This weekend is not just a long weekend in both Germany and several other European countries (Pentecost/Whitsun) as well as the US (Memorial Day), it also happens to host one of the biggest global TV events in the world, the 60th annual Eurovision Song Contest. For my impressions of previous contests, please click on the Eurovision tag.
This year’s contest was hosted in Vienna for the second time since 1967, following last year’s win by the fabulous non-binary singer Conchita Wurst. Conchita was co-hosting this year and also presented two new songs as part of Austria’s attempt to present itself as a diverse and inclusive country. And at least on stage, Austria certainly managed to make itself look diverse. The three-women (plus Conchita) hosting trio of television personalities Alice Tumler and Arabella Kiesbauer (who hosted a popular chat show in the 1990s) and actress Mirjam Weiselbraun included two women of colour and the orchestra that played during the break consisted of musicians from many European and non-European countries. What is more, in the run-up to the contest, Vienna installed traffic lights featuring same-sex couples all over the city.
It’s all very well intended and glosses over the fact that Austria still doesn’t have full marriage equality, that same-sex couples are banned from adopting children except in rare circumstances, that earlier this year, a lesbian couple was kicked out of a famous coffeehouse for daring to – gasp – kiss in public and that one of Austria’s most popular singers, Andreas Gabalier, has been making headlines complaining about what he calls “gender madness” by rewriting the Austrian national anthem to remove the line “brothers and sisters” and generally whining about his fate as a poor, put-upon heterosexual man. So in short, the backlash against a bit more diversity is in full swing.
However, this conservative backlash didn’t change the fact that Austria put on a great show yesterday evening. The Eurovision Song Contest isn’t the Hugo Awards after all. Everything was very slick and very professional, but the most recent contests have been, regardless of the host country. I also liked the homage in the opening minutes to Austria’s first winner Udo Jürgens, who won the Eurovision Song Contest in 1966 with “Merci Cherie” (Doesn’t he look like a Vulcan in that clip?) and went on to have a distinguished career in the German speaking world before dying earlier this year.
The standard of music was once again surprisingly high this year. There were no real WTF? entries in the finale – the ones that made it through were likely weeded out during the semi-finales. A few performances were a tad weird, such as the Azerbaijani werewolf, the Spanish Little Red Riding Hood and the Georgian lady whose costume made her look like an extra from Flash Gordon, but even those performances had a very high standard in general and Azerbaijan was actually in my personal top five this year. In general, the worst you could say about most songs was that they were kind of bland and samey. Several songs still seemed to copy the 2012 winner Euphoria by Loreen, a song I never particularly liked in the first place. There also were a couple of earnest songs about world peace – apparently, it’s 1982 all over again.
The winner this year was Sweden with a cute guy named Måns Zelmerlöw and a song that was so forgettable I spent most of the voting period trying to remember what the song had been. When Zelmerlöw performed his song again at the end, I realised that it actually wasn’t bad at all. The performance was nice as well and had Zelmerlöw dancing with CGI stick figures and turning into a butterfly. Nonetheless, I still couldn’t hum the song or tell you much about it beyond the fact that it was something about heroes.
Russia finished in second place with the usual sacrificial virgin in white. At least, the virgin could sing and she wasn’t booed on stage (which is just a mean thing to do, regardless what you think of Russian politics), though the German commentator got pretty snarky about the fact that sacrificial virgin was singing about world peace. What is more, the Russian entry was also pretty bland in my opinion and didn’t stand out at all.
Italy, which finished third, was a personal favourite along with Norway, Latvia and Romania. Australia, which has apparently joined Eurovision by now, finished fifth for their debut with a pretty good song.
Meanwhile, the German contestant Ann Sophie and her song “Black Smoke” tied for last place with the Austrian contestant The Makemakes, both managing to win a stunning zero points. And to make matters worse, the German commentator even got her name wrong and called her Ann Marie.
This is really rather unfair, for Ann Sophie wasn’t bad at all (and did seem to channel Modesty Blaise on stage) and the Makemakes were actually pretty good. Okay, so Ann Sophie’s song “Black Smoke” was pretty bland, but so were many other contestants. In fact, I don’t see much of a quality difference between Ann Sophie and the Russian singer who finished in second place.
Ann Sophie’s participation was somewhat controversial, since she did not actually win the German primaries. A singer named Andreas Kümmert did and promptly withdrew. Personally, I think Andreas Kümmert’s song was better and also would have stood out more in a sea of women singing dance numbers and power ballads. However, Kümmert himself is also apparently somewhat unstable and recently made headlines by making a tasteless joke about paying a hitman to take out his former manager.
This article from Die Welt argues that Ann Sophie’s zero point debacle is part of the larger issue that Germany simply cannot put forward promising candidates unless Stefan Raab is involved. I’m inclined to agree, especially since Ann Sophie had very little backing in Germany as well. I didn’t even hear her song on the radio until a few days before the contest.
So where do we go from here? I don’t know. It’s certain that Germany will be back next year, since we have an automatic place in the final (along with the UK, Italy, Spain and France) due to paying for a huge chunk of the spectacle. Let’s just hope that whoever sings for Germany in 2016 at least manages to win a point or two.