Euro neuro

It’s hard being a New Zealand fan of Eurovision. I’ve been interested in the annual competitive songstravaganza since 2003 when UK entry Gemini infamously scored nil points for their song “Cry Baby”. But I was born in distant 1974, the year that Swedish Abba won with “Waterloo”, one of the greatest pop songs ever written. And I’ve grown up with snippets of Eurovision filtering through to New Zealand – a bit of “Making Your Mind Up”, some “Hard Rock Hallelujah”, but hopefully not that Cliff Richard song.

The trouble is, Eurovision doesn’t doesn’t screen on the telly here any more. Triangle Stratos did screen it for a while, but since it switched off last year, there is – as far as I can tell – no New Zealand broadcaster for one of the greatest shows in the world. Even Australia does it properly, with a dedicated broadcast on SBS, complete with local commentary and an informal vote for Australia’s favourites.

Fortunately the internet has made it possible for a lone New Zealander to join in the fun. This year the Eurovision experience started for me in around February, with the national selection competitions all around Europe, all of which were available to watch online. The biggest of these is Sweden’s Melodifestivalen, accurately described as a cross between the Olympics and American Idol, only bigger.

Soon the line-up took shape and a couple of weeks ago, the 42 entrants headed to Baku, Azerbaijan to rehearse, rehearse, rehease and reduce that initial group of 42 down to 26 via the semi-finals.

There are serious contenders (Loreen from Sweden with “Euphoria”. Sweden, of course, being to pop what New Zealand is to rugby), the show-stopping novelties (Buranovskiye Babushki, a group of Russian grannies who just wanted to fundraise to rebuild their local church that Stalin knocked down 70 years ago), and of course the Eurovision staple, the OMGWTF songs.

In a way, it’s the crazy entries that are the most fun. They don’t tend to make it through the semi-finals, but they get a few moments of fame and subsequent YouTube immortality. One of my faves this year was Rambo Amadeaus, the Montenegrin jazz poet whose song “Euro Neuro” was a direct commentary on the eurozone crisis – “Monetary breakdance! Give me chance to refinance!”. And there’s San Marino songstress Valentina Monetta, with “The Social Network Song (Oh Oh – Uh – Oh Oh)”, originally titled “Facebook Uh, Oh, Oh” until Eurovision rules on commercialism required a rewrite, but fortunately this didn’t affect the lyric “If you wanna come to my house then click me with your mouse.”

In the middle of all this are the quite-good entries. I was delighted to discover Israel’s entry Izabo, with their song “Time”. They’re a cool indie band with ’70s funk, psychedelic rock and Middle-Eastern flavours. “Time”, with its English verses and falsetto Hebrew chorus, wasn’t serious enough to get the serious votes nor weird enough to get the novelty vote and so missed out on the final. But still, I’ve delved into their previous albums and have a new favourite band.

But the talented underachivers of the semi-finals don’t matter. What counts is the 26 finalists, who’ll battle it out for supremecy at the final on Saturday night. I have my faves. There’s Italy’s stylish swing, the highly danceable tune from Cyprus, Ireland’s explosive pop charms, Moldova’s musical romp and Iceland’s dramatic duet.

Eurovision was created in 1956, less than a decade after the end of World War II. Like the Family of Man photography exhibition, it was an attempt to bring people together, to help ensure there’d never be another world war again. Has it worked? Yeah, sort of.

Politics still skims around the edges. It’s doubtful that Eleftheria Eleftheriou will do well for Greece this year, no matter how seductively she sings “You make me want your aphrodisiac.” There are always accusations of political bloc voting, but I figure that’s no more remarkable than how Australian pop does well in New Zealand. Neighbouring countries tend to be more culturally similar than distant countries.

Since the fall of communism, Eastern European countries came flooding into Eurovision. And here’s the interesting thing – due to the policies of their communist governments, a lot of those countries didn’t grow up listening to the same pop music that Western Europe did. No Elvis, no Beatles, no Abba, no Duran Duran. So today, popular music in those countries tends to be a mash-up of current Western trends and more traditional Eastern sounds. Try writing a song that ticks those boxes and will still appeal to Dutch grandmas.

Eurovision is mainly ignored by the New Zeaaland media. If it gets a mention, it’s either of the “Look at these wacky Europeanz!!!” weird news variety, focusing only on the crazy; or – like the BBC report that One News screened on Friday – it’s a sombre look at the impact of the Azerbaijani political situation on hosting Eurovision this year. But coverage of Eurovision never seems to make it in the regular entertainment news section.

So instead I make my own Eurovision experience. I’ve been watching footage of rehearsals in Baku courtesy of Eurovision bloggers, I’ve watched live streams of the thrilling semi-finals from the Eurovision website, and I’ll be waking up far too early for a Sunday to watch the epic live final, ready for some quality televisual entertainment.

7 thoughts on “Euro neuro”

  1. I’m making do with the Guardian liveblog feed. While they may not have moving pictures an’ all, they do have tried and tested British sarcasm to offer:

    ‘Here comes SPAIN! Due to budgetary constraints, the singer is wearing your mum’s third-best tablecloth. The translated title of this song is Stay With Me and, judging by the singer’s face, she’s so keen for us to stay with her because she’s massively constipated and she has trouble walking up the stairs’

  2. We managed to talk our American friends into watching the final last night by luring them to our house with a Memorial Weekend barbeque. They’d never even heard of Eurovision, but we had fun – some of it was just gloriously crazy, some of it was actually pretty good. Watching the votes come in was almost as much fun as the songs – it was such a mix of idiosyncratic musical tastes, geography, and old politics driving the votes.

  3. Hey Robyn. Whilst I don’t condone it’s use, you could perhaps search the torrent sites. The bbc shows are usually found pretty quickly after they’re broadcast. Also, if you look you can find the two part special that sbs did as the lead up o their shows.

    I’m sorry to hear that NZ doesn’t show it. Pity. Azerbaijan says hello to NZ too.

    1. Thanks for the suggestion. Irish broadcaster RTE had a live stream of the three shows, complete with their local commentary, so I watched that live online. But I have indeed also experienced the BBC coverage – much more fun!

      1. Personally I think the SBS coverage is better, though I know people who prefer the BBC version. I think the SBS version respects the contest a little bit more whilst still having its fun.

        Maybe you should think of going to the host country next year!

  4. Just discovered this. Eurovison has probably been my biggest discovery since moving to the UK, and I’ll definitely be continuing my interest in it when I move back to NZ (inevitably, as I’m on a student visa!). A colleague also says it doubled as a quick study in politics as it mirrors who supports who.
    If you get the chance to use a digital channel such as the Beeb, you get an extra advantage of seeing the translated lyrics as subtitles, which makes life that much more fun…

    1. Yeah, the political side of things is really interesting. The 50% jury system was brought in after the phone vote skewed too much towards Eastern Europe countries. I love the crazy songs, the ones that make even less sense when the lyrics are known!

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