Last Saturday was the EuroVision final and if you don’t live in Europe you probably missed it. (It’s also the largest televised television event in the world outside of sports finals like the World Cup.) What you missed is the best song contest in the world. Better than American Idol. Better than X-Factor.
Every participating country selects a musical act (some by contests, some via a panel of industry experts, and based on some groups that participate, some via a random selection from the phone book). Those acts then perform on live TV (audience 125 million) where residents and a panel of experts cast the votes from each country (you can’t vote for yourself). The votes are totaled through 2 semi-finals and a final and the votes rank the entrants.
Sort-of a combination of the Olympics & American Idol. That sounds interesting but it does not get across what makes EuroVision so spectacular. So what makes this so extraordinary? So compelling that 125 million tune in. So important that Azerbaijan spent 50 million plus built a 70 million events center to host it (even for an oil dictatorship, that’s real money). (Due to the cost you can imagine the Finance Ministers of each country praying “second place, please just second place.”)
Key to all this is who wins. It’s rarely the best pop music act. The winning act is usually a little different (sometimes a lot different) from the group that will win an Idol competition. And because a little bit different wins, the groups sent in tens to offer something different from what you usually see. Sometimes that difference is brilliant. Sometimes it is awful. But you are getting variety across all the acts.
The winner this year was an incredible number by Loreen [Sweden] which was an evocative dance number that she performed an interpretative dance number to while singing, mostly with her backlight. Now I hate interpretative dance, yet this was incredibly good. Second was a folk song by a group of babushkas [Russia] sung in Urdat. I thought it was awful but a lot of voters liked it – a lot. You’re never going to find a contest elsewhere with that range of choices.
This year the groups participating in the final were extraordinarily good. I think it was the best EuroVision ever (last year was mediocre while 2010 was really good). And again an incredible range. Greece & Cyprus both sent female singers singing some of the most vibrant pop numbers ever. (The budget crisis clearly impacted the Greece group, the poor girl could only afford half a dress.) Moldova sent some dressed like a blacksmith singing a folk song (to a pop beat) where the female backup dancers were wearing your grandmother’s lampshades as dresses – and it was good. Italy had a really good swing number. Most of the songs are pop or ballads, but they are generally incredibly good ones very well sung.
At the same time it is some of the cheesiest performances you will ever see. The Lithuanian singer has a blindfold on for the first half of his song “Love is Blind.” England one year pretended they were on an airplane singing the pre-flight announcement complete with female dancers doing the arm movements (yes it was that bad). England in fact seems to take a perverse pleasure in how bad their entrants have been the last couple of years.
And unlike sporting competitions where the large countries dominate, San Marino (yes that is a country) can beat Germany & Russia. Because of the size of the audience, because this truly can be won by any country, national pride makes this a very important event. The contest to represent their country in EuroVision is, in many countries, the top musical event in their country.
You will also find that almost everyone in Europe complains about how awful it is. And they question how anyone could watch it. I met a family from Norway here in Colorado a couple of years ago and mentioned that I liked EuroVision. They launched in to how awful it is and questioned how anyone could like it. I then mentioned that it had been held in Norway a couple of months earlier and their reply was “oh yes, we went to watch the final live at the concert hall.” The complaining about how bad some of the groups are (and there are always several you will find atrocious) is part of the experience.
It’s also an extraordinary venue for the musicians. They are playing live for 125 million people. The music is recorded (no time to wire up instruments between performances) but the vocals are 100% live and broadcast in real-time. They have an audience greater than all but a few of the top rock bands get. You can feel that in the performances they present. (The most amazing are the ones like Tom Dice [Belgium] that stand up there by themselves and sing with no instrumentals or background dancers.)
So there you have it, some of the most incredible musical presentations on the planet, along with some that will be so bad, it’s like watching a car crash in slow motion. And then the votes coming in, country by country, where you have no idea who will win. I take vacations for two things, EuroVision, and when my wife tells me we’re going on vacation.
EuroVision 2012 Final
Links are two the performances on YouTube. BTW – the male emcee looks like Will Wheaton.
United Kingdom (Englbert Humpersomething – yes he’s still alive) – Ok, England is clearly trying to lose with this entry. I guess their forced austerity measures mean they can’t afford to host. Mediocre song sung ok, but mainly because it required very little range. And pretty much zero stage presence. Factoid: Englebert is older than 22 of the nations competing. Not older than their groups – older than the country.
Hungary – Something is wrong with his voice as you can barely hear the singing. They weren’t that good in the semi-final but they’re worse here. He may have a cold or something. So a mediocre number presented badly.
Albania – Screaming lady with the weird basket hairdo is up. OMG, our dogs just ran upstairs and hid under the bed as she hit the high notes. On the plus side if a movie ever needs a woman giving birth to an Alien – she’s the actress.
Lithuania – It’s a good song and this guy does an extraordinary job singing it. He also has really good stage movements, and doesn’t over-do them. I can see a lot of people picking this one, especially teenage girls.
Bosnia – Beautiful song with a female vocalist singing extraordinarily well. Light background instrumentals but it is primarily her standing there singing what I think is a love song. One of the best.
Russia – The pain, the pain. I don’t get it, lots of people like this but it’s 6 babushkas chanting out some folk song. How did they send them? I blame communism. They may get the old folks votes, but how many 90 year olds will still be awake in Europe at midnight?
Iceland – Oh wow, they knocked it out of the park. A very uplifitng pop/ballad sung by a male/female duet (with background singers) and it was perfect. One of the best tonight.
Cyprus – Super good happy pop song sung really well. And the dancing is the best of any so far. Love it.
France – WOW!!! A song that is incredibly upbeat and a little different (in a good way) and a female vocalists who does an incredible job singing it. I was half dancing in my chair. And topless (male) gymnasts as the dancers.
Italy – They’re going to win this. Their number was almost a Jazz number and it was sung so well that it pulled you in to their presentation. I think they’ll win because the votes for other styles will be split while theirs is unique.
Estonia – This guy is extraordinary. For most of the song it is understated instrumentals and he just stands there and sings. And he is so incredibly good that you are mesmerized by it, to the extent I teared up a bit.
Norway – A stereotypical Eurovision presentation with a lead male vocalist who could start in Twilight, very happy pop number, lots of dancing around. It was all done very well. But not at the level of the best groups.
Azerbaijan – Really good number. Female vocalist with a bit of background help, who has a terrific voice singing a soulful ballad. She made full use of a really great voice without overdoing it.
Romania – It’s a fun peppy song. And they do it well. But it’s nothing special.
Denmark – A reasonably talented garage band that overdoes it. It’s almost as though they were created for a scene in a Disney movie.
Greece – Awesome job. Greece always has the most vibrant and alive presentations and this year again they did it. super good song and incredible dancing.
Sweden – extraordinary! I think she has the most amazing voice of this contest and she full use of it. I’m not sure how to describe the song except to say it grabs you. And she does an interpretative dance during it, with mostly background lights so she’s mostly a shape moving on the stage. Absolutely amazing.
Turkey – With all the religious strife in the world today, it’s nice to see an Islamic country do a scene from Fiddler on the Roof. If your kids are bad, threaten that you’ll make them watch this.
Spain – Amazing. I think this is my favorite. Female vocalist singing by herself and she takes you higher and higher with the song, and then brings in background singers and they take you even higher. Extraordinary.
Germany – Male singer with band. They’re good, but not at the same level as the top groups this year. (With that said, this is a very competitive year.)
Malta – Another male singer with a band. Serbia does it better. Very upbeat song, sung well and the band participates making it even better. Not quite one of the best, but close.
Macedonia – Yet another female vocalist. She does a good job but she does not reach out and grab you like the best do. But she and her band are quite good. Close to the top level and enjoyable to listen to.
Ireland – These guys are the definition of ESC. Fantastic song, dance, everything. And the twins are just perfect for the show. Superb job.
Serbia – Male singer with background band/singers. An uplifting ballad with background music that is almost folk music. A really good song and they guy’s voice is superb. One of the best but not quite as good as Estonia.
Ukraine – It’s almost like she is channeling Aretha Franklin. She does have a really good voice. But I don’t find her number to be that good (disclaimer – I never was a big fan of Aretha either).
Moldova – Ok the outfits are the guy dresses like a blacksmith and the dancers (female) came from the set of Hairspray. And the song is almost a really upbeat gospel number. Definitely different and it is growing on me (I think).
My votes (if we could vote from America): Spain! Or Sweden – Spain or Sweden. Or Estonia or France or Italy. Followed by Lithuania, Bosnia, Iceland, Cyprus, Azerbaijan, Greece, Malta, Ireland, & Serbia. Go here for the vote totals.