Every year I put up token resistance, but as inevitably as the awarding of twelve points by Cyprus to Greece I yet again found myself slumped in front of the simultaneously spectacular, bizarre and banal festival of crud that is the Eurovision Song Contest. Or rather, the final of the Eurovision Song Contest – when I was a kid Europe only seemed to contain about twelve countries and you could easily accommodate all eligible entries into just the one three-hour extravaganza. These days, there are former Soviet and Yugoslav republics a go-go, which means there’s now a whittling down procedure involving two semi-finals, which tend to have the unfortunate effect of stripping out most of the bollocks-to-it-this-is-my-moment-in-the-sun wild card efforts (for some reason Norway used to be notorious for these) and leaving a residue of purest bland for the main event. Anyway, I’d somehow managed not to expose myself to any of these songs before Saturday night, not even the UK’s, for which apparently an actual real-life multi-hit-making boy band had been roped in, so I settled in with my score card and Twitter feed without any particular expectation as to who might walk off with the non-more-coveted trophy.
Perhaps I should have put in a little preparation. Twenty-five songs that have been tailor-made to be as inoffensive as possible is just too many to assimilate in one sitting, and by the time the interval act came on I was having trouble distinguishing my Slovenias from my Estonias. The ones that were definitely rubbish were Finland (drippy ballad about how some boy called Peter was going to singlehandedly defeat global warming), Bosnia-Herzegovina (Frankenstein-style mishmash of misbegotten Euro-tropes) and Russia (low-rent leather boys who looked like they thought were entertaining a hen party). A few countries had tested the formula a bit, notably France, who fielded a proper opera bloke singing something that sounded unusually highbrow and free of anything resembling a hook, and long-absent Italy, whose song had a classy jazz piano nightclub vibe. My picks were Serbia, who offered a punchy 60s-style pop song that got extra points for being one of the very few lyrics not sung in English and for having a female singer chosen for her vocal talent rather than for her age and looks, and what looked like the obvious winner Moldova, whose entry was performed by five energetic if not conventionally camera-friendly men wearing surreal Dr Seuss-type pointy hats. Their number “So Lucky” started as a full-on high-speed shouty rocker, before dropping into a surprisingly tender and melodic interlude during which a girl dressed in white unicycled onto stage for a brief duet, and then morphed into a sort a mutant oom-pah thing with trombones. Honorable mention should also be given to the universally-derided Jedward twins, here representing Ireland, who did at least have a half-decent song and were undeniably giving it 110%.
The collation of the vote in Eurovision is the stuff of legend, and these days seems to last longer than it takes to listen to the songs as no less than 43 countries get to have a say. This year was marginally more interesting than usual, as no clear winner emerged early and the normal blatant stitch-up between neighbouring countries whereby they swap the big points was less pronounced than it has been in recent years, but the results were still baffling: Ukraine? Which one was that? The lady making art in a dirt box? Sweden? The self-absorbed ponce singing narcissistic rubbish about how the most important thing was to be popular? Eventually, and inexplicably, the prize went to Azerbaijan, whose “Running Scared” may well have been the least memorable morsel on the entire menu. Still, singers Eldar and Nigar were pleasingly overcome with emotion to have triumphed (they want to use their victory to “bring Europe together”), and least the UK entry’s unimpressive eleventh place disproved the theory that celebrity beats all. Moldova? Nowhere.
There’s something peculiarly masochistic about spending three hours watching something on which so much expense, time and effort has been spent to so little artistic effect. But then as Charlie Brooker says, can you imagine how shit Eurovision would be if it was any good?