raised ear from the American press. Some have called it American Idol on steroids with strokes of soft porn. One of the more provocative performances was from Poland, which, in addition to the singers and dancers, included two barefooted, buxom folksy peasant woman (top) who erotically perform their staged chores: one washes linen on a washing board in a wooden bucket, while the other one churns butter. (I guess this is the old-world version of a  babe in a wet T-shirt washing a muscle car.)

One thing I can safely say is that if I ever hear another European say "Americans have no culture" my retort will be "Eurovision."

Here is how I break down the types of songs, with their respective national entries:

Surprisingly decent with some soul:
Albania, Armenia, Georgia, Hungary, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Slovenia

Funny, hip, or quirky:
Iceland, Latvia, Switzerland

Throwback rock:
Finland, Lithuania 

Mindless pop:
Belarus, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Israel*, Italy, Macedonia (FYR), Poland, Portugal, Romania, Sweden

Overly sentimental schlock:
Azerbaijan, Ireland, Moldova, Montenegro, Russia, San Marino, Spain

Austria, Belgium

The winning, bearded transgender Conchita Wurst (middle) from Austria with her Rise Like a Phoenix looks and sounds like a parody of a James Bond movie theme/intro.

My top pick (not listed above), which I think captures the spirit of this contest and has the most potential and appeal for a global pop audience is from Ukraine - Maria Yaremchuk's Tick-Tock. It is of course very poppy but it is the perfect pop song without being overly kitsch. It is a nice mix of current pop sounds, and the video nods to Michael Jackson. I have to admit, I was hoping I would like it before I heard it because of Ukraine's current situation. Maria, if you are reading this, I would never secede from the country you live in.

*The Eurovision Song Contest is not the European Song Contest, so it is membership in the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) that allows a country to enter Eurovision. Israel, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Armenia are not in Europe but they are members of the EBU, which has additional members in North African and the Middle East including Algeria, Lebanon, Tunisia, Jordan, Morocco and Egypt, as well as the Vatican City - the only member of the EBU to have never taken part in Eurovision.