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Eurovision Song Contest
Member Name: rosebud2001
Eurovision Song Contest
Date: 11/05/09, updated on 17/05/09 (241 review reads)
Advantages: Only on once a year, can be fun, talent spotting
Disadvantages: Political voting, appalling performances, a bit of a marathon
It's that time of year again - the biggest musical extravaganza to be seen on television is almost upon us and some of us will spend this week familiarising ourselves with the 42 songs that will participate in a contest that stopped being about the song a long time ago.
On Saturday 16th May, in Moscow, the 54th winning song will be declared, with Norway supposedly the red hot favourite to win. You can see why - it's sung by a cute 18 year old lad who was born in Belarus and features Irish style fiddles, just the sort of thing the voters seem to like - and one which covers all bases - Ireland, Scandinavia and the former USSR.
The UK's entry will be performed by Jade Ewan, singing a ditty called "It's My Time" which was written by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Diane Warren. Lord Webber will be performing onstage with Ms Ewan, accompanying her on the piano, which may well lead to a name change of Beauty and the Beast.
I suspect the UK may well manage a result within the top 10 this time round - other fancied female singers this year include France's Patricia Kaas - who looks gorgeous but sadly has been saddled with a dirge to sing, and Malta's Chiara who has fine form in the contest, having come third in 1998 and second in 2005 and has to be fancied even if only on the basis of "third time lucky", although she does have a great song this year.
Before the 16th of May however there are two semi-finals to get through - one on 12th May and the other on the 14th. The UK, German, French and Spanish entries are exempt from competing in the semi-finals due to their status as the "Big Four" which means they provide the most money in staging the contest, along with last year's winner, Russia. Everyone else has to "earn" their right to perform in the final, which will consist of 25 songs of varying quality.
I first started watching Eurovision when I was a child - nearly 40 years ago. The first contest I can clearly recall was the 1970 one, when Dana won with the winsome "All Kings of Everything". This marked the first of Ireland's record breaking seven wins in the contest.
From then on I was hooked and even though I don't always watch the entire contest, I always take an interest in the song that has won and our own entry to it. I also enjoy the history of the contest, which hasn't provided much in the way of international hits for some years, but was however responsible for the standards "Volare" and "Love is Blue" and of course for launching the careers of Abba and Celine Dion.
Back when I watched the contest as a child the participating nations were mostly from Western Europe. I recall the excitement in 1974 when instead of only the UK and Irish entries being performed in English, there were several songs in the language - a practice which continued the following year before being banned until the 1999 contest. Now entrants can submit songs in any language of their choosing, but sadly this hasn't stopped songs with nonsense titles being put forward.
For the first 20 years of its history, the French language was king, with the vast majority of winners being from France, Switzerland, Monaco or Luxembourg, mostly doing "chanson" ballads in the process, with a few exceptions such as France Gall in 1965 with "Poupee de cire, poupee de son", a song which is my all-time favourite winner.
Italy couldn't win with the classic "Volare" but did with the quite beautiful "Non ho l'etat" in 1964 and had one other win in 1990. This lack of wins prompted Italy to withdraw from the competition in 1997 and they show no signs of returning. There is a strong argument within the UK that we should take a leaf out of their book but I have to say I disagree.
Spain haven't fared much better. They won in 1968, a year everyone thinks belonged to "Congratulations" by Cliff Richard with the first of the gibberish songs which blighted the contest for so long, Massiel's "La La La", and shared victory the following year in an embarrassing tie with the UK, France and the Netherlands. Ever since then they have been on a hiding to nothing, along with Germany who have one solitary win from 1982 with Nicole's "Ein Bischen Frieden" which bizarrely managed to reach number one in the UK once translated to "A Little Peace". Ironically it's probably a war that's hindered Germany's attempts to win more contests.
Typically for the UK within Europe, we were late joining the party, not entering until the second contest back in 1957 as the BBC were late submitting the song for the inaugural contest. It took ten years for a British win, coming from Sandie Shaw with "Puppet on a String" in 1967, a song she claimed she hated for years but given her reappearance on Eurovision shows of late it would seem she has had a rethink.
"Puppet on a String" was also the first song to win which was sung in English, and over time the English language is that of choice for the vast majority of countries.
I well remember my excitement back in 1974 when Abba came onstage in Brighton to sing "Waterloo" and it's strange how the memory plays tricks as for years later I was convinced they had run away with the contest, when in fact they were involved in a two horse race with Gigliola Cinquetti, the Italian winner ten years before with a song called "Si". I was ten years old at the time and found Ms Cinquetti's song rather dull, and I suppose the fact it was sung in Italian would bear this out. To give her her due, she did manage to have a top ten hit with the song in the UK later in the year once translated to "Go" - which is strange considering "Si" means "yes"!
Abba however were brash, bold and for me anyway - they sang a song I could understand! From that day forward I was an Abba fan, and I remain one to this very day, fervently hoping they never reform and letting me remember them as they were in their very prime.
Abba's subsequent success raised the bar at Eurovision to a level few, if any, acts were ever going to be able to match.
Like any music fan, there are people who have favourite eras for Eurovision, and mine is the first 25 years of the contest. I lost interest for a while back in 1984 following another Swedish win for the utterly dreadful Herreys singing a song interestingly entitled "Diggi-Loo Diggi-Ley" - and I think my interest also waned following the BBC's failure to attract decent singers to represent the UK - in the 70s we had the New Seekers, Olivia Newton-John and Cliff Richard but by the time the 80s came around most of the people representing the country were either stage school wannabes or desperate never weres.
Of course we did fit in a win back in 1976 with the Brotherhood of Man's twee "Save Your Kisses For Me" which incredibly enough is the song which won by the biggest margin in the contest's history.
This, along with 1981's victory for Bucks Fizz with "Making Your Mind Up" heralded a new kind of Eurovision entry however, where the desire to make the performance memorable took precedence over the song. As a result if you check out the performance Bucks Fizz turned in in the final you are met with appalling vocals but slick moves. Contrast this with the seriously out of tune and choreographically challenged Jemini who came away with "nul points" in 2003.
Of course once the Iron Curtain fell, Europe suddenly got bigger and all of a sudden the performance was even more important, resulting in forgettable winning songs from the Ukraine and Finland which are remembered merely for the over the top performance and crazy costumes onstage.
The political voting also became more blatant, although it's fair to say that ever since Cyprus joined the contest, they have been ensured of 12 points from Greece and vice versa.
The tendency for countries to vote for near neighbours has always been the case and I well remember Terry Wogan announce that hopefully replacing the juries who used to vote on the songs with tele-voting would see an end to this practice. How wrong he was - it merely got worse.
I actually think there is now a case for two Eurovision Song Contests - one for East Europe and one for the West, with the top five songs slugging it out to win the overall contest.
We are now in the situation where east only tends to vote for east and west prefers west but if there are fewer options (such as Greece not having the option to vote for Cyprus) perhaps the song might take precedence again. This may well be a forlorn hope but the fact the juries are back this year shows that the EBU are fully aware that tele-voting isn't the perfect way to do things.
So will I be watching this year? Of course I will! I will probably give the semi-finals a miss as that seems like overkill to me - however I shall spend my Saturday night watching the final and hoping for a win for a song I like and a decent showing for Beauty and the Beast, but will draw the line at flying the flag or having a party as others do, turning it into annual event in their social calendar.
Sir Terry has of course retired, leaving Graham Norton to pick up the baton in the commentary box for the BBC. I can't say I have high hopes for him, but hopefully he will prove me wrong.
I know I will be infuriated once the scores start coming in, but it never puts me off - perhaps having a year to get over it softens the blow.
If you find yourself at a loose end on Saturday night, you could do worse than watch this, and my top tip is to put the subtitles on for the few songs that won't be sung in English as the BBC very helpfully provide a translation for you.
My guess is the winning song will come from either Malta, Norway or Greece but shall edit this once the contest is over.
The Eurovision Song Contest has an official website which airs the entire contest worldwide and you can check out the songs here too, as well as watch rehearsals if you are so inclined!
Well no surprises at red hot favourite Norway running away with the competition, but I was surprised at Malta faring so poorly - I thought Chiara put in a good, strong performance.
The UK managed a very respectable fifth place, but how the Icelandic song got second place shall forever remain a mystery to me.
I thought Graham Norton was terrible - I ended up listening to Ken Bruce's commentary on Radio 2 as he was far more knowledgeable, far funnier and even managed to remember it was a song contest and comment on the musical offerings...
Here's hoping we have learned a lesson this year about taking it a little more seriously if we want a decent placing!
Summary: Not the best in Europe or the Mediterrenean coastline, but not taken at face value, it's fun!
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