In the twilight of the 2014 selection season, I’m today tasked with bringing you our penultimate 2014 entry! Austria’s Conchita Wurst – after being one of the earliest selected artists – has waited until the very last moment to present the song “Rise Like A Phoenix”… but what do we make of it?
Back in September, Austrian broadcaster ORF announced that their representative for 2014 would be Conchita Wurst – and as we were all previously aware of “That’s What I Am” from 2012, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to assume that we were all expecting something similarly camp and glitzy for Copenhagen, yes?
What we got instead was this…
In a word: incongruous.
Everything about this entry is incongruous. It doesn’t quite fit together as a coherent entity, and to be perfectly honest, I’m not entirely sure what Austria are aiming for here. Let me endeavour to explain why.
First of all – and there’s no easy way to put this – at the end of the day, we are talking about a performer who is made to appear like a woman with a beard, and whose stage name translates as “Conchita Sausage”. Far be it from me to base criticism or judgement on this aspect of the entry, it cannot be denied that it’s unconventional, and has been done in full knowledge of the condemnation it will attract from certain corners of the continent. The whole act is built around controversy, provocation and innuendo, and one does not simply (lol, Lord of the Rings quote there) do that without expecting any kind of retribution.
It is a risk to send a drag act to Eurovision full stop, let alone one with a beard. This is simply based on the fact that whether we like it or not, prejudice against such things does exist, and will continue to exist: some people are just not comfortable with a man performing dressed as a woman. I’m not condoning or excusing it, but it would be naïve to expect everybody in Europe to unquestionably accept Conchita as an act.
Secondly: in the 2012 national final, Conchita performed a fabulously camp anthem to self-empowerment which was pretty much archetypal of the usual genre attributed to drag queens. The song this year is far from that; and it’s this juxtaposition which I believe makes this entry so incongruous. The song is a serious ballad. But it’s performed by a man dressed as a woman with a beard. If the Austrian song was more like “That’s What I Am” – in other words, if it catered more to the expectations of its target audience – it would make more sense. People are expecting a typical drag act with a typical song, and as they’re not getting that, this could work in Conchita’s favour, but is more likely to simply lose out on votes that should have been in the bag from the outset.
Austria, in sending Conchita, had the perfect opportunity to provide THE hands-in-the-air gay anthem of the Eurovision year; and in doing so tap into an important sector of the voting audience. What they’ve done instead is give Conchita a slower number – ostensibly with the aim of “showing off her vocals” – which instead of coming across as serious and classy, has wound up as something which resembles a cheap Shirley Bassey tribute act at a Pride parade. It’s all a bit cheap. You just watch it like “you’re fabulous, but you’re no Shirley, love.”
There are going to be people who support and adore this entry simply because it’s Conchita, and they support all which Tom Neuwirth stands for in making this statement. Equally, there will be people who refuse to support the song based on their vehement opposition to the exact same principles. Either way, it cannot be argued that the moment the Austrian performance starts in Copenhagen starts, Europe will be going “oh… it’s a transvestite with a beard”: Conchita’s appearance will be the defining characteristic of the entire performance, whether from a positive or negative viewpoint. The song becomes somewhat subordinate in the face of that little hurdle.
On a personal level, I’m not keen, simply because the song is dire. Shirley Bassey would have rejected this mess in 1962 on grounds of its being too cliché for her refined tastes. As many have already noted, the chord structure and arrangement give it the aura of a James Bond theme from the 1960s, and something like that both fails to float my boat, and will likely fall flat on its face in a modern song contest of the 2010s. Apologies, Conchita. Because your hair is absolutely fabulous in the video, must admit.
I don’t think Austria has chosen one of the twenty-six best songs of this year’s contest. However, I think that on publicity alone, Conchita has one foot in the final before she even opens her mouth. UK viewers, have a think a minute: at the start of the semi-final when Scott Mills is trying to drum up interest in the show ahead, is he going to say “oh, Finland have a really nice song this year, it’s worth sticking around for that”? Not likely. He’ll be saying “Belarus are singing about cheesecake, and Austria are sending a drag queen with a beard. You’ve GOT to see that”. And so will countless other commentators around Europe. Add to this the fact that they’re in semi-final two, with only fourteen other competitors and countries such as Germany, Switzerland and the UK voting… this is through, right? No question about it. *sigh*.
Once in the final, I can’t see this finishing any higher than Nadine Beiler’s 18th place back in Düsseldorf… the song really is weak and dated, and by the time we reach Saturday night, the gimmick won’t count for much in the face of competition from actual decent entries. So yeah, I’m saying final guaranteed, but bottom 10 also equally certain.
Chris Higgins from the United Kingdom: I think this is fantastic. The lyric is probably the most literate of all of this year’s songs, which must surely count for some jury points. The sweeping orchestration is glorious. Most importantly though, I played it once and was still singing the hook half an hour later. THAT is what counts! (Of course, some countries won’t vote for this at all, but it will also get some 12s and 10s.)
Keith Mills from Ireland: Another attempt at a Bond theme, but nowhere near as good as Moldova’s.
David Allan from the United Kingdom: This is very poor and if it does make the final it will be due to the beard and nothing else. If this was any other singer we wouldn’t even be considering this for the final.
As is to be expected, the announcement of Conchita’s song has sparked a cascade of melodramatic debate over the *issue* of Conchita’s appearance (yawn. pls get over it guys, thanks xoxo) The fans above have actually focused on the song itself, and on the whole don’t seem to be majorly impressed – although the lyrics have been reverently received in some cases. As one of the most controversial Eurovision challenges of the year, what is your opinion on Austria 2014? Feel free to tell us exactly what you think in a comment below!