The ones I voted for were Ukraine and Iceland, because they're the ones where my pals stand to make most money if they win. The one I enjoyed most was probably Ukraine, happily, but I let that have no bearing on anything else.
I'll go back and annotate each entry with my comments later.
ETA: Here's the actual result for comparison:
1 Ukraine (I said second)
2 Serbia and Montenegro (I really didn't rate this)
3 Greece (I said eighth)
4 Turkey (I said fifth)
5 Cyprus (I said first)
6 Sweden (I said ninth)
7 Albania (I got this one spot on!)
8 Germany (I thought this was one of the worst)
9 Bosnia-Hercegovina (I said third)
10 Spain (I didn't even listen to this one)
...with my pick for fourth, Malta, finishing twelfth, my pick for sixth, the UK, finishing sixteenth, and my pick for tenth, Iceland, finishing nineteenth. So vaguely close, at least. Further comments tomorrow 'cos I'm knackered now. :-)
EATA: It is now tomorrow, in direct contrast to the teachings of Annie Warbucks, so my fuller thoughts lie - or, at least, attempt to tell the truth but are mistaken - within.
The Eurovision Song Contest has for the past 49 iterations been an annual celebration between many of the broadcasters of the European Broadcasting Union. Each participating nation sends a singer who gives a three-minute performance live on stage. Then - and herein the evil genius lies - nation shall speak points unto nation until through the medium of summation a winner is declared.
It's slightly more complicated than that. In the good old days - up until about ten years ago - it was easy. Slightly more than twenty broadcasters had the money and interest to take part, everyone rolled along. Since then, the break-up of Yugoslavia, the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the closer integration of Eastern Europe and advances in broadcasting technology mean that every Slovenia, Estonia and Andorra want to take part. Slightly more countries than can be conveniently dealt with on one night have led to schemes of increasing fiendishness to ensure that the number of entrants is at a reasonable level, including this year a semi-final to eliminate a dozen entrants at a stroke.
So back to the night. The event is usually held in the country of the previous year's winning entry, with rare exceptions. There's a bit of Te Deum (ha - watch me think of the Te Deum/tedium joke and not use it!), a burst of graphics, last year's winner reprising their song, 1-2 hosts normally doing some ill-fated comedy, the rules in both English and decreasing amounts of French and you're away. Song, song, song, song, ...., song, song, commercial break at half-time, songsongsongsongsnogsnogsongsong (*), an intermission act, voting, comedy, the winner comes down and performs once more, then roll the credits. That's it.
(*) OK, only the snogsnog if you're very, very lucky.
The intermission acts deserve special mention. 85% of the time they're rubbish. There are only two memorable ones: Riverdance, which caught fire and set the global view of Irish culture simultaneously back and forwards ten years, and the one where a magician set up a dozen crossbows. The first crossbow would fire at the trigger of the second to set it off, and so forth for the first eleven, when the eleventh crossbow would fire the trigger on the twelfth crossbow which would fire a bolt at the apple on top of the magician's head. This final bolt missed the apple. Vertically it was fine and avoided a disaster, but horizontally, it was out by about three inches. It was authentic. It was great.
If you want a true opinion on each of this year's acts, you should look elsewhere. Specifically, you shouldn't ask a Briton's opinion, because the British have been conditioned by 30 years of traditional supportive-but-sarcastic commentary by perpetual host Terry Wogan to believe that all the entries are, by and large, rubbish. With glorious exceptions, we don't take the event very seriously. However, even among the glorious British exceptions I can think of who take the event very seriously (a clue - they post with tremendous style and passion on oneurope_live) they are such charming and fun-packed folk that their posts tend to border on the jovial side.
With this in mind, here are my opinions of the 24 acts in this year's contest. They're both accurate and highly reliable. *cough*
Spain: Didn't pay attention to these. Dad and I were too busy working out what curry to bring in.
Austria: As lousy as nick_at_esc said they would be.
Norway: Sang badly on the night. It sounds slightly more sarcastic than intended to say that the best part was the end, but it's a more balanced view to add that it probably had one of the very best conclusions in the contest.
France: Ill-judged. Awful. Set the precedent that singers in white suits would do very badly that night.
Serbia-Montenegro: Here's where the brilliance of the oneurope_live team shows itself: A third of the oneurope_live team still don't get it, but it's got the feel of htings that have done VERY well in the past. In short, they thought it was rubbish, but they knew it was going to do well. I thought the singing was suspect in parts and the song unmemorable.
Malta: First good song of the night which would have graced a West End musical.
Netherlands: lied down and tried to sleep through this until a neighbour called and knocked at the door. So, er, "don't know".
Germany: we like the songwriter because he put in an absolutely nutty entry a couple of years back, but the singer killed this. Poor.
Albania: had a lot of style, but both singing and song were slightly suspect in places. Nevertheless, far better than most.
Ukraine. Ukraine, Ukraine, Ukraine! Lots of points in its favour: well-sung, a gorgeous-looking if gimmicky performance, an excellent conclusion, some nonsense language which always goes down well, some exciting camera work - the only song with exciting camera work, I might add! - and a very similar feel to last year's winning entry. In its disfavour, it could have done with either one more idea or being thirty seconds shorter, as there was a part leading up to the conclusion where it rather lost its momentum and just rehashed parts of itself without adding anything new to the mix. I knew I was going to vote for this because so many of my friends had so much money riding on this, but happily it was excellent in its own right.
Croatia: the lad tried to sing with vibrato and lost it towards the end, which is an instant turn-off. I liked the typo on BBC subtitles; Terry Wogan informed us that this had been top of the charts in Croatia, but the subtitles referred to the song as "top of the clarts". Here in t'North, that's a euphemism for turds.
Bosnia-Hercegovina: this was a disco act. It wasn't a great singer's song requiring a fantastic singer, but the annoying singer Deen did a really good job of hitting every note. On the downside, the sound balancer had a 'mare and there were a couple of points where it sounded, well, unbalanced. Bit of a bugger when that happens to your country's song, really. It also reminded me of that chart hit which goes "dana nana nana, NA-na nana nana, nana-nana-nana-nana na na na na". You know the one?
Paragraph break to indicate the commerical break. Do you see?
Belgium: the singer had guts and the song had a far better beat than most. The singing was dodgy, the sound balance was again dubious in places and the singer had Big Teeth which put you off a little. Put me off, at least.
Russia: had a good look, I liked the gimmicky acrobats, one of whom was a Blue Man and would not have appeared out of place in The Group. So I liked this whether or not the singing or the song were any good. Oh, and the curry arrived at this point. We had a chicken tikka starter with salad and mint sauce, plus a vegetable curry (not quite sure what - Dad ordered it! - other than to say it had a goodly helping of chick-peas), some flourescent fried rice and a pleasantly sizeable naan bread, plus a slightly lost-looking little tub of mango chutney, all for eight quid from the Belle Vue fisheries at the roundabout on Marton Road. Middlesbrough folk, this is a bargain and a half; it's a plentiful and pleasant-tasting Indian meal which serves two adequately for a very reasonable price. Might order an extra poppadum or two next time, though. Can't tell you much about the Russian entry, but the curry was bloody good.
Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia: badly sung. I do like giving song reviews that are shorter than the country names.
Greece: good tune and the only song with a clubby, anthemic feel, which is why this was a contender. Not very well sung, though.
Iceland: if this had somehow landed, my Friends list would be drinking champagne tonight. Unfortunately, the singer didn't really get going for the first two minutes and they picked one of his worse parts to show in the replay. If the singer had really hit it and if Europe had been in a maudlin mood then this could have won. Nick, you're right - this was clearly not a 70-1 plus shot.
Ireland: this had an excellent first verse and sold itself very clearly very quickly as a by-the-numbers boy-band stud ballad. Unfortunately it lost it somewhat towards the end. I thought that this would be dangerous, and indeed Britain liked it. Unfortunately, Britain was the only nation to give it even one point.
Poland: badly sung and atrocious lyrics; any song called "Love Song" which has "Love Song" as a complete line on its own in the chorus deserves shootin'. I'd have put this last despite fierce competition.
United Kingdom: at the time, I noted "mark my words, this is dangerous". In retrospect, "2/10" sounds about the right mark. The singer was handsome, if a bit Darren Day (not Cockney rhyming slang), he had the look, he hit every note well - far better than most! - and it was a grower, I thought. Unfortunately, the rest of Europe disagreed.
Cyprus: ooh, I thought this was really dangerous. A singer who's only 16 but doesn't look like jailbait, excellent singing and a tune that reminds me more than a little of the theme tune from Prisoner Cell Block H. I thought this was going to win. Well, I didn't really think it was better than Ukraine, but I thought my friends betting on Ukraine would have been the kiss of death.
Turkey: yep, this had the ingredients - it had a distinctive sound that none of the other entries did, so I thought this would do well with the niche market of Madness fans. The lead singer gets bonus points for a stunt to reveal CND peace logos on his jacket and loses them for looking far too much like annoying Cockney crap-game-show host (and crap game-show-host) Andy Collins. Could have won if it hadn't been so repetitive.
Romania: very strange look. Couldn't work out whether the singer looked like an '80s throwback or a wannabe porn actress dressed as she might be at the start of a porn film. Didn't like her timbre, either.
Sweden: good intro, very good look, excellent act (kicking the mic stand over with her legs a lot; every male who is a fan of ladies' pins would be obliged to mention those legs here). The voice was a bit dubious, some of her open-mouthed poses were a bit wacky and there were a few instrumental breaks which didn't make sense.
Other comments: the Terry Wogan lines of the night were "Thank you, Igor", upon the older!evil!Jonathan-Edwards host banged a gong to start ten minutes of televoting, and "It's a straight fight between the strippers and the leather boys", for which explanation is both impossible and happily unnecessary. Oh, and the trophy wasn't beautiful - it was a lump of not-very-flat-sided glass.
Comments on the voting: ah, the important part.
Austria tried to "big themselves up" (there must be a past tense for this, and it ought to be "bug themselves up") by promoting their AIDS and HIV charity concert, which they claimed was the world's biggest this year. Hello? 46664?
Bosnia-Hercegovina used a Chromakey background for their presenter. Bad move.
Supposedly the countries were announced in alphabetical order, but I got very leery of this when the Bs were followed by Switzerland and Serbia. Which nation's translation of the country names had been used to alphabetise this, I wondered? My theory was that each country was translated into its local language, which sounded great and plausible, until Deutschland came before Danmark. ericklendl has explained this; it's actually ISO encoding of country names. The follow-up question was "why does Switzerland come after the Bs as a .ch when the Swiss for Switzerland is Helvetica?", but again this is ignorance on my part - it turns out that the Swiss for Switzerland is Confederatio Helvetica, hence the c part of the .ch, which I didn't know. "United Kingdom" is a bloody silly name for a country when you come to think about it. "United States of America" good, "United States" bad because it offers insufficient information. Likewise: "United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland" good, "United Kingdom" bad. But I digress.
Was the presenter of the Serbia-Montenegro (and how on earth does one properly adjectivalise that - Serbian-Montenegan?) jury drunk?
The Turkey crowd were really into it for about the first third of the voting. Then they realised they were going to finish third, fourth or fifth, and kind of shut up, because you get nothing for third, fourth or fifth in this game. Heck, you get nothing for second, which is a shame as Britain has got FIFTEEN of the bloody things. (I'd still be interested to see a meta-scoring-chart, offering 12 for a Eurovision win, 10 for a Eurovision second, 8 for a Eurovision third and so on. Anyone?)
Half-time in the voting: I reckon the director was going spare at this point because they were clearly running behind time. Some poor researcher clearly had the job of translating "We're running behind so please could you just cut the crap and get on with it?" into 18 languages and phoning them through to the appropriate nations.
Everyone's moaning about the televoting this year - all the Scandinavian countries vote for each other, all the Baltic countries vote for each other, all the former Soviet countries vote for each other, all the tiny principalities vote for the nations they are squeezed between, all the British Isles countries vote for each other. I'd be interested to see an experiment where fake Eurovision Song Contests were shown in each nation deliberately substituting crap songs for the countries that each country traditionally votes for, and see if that affects voting patterns. They could call it the Eurovision No-Song Contest. Then they would have some control data with which to unbias all the votes.
The Latvian presenter really went off on one when announcing giving two points to Turkey. It's almost as if he had got the memo to cut the crap and speed things along and thought "No, sod you, let's put more crap and chat in". On the other hand, they gave lots of points to the UK, so Latvia are cool. (Which we knew from last year already.) They also explicitly pointed out that they were voting for their neighbours, which was funny.
Each country had a little icon to represent the shape of the country. It was amusing to see the tiny, unrecognisable blobs for Andorra and Monaco, and also amusing to see that of Russia, which was by necessity at a completely different scale to all the rest.
Slovenia joked that they were giving 12 points to Slovenia. Lads and lasses, which country was it who had the funny vote a couple of years ago - the last presenter got to read the casting make-or-break vote to determine the result of the whole shebang and pretended to leave without reading the votes out? I have half a recollection that that might have been Slovenia too.
The show's host sounded really tired when the final country, the Ukraine, were giving their votes in. Terry Wogan had lost track by this point - he had lost track that .ua were the final nation and didn't pick up on the possibility that .ua might theoretically have been in the position where they were leading up until their vote which might have put Serbia-Montenegro into first place ahead of them. Didn't turn out like that, though.
After the votes, the winner was announced and took forever to get to the stage, leading to some atrocious ad-libbing. They kept playing the musical stab over and over again that was used to greet the ten semi-final winners. However, only ten seconds or so were used in the semi-final, whereas the full minute-ish was played OVERANDOVERAGAIN in the final. The full minute was actually really quite cool - until we had heard it six times or so. Then we learned the reason why such short pieces of music are called stabs; they make you want to stab yourself rather than listen to them for the eleventh time running.
So, yes, it was a Eurovision Song Contest. Hurrah.
Darren from Berkshire, who does not have his own LJ account (which is a grave crime) makes some excellent points about televoting here. Some nations like their neighbours and find their music to be naturally, er, music to their ears, which explains why countries tend to vote for their neighbours. (There's also the strength of the expat countries - very high when the expats only have to travel one country along.) Some nations do not get on so well with their neighbours; I'd be curious to know how France and ourselves have been in terms of point donation over the years. Thus, if we want the UK entry - or the England entry, mmm? - to do well in the Eurovision Song Contest, we must stuff the voting constituency with nations that are likely to give the UK Entry, or the England entry, many points. This is an argument for dissolving the United Kingdom and giving Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland their independence right there.
However, we can take it further than that. Darren sagely suggests getting the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man involved, which I think is a masterstroke. After all, the Channel Islands have their own broadcaster already, and there's so much money sloshing around in the Isle of Man that I'm sure it could have its own TV company in a bat of an eye if it wanted one. (Just to join the EBU and give the UK entries more Eurovision points? I should jolly well say so.) After all, the Isle of Man is bigger than Andorra already and wayyyyy bigger than Monaco. The CIA World Factbook entry on Andorra (not completely authoritative "but close enough for government work" as they say - and, in this case, mean literally) suggests that Andorra doesn't have a single broadcaster, but Wikipedia magic one up for them. One wonders whether this is "registered abroad as a flag of convenience" like the shipping lines.
Definite further thoughts about the future of the Eurovision song contest: who else might want to join? After all, there are 51 European nations entering the European Nations Cup in football, yet only 36 Eurovision song contest voting nations. Football has separate England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland; Eurovision has a separate Monaco. Both totals may yet rise. Considering how long the voting took this year, perhaps televoting has had its day and juries may see their return. Money may well be instrumental in the presence of continent-wide televoting.
Talking of money, the UK gets an automatic bye to the final each year, along with Spain, France and Germany, simply because they put so much of the funding into the Eurovision. With this in mind, I think we should do something more along the lines of the recent German pattern and put a song in purely to have a laugh. Perhaps Ant and Dec could be recruited with their cheeky-chappy ways - and, if they hadn't been golden-handcuffed to ITV - this would be just about plausible. Perhaps Manchester United could perform; they wouldn't be able to sing worth a lick, of course, but would likely pick up thousands of votes all the same. I really liked the suggestion someone made of getting Right Said Fred out of retirement. Couldn't do much worse than we've been doing recently. That said, I really believe we'd have done at least 20 or 30 points better had we not been so firmly tied to the USA recently on the Iraq issue.
There's also the old saw about "how come Israel gets to take part in the Eurovision Song Contest?" - and, for that matter, UEFA's European football competitions. I suspect one can be terminated from any Eurovision mailing list worth its salt for asking the next question, but one wonders whether any Palestinian state broadcaster, assuming the eventual possible existence of a Palestinian state, might be invited to join the EBU and participate likewise. Other not-quite-European EBU members include Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia; one wonders about the prospect of seeing the Eurovision Song Contest in Tripoli some day. Hey, Libya are trying to make inroads into cultural acceptance with the rest of Europe; evidence is that they're hosting the next FIDE World Chess Championship and inviting nearly all the world's top chessplayers to take part.
So which is a more likely Eurovision Song Contest host: Tripoli, Douglas or St. Peter's Port? BET NOW!