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Eurovision Song Contest – It’s A Knock-Out – the musical

Germany - two points

Germany - two points

Eurovision Song Contest – Russia

“Ooohh Graeme, you’re such a bitch……but I like you.” (With apologies to Dick Emery). The pink pixie of presenters done good – in the end. Slick, technically stunning Russian production stripped away most of the ‘lose-the-will-to-live’ inter-song tourist board-style films that used to offer such rich pickings to Sir Tel’s smirky irony; so at the start our Graeme overdid it, saying just a little too much; like a radio sports commentator transferred to TV. What made Tel so good was his pacing: he let the surreal idiocy and solemn nationalistic self-parody of the filler Balham, gateway to the South travelogues induce a semi-comatose state and then would slide in a little killer sarcasm or wicked witticism that immediately dispelled the unutterable tedium and self-recrimination at watching at all. Tel gave us both an excuse and a rationale for watching this annual It’s A Knock-Out – The Musical.

I suppose Russia’s switch from building bloody great walls imprisoning dissident citizens to shamelessly flogging their own CD/DVD in the middle of this £30 million national PR-fest is a sign of progress – what counts I guess as a triumph for Capitalism. At least no one died: except an endless succession of national presenters with incomparably bad timing, incomprehensible jokes, a truly bizarre range of clothing and a universal attack of gush the Rush that must have made even Putin puke. If it is true as Graeme claimed that the Russian entry was mysteriously shoed-in at the last minute and just happened to feature the daughter of a Russian billionaire, it would seem there are some aspects of our victorious Capitalist system better left uncopied. Certainly one listened in vain for any musical justification for the depressing Mamo whose selling feature was apparently that pictures of the singer Anastasia aged as we watched. I know how she felt.

The voting was Graeme’s finest hour. If his razor sharp salacious bitchiness was broader and lacked some of Sir Tel’s style, it was nonetheless at times wickedly funny and occasionally inspired. Any qualms one had about this were immediately dispelled by the succession of infuriatingly smirky, twitchy, mugging, lip-pursing ‘presenters’ from all over Europe shamelessly milking every second of their, please God, one and only time on camera. “Come on get on with it”, “I wouldn’t mess with her” “no jokes from him tonight except those two enormous plastic ears” wasn’t the half of it. I particularly relished “that’s either a national costume…or a very bad dress.” Graeme saved many of his sharpest barbs for what we might call the horribly hirsute – “good God, for a billion viewers…he might have shaved” and the tonsorially terrible “he looks like a technician.” A number of ‘creatures’ were unmercifully mocked with a laser-like precision for which Graeme’s scabrous style was perfect.

The ‘contest’ was as usual a wonderful potpourri of the manic, the lunatic, the bizarre, the quirky and the quaint; all displaying a desperation to make an impact and be admired which lay some considerable distance beyond the line defining a matter of life and death. True the only real bit of charm of the evening was put to the service of a cute, catchy song that won Norway the crystal microphone and a multi-million £ bill for 2010. The youthful, fresh-faced Alexander Rybak grinned his way through Fairytale with an insouciant charm that genuinely lowered national boundaries, female ones at least, and made it the biggest-winning song in the history of the contest. Meanwhile, a gentleman named Olafur Grimsson and 304,365 (July 2008) people clinging parlously to an apparently beautiful lump of ice in the North Atlantic breathed a collective sigh of relief when the other charmer of the evening, the delectable Yohanna came in an admirable but unmistakable second for Iceland. Almost bankrupted by the world financial crisis, Iceland’s President Grimsson must have been the only national political leader in Europe praying not to win, as the winner hosts next year’s show. In football parlance – for Iceland second was a result.

The Russian producers did everyone proud; but you can induce a fair bit of pride for 30 million quid. Graeme breathlessly informed us that 30% of all the LED screens in the world were used in the set. That seemed and seems incredible. Easier to believe was the fact that perhaps 50% of the longest legged, underdressed, artificially wind-blown women in Europe were on display. Literally. Don’t get me wrong: the full depth of my pleasure at watching beautiful, slightly-dressed gorgeous women leaping about as they beautifully sing less than beautiful songs, has yet to be plumbed. But one couldn’t stifle the subversive thought that there ain’t much for feminists in the old EuroSonCon. Objectified sex-objects or what. At least it makes for an uncontroversial division of labour in most households: we guys do the ogling; you partners do the voting. Fair’s fair. We concede that ‘Fairytale Prince’ Alex’s victory reflects a triumph for feminine enfranchisement. But we guys are sanguine at your electoral success ladies: given the succession of beautiful women dressed to stir many delicious male fantasies from wind-blown beauty to gigantic, statuesque, and I do mean statuesque, impossibly blonde Swedes, we are graciously content just to have taken part – we’ll generously concede the winning to you.

With a set only marginally larger than some of the participating countries, I did eventually succumb to amazement fatigue. So it was almost a relief when the sombre, safe, almost somnambulant Lord Webber accompanied the talented, but for me a little too knowing and contrived, Jade, in our best placing for over 5 years; his It’s My Time rolling in a creditable 5th.

Judging by the frenetic pace of this year’s show – singing to musical accompaniment has been re-designated as an Olympic Sport. Many acts looked like Pentathlon competitors doing all five events at once – with a bit of pole-vaulting and gymnastics thrown in so no one on stage stopped moving for second. There were bewildering moments: a fair-skinned, innocent-looking, blonde Albanian with the obligatory long legs was surrounded throughout by what looked like a blue worm and a couple of immensely athletic oompah-loompah’s in black. Germany’s Alex Swings did less well than expected despite the pleasing if gratuitous embasqued assistance of American Burlesque star Dita von Teese. In a vain effort to rouse the British public into conspiratorial anger, Graeme pointed out that the Finnish dance group Waldo’s People, were doing a Singin’ in The Rain scam with the leader miming while a mysterious woman at the back of the stage sung for her. Well I’m sorry Graeme but after this last week in politics, that’s far too small beer to get the already incandescent Brits going again. Let ‘em win for all we care – it’s one thing we don’t have to pay for at least. Perhaps the only thing left.

The much-vaunted de-politicization of the voting I guess only partly worked. Even with so-called music experts combining their independent judgement with their country’s popular vote, there were still some only too predictable preferences. Indeed one began to wonder whether the whole of the dismantling of the former Communist State of Yugoslavia was not just a plot to get multiple entries to the Eurovision Song Contest. We wish.

The contribution of events like this ‘song’ contest are just as opaque as sporting ones with regards to fostering knowledge and understanding between nations. I’d love to think so but while I can identify with Italian or Spanish footballers, empathise with French Rugby Players, and warm to Scandinavian skiers etc; despite the charm of many of the song contestants, one does come away from this weird televisual experience with the distinct feeling that there are more than a few of our European brothers and sisters who are a few bricks short of a load.

Et tu Grand Bretagne – I’m sure. Ain’t folk great?

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