With Brexit in the rear view mirror, we might actually get some votes
‘The sound of beauty’ is the theme of this year’s Eurovision Song Contest, the final of which is taking place in Turin on Saturday night. It’s an appropriately meaningless assemblage of words. Sounds can be beautiful, I suppose, but does beauty have a sound? Never mind, it could easily have been ‘the wisdom of dreams’ or ‘the power of music’ or any other collection of agreeably abstract words and it wouldn’t have made a spot of difference.
It is nice to have Eurovision back in the unusual circumstances of one of its entrants invading another. Russia has been cast out this year — the European Broadcasting Union stating that their inclusion would bring the contest into disrepute. Ukraine is of course almost certain to win on the popular vote, barring an overwhelming backlash from the ‘expert ‘jury panels. Thankfully, the Ukrainian entry, ‘Stefania’ by Kalush Orchestra, is a good song, doing the traditional Eurovision thing of bashing together indigenous ethnic music and rap. In a normal year it wouldn’t particularly stand out, but its nostalgia for the sacrifices made by the singer’s mother now carries a heavy poignancy.
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Elsewhere, if the semi-finals are anything to go by, Eurovision traditions remain intact. The banter of the three hosts is excruciatingly awkward (there was a great moment in the first semi when the hosts proudly announced that “Europe is here in all its diversity!” and the camera swooped in a grand arc over a stadium-full of white gay men of a certain age.) The staging is pleasingly barmy — there is a constantly flowing cascade of water around the edges of the stage which has already inspired even more than the usual number of loo breaks. And the voting is unfathomably eccentric, with Ireland’s song, about the only stone-cold, instantly catchy and contemporary ‘banger’ in the semis, failing to qualify for the final. Meanwhile several mimsy and indistinguishable ballads from the likes of Greece and Switzerland have made it through.
There is also a noticeably higher than usual level of strained quirkiness among the contestants this time, possibly following the trail of last year’s Icelandic entry, which was performed by an awkward-looking bunch of nerds. Nerds are fine in themselves, but knowing nerds pulling tongue-in-cheek faces is quite another matter. Thankfully Latvia’s smirky super-quirky entry ‘Eat Your Salad’ was eliminated on Tuesday, but we still have Norway — men in yellow puppy masks exhorting us to “give that wolf a banana” — and Serbia — a very intense woman in scrubs with a terrifyingly severe fringe singing about body parts (sample lyrics: “I wonder what’s the secret behind Meghan Markle’s healthy hair?” and “enlarged spleen is not good!”) while washing her hands in a bowl for the full duration.
But the genuine oddity of the contest this year is that the UK has submitted a decent entry. In fact, ‘Spaceman’, by the agreeably full-throated YouTube sensation Sam Ryder, is better than good. There’s been a suspicion that our dismal showing at Eurovision in recent years — we got nil points last time — has not been entirely caused by the terrible songs we kept sending, but by resentment for Brexit. It will be very interesting to see how we fare with a song that’s second favourite after Ukraine.