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.