Eurovision 2013: Where The Hell Was ABBA?!?

No matter who we are, we all have our special holidays.  Religious holidays (Yom Kippur, Easter, Ramadan), secular holidays (Thanksgiving), holidays of national identity (Independence Day), these are the days that add a little something extra to our year.  My holiday, my most sacred day, is the day of the Eurovision Song Contest.  For some time, Eurovision has been called “the gay Superbowl,” but that moniker is not exactly correct–Eurovision is a contest, but it is not so much about winners and losers so much as having a good time.  Nor is Eurovision like a Gay Pride Parade, a day that the gay community is most visible as a community.  Rather Eurovision is the one day of the year when most of Europe (and parts of Asia) embraces a gay sensibility, when they try to be like us rather than the other way around.  That is why it feels like such a betrayal when Eurovision is held in a homophobic hell hole like Russia, Serbia, or Azerbaijan.  Being openly gay in those places is as welcome as Christmas carolers in Mecca.  It is therefore a blatant slap in the face to the community that nourishes and cherishes Eurovision the most.

At least this is something that the gay community didn’t have to worry about this year in Malmö, Sweden.  Nor is it something we will have to worry about next year when the contest returns to Denmark.  Denmark, the heavy favorite, won for the first time since 2000.  Oddly enough, the 2000 contest was also in Sweden (Stockholm) following Charlotte Nilsson’s 1999 victory.  Apparently the new pattern is that the Swedes win first and then the Danes.  Hopefully it will not move back to Eastern Europe after that.

Last year, I went to my first Eurovision party at the Austrian Embassy in Washington, DC, which is not surprising given that Eurovision is not actually aired here in the US except online.  Last year was also the first time that a party like that was ever put together in the US (high-definition broadcast, big screen, food, drinks, hundreds of people, etc.).  It was a lot of fun, but in retrospect it was merely a first attempt.  This year, the House of Sweden had a whole year to plan, and they were ready.  It was one of the best parties I have ever been to.  Food, music, a trivia contest, dancing, a DJ, a drag queen,  the House of Sweden was prepared.  And also a halftime surprise, Alexander Rybak–yes, that one.

As much fun as watching Eurovision is, that is nothing compared to being around a bunch of people who also watch Eurovision.   It’s like we’re all in on a secret together, a glorious, camp secret full of in-jokes and a silly sophistication.  In fact, I was having so much fun, that I caught less of the actual contest than I would have had I watched it on my computer.

Eurovision themes are incredibly easy to mock given that they are usually banal, interchangeable platitudes about togetherness, harmony, and a brotherhood that the actual Europe does not feel in the least.  Sweden’s theme this year, “We Are One,” is no different, but at a Eurovision party in the United States, we really all did feel like one no matter who we supported.  I saw familiar faces such as the wonderful Danish lady from last year (who recognized me immediately), and I met new friends, three fellow homosexuals and a drag queen.  For a brief, shining moment, Sweden was home.

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Eurovision contests follow certain rules, particularly with the opening.  First, last year’s winner performs last year’s winning song and then two innocuous but inane hosts (usually one man and one woman) prattle endlessly about the contest, all the while demonstrating that they have no rapport with each other or stage personality whatsoever.  The Swedes, famous for being a people who comply to the rules unthinkingly, proved to be the absolute perfect Eurovision hosts by breaking all those rules.  First, the opening song was co-written by Benny and Björn, formerly of a certain Swedish group you may have heard of (and who, to my eternal sadness, did not reunite for the competition), and the young DJ/producer Avicii.  The song “We Write the Story” was completely unmemorable, but while a choir sang it, the participants walked out across a land bridge behind their flags a la the Opening Ceremony at the Olympics.  I liked it, even if it was clearly nicked.  Very unlike Eurovision.

The second, and more impressive change that Sweden made was to the host.  Instead of two insipid choices, the Swedes went for an inspired one: Petra Mede, a Swedish comedian and television presenter who was a joy to watch, particularly her song and dance Swedish Smörgåsbord, a song which was ineligible to win the contest, but should have anyway (if for no other reason than for Carola getting blown off the stage by her own wind machine).  Petra Mede should host every year.  Forget Terry Wogan’s Graham Norton’s commentary; we want Petra.  Coincidentally, she had the single best line of the night when she told the crowd, “I know all you devoted Eurovision fans there just haven’t met the right girl yet!”  In truth, this may have been the gay-friendliest Eurovision ever (with a gay wedding and a lesbian kiss), and Petra Mede officiated it–literally, she was dressed as a priest for the gay wedding.  (Petra also made reference to the “Dancing Queens” in the audience; we know she loves the gays.)

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It doesn’t actually matter what I think about the acts even though I took notes, which I will share (a better recap is the always amusing liveblog from the Guardian).  Please know though that 2013 is my favorite competition ever.

First a prefatory note: white seems to have become the official Eurovision color.  For the past two years now, a good portion of the contestants and/or their backup dancers have been dressed in all white.  Eurovision also seems to get more Caucasian and blonder each year.  Not coincidentally, our humble little party in DC was also incredibly white.

France and Lithuania: Being the first two performers is a thankless task.  The first two almost never win, if they ever have.   But they also usually very dull.  Neither France (first, Amandine Bourgeois, “L’enfer et moi”) or Lithuania (second, Andrius Pojavis, “Something”) broke that mold.  One of the Danish children standing in front of me very clearly said during Bourgeois’s performance, “I don’t like her.”  And I have to say, I couldn’t blame him.  Who wants to hear a lifeless French power ballad?  My notes on Lithuania say absolutely nothing of interest, so I won’t bore you with them.

Moldova:  Aliona Moon sang “O mie.”  Nice voice, boring song, all gimmick.  Her backup dancers wore white (naturally), her hair looked like Jane Jetson’s, and she stood in the middle of the stage wearing a white dress reflecting pink lighting.  Then she rose into the air as her dress got longer so she looked like a rose-colored mountain.  Then light flashed and her dress looked like a volcano.  Then the song ended and she looked like an iceberg.  The DC crowd loved it, the first time they paid attention to an act.

Finland: Krista Siegfrid sang “Marry Me.”  To understand this song, one needs to know that compared to the other Nordic countries, Finland is way behind in gay rights.  It is the only Nordic nation without marriage equality, a fact that really grates on many Finns, who are leaving their church in droves over the issue.  Through a public referendum, the Finns are forcing their parliament to debate the issue, which last year a committee refused to let go through.  Although “Marry Me” is not overtly political (it cannot be because of Eurovision rules), Krista nonetheless let it be known that she is an ardent gay rights supporter.  Her song and music video even inspired a loving gay parody (in which Krista makes a cameo appearance).  So it should not be surprising that Krista kissed one of her female dancers at the end of the song.  In DC, that moment may have gotten the loudest applause of the day.  The song was quite popular among the DC crowd, far more than with the actual voters.  Krista did not win Eurovision, but she should be a shoe-in for a GLAAD award.

Spain:  El Sueño de Morfeo sang “Contigo hasta el final.”  I kind of liked it.  Noting special, but it was a nice acoustic vibe.  On the other hand, there was a lot of yellow.  Spain’s entry last year was much better, and Spain suffered in the voting this year because neither Portugal nor Andorra entered.

Belgium: Roberto Bellarosa sang “Love Kills.”  My boyfriend loved this one, which makes me a bit nervous.  Like “Marry Me,” this one had the crowd singing and dancing.  I enjoyed it at the time, although I don’t really remember it now.  It was Belgium’s best entry (and best placement in a long time).  I appreciated that Roberto Bellarosa was so happy after his performance that he cried into his hands.

Estonia:  Birgit sang “Et uus saaks alguse.”  A lot of white in this act.  Slow, slow ballad.  Not my cup of tea, but there was a large Estonian contingent at the DC party who were over the moon.

Belarus: Alyona Lanskaya sang “Solayoh.”  This was the first (only?) “true” Eurovision song of the night, in that it was a disco-inflicted gimmicky dance number (seriously, Alyona comes out of a giant disco ball).  I was not a fan, but I haven’t been a fan of a Belarus entry since Alexandra of Alexandra and Konstantin yodeled her way through “My Galileo” in 2004.

At this point, I should probably say something about the interludes between acts.  They were nice, and I appreciate that the singers were featured in them.

Malta: Gianluca sang “Tomorrow.”  But not that “Tomorrow.”  Gianluca is actually a medical doctor and part-time singer.  He’s also a very attractive guy, which makes me think I am being persuaded by something other than my musical taste when I say that I liked his song.  It’s a very happy song, and the fact that he went into the crowd only added to that.  This song is like a cute puppy.  You just feel that you have to pick it up and hug it.  Given Gianluca’s top 10 finish and Malta’s propensity to recycle singers, one has to assume he will be back.  And one day I hope to see Malta win this contest.

Russia:  Dina Garipova sang “What If.”  You can tell when Russia wants to win because the song is in English.  You also know that because of the former Soviet bloc, Russia is almost virtually guaranteed a top 5 finish every year.  The surprise this year was that the song was a happy, hippy, let’s all get along type of ballad with people holding hands.  In other words, completely not Russia.

Germany: There were a lot of Germans in the DC party, so there was a lot of excitement for Cascada’s “Glorious.”  Or someone else’s “Glorious.”  Here’s the problem with this song and with Cascada.  It’s practically a carbon copy of last year’s winner “Euphoria.”  Seriously, it almost got disqualified because of that (the song was cleared).  Listen to the two side-by-side, and you will hear how similar they are (not least the “or-ee-ah” sounds in the title words).  Except that “Euphoria” is a far superior song by a far superior singer.  Germany usually copies its own success, which is fine, but copying another nation’s success, that is bad form.  Cascada suffered in the voting for that troubling lack of judgment.

Armenia: Dorians sang “Lonely Planet”.  Don’t ask me about this act, I have no idea.  There was fire but no desire.

At this point there was an intermission that I did not pay attention to at all.  Fortunately, through the magic of YouTube, I got to see Sarah Dawn Finer do her “Lynda Woodruff” act, which is really funny.  Major props to the Swedes for not being afraid to mock  their completely humorless image.  Coincidentally, Lynda Woodruff is also a very unsubtle and hilarious swipe at the English.  (Finer would later come back sans Lynda Woodruff drag to perform ABBA’s “The Winner Takes It All.”)

The Netherlands: Anouk sang “Birds.”  This is my boyfriend’s favorite song.  He’s been singing it for a month now.  This is a very non-Eurovision song by an established singer in the Netherlands.  It is also extremely depressing, and the music video, which features a ballerina who kills herself, is enough to send a Mormon to the bottle.  The wonderful Danish lady friend loved the song, but seemed way too happy to know anything about it.  No one else seemed to like it at all.  (I think it was the strongest song of the bunch musicaly.)  For the Netherlands, which hasn’t gotten to the finals of Eurovision since the Ice Age, Anouk’s 9th place finish was quite a gift.

Romania:  Oh my.  Just oh my.  Cezar sang “It’s My Life,” but as one of my companions pointed out, it should have been called “Falsetto Dracula.”  The crowd (including me) loved it because, like most Romanian entries, it is entirely a gimmick song.  In addition to the falsetto vampire who sang the song in a long black robe which (like his less creepy Moldovan counterpart) grew and he became taller due to the miracle of technology, there were the dancers.  Three male acrobats appear from the floor dancing around in pink body paint.  Then one of them disappears and a woman in gold body paint takes his place in a spontaneous dancer sex change.  I don’t actually remember the song, but I do remember Bon Jovi’s “It’s My Life.”

United Kingdom:  The interlude prior to Bonnie Tyler’s appearance on stage was of Bonnie Tyler showing off her gold records, and reminding her audience that if they grew up in the 80’s they are now old.  But (in the words of a non-Bonnie Tyler song written by her famed collaborator Jim Steinman), tonight is what it means to be young.  Her song was called “Believe in Me,” which in retrospect is quite ironic.  While Bonnie was being held out as a hero, she was totally eclipsed in our hearts; therefore she lost in Sweden, and it’s a heartache.  (Thus end the gratuitous Bonnie Tyler jokes because I love her dearly, and she gave a mediocre song real gravity simply by being Bonnie Tyler.)  Given that last year’s entry was Englebert Humperdink, one wonders about the future of British entries.  Are George Michael and Boy George going to try for the British spot next year?  Who will be the entries in 20 or 30 years?  Lily Allen?  Adele?  One Direction?

Sweden:  Robin Stjernberg sang “You.”  Robin looks like Adam Lambert without makeup.  Clearly he was very popular in the venue (and at the DC party, where there was lots of dancing to his song), but all I remember was his extended “Yoooooooou”s, which were very fun to sing along with.  He didn’t place well, but Sweden didn’t really want to host it next year anyway.

Hungary:  ByeAlex sang “Kedvesem.”  This is the story of a hipster boy (complete with knit cap) and his guitar.  It was one of my boyfriend’s favorites of the evening.  It was good if you like that kind of thing I guess.  Given that Germany gave ByeAlex 12 points, I guess Germans like that kind of thing.

Denmark:  Emmelie de Forest sang “Only Teardrops.”  This is why I am bad at selecting Eurovision winners; I first saw this entry and thought, “Wow, Denmark picked a terrible song; it will never win.”  My boyfriend loved it, but I thought he was just biased in favor of Denmark.  Then he told me that this was the favorite, and I still dismissed it.  It was just so… generic (not that this has ever stopped a Eurovision song from winning).  I was wrong, and this is also why I hate that Eurovision entrants are released so early.  I form my best opinions at the contest itself.  I never have a good opinions of the eventual winners when I see them ahead of time, even “Euphoria” and “Satellite,” both of which I love–and “Only Teardrops” is not as good as either.  However, when I saw four adorable blond Danish children singing all the words to this song, I changed my mind.  (My recollection of the lyrics is: “How many times can you dah dah dah?  How many times can you dah dah dah between us?  Only teardrops.”)  Granted I was flying a Danish flag all night, so I might have been sending mixed messages.  So I guess it won me over, but not completely (please let me in your country, Denmark.)  The best part of the performance is the way the 20-year-old Emmelie stares at her fife player with what is supposed to be seductive, intensive eyes and what I can only assume is the implication of oral sex.  (After she won, during the repeat to end the broadcast, Emmelie’s intensive look was replaced with a happier, less suggestive, more child-friendly one.)

Iceland: Eythor Ingi sang “Ég á líf,” which, in retrospect, may be my favorite song of the night.  It was the favorite of one of my gay companions of the evening who referred to Eythor Ingi as “Nordic Jesus,” which seems about right.  Iceland, like Malta, is a tiny nation that produces a surprising amount of good Eurovision songs, none of which will ever win.  Iceland does not need your stupid song contest, Europe; Iceland produced Björk.  Bow to her genius, puny mortals!

Azerbaijan: Farid Mammadov sang “Hold Me.”  The mother of all gimmicks. I can’t do this performance justice.  Just watch it.  Really.  (None of this is to say the song is any good, but the performance was quite spectacular.  It went over really well in DC.)

Greece: Koza Mostra featuring Agathonas Iakovidis sang “Alcohol is Free.”  This was the favorite of Guardian liveblog by a mile.  I hate to admit this, but for the first time since Antique, I liked a Greek entry.  Granted this is a sort of protest song about Greece and Euro debt crisis and whatnot.  It was a ridiculous, high intensity song with crazy dancing, and it must be watched.  One can safely assume that the Greeks (and the rest of Europe) are thrilled they don’t have to host next year.

Ukraine:  Zlata Ognevych singing “Gravity.”  Like Russia, Ukraine always places highly because of the former Soviet bloc.  She was carried on stage by a giant viking, which had nothing to do with her song, but whatever.  A pretty Ukrainian girl with a Shania Twain vibe and a boring ballad-y type song are good for a top place finish but not for a memorable performance.

Italy: Marco Mengoni sang “L’essenziale.”  This is your stereotype entry right here.  Seedy-looking Italian guy singing a “Volare” type song in an expensive Italian suit.  Way to live in the present, Italy.  (On the other hand, Italy was the highest placing non-Nordic Western European nation, so what do I know?)

Norway: Margaret Berger (blond, pale, and all in white) sang “I Feed You My Love.”  I clearly have a dirty, dirty mind, because I giggle every time I hear this song.  This was the favorite of another of the gay companions.  I cannot accurately judge this song because I really cannot get past the title without laughing like a 12-year-old.

At this point I realize I have not seen any awkward green room interviews to interrupt the broadcast, and I am thankful.  This is the best Eurovision ever.

Georgia: Nodi Tatishvili and Sophie Gelovani sang “Waterfall.”  This is a carbon copy of the Azerbaijan winner from two years ago, and I refuse to acknowledge it any further, as I dislike both that song and this one.  (My boyfriend called this one “the sleeping pill.”  I disagree.  It’s more like two wailing cats keeping you awake at night.)

Ireland: Ryan Dolan sang “Only Love Survives.”  Wait a second, didn’t love kill us already this evening?  I don’t know.  There were lots of Celtic symbols, drums, and lean, hot, Celtic-tattooed drummers (Ryan Dolan knows his audience).  But this song was dead on arrival and came in last place.  Which means Ryan Dolan has the unfortunate distinction of being less popular than Jedward.  Poor Ryan Dolan.  (Also, this song too sounded a lot like “Euphoria.”)

So that’s it.  Hopefully next year, I will be watching this live from Copenhagen (please God, not Herning).  Until then, Europe, thank you for the lovely evening.  And Sweden, the next time you host, please find a way to reunite ABBA.

Get Ready For Singing!

Eurovision is almost upon us (this Saturday).  For any confused American who is new to the Eurovision experience, I humbly submit my previous Guide to the Perplexed.  A warning, some of the links may have content that has been removed, but I imagine it is very easy to find any of that removed content in another place on YouTube.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

and my report on previous Eurovisions: 2011 and 2012