I wasn’t going to watch this year, but in the end I caved in and watched the Eurovision Song Contest anyway.
It’s like that every year, you swear you’re not going to bother, because the songs are crap anyway and the winner will be some obscure East European country that didn’t even exist twenty years ago. And then you put on a DVD or fire up the DVR recorder and watch something else (because there never is anything watchable on TV on Eurovision night, the Eurovision Song Contest being the 1000 pound gorilla of European TV). But once whatever you’ve been watching is over, you inevitably switch over “just to see how our song is doing” and end up watching till the bitter end. That is, if you didn’t tune in before putting on the DVD “just to catch a glimpse of the presenters and maybe a song or two” and end up watching “just one more song” until you’ve watched all twenty-five.
It went pretty much like that tonight. I’d been visiting my Mom, who’s alone at the moment, because my Dad isn’t home, and we watched an episode of Spooks, because my Mom enjoys Spooks and can’t normally watch it, because German TV broadcasts it at two in the morning or so. Then we switched over “just to see how Lena was doing” and ended up watching the last two hours or so.
Since Lena Meyer-Landrut won last year’s contest in Oslo, Germany hosted this year’s contest in Düsseldorf. I still think that Hamburg should have been the host city, because Hamburg always puts on Germany’s and probably Europe’s biggest open air Eurovision party on the Reeperbahn (you can always see it in the background when the German votes are transmitted). But Düsseldorf probably had the better facilities and airport access. At any rate, I’m glad that Berlin didn’t host, because foreigners usually reduce Germany to Berlin anyway, even though there are so many other worthy cities.
I missed the intro (apparently Stefan Raab and Anke Engelke performing last year’s winning song “Satellite” together with 43 Lena doubles) and most of the early performances. That said, the show itself was very impressive and very professional, particularly compared to Germany’s previous hosting effort back in 1983, which was positively cringeworthy. Even at the age of ten, I knew how utterly awful that show was.
Don’t believe me? Take a look at this clip of Germany’s 1983 contest entry, “Rücksicht” by Hoffmann & Hoffmann and prepare to be horrified. As a bonus, you also get a glimpse of Marlene Charell, the 1983 host. And yes, it was just as painful to watch back then.
If that’s the becnhmark to beat, then Düsseldorf could only win. And indeed, this year’s hosting trio of Stefan Raab, Anke Egelke and Judith Rakers were a vast improvement on Marlene Charell, even if Anke Engelke’s outfits were even worse than Marlene Charell’s. The three hosts are actually well known faces on German TV. Judith Rakers is one of the anchors of the Tagesschau, still Germany’s most watched news program. I suspect she was picked as a co-host, because she speaks English and French, is pleasant to look at and actually works for ARD, the public TV station hosting the contest, while both Stefan Raab and Anke Engelke were on loan from private TV. Anke Engelke, the lady who did the flirting and vote repetition bit, is a comedian, actress and briefly host of her own late night show. I was a bit worried about her, because while she can certainly be charming, I also remembered her utterly cringeworthy red carpet interviewing stint at the Oscars a few years ago. Luckily, we got charming Anke tonight.
Finally, Stefan Raab. Non-Germans were probably wondering what an overweight, balding man was doing on stage. This Guardian liveblog compares Stefan Raab alternately to the Swedish chef from The Muppets and Simon Pegg. Both comparisons are surprisingly apt. So, for all non-Germans, Stefan Raab is a comedian, host of his late night show and various variety programs, singer and musician, the mastermind behind various German top-10 singles since the mid 1990s and, last but not least, pretty much single-handedly responsible not just for Germany’s Eurovision win last year but also for the revival of interest in the Eurovision Song Contest in Germany since the late 1990s. Stefan Raab has competed once in the Eurovision Song Contest (in 2000), composed three German entries (in 1998, 2000 and 2004), conducted the live orchestra (1998) and discovered 2004 contestant Max Mutzke and last year’s winner Lena. All entries with which Raab was involved have placed in the top 10. And now, he has also hosted the contest. So if anyone belonged on that stage, it’s Stefan Raab. Though on the downside, regular viewers of his late night show will probably have to miss out on Stefan Raab mocking the Eurovision contestants on Monday, because that would probably be a conflict of interest not to mention bad taste. On the other hand, this is Stefan Raab we’re talking about and part of his reputation was built on bad taste.
This year’s German entry was performed once again by last year’s winner, Lena Meyer-Landrut, who lost the two surnames somewhere along the way and is billed only as Lena now. I didn’t agree with the idea (pushed by Stefan Raab) to have Lena compete again this year, particularly since there wasn’t even anything approaching a national competition. Lena was always set as this year’s performer, TV viewers only got to vote on which song she would perform. As for the song itself, it certainly wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t memorable either. And Lena trying to vamp it up didn’t really work all that well. Still, she finished in tenth place, which is definitely a respectable showing.
The Italian entry, a piano jazz number, which finished in second place was pretty good and would probably have been a more deserving winner than the actual winner. The much publicized Irish twins of Jedward and the UK entry Blue weren’t bad, but not as good as they had been made out before the contest. Though part of me wanted to see the UK win, if only because we might have had John Barrowman hosting next year. But of course, we’d probably have ended up with Graham Norton or Jonathan Ross or even Russell Brand – shudder.
My favourite was actually the French contestant, who sung a pseudo-operatic song in Corsican. Beautiful voice, cute singer and a minority language at the Eurovision Song Contest – what’s not to love? Actually, the contest has gotten more boring from a linguistic POV, since they changed the rules and almost everybody is singing in English. Though the ways some contestants mangle the English language is interesting. The last song, a really weirdly dressed gothic band from Georgia (We called them “Georgian cyberpunk vampires”), was a good example. The band came on, we marveled at the horribleness of their outfits (a lot of the contestants have a horrible dress sense, but this bunch was a special brand of awfulness) and then I looked to my Mom and said, “Well, the song isn’t too bad. And it’s brave that they’re singing in their own language.” A bit later, “Oh crap, I think that’s actually supposed to be English.”
In the end, the winner was Azerbaidjan with a ballad that wasn’t bad, but wasn’t particularly memorable either. I don’t think I’ll even recognize that song when I hear it on the radio two weeks from now. Provided I ever actually hear it on the radio again. Because plenty of Eurovision winners, particularly those from Eastern Europe, are never heard from again, at least here in Germany.
However, even if their song wasn’t that great, the reaction of the Azerbaidjani duo upon winning was a joy to behold. The guy clutched the trophy and wouldn’t put it down again, not even when reprising the song. I now have a vision of him at Düsseldorf airport going through security while still refusing to relinquish his trophy. And on the plane home to Baku, still clutching that trophy. Also neat: The female singer waving a Turkish flag, which she had probably grabbed in the confusion. But then Turkey did give Azerbaidjan twelve points, so it was only fair.
Anyway, next year’s contest in Baku will be interesting, to say the least. When it was clear that Azerbaidjan would win, my Mom turned to me and said, “I bet their cabinet is having an emergency meeting right now, discussing how to pay for the bloody thing.”
Finally, I give you what is probably my favourite Eurovision song of all time, “Dschingis Khan”, the German entry for 1979. Unfortunately, it lost out to “Hallelujah”, which is a pretty damn good song in itself.
It also turns out that today’s Doctor Who episode is actually the Neil Gaiman episode, so I will have to watch it.