Eurovision 2015 – Blandness wins and blandness loses

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.

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4 Responses to Eurovision 2015 – Blandness wins and blandness loses

  1. Mark H. says:

    To me, the interesting parallel between ESC and the Hugos is that the ESC always has been dominated by politics and voting strategies. Maybe that’s the future of the Hugos as well.

    I haven’t seen the votes this year (usually that’s the point where I tune in, who really cares about the performances?), but even though Russia is currently not exactly popular it still has a number of Russia-friendly neighbors to help out. And since the whole thing is mostly an international popularity contest, it’s kind of sad to see each year how unpopular Germany is.

    Lena in 2010 was probably an accident, mixed with good marketing, her outgoing personality and maybe some remaining credit from Germany’s 2006 World Cup spike of popularity.

    • Cora says:

      Russia also profits from the fact that many countries, including our own, have large Russian minorities. It’s no surprise that ever since they introduced televoting, Turkey and Russia always got a lot of points from Germany.

      I don’t think the 2006 World Cup had that much of an influence on Germany’s Eurovision performance, especially since the 2007, 2008 and 2009 results were all pretty dreadful for admittedly bad songs. Lena probably won because she was young, bubbly and had a pretty good song and performance.

      I’ve heard some claims that Germany’s poor performance this year was because supposedly much of Europe hates us because of austerity policies. Which would explain why e.g. Greece and Spain wouldn’t vote for the German entry. But plenty of countries involved don’t have the Euro, several aren’t EU countries and some aren’t even in Europe.

      Otherwise, I agree that Eurovision has always been political in a way that the Hugos are only now becoming and hopefully won’t remain.

  2. Great write-up of yesterdays non-event that nevertheless managed to celebrate its 60th edition. It will probably go on long after you and I are dust. 🙂

    I too appreciated the “classical” rendition of Merci Cherie by the late Udo Jürgens.

    I watched the ESC for the first time in about ten years. Although I’m Belgian I like to watch the ESC on the BBC. According to the presenter, Graham Norton, the voting order was arranged by some algorithm, which kept the final result in doubt for as long as possible. And it was rather exciting, even with the political strategies being the same and countries voting in blocs. Norton remarked that a lot of eastern countries fell out of line by not voting for Russia, or by not giving it the maximum votes. In the end this cost Russia the victory, although it was a close call.

    I thought the song of my own country, Belgium, The Rhythm Inside by Loic Nottet was all but bland. And mind you, I’m not much of a chauvinist. A fourth place was well deserved for the nineteen-year-old singer, I thought. A nice surprise, all the more so because usually we end up on the bottom of the pile.

    • Cora says:

      I noticed the Russian divide as well and think it’s due to the fact that several ex-Soviet Republics are angry and terrified because of what happened to Ukraine. That explains e.g. Armenia not voting for Russia, since they are apparently trying to get closer to the EU. Besides, a lot of Non-Russian minorities in the former Soviet Union never much cared for Russia. I visited Latvia on a student exchange during the dying days of the Soviet Union and the tensions between Latvians and ethnic Russians living in Latvia were very notable. The votes of the three Baltic states, which have up to 50% ethnic Russians and yet are NATO and EU members, reflect this issue with Russia getting between 5 and 8 points.

      I think the Belgian song did well at least partly because it was something different in a sea of samey women in evening gowns singing either power ballads or Euphoria influenced dance numbers. Standing out from the mass can be a gamble, but I’ve found that songs which stand out (e.g. hard rock when everybody is doing ballads, guitar when everybody is doing full orchestra) often do quite well. Also see Latvia’s and Italy’s good performance for two other songs which were something different.

      As far as I recall, Belgium won at least once back in the 1980s with a very young singer, who’s still the youngest winner ever.

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