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Political Pop Parade

Once again Europe’s middle-aged (52) singing contest hit millions of screens around the world on May 12. Being somewhere in that range myself and curious, as always, what would be the fate of the Ukrainian entry, I tuned in.

The truth is that, other than ABBA, no one’s really launched a musical career through this slightly silly, generally uneven and politically driven (vote-wise) competition. Yet it’s up to 42 countries now, with a growing audience and viewership, and some oldies (like Austria) have even returned to the fold. Moreover, in terms of the voting, I suspect many a minor eastern European country is smugly pleased at the way it and its equally minor neighbors are swaying the vote against the historic European behemoths and in favor of their friends.

Countries with large immigrant populations elsewhere in the region (like Turkey) also do well, whereas a country like Britain, whose former colonies (other than Malta) have no part in this “European” event, can do very badly indeed, even when their entries, like this year’s Scooch, are both good, experienced singers and put on an amusing act.

Actually, I had watched a little last weekend, when the finalists, 10 lucky songsters out of a field of 28, were selected. According to Eurovision rules, the Top Ten from the previous year and the Big Four (England, France, Germany and Spain, tellingly out of the winning for years now) get an automatic pass. This year, both Ukraine and Russia qualified, so they did not have to undergo a public dress rehearsal and could instead enjoy wandering around chilly Helsinki and indulging fans.

The semi-final, what I saw of it, was a relative yawn and I was glad to see many of the singers passed over when I tuned in for the final.

No one’s more surprised than I am, now, to admit that Eurovision 2007 was—rather impressive.

Having watched the contest for several years now, ever since Ukraine began participating—as a Canadian, I had, of course, never heard of it before that—, I was prepared for an over-long evening of similar-sounding pop songs, at least one Ruslana imitation, a couple of ultra camp numbers—and any number of singers out of tune. But the range of music coupled with more real talent than usual actually made it hard for me to decide who would get my #1 vote.

Of course, there were at least four ABBA wannabes: Spain’s disco number, Finland’s rockish version, Britain’s parody, and Russia’s dynamic quartet of schoolgirls. Yet the rock guitars raised Finland above musical soup, while Britain’s aging Scooch did a fun spoof of disco boobs, managing to make the safety announcements on an airplane sound positively salacious. Speaking of salacious, Russia’s undemure damsels in their black-and-white school uniforms with thigh-high woolen stockings packed such a professional punch that I would even have put down a three-hryvnia vote on them. That is, had I seen the call-in number more than once on the screen!

While Moldova did a blatant, unsatisfying Ruslana imitation, complete with a high yell at the end, Slovenia’s young lady was a tolerable Sarah Brightman in the making, flashing a light across her face and creating what I would call a Titanic effect—drowning in blue water.

Georgia also opted for a moderate Ruslana effect, although the singer in her red Nicole Kidman gown did not quite mesh with four leaping, sword-wielding Georgians in traditional gear (black voluminous coats with high collars, black trousers and black boots) swirling in the background. I did like the Katya Chilly-like qualities of her voice, but the parts never quite made a whole.

Macedonia tried to go in that direction, too, but the young lady in green warbling up front while dancers in sporty gear did strange balletic maneuvers behind her back didn’t work for me, either. What did appeal to me was Bulgaria’s entry. The young singer had not only a fabulous voice in the style of the famed Bulgarian women’s chorus with a Katya Chilly-like edginess, but also a group of impressive drummers backing her up—and pounded the skins tolerably well herself.

At the other end, there was Ireland’s lame folkish band barely singing in tune, Bosnia with its girls in long flowery dresses warbling up a storm, Greece’s girlish boy doing a disco number called “Yasni Maria” while four real McCoys (girls) in bras and skorts vamped him up. Total yawns. Turkey’s kitschy singer was another throwback to the disco era who managed to get quite high marks, though Cyprus cold-shouldered him completely (maybe that side of the island doesn’t have phones or TVs???).

Romania’s sextet leaping and hoe-downing “Love ya” in six languages was an unabashed effort to gain votes from the Big Countries...and I guess it worked: Spain gave them a 12 if I remember correctly! Belarus’s Kozlowski-like singer, backed up by more of the same in black, did surprisingly well in the votes as well, reaping the benefit of a political chill between Ukraine and Russia, who traditionally give each other top marks.

The number excellent performances and their wide range of musical genres was what surprised me the most this year. Hungary’s Malgorsza in her working class undershirt, blue jeans and ratty little suitcase singing “Unsubstantial Blues” proved one of the most substantial talents at the show and I would have given a couple of three-hryvnia votes for her. Germany’s Roger Cicero (couldn’t miss the name, lit up like “All That Jazz” in the background), as the offspring of a well-known musician from the seventies, had a solid jazz number, although the refrain in English (“Guess who rules the world”) was much better than in the original German (“Women rule the world”). Then again, maybe there was a nuance in there for the international Eurovision camp.

Lithuania’s mellow jazz-blues number was worth a vote, too. As were any number of the other groups, even if they were ABBA, Ruslana or very camp. Armenia’s low ranking politically was probably a major reason why its handsome young crooner, with his great, romantic voice and uncluttered style did not make the top five.

But Eurovision art is ever-more imitating Eurovision life, meaning its most active fans, with a growing number of overtly gay and cross-dressing performers. France had its pink punk fags, Sweden had its black-and-white Ozzie Ozborne-like metal fags, and Latvia had its top-hats doing a campish but talented Il Divo imitation. Ukraine, of course, had everybody’s favorite middle-aged queen in silver shine, Virka Serdiuchka, shaking and shimmying and strutting her boobs, surrounded by a pack of silvery toy boys, and (!) patting the bums of two toy girls (the genuine articles) in the background.

New to this year’s Vision was a butch young lady from Serbia singing “Molytva” or “The Prayer,” backed by a quartet of women, all dressed in male evening dress. Her voice really was worth a vote, although I thought the number would prove too dramatic, even mournful, for Eurovision fans.

But we all know Eurovision’s not just about singing talent. It helps to have a bunch of tiny neighbors whose 50,000 votes can cancel out millions of votes in Germany, Spain and Italy.

Which is why Serbia came first with about 20 points more than runner-up Ukraine, who, in turn, left a solid gap to third-place Russia.

I honestly thought Serdiuchka/Danylko’s song was one of the lamest I’d ever heard him sing, a sort of Teutonic-Slavic disco-mechano-rap blend and I wouldn’t have spent even a penny voting for him, even if he is from Ukraine. Musically, his song was probably one of the worst at Eurovision 2007.

But popularity being such an elusive and illusive thing—Danylko caused such a storm in Finland that he was invited to model a line of clothes and was mobbed by fans everywhere s/he went—and ethnic politics being what they are, Ukraine handsomely beat out Russia for second place behind Serbia.

Imagine that—without even having any empire to vote for its star!

Published on 13/05/2007

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