10 May 2009

Eurovision Song Contest

Ah, Eurovision. Or - eurgh, Eurovision, if you're a reader of this blog who abhors the very womb of the contest. Views of the contest have flipped all over the place since the fifties when it was launched. The nineties were largely deemed to be its nadir. Hardly anybody in the UK was watching at this point, and it was known for producing ballads and pop songs which sounded as if they belonged in some peculiar alternative universe where cute blonde babes of either gender wore bright primary colours, trilled about love and peace, and dressed like the worst aspects of the seventies and eighties never went away.

There's some truth in the above assessment, but a lot of nonsense as well - the contest has always had a few entrants going out on a limb, and dig hard enough, and you'll find some worthy appearances on Youtube. These days, of course, viewing figures are back up and the contest has become a hit again amongst lovers of the X Factor and other talent shows who have suddenly returned back to the source of the concept. Many blogs and forum posters last year bemoaned the fact that Eurovision was being "ironically" applauded in the present decade, ignoring the fact that a not disproportionate volume of entries in the 2008 contest would have happily found a home in most continental hit parades, and in fact did in the weeks that followed. If we strip away all the complaints about irony and novelty, the anti Eurovision argument for most appears to be that the contest attracts entries which are pure (and frequently flamboyant) pop, which sticks in the craw of fans of holier (or more underground) than thou indie kids and greased up rockers - party-killers to a man. And the more militant, sour-faced members of both camps usually are men too.

Let us consider also the fact that the rules of Eurovision - three minute max pop songs with immediate impact and innovation frequently being the most rewarded - bear very little relation to any other music form at the moment, and, rather like the novelty tracks I uploaded here a few months back, therefore become pure, undistilled pop noises, almost freakish in their potency over a limited run time. The three minute rule may seem conservative, but it gives the performers and songwriters a chance to show what they can actually craft in a limited time space, and stops them from over-indulging or boring the listener, which last year created the below pocket symphony:

Sebastian Tellier's "Divine", in a sane, rational world, would have walked the contest, been number one in all charts around Europe for three months, and been hailed as a modern classic. I have played no single mp3 more in the last two years, and I'm still not tired of it. It takes the freaked-out electronic elements of The Beach Boys "Love You" album, swirls in the frothier, smoother aspects of French techno, adds elements of blissed-out, gaga psychedelia, and still manages to be undeniably Pop. It was argued that the song fell into the bottom half of the scoreboard because of its "oddness", but in reality it flopped because Tellier was forced to get backing vocalists to recreate the sampled elements live, leading to this Top Of the Pops in the early nineties styled monstrosity:

For the record, apparently Tellier considered walking off the contest without even performing. He could hardly have been blamed if he had chosen that option. "Divine" is one of the greatest singles of the last decade, never mind one of the best Eurovision entries, and the conservative interpretation of Eurovision rules by the organisers should have lead to someone's arse being kicked. No synthesiser samples, unless they're other instruments? Thank God the Art of Noise never represented us in the eighties, otherwise we'd have had six men on stage all saying "Dum" a lot (probably all wearing Paul Morley masks, I shouldn't wonder). So clearly some of the rules do need a little bit of work to get up to speed with the modern world, but others work in the contest's favour. It is admittedly a paradox.

Nonetheless, spin back to 1983 to find an entry from Belgium which sounds both of its time and sufficiently absurd and warped to be the tinkering of East London retro-terrorists in the present day. Pas De Deux's "Rendevouz" is part Human League, part early evening cop show soundtrack, part oddball melodies:

It didn't win either, actually, but contributed to the fest as any unusual offering on the Euro-menu might - part of the contest's appeal is not just what seems like an outright, crowd-pleasing winner, but what each country has defiantly dared to put forward as its best effort.

And because any entry on Eurovision inevitably ends on me being unable to resist putting a politically incorrect shocker up, please allow me to present to you Germany's 1979 entry Dschinghis Khan, about the famous war-mongering dictator:

This will be the only Eurovision entry I do this year, I promise - so long as you promise to at least watch the final next Saturday, and perhaps the semi-finals on Tuesday and Thursday too. Some more uploads will follow soon, but technical difficulties in the 23 Daves household (and the death of my MacBook which had all my recent uploads stored on it) have meant that I've been scrabbling around a bit for alternative scraps to serve you all recently. Normal service will shortly be resumed.


Cocktails said...

Gosh this time of the year comes around quickly!

I remember this time last year very well as I posted Divine as a song of the week and no one could believe it was the French eurovision entry. What a tune! I think though that it lost out, not just because of the sampling scandal, but because France (and the UK) are simply not appealing to the pop sensibilities of the rest of Europe at the moment. It's more than the block voting furore that comes out every year, it's a completely different approach to music (albeit overrought, melodramatic ballads and hypo-pop at the moment). Hopefully Andrew Lloyd Webber will get somewhere this year.

Bring back Pas de Deux! Such a great track. And as for Dschinghis Khan, that's not just non-PC, but completely and utterly unoriginal. Why didn't Germany just get Bony M to do Rasputin and be done with it?

23 Daves said...

I think a big problem with any contest of this nature is just that unless the songs and performances immediately grab you by the throat, they're not going to get remembered by the time the final scoreboard comes around - so subtle efforts like "Divine" always suffer in that respect as well.

I really hope Andrew Lloyd Webber doesn't do well this year. He shouldn't be encouraged. That said, I've not heard any tunes this year which sound impressive, although the Elvis impersonator Belgian entry is endearing enough.

Cocktails said...

I'd like to think that there are lots of people out there who remember the interesting music, rather than the 'impact-by-numbers' ones. Doesn't seem to be the case though sadly.

I like Andrew Lloyd Webber! He's a man who does 'musicals-by-numbers' very well indeed. It should be a shoe-in!

I'll go away now.

Roman Empress said...

Divine was a lovely, sophisticated number in a 60s vein. Still, I think it may only be a few tasteful Brits willing to vote for something that good, for the most part. And it's not enough which is a shame.

23 Daves said...

Actually, I think Britain only gave Sebastian Tellier two points in the final, so our contribution to his success wasn't especially great, despite some internet and radio campaigns.

Iceland were the only country to mark it highly. In a funny kind of way, that figures.

Roman Empress said...

The 2 per cent we offered was still a contribution. It's still just not enough either way you look at it.
I can't be arsed with it this year to be honest. Perhaps I need a bottle of Baileys like Wogan swigged, to get through it...