Eurovision 2014 – James’ review!

Wow… just wow. Another Eurovision year has passed in the blink of an eye, and last night, we found our 59th contest winner in the form of Austria’s Conchita Wurst. Following on from Rory’s personal review of this year’s Eurovision Song Contest, I’m here to bring you my own reflections on all the drama and entertainment from the last week in Copenhagen – welcome along to the ride!

Not going to lie, Ilse and Waylon really stole the show for me.
Not going to lie, Ilse and Waylon really stole the show for me.

The final was Saturday, and it’s now Monday. I hope you don’t mind it being a little late – I simply followed Hersi’s advice and allowed my initial anger at the result to dissipate overnight! I’ll follow pretty much the same structure as Rory did – although, this being me, I will probably waffle on a bit more than strictly necessary… Anyways, let’s get going with semi-final one, shall we?

  • The stage was incredible. Having seen the various clips of it in action during rehearsals, I was a little worried that it would look like a throwback to Zagreb 1990, what with the grid effect created by the cube… but I was so so wrong, wasn’t I! Every single country brought something new to show the stage in a different light, and it proved itself to be a truly impressive creation on DR’s part. Especially the random water at the front, whoever came up with that is a genius.
  • Weren’t those hosts awkward!? The very first thing I noticed was how robotic the three of them were, and it only got worse as the night went on, and they tripped over their uncomfortable script, and made countless little references to the gay community (tapping into my pet hate of portraying Eurovision as a niche gay event… more on that later…)
  • The first performance that REALLY made an impact on me was Ukraine. Yep, song number 9 out of 16. Despite the fact that I really liked the songs from Estonia, Sweden, Albania and Azerbaijan, their respective performances all fell a little flat. Estonia’s flaws I think lay in the camerawork, which didn’t effectively convey the skill in Tanja’s routine. Azerbaijan; her accent was chronic, and the high notes were alarmingly shaky. After all that, Ukraine came along with a typically polished routine, a good vocal, an interesting prop and a STUNNING backing dancer… to say they stole the show at that point is an understatement.
  • I always thought Moldova worked better as the ‘dark dubstep number’ than Armenia did. I didn’t expect it to do particularly well, and it wasn’t one of my absolute favourites, but I’m nevertheless surprised that it finished dead last!
  • San Marino… as she finished her vocally flawless performance, I got the sneaking suspicion that she might have done enough to qualify, despite the weakness of the song. I say that like I then expected her to go on and do it. I didn’t. I was still completely blown over when “San Marino” came out of the envelope at the end, however! Honestly, I just sat there repeating out loud “What!?”
  • Portugal came across really well on television; a welcome relief from some of the heavier numbers which preceded it, and a generally well-sung slice of sunny Eurovision fun. It really is a shame we weren’t treated to a repeat performance on Saturday night.
  • The Netherlands had always been one of my absolute favourite songs of 2014, and that semi-final performance where we first got to see how brilliant the stage setting and camera angles were… well, there’s really nothing that could beat it on that account. Truly stunning in every way; I was so proud watching them.

  • … and then we got Montenegro. Always loved the song, and personally always loved the inclusion of the skater… but holy shit, I think I had a little heart attack when the backing singers suddenly did a Lejla and walked out to join him with their “woah-oh-oh-ohh”s. My inner Balkan spirit soared, and I was moved enough to give Sergej a somewhat futile but still well-meant standing ovation, all alone in my living room.
  • The qualifiers were pleasantly surprising, to say the least. Montenegro coming out first was so lovely. Predictions-wise, I got 7 out of 10, having Moldova, Estonia and Portugal in place of San Marino, Russia and Iceland.
  • I watched the winners’ press conference afterwards, which was both amusing and endearing in equal measure. Everyone seemed to be over the moon for San Marino – Mariya Yaremchuk summed it up perfectly: “I don’t know whether I’m more happy for my final, or for San Marino’s final”. Dire, the song most certainly was. But it was very well-performed, and it was so amazing to live through the experience of their first qualification.

So: that was semi-final one. For a line-up which didn’t feature many of my favourites, it turned out to be an amazing night! However, semi-final two was altogether more nailbiting for me…

  • Going into the Thursday night show, there were no less than five songs which I absolutely adored. Statistics suggested that not all of them were going to make it through; especially considering which countries some of these entries came from. I went into the night with the ability to vote, having resolved myself to the inevitability of some degree of disappointment. My sister decided to plonk herself on the sofa to watch it with me this time, so her reactions were interesting to note.
  • Mei Finegold was the embodiment of the word “fierce” in her performance… seriously, Beyoncé Knowles is shaking in her boots after that.
  • Georgia. I love the song… but god I couldn’t help but laugh whilst they were performing. Vocally brilliant, but how did they ever expect anybody to take it seriously?!
  • Vilija gave an absolutely amazing vocal performance of “Attention” for Lithuania; the two of us were singing along the whole time. It underlined how much I love the song, and I suspect the draw is the only thing which extinguished its hopes in such a strong line-up.
  • Macedonia… oh Macedonia. Why the hell did they have that Voldemort dancer on stage!? And why the hell did they go for a monochrome background!? And why the hell didn’t she wear her trademark glasses, as she’s repeatedly promised us for months?! Tijana is utterly fabulous and her song is nothing short of perfection. I’m so so sad that the messy stage show led to its early exit.
  • Switzerland exploded (literally) into the race for the title within seconds of the performance starting. Before the semi-final, I’d had it down as a pretty confident qualifier, but doubted it would be able to do much in the final… but bloody hell, Sebalter performed the crap out of “Hunter of Stars” and really made an impression on both of us. Soooo catchy and charismatic. Oh, and the ADORABLE postcard helped. And his butt.

  • I HOWLED when Greece’s Poundland rapper managed to swallow the word ‘sky’ in his opening rap, thus rendering him a bit of a plonker for the duration of their performance.
  • Slovenia, just like Switzerland, really pulled it out of the bag for the live performance. What had been a nice, comfortable, middle-of-the-road song suddenly became a veritable tour de force onstage, helped in no small part by Tinkara’s flawless and powerful vocals. And that harmony in the final note was spine-tinglingly good.
  • When it came to voting, I obviously supported my Finnish boys, alongside Tijana and Vilija based on musical merits, and Sebalter and Tinkara for how much they impressed me on the night. A vote for Poland may have slipped in there too, can’t remember!
  • Predictions-wise, I managed 8 out of 10; having Israel (who didn’t have Israel?) and Lithuania in place of Belarus and Poland.
  • That said, I was overjoyed to see Poland make it to the final, having always been a massive fan of “My Slowianie”, yet being very doubtful of its appeal across Europe. It appears that I misjudged the voting power of straight men within this contest…
  • The winners’ press conference was largely interrupted by the stream crashing every ten seconds, however I did manage to catch the moment where Finland pulled out second half leaving Conchita with first half. Naive me sat there thinking “Topi Latukka has just basically decided the outcome of the entire contest without even knowing it”… assuming that a first half draw would be enough to kill Austria’s chances of a victory. Oh, if only.

So: in the intervening couple of days between semi two and the final, we got ourselves a complete running order, which gave me bucketloads of hope for the Netherlands and the UK, a sneaking suspicion for Finland, and a gut feeling that from 21st, Hungary were going to take the title, albeit very very narrowly.

What also happened in that time was that the entire world suddenly appeared to catch the Eurovision bug – which was brilliant and exasperating at the same time. The amount of people at college who asked me to pin down a prediction for the winner… yeah, wow. I really couldn’t! It was great to see so many people take an interest in my obsession though – even though they did so in an almost embarrassed way.

For the final, as I have done for the last few years, I organised a Eurovision party for my closest friends – none of whom, I might add, are Eurovision fans at all. I did all the usual stuff; decorated the entire front room in flags – on the walls and across the ceiling and in the food etc.  – printed off scorecards for everyone to rate the songs, and made our very own Eurovision Bingo card to track the more eccentric events to look out for during the evening…

If any of you played along,  I hope it worked and was enjoyable!
If any of you played along, I hope it worked and was enjoyable!

Going into the grand final then: here’s what I made of the night:

  • It took a while to adjust to the experience of watching Eurovision with people who don’t live and breathe it 365 days a year; but it was really lovely to hear them actually genuinely enjoying some of the songs, and coming out with comments like “ooh I quite like this” “I would listen to this kinda thing”. So proud ❤ Eurovision conversion mission accomplished!!
  • Among my friends, the most popular songs were Iceland’s “No Prejudice”, Greece’s “Rise Up”, Sweden’s “Undo”, Finland’s “Something Better”, Denmark’s “Cliche Love Song”, the Netherlands’ “Calm After The Storm” and the UK’s “Children of the Universe”. Other songs which some people loved and others didn’t were Ukraine, Belarus, Norway, Poland, Austria, Italy, Switzerland and Malta.
  • We were all in stitches at Romania’s stage show, what with the cheesy hologram, the toilet seat piano, and the world’s most awkward hug since Lord Voldemort and Draco Malfoy.
  • Sebalter and Emma Marrone attracted the most interest on an aesthetic level. And I did manage to win a few people over with regards to Topi Latukka being a particularly beautiful specimen.

  • For me personally, my favourites remained my favourites, and I loved seeing them in all their glory on the Saturday night show. Ukraine’s hamster boy was still beautiful, Cleo was still sassy as fuck, Finland was still exhilarating, the Netherlands was still classy and beautiful and amazing.
  • Spain came out of the woodwork as another track which worked incredibly well live; alongside the aforementioned pieces of brilliance from Montenegro, Slovenia and Switzerland.
  • France was disappointingly messy live. A little part of me died inside when I realised just how cringey Twin Twin’s presentation turned out to be, as I sat there trying to defend “Moustache” to my friends with the futile assertion that it was “a lot better in the studio version…”
  • Malta, even more so than in the semi-final, came across as a really endearing little song, with the chemistry between the performers really coming across.
  • Molly from the UK gave us a performance to be proud of, and to be honest, I’m really not sure what went wrong with regards to the voting. It wasn’t THE best song of the night, but it should probably have been up there in the top ten, on musical merit alone, right?
  • Having been slightly worried about the concept before the show, I was staggered by how well “Rainmaker” worked on TV. It was absolutely brilliant, getting the entire arena singing along, and showing all 26 contestants (ostensibly) having a great time on stage together. Highlight was definitely the shot of Conchita shaking what her momma gave her stood between Aram Mp3 and the Tolmachevy Sisters… now somebody tell me that wasn’t intentional!! 😛
  • And so, we come to the results. And this is why I’ve taken so long to get my thoughts together for this review. My initial reaction, as Austria pulled ahead of my beloved Dutch entry, was one of pure seething anger and despondency. I needed to take a break – as Hersi would say “keep calm and think twice” – before I could publish anything about it. But here goes:

    I am not at all happy that Conchita Wurst’s song won.

    1) I’ve made no secret all along that “Rise Like A Phoenix” does very little for me as a piece of music. I’m not a fan of James Bond themes as a general rule, the style of music just doesn’t click with me. The brassy melodrama is not what I want from my ballad. Give me a flute-infused piece of drama like “Moj Svijet” or a quiet and unassuming beauty like “Calm After The Storm” any day; but this? Not really for me. I’m still listening to it, trying to connect to it somehow, and it’s growing on me ever so slowly; but it’s by no means among the strongest songs from this contest. So that’s the first reason I wasn’t happy with the winner, especially considering that the Netherlands seemed incredibly close to catching her at some points during the voting.2) I would make an argument for the fact that the song itself didn’t win. The character won. Or, more specifically, the beard. Have a think about it: why did Austria get so much publicity in the run up to the contest? It was nothing to do with the song, it was because the singer was a bearded drag queen. If he’d performed as Tom Neuwirth, would he have got half as much attention? No way. Even if he’d performed as a drag alter-ego minus the facial hair, I don’t think the hype would have been quite as pronounced. It was the fact he had the beard which made it different and noteworthy to both journalists and the public. The whole appearance was completely unnecessary for the song contest in my personal opinion. He deserves recognition for having the courage to go out there dressed as his fabulous character and not give a shit about what people think. I just think it detracted from the whole idea of Eurovision being about music.

    As I’m gay myself, it would be far from the truth to accuse me of homophobia, or anything of the sort when I say this. I have nothing against the character of Conchita, or any of the honourable values she represents. In fact, I do find her very entertaining to watch and listen to, and the story of her origins is both heartwarming and extremely poignant in this day and age. What I’m getting at is the fact that for the next twelve months at the very least, the Eurovision Song Contest will be synonymous with the image of a bearded drag queen. The general public already see it as a cheesy, contrived, gay-orientated event, and this will only drag down its reputation even further. Without hearing the song, Conchita is a joke to the outside world. She’s a point-and-laugh figure who will be misinterpreted by anyone who either didn’t see or doesn’t remember her Eurovision performance. And when us fans are trying to convince other people that Eurovision is a credible music event, the main thing which will resonate in their minds will not be any of the decent musical examples we could show them; it will be Conchita Wurst. At best, people will reel out a generic “oh she’s so inspirational” line just to comply with everyone else on their Twitter feed, but this buzz will wear off after a few weeks, and Eurovision is going to be left with the legacy. I wish people would genuinely buy into her message, but the harsh reality is that they won’t. Not when it stops being the ‘in thing’.

    Not everything about Eurovision is exclusively gay-orientated. And not every LGBT person fits the stereotype inadvertently promoted by acts like Conchita. This victory, whilst undoubtedly inspirational in some quarters, is not going to change anyone’s views. There are certain people in this world who just will not accept other people who are different to themselves. It’s a fact, and we just need to accept it. We would be deceiving ourselves to ignore it. Instead of triggering widespread change, Conchita’s victory will simply amplify whatever reaction was already present: those who loved her before will love her even more now, and will spread that love to other like-minded people who took an interest in her through the contest. On the flip side, though, those who detested and deplored her will carry on doing so, but with increased venom and brutality, whether from frustration or embarrassment at how well the act did in a pan-European contest. It would be incredibly naïve to assume that Conchita’s victory will bring about any significant benefits without being offset by equally ferocious negativity.

    Tom Neuwirth’s voice is absolutely incredible. The character of Conchita Wurst as she appeared on screen was heartwarming and original. Austria as a country really deserve the success after waiting so long. And I can’t wait to see our 60th contest hosted in the very centre of Europe; so fitting! I’m just a little disappointed, I think. That’s the best word for it. Disappointed that the victory is, for all intents and purposes, a reinforcement of false stereotypes, both about the contest and about the LGBT community: two spheres which are pivotal within my quotidian life.

I’m sorry if any of my opinions disagree with yours, and I’m extremely happy for everyone who was touched, inspired or overjoyed by Conchita’s victory on Saturday. The results have been decided and there’s nothing I or anyone else can do to change them. In this world, it often seems like you’re not allowed your own opinion if it goes against the masses, so I would please ask that you treat my views with the same tolerance as Conchita herself so rightly promotes. You don’t have to agree, and you’re welcome to voice your disagreement in the comments below; mine is merely another perspective on the result.

All in all though, 2014 has been an absolutely awesome Eurovision year in my eyes. I say it time and time again: for me, the primary focus is the music. And this year has given me thirty-seven new songs to listen to, thirty-two of which I like to some degree, seventeen of which I really really love, and seven which in all honesty are up there in competition with “Gravity” and “Horehronie” for me. What more could I ask for? My favourite song finished eleventh, a lot higher than I or anyone else was expecting. My second-favourite song finished in second place, and won a hell of a lot of fans over along the way. My friends enjoyed the show. And next year, Austria will surely bring us a diamond jubilee to be proud of – to quote Conchita – it’s gonna be “glamorous”. And if that doesn’t fill you with anticipation, then I don’t know what will.

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