“Eurovision” sounds like some kind of space age goggles that allow you to see the world as a European does. (For instance, soap is rendered completely invisible.) But it’s actually a 53-year-old competition held between the countries of the European Broadcasting Union. Each nation picks a musical act to compete in a series of live broadcasts, and hundreds of millions of people watch and vote on the winner. (You can’t vote for the country you live in.) You can read Belinkie’s coverage of last year’s competition here and here.
This year’s Eurovision starts on May 12, in Moscow. (I’m pretty sure Moscow is not in Europe, but apparently, the European Broadcasting Union never broadcast Where In the World Is Carmen Sandiego.) You can watch previews of all 42 entries here. We already have, and here are our personal favorites. Read all the entries and vote at the end.
Perich: Gipsy.cz, “Aven Romale” (Czech Republic)
The New York Times ‘The Moment’ Blog describes Gipsy.cz as “gypsy rappers,” but their entry defies all known rap conventions:
Let’s break down this video into its component pieces:
(1) A man who looks like character actor Nestor Carbonell (Richard Alpert on “LOST”, the mayor in The Dark Knight) …
(2) … dressed as Ming the Merciless …
(3) … and accompanied by Gypsy fiddlers …
(4) … struts around on the stage, pumping his fist with all the sincerity of a small-town musical …
(5) … singing an impassioned song about prejudice against gypsies.
And that’s just in the first 30 seconds.
Gypsies, or “Roma,” are a subset of the larger Romani culture. Believed to have emigrated from India nearly nine hundred years ago, they dispersed across the entire roster of Eurovision member countries: from Turkey to the Iberian peninsula, from Italy to Russia.
Gipsy.cz chose to use several disparate art forms – folk music, pulp science fiction, musical theater and rap – as a synecdoche for the diversity of Romani culture. Rather than create a confusing melange of styles from each nation that the Gypsies have visited, they created a stupefying melange of styles from genres selected, apparently, at random.
That’s bold. That’s ingenious. That’s Eurovision.
Sheely: Copycat, “Copycat” (Belgium)
“Copycat,” Belgium’s entry in the 2009 Eurovision song contest, doesn’t make a strong first impression. In the first 20 seconds of the clip, the viewer is bombarded with a garish and disorienting set of images: a singer with a pompador and a sequin blazer, female backup singers with neon pink wigs, and an animated cat so silly looking that even Paula Abdul wouldn’t dance with it.
Based on these characteristics alone, “Copycat” doesn’t seem to rise above the “car crash of cultures” that makes the contest seem dated, silly, and incomprehensible to American viewers. However, if you stick with the video until the end, it reveals a tremendous amount of thematic complexity and subtlety, characteristics often sorely lacking in the Eurovision field.
The central lyrical conceit of “Copycat” is that singer Patrick Ouchène, a long-term fixture in the Belgian rockabilly scene (yes, this actually exists) is jokingly accusing Elvis of ripping off his music and personal style. There are a lot of great lyrical moments in the song, including the references to the King’s “girly mouth”, his “voice that quivers,” and his late-life weight problems and love of peanut-butter banana sandwiches, but the line that sends it over the top comes in the bridge, in which Ouchène speak-snarls:
Way down in America
theres a guy, rich and arrogant
Dating my fair Priscilla
He makes me want to hire a killer
In this brief moment, the song transcends both parody and homage and descends into the realm of the psychotic, revealing a fan so obsessed with authentically replicating his hero, that he would kill his idol for failing to live up to the image that exists in his mind. This darkness underneath the song’s bright surface also works as a wry criticism of rockabilly culture. Contemporary rockabilly scenesters are known for fetishizing the music and clothing of the 50s in a way that the musicians who were active at the time never really did. By drawing attention to the tendency of derivative artists to set standards that the originals could never uphold, Ouchène reveals how contemporary rockabilly artists (including himself) are ultimately doing violence to the originals.
Lee: Flor-de-lis , “Todas As Ruas Do Amor” (Portugal)
Eurovision’s kitschy, over-the-top performances may get all the attention from most casual observers, but I’m going to root for the underdog in this fight: Portugal, which has been in the competition since 1964 and has never won. This year, they’re represented by the decidedly un-kitschy “Todas As Ruas Do Amor” by Flor-de-Lis:
I know, this is pretty boring to watch, right? It’s not even particularly noteworthy from a musical perspective. But allow me to put forward a couple of reasons why it might win:
- Eurovision winners aren’t always the kitschiest acts; it just seems like it since those are the ones we remember. In 2006, Icelandic heavy metal monster act Lordi took home top prize with “Hard Rock Hallelujah,” and last year, Russia’s Dima Bilan won with the help of a figure skater, a Strativarius violin, and his bare chest in what we called a “truly silly performance.” But sandwiched in between these two is 2007’s winner, “Molitva,” from Serbia. Aside from the snazzy red sashes, there are none of the kitschy Eurovision gimmicks we’ve come to hate love appreciate. All of this is to say that Eurovision has settled into a pattern whereby it atones for the sin of awarding kitsch in one year with awarding non-kitsch the next. Last year, kitsch was king. This year, plain will reign.
- At this point, Portugal is a statistical outlier. They’ve been in the contest since 1964, and have fielded 43 winless entries, so it’s not like they haven’t been trying. Malta, the country with the next longest history of winless participation, hasn’t won since first entering the contest since 1971, but they’ve only fielded 21 entries. Clearly, Portugal is overdue, and we all know what happens to statistical outliers. Sooner or later, something’s gotta give.
But why does it deserve to win? Is there any musical or artistic justification for this song to take home the prize?
Oh, wait, this is Eurovision we’re talking about here. I’ll stick with the crackpot theories on patterns and statistics. Go Portugal!
Belinkie: Krassimir Avramov, “Illusion” (Bulgaria)
First of all, I know what you’re thinking: “Wasn’t Krassimir Avramov seriously hurt in a dress rehearsal this week?” We’ve all heard the rumors. But I found Krassimir’s gloriously mistranslated press release, which told me that:
The information that appeared in the medias about Krassimir Avramov and the accident he has have is figured out and not real.
So remember when Lee commented, “Eurovision’s kitschy, over-the-top performances may get all the attention from most casual observers”? Yeah, that’s me. Watching Eurovision for anything other than the cheese is like watching Transformers 2 for anything other than the giant robots. It’s missing the whole point. (Okay, there’s Megan Fox.)
So I clicked through all the songs, looking for one that would make me cringe in embarrassment but keep watching in fascination. Bulgaria did it for me.
Fake lightning and real fire is never a bad first impression. Nor is wearing chain mail. The interpretive stilt dancing was a nice touch. But I think it’s the operatic falsetto that really nails it for me. Kassimir has this great habit of sending his voice up two octaves for no reason, sounding vaguely like the lady from the Star Trek theme song. He’s his own backup singer. (Watch at about 1:50 for the full effect.)
It turns out that this guy comes with a nice, juicy backstory. Back in February, Bulgaria picked its Eurovision entry via cell phone voting. There were 12 songs in contention, and Krassimir got 55% of the vote. The second place entry got less than 12%. There was a movement to have him stripped of the victory, but Krassimir declared, “God decides who wins and who doesn’t.”
Which made me wonder, wait, why doesn’t the Vatican have a Eurovision entry?! It’s technically a European country, right? How great would that be?