It’s been some years since we last visited the Eurovision Song Contest, so I thought it was high time we indulged in another Tetherd Cow Ahead Live Blog Eurovision Spectacular. Joining me tonight on the couch are Violet Towne and Vermilion as we wing our virtual way like magical butterflies to the Swedish city of Malmö where the festivities are in full swing. As you know by now, the host country for the annual Eurovision Song Contest is the country of the previous Eurovision winner. and last year, we saw Sweden take the trophy with the remarkable Loreen and Euphoria

So that’s the standard that this year’s competitors must meet, dear Cowmrades. Can they do it? Well, with Eurovision you just never know what musical delights you might be served up. So. Are you sitting comfortably? OK then! Help yourself to some knäckebröd and kottbullar, top up your glögg and rack up the volume. It’s time for Eurovision 2013.

Right off the top, I have to say I’m in love with the host for this year, Petra Mede. She is a vision in eyeball-scorching pink, and launches into the proceedings with scarily enunciated posh English. In the rehearsals she referred to herself (admirably sarcastically) as ‘the Swedish Oprah’ and I really have to take exception to that – if Oprah was this funny and talented, I’d watch her show every day. Who’s up first Petra?

Aha. Looks like it’s France. Dressed in a frock made of black licorice strips, Ms France is evidently channeling Courtney Love, only not very well. She seems to like running her hands down the licorice. It’s unsettling. The song is featureless and boring and it ends not a moment to soon. Petra senses the possible abandonment of the telecast by a million viewers and wastes no time in ushering Lithuania onto the mirror-finish black glass stage.

The Lithuanian entry is called ‘Something’ but a few chords in and it’s pretty obvious that ‘Nothing’ would have been more appropriate. It sounds like an awkwardly-phrased version of a bad New Order song. And then the chorus comes:

If you don’t know, I’m in love with you
When summertime falls, it becomes untrue
Because of the shoes, I’m wearing today
One is called love, the other is pain

No, I haven’t a clue either. It is possible that the last line was ‘One is called love, the other is Spain’, which doesn’t make it any more understandable, but at least it adds a level of surreality. The song is ultimately dirgey and Mr Lithuania retires backstage to drown his sorrows.

Now it’s Moldova‘s turn. Ms Moldova is a striking redhead with a most unusual hairdo. It looks like someone smothered it in gel and then got her to stand with her back to an aircraft engine. If Eurovision was in 3D, we’d be ducking every time the camera came in for close-ups.

As you know, all the artists in the Eurovision Song Contest must perform their vocals live and this really separates the wheat from the chaff. Ms Moldova has a nice tune, but in some places she decides to sing it a few microtones lower than the one the band is playing. It is most unfortunate. Her choreographer has evidently sized up the possibility of this happening, though, and implemented a tried-and-true tactic: distraction. Ms Moldova is on fire! Well, not literally (and especially not figuratively), but some kind of fancy projection system paints her skirt with flames. She looks like a volcano! The spectacle becomes even more volcano-like when she starts to rise into the air, her dress spreading into a conical mountain beneath her. Up and up she goes! At any moment I expect her to be expelled from the top like a lava plug.

I’ve never seen anything quite like it, and never expect to again anytime soon. Which only goes to show that you shouldn’t attempt to anticipate the future when watching Eurovision.

I’m not quite sure how they got Ms Volcano off the stage, but they evidently did because now Finland is rocking on up. Oh my, oh my. This irksome pop number is about as twee as one can get before falling off the end of pop and landing in a dumpster full of plush teddybears and message balloons. It reminds me as nothing so much as a peroxided reanimated zombie Tony Basil number, only without the same level of profundity in the lyrics.1 The song is a plea by Ms Finland for her beau to ‘Marry Me’ which is a rather prosaic set up for what is intended to be the we-got-you-with-that-one whammy at the end: a girl-on-girl kiss. Only, this is the third time this has been done on Eurovision, so it looks like nothing more than a lame grab for the gay vote. Where’s my nerf brick?

Spain is on next with a song called ‘With You Until The End’. The haunting strains of that familiar Spanish instrument – the bagpipes – propel a nervous Ms Spain into her number. Dressed in a golden yellow frock, she is pretty as a daffodil – with about the same level of musical talent as one. I wish I could say I was with her until the end, but she lost me on the first tuneless verse.

___________________________________________________________________________

Information Break: Lest you think I’m being overly harsh on Ms Spain and Ms France, let me just outline here a little something that I didn’t know about the Eurovision until this year. As you are probably aware, the Eurovision Song Contest is fiercely contested, and the process for selection of the acts begins many months before the actual finals. Each country has competitions and heats, and then there are several playoffs to choose the best of the best from each country’s offerings. Unless, that is, you are one of the ‘pre-qualified’ countries – the Big Five, as they have become known. France, Italy, Spain, UK and Germany automatically make the finals. Why? Because they are the biggest contributors to the European Broadcast Union. In other words, they buy their way in. This is just jaw-droppingly outrageous (but, of course, oh-so-European). The downside of this, though, is that the Big Five don’t get the fierce and relentless training for the stage that the other countries all must endure, and so tend to perform awfully on the big night. Tonight is no exception, as we shall see…

___________________________________________________________________________

Anyways, Ms Spain tries her darndest but it’s not enough. She struggles through to the finish and some fireworks go off by way of compensation.

Petra does her schtick and Roberto from Belgium takes the floor. I quite like Roberto. At the very least he can sing in tune. His song is called ‘Love Kills’ and he delivers it with aplomb. Unfortunately, whoever choreographed Roberto’s act didn’t get the memo about not upstaging the star. Two dancers flank his every move with the oddest routine I’ve seen in a long long while. I am so distracted by their spastic head wobbling and jerky gesturing that I become transfixed. What will they do next? They’re framing their groins with their hands! Now they’re feeling themselves up! Miming splashing water on their faces! Swinging baseball bats! It really is MOST peculiar. I don’t know how Roberto is staying in tune. I know my own voice has gone up several octaves in pitch in sheer disbelief. But the crowd seems to like it all and Roberto finishes up with style. I think he’s got a chance.

Estonia is on now, with the tv cameras going to black & white for the opening verse. No idea why. Don’t care, because the song is dull and forgettable. Maybe the black & white is an expression of how colourless it is. Belarus erases the musty taste somewhat with sprightly Ms Belarus springing enthusiastically out of a giant mirror ball and launching into a boppy South American-style number. It’s rather too calculated for my taste though, so I am happy when it winds itself up and Malta takes the stage.

Mr Malta serenades us with a little ditty about ‘Jeremy who works in IT’. It’s done with infectious light-heartedness, and I can see Malta being strong in the finish. There’s not much to remark about though, so we’ll move on to Russia. Ms Russia’s song is dreary. Russia does dreary very well. It’s called ‘What If’. It should be called ‘What Ever’.

Now it’s Germany‘s turn. Like the other ‘pre-qualified’ countries, no-one here tonight has seen this entry ‘in the flesh’. Will she be able to stay on pitch, or is pre-qualification a guarantee of tunelessness…? (You only need watch the first thirty seconds)

Well, I guess that answers that. ‘She has no grace,’ says Vermilion, and never a truer word was spoken. It’s an ungainly and rueful performance, with a song that’s nothing more than a shameless awful clone of last year’s winner ‘Euphoria’ that you saw above.

Now it’s Armenia‘s turn to shine. Uh-oh, it’s a band with an eco-message. Now, worthy save-the-planet pleading has never been much at home in this frothy celebration of cheesy pop, though many have tried. These guys think their Tony Iommi co-penned number might just break the curse… but they are deluded. With more denim in one place than I’ve seen since the 70s, they earnestly deploy some of the worst lyrics I’ve heard in many years in an attempt to convince the audience that ‘we can stop it’. Please do, chaps, it would be best for everyone.

Are we even half way through yet? NO! But because I endured it, Faithful Acowlytes, so must you.

The Netherlands delivers up Anouk with a song called ‘Birds’.

‘Birds falling down the rooftops,
Out of the sky like raindrops’

It’s weird plaintive song that changes from one minor key into another – way too humourless for my liking, but Violet Towne thinks it’s a contender. We shall see.

It’s over soon enough and Petra calls forth the next aspiring star. Now this is the kind of moment we wait for in every Eurovision spectacular. Romania‘s entry in the 2013 Eurovision Song Contest is the inimitable Cesare. Can you conjure an image of the devil channeling Count Dracula doing a Klaus Nomi impersonation in a disco? Excellent – that’s Cesare’s performance. Offered up in a flaming red set bedecked with giant condoms, Cesare – like Ms Moldova earlier on – rises up into the air on his expanding cloak, propelled, quite certainly by his ever-ascending falsetto.

Say what you will about him, Cesare is committed. I want him to win because… well, dammit, just because he should. Man, where can we possibly go from here?

Petra show us the way! OK, looks like it’s the United Kingdom with Bonnie Tyler. Yes, you heard that right. Bonnie Tyler, the 1980s songstress better known for floating dresses, doves and unseemly relations with glowing-eyed school boys is Old Blighty’s 2013 offering. What can I say about Bonnie’s performance but oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. Like walking in on your parents having sex, it’s something that it’s best you try to unsee. Let’s just shut the door and pretend it didn’t happen.

Quick, wheel out Sweden. Oh my god it’s not much better – an ex-wrestler in a straight jacket. VT and Vermilion thinks he has what it takes, but I can’t see us coming back to Malmö next year.

Now Hungary comes on with a hipster dude that just about out-hipsters every hipster I’ve ever seen, in attitude, appearance and performance.

He’s so introverted that I’m worried the digital broadcast signal has dropped out and the image stabilization on my TV has substituted a freeze frame. But no, there’s a slight movement on his left foot. His weird half-spoken delivery is kind of appealing though, so I’m not prepared to throw him on the EuroTrashHeap just yet. He finishes with an awkward shuffle and then it’s Denmark‘s turn. A bare-footed hippie girl is plonked centre stage in clouds of floaty hair and chiffon. Petra tells us that Ms Denmark is 19 years old, and is this year’s Eurovision favourite. The song ‘Only Teardrops’ certainly has all the requirements for a Eurovision win, and floaty Ms Hippie really knows how to work the audience. The irksome contrived catch in her voice notwithstanding, she delivers a faultless performance and it’s plain that the audience loves her. I wish her and her precociousness and her hair would take the accompanying tin whistle marching band and just fuck off and leave the stage to someone else.

Like Iceland. I mean, Iceland, right? Björk. Sigur Rós. Múm. This is a whole country of great musicians with unpronounceable names. They’ll deliver. And they do! It’s a Viking in a tuxedo: Eyþór Ingi. It’s a good start with the name! He’s the lead singer in Deep Purple cover band apparently, but tonight he has a haunting ballad which he manages to execute with admirable conviction. And I don’t mean ‘execute’ in a metal way – he actually can sing. I have no idea what he’s on about, but Violet Towne is already preparing our divorce papers. No question who she’s rooting for.

I do agree that he’s very likeable, but I’m not sure he’s winner material. Mr Azerbaijan might be, though. His choreographer should certainly get an extra plate of fiskbullar at the afterparty. It’s a truly amazing routine (and I’m not being sarcastic, for once) with an interesting bromantic overtone. It’s further enhanced by an explosive eruption of rose petals and the arrival of a vision who is part woman and part red-carpet. And the song is good too, as is Mr Azerbaijan’s performance. I like him for a contender. Well done Mr A!

Greece takes the stage with their entry ‘Alcohol Is Free’. Ha! I’m predisposed towards them from the get go…. but the song starts off disappointingly – please, not a folksy traditional offering. And then, ka-blam! Wow, it’s a Greek ska band. I have no clue what they’re singing about except when every chorus goes to English for ‘Alcohol, alcohol, alcohol is free HEY!’ That’s pretty unmistakeable. Their enthusiastic bopping and wild prancing is infectious. I’d go to these guys’ gigs! Alrighty, they have my vote for the winners of the 2013 Eurovision! Unless something better comes along. I am slightly concerned that winning could be problematic for them though – staging next year’s Eurovision might finish off Greece’s economy for good. I’m glad I don’t have a formal vote – the ethical dilemma would be too horrendous.

We’re nearing the finish line folks,2 as Ukraine fronts up. Oh dear. Ms Ukraine is delivered to the stage by a giant. Yes, an actual giant. He dumps her onstage and goes off to deal with his beanstalk as Ms Ukraine warbles a song about gravity. I think.

I’m like a butterfly
My gravity
I’m like a butterfly
and I should have stayed up high
It’s stronger than me
My gravity
My gravity
Gravity!

It’s all very wispy and Enya-ish, and Ms doe-eyed Ukraine yields it with every ounce of her being. The official video of this song on YouTube features not one but two unicorns and a literal truckload of butterflies. There isn’t enough gravity in the entire cosmos to bring it down to earth. But this is the kind of thing that sometimes gets the big vote here at Eurovision, so I’m a little worried…

The last of the pre-qualifiers, Italy, fronts up a dashing gigolo who can at least hold a tune. Not a memorable tune unfortunately. It’s over with as much panache as starts it – which is to say not much. Off he sashays backstage to try his luck with Ms Denmark in the green room. The stage is reset for Ms Norway, with ‘I Feed You’, making an outside bid for the fetish vote. Both VT and Vermilion like this one too, with her Dothraki hairdo and split-to-armpit white Game of Thrones dress. I’m underwhelmed – there aren’t enough dragons for my taste.

Only two more to go now, Georgia and Ireland, and they are both tedious. Ms Georgia wafts around with her boyfriend in dry ice fog. ‘I’m sailing on a sea of clichés’ she sings – or at least I think that’s what it was. They sail off into anonymity to make way for Mr Ireland who is a cross between Justine Bieber and Bono. The muscle boy bodhran players who leap around in the background are an unashamed last ditch effort for a sliver of the gay vote.

And then, just like that, it’s over.

We hang around for the voting, and it’s a close jockeying between the predictable Ms Hippie Denmark, the spacey Ms Ukraine and the more worthy Mr Azerbaijan. Our favourites, the effervescent Greek ska boys, and the besuited Icelandic Viking don’t even get a look-in. Before long, it’s clear there’ll be teardrops before bedtime and we’ll be heading off to Copenhagen in 2014.

I hope you’ll join me there.

  1. You have to click on the Tony Basil link to get that joke. []
  2. I’m somewhat disappointed that Finland was on so early and I can’t say ‘We’re nearing the Finnish line’. []