The Eurovision Song Contest 2008
Thoughts after the contest

The contest

I have heard about the semi-final interval act from others, and the general feeling is that the interval acts were rather less impressive than recent years. I certainly found the grand final interval act to be lacklustre. It might make a lot of sense to a Serbian, but it isn't something that translates well.

On the other hand, I feel the calibre of songs was higher than in previous years. This makes my usual light-hearted after-contest commentary to seem somewhat purile. Time to be a little more serious about this.


The hosts

This paragraph written in late July: It seems so obvious now. I know that the female host (Jovana Jonković) is pretty and all, but the male one (Željko Joksimović) had been bugging me for ages. It took American-Andy to point out what now seems so obvious... he's the Lane Moje guy from 2004!


The jury vote and the placements

There was an interesting change this year. In both of the semi-finals, nine qualifiers were chosen by the televote, and one was chosen by jury vote. Mr. Stockselius has indicated that he would like this to become a permanent thing in the semi-final voting.

The jury and the televote agreed on Tuesday's semi final. They put through Poland on jury vote, which scored 10th anyway so would have qualified.

There was a disparity on Thursday's semi final when the recipient of the jury vote was zombie-girl from Sweden, which actually qualified in twelfth position in the televote. This displaced FYR Macedonia which would have passed into the final otherwise.

Off-air there was another round of draws held for who should perform when in the grand final. Apparently Russia got such a good position (second to last, traditionally one of the strongest positions) that some people are screaming "FIX!". Whether it was payola or just geniune luck-of-the-draw, it seems bizarre that there wasn't already some sort of method for pre-assigning places as the envelopes are opened.



It is interesting that RadioTimes suggests that Austria withdrew from the contest on account of the political voting (read the two-page article, it's in there).
Meanwhile, my mother heard on Radio4 (longwave) that Austria withdrew late on account of that horrible thing with the sicko and his daughter and assorted children locked in their cellar for twenty-odd years. They are said to have thought that nobody would vote for them after that.

...however I think it is worth pointing out that it would be horribly unjust to judge the entry of a country based upon something that one sick citizen achieved. Shall we never vote for Germany because there are still neo-Nazis around? Shall we not vote for Russia because of the whole Litvichenko (sp?) affair? Let's never vote for France, perhaps they killed Diana and it wasn't The Queen Mother after all? Don't vote for Romania until they sort out the problem with the orphans. And, of course, nobody should vote for The United Kingdom until it sorts out its deplorable state pension, the teenage pregnancy problem, the knife-culture problem, and makes up its mind if it is aligned with Europe or somewhere else. Oh, and Iceland's economy is in one heck of a mess, we'd better not vote for them either...

...or perhaps, maybe just maybe, we could figure that the voting will be based more upon the song than the politics of the country? If Austria entered a good song, then we should reward it with points rather than oooh, they're all a bit weird which is a horrible slur to the inhabitants of the country. Yes, there are some sick Austrians. And given a recent news items, there are some pretty sick Brits as well. I'm sure every country on the planet has good people and bad people. It's just that the TV news seems to dwell more on the sickos because, hey, it is more exciting to watch other people in pain. Do we need to see dying Chinese people after their earthquakes? Or would it be more constructive to show how the country is handling their disaster and trying to get things running again. Nope, that isn't exciting. That isn't lead item news. Who cares if an old temple is going to be pulled down and rebuilt using old parts laid into a reinforced modern framework? Who cares if it is going to take a hundred students a year to work out where all the pieces go in order to make it as authentic as possible. No, our television screens will fill with the dead and dying. And you know damn well that all those ENG guys are secretly hoping a dam bursts and they can be the ones to breathlessly bring the carnage to us 100% live.
So I really really really hope that Austria's objection is to the dodgy voting and not for the other reason...

"American Andy" has confirmed that Austria had made the move with withdraw from the contest several months before the cellar-captivity case hit the international news; so any correlation between the two events is just nastiness...


The voting conspiracy

I have been over this already. Hundreds of people have opined hundreds of views both in support of the voting ("it was a crap song") and in support of the song ("everybody hates the British"); but let me ask you one thing:
Does it matter who 'wins'?

The contest should be about the music. About the different cultures taking part. About the variety of ideas from the stylish simplicity of Norway to the craziness of Bosnia (& Herzegovina!). Even songs such as Spain - just because I hated it doesn't mean it doesn't have a right to be entered. And as for Azerbaijan's screaming angels... it was an experience!

<cliche>At the end of the day</cliche>, it is that which matters. I may have correctly called the winner, but what about those years I didn't? What about those years when the winning song was, well... let's just say that in my opinion there were better songs...

What matters most of all is that there will be a contest next year, and the following year, and so on. Where it is held? That is of less importance.

For what it is worth, I have this view of Russia as being something of an industrial wasteland with heavy grey polluted skies overlaying crumbling grey high-rise flats in an insipid grey concrete jungle. That's probably the result of too many American-made Cold War era spy movies. I await next year's contest to radically revise my impressions of what Russia is really like...


Comments of others on interactive media

Not possible, sorry. Don't have a working Sky Digibox...
So instead you can read the various things that RadioTimes printed. That's as interactive as I can get.


The postcards

The 'postcards', as all ESC fans know, are those little things in between each song. That explains why the Serbian ones appeared to have a postmark on them at the end. Quite clever.
What is perhaps more surprising is that this year Serbia broke the trend and did zero self-promotion - apart from the night-time shots at the end, and some of the stuff the BBC inserted, we saw practically nothing of Belgrade!
Instead we saw what may have been famous Serbians, or just random Serbs, doing stuff, while generally dressed in the colours of the flag of the country that was up next.


The performance transcends the songs

What also makes a big change this year is that a fair amount of what I think of the songs comes down to the actual performances, and not just the songs.

Perhaps the best example is Azerbaijan. Would it have worked as simply a song on your MP3 player? Or does it work best with the visuals? I believe with the performance, it delivers the whole package. As just a song it is strangely offputting (especially with the opening wail that sounds like a cat giving birth), though I am appreciating it slightly more now that I have seen it three times - but the big question... if I had been able to download the studio versions of all of the songs, how long would I have listened to this one before I pressed 'Next track' on my MP3 player? I'm guessing "first syllable".

Another example is Russia. Now I have a lot of respect for Mr. Plushenko as figure skating is a sport that interests me (and no, it isn't for the girls in flimsy outfits as most people suggest, it actually came from my one and only attempt at ice skating which was a total disaster, and how people such as he and Irina Slutskaya fling themselves around with such grace - I guess it's a sort of awestruck jealousy...). And, yes, it was nice to see him performing, and really quite a surprise to see him involved with Eurovision. But ask yourself, what did he contribute to the song? The answer? Little, if anything. Instead he made the performance.

Perhaps the strongest piece of evidence I have to support this is people I know who have purchased the official CD, or obtained the songs through other channels (such as digital recordings of the national selection competitions) told me that before the contest they had heard the songs and picked the ones they liked. When it came to the televised competition itself, either because of a less-than-impressive performance or because of how the live performance worked out (with the visual aspect, not just the songs), their list of favourites changed.

Even though this is a song contest, we mustn't discount the performance aspect. After all, it is a televised contest!

Oh, and never underestimate the power of a good smile. A genuine one, as fake smiles are so easy to spot.



I try not to listen to anything other than the British entry (from BBC One) and the French entry (as I live in France) prior to the contest. I prefer it that way as everything is fresh and new on the night(s).

I believe there were some agressive and/or innovating on-line campaigns for some of the songs; ranging from so-called "leaked" photos of the performer in little more than their birthday suit to lots of information on video-share and social networking sites. Not having Internet at home this has passed me by, but it does suggest how the song contest is taking to the on-line world to spread the message.

I had been a little bit concerned about how the songs in the final would be, having seen twenty of them previously. What was quite a welcome surprise is that, for the most part, the performers gave an even better performance in the final.


With apologies to Spain

I commented that the Spanish entry might have been the worst of the decade. This was a 'heat of the moment' kind of thing. I'm not retracting my dislike of this song, just wanting to point out that with a few cups of tea and calm reflection, this is possibly the worst Spanish entry of the decade; however overall there were many that were worse.
You'll have to wait - this is my fifth year of reviews, so I plan to put together a big best/worst look at the past half-decade; hopefully that will appear sometime in the new year.
I'd be interested to hear your suggestions for 2004/...5/...6/...7/...8 - email me!


The gimmick songs

We'll get these out of the way first. There were a mere four...

You could argue some others, such as the Bosnian song, but I feel the others were actual serious songs with a bit of a zany performance... yes, even that one from Azerbaijan!

Ironically, this year because so many of the songs were serious ballads, the interspersion of the zany and the gimmick helped to bring some variety to the proceedings; though from my correspondances it would appear that:


Bosnia & Herzegovina

One of my correspondants wrote:
[...] seemed to have sent the Childcatcher and his sister [...].
This one has been the first ESC entry that has actually scared me, what with my fear of the Childcather and the weirdness of the performance.
[...] but
<friend's name> liked it - as well as agreeing that it was creepy.
I would be interested to hear YOUR thoughts on this. I may be totally wrong (what with not understanding anything other than the word ljubavi (means "love" I think)), but to me this seemed like a comedic parable of married life. Certainly I didn't get anything 'creepy' from this song.
Did you? Email me!


Best and worst...

Best dressed
Norway, followed by Belgium (yes, the Campino sweet!).


Worst dressed
Andorra (not just that copper water-heater outfit, check out the Sarah Jessica Parker hair disaster), followed by Spain.

In fairness, others have suggested the Belgian girl looked, as one said, "like a giant peppermint". I quite liked it. It was bold, vivid, and it didn't reveal anything. I much prefer a girl dressed to a girl in little more than underwear (so the Czech Republic would have had no love from me, in fact they should be embarrassed...).


Strangest looking
Without a doubt dead-girl, Sweden; followed by orange girl, Poland.

You'll note that I've played with the Polish performer to make her bright orange to emphasise my point.
Perhaps the saddest thing of all is that I tried many adjustments to the Swedish woman (hue shift, deeper blue, stronger contrast, monochrome, etc etc...) and they all actually made her look better! So I've just gone with the as-broadcast image.


Best performance on both nights
Most of the semi-finalists performed better in the final, however I feel the single greatest improvement is Albania...
Special distinction also to Romania for the change to a better dress.


And the worst overall performance
Ireland! Couldn't sing.
A close runner-up was Lithuania. It's a brave choice to go out and just sing with no gimmick, no dance routine, no sashaying backing vocalists in tight black outfits. Much appreciation to Jeronimas for going and performing to ~200 million people; however if you are going to go out on the power of your voice alone, you need the sort of voice that will blow everybody away...




Cutest female
There were many contenders, but I think it will come down to one of Ukraine or Greece or Armenia (gee, d'you see a pattern there?)


Cutest male
Others have suggested the Croatian guy with the hat, so... okay... the Croatian guy with the hat !?!
Special mention also to the Swiss performer.


Who I'd most like to have a date with...
Possibly Albania, followed by The Green Room girl...

Remember, there are girls that look like fun and then there are the more serious ones you would be more inclined to take home to meet your parents... and that's part of the basis of this decision.


I now know the name of...
Svante's Little Helper.
Incroyable!, as they say here in France... I asked for her name on my website, and a couple of weeks later Jonny Knapman contacted me with the details. Thanks!
She's Estonian, the (J)ESC Event Manager, and called Kati Varblane (I've been told that's kah-tee).
More info at (mmm, American spelling!).



And the award for...

The missed opportunity award goes to...
FYR Macedonia, who missed out to Sweden in the second semi-final in the jury vote.
(for me this isn't much of a hardship, didn't like the song much, but it's a bit rough on them to be sooo close)


The funniest song of the contest award goes to...
Belgium. Made-up language, strawberries-and-cream outfit, bizarre performance...
You will notice that this song is unintentionally funny. It seemed to want to be a serious song, but it just went that little bit too far and so we politely giggled at it. Therefore, in the spirit of songs that were unintentionally funny, I shall list the runners up (in alphabetical order):


The song-that-you-just-can't-get-out-of-your-head award goes to...
Latvia - "Wolves Of The Sea"; closely followed by Armenia - "Qele, Qele".
Note: These may not be the best songs, but they are the memorable sing-along type.


The most dramatic performance award goes to...
Albania, with Portugal a close second.


The best interpretation of the lyrics award goes to...
Azerbaijan, who delivered a freaky song but the song and the performance fit together well. This probably explains its eventual scoring.
I have a strong feeling that Bosnia may have performed the best interpretation of their song, but I am reserving judgement until I know what the song actually means.


The worst interpretation of the lyrics award goes to...
Ireland, who must have been intentionally trying to enter the worst possible song...


The most like Abba award goes to...
We've had some idiotic performances, some gimmick performances, and some forgettable performances, but on the whole I think this has been one of the most serious competitions in recent years. I really liked the line-up of songs in 2002. I didn't like 2003 much, and since then there have been good and bad. This year? This year seemed tipped more heavily into the good and the worthy that nothing is really Abbaesque.



The most enduring song

I recorded the following songs (from HiFi videotape; alphabetical): Note that the Russian song didn't hold my interest between the performances and the ripping. Additionally, I think the greatest benefit of this song was the performance (okay, some have said it's a bloke making out with the stage, but that's their interpretation ☺).

Y'all gonna be real pleased to know that the Latvian song made it about a day. Then it was deleted. Not just from the MP3 player, but the computer too. It quickly got really annoying!

I have kept the rest of the songs on the computer, but the MP3 player has been trimmed down to:

This is perhaps an interesting statement of which songs I like, and also which have the lasting power after the performance. It is now a month since (as I write this revision), and the annoying Latvian entry made it further than the WINNING Russian entry which didn't even get as far as being ripped!
Those with '[*]' after are liable to be deleted if I need the space for other content.

You might think that I like upbeat poppy numbers. If this is the case, where is Eurobeat? It's a more specific type of song. In any case, I think it is quite clear that the song and the performance go hand-in-hand, and that the winner 'on the night' may not be a song with longevity.

I'd really like to hear from you in a coupla-months. Whether you got the CD or recorded from the broadcast, what songs did you like "on the night" and what songs kept you interested in the longer term?


Keeping it together

The picture just below is Belgrade on 2008/07/29. There are tensions in the area (this a protest over the intended extradition of Radovan Karadzic).
Nothing at all happened during the contest, however this picture shows just how easy it is for civility to fray.


Now hear this!

Something to add? Email me!    heyrick1973 at yahoo dot co dot uk
Note that it's a new email address, I have been having problems with MerseyMail (which is a real shame, it was laid out very nicely and functionally all I could have asked for) but given my restriction to half an hour on-line per week, I have to move to something that will do what it is supposed to without obscure weirdness... For those who have my older address, my MerseyMail account is still in use, but I'll be replying to you from Yahoo.

I look forward to hearing from you.


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Copyright © 2008 Rick Murray
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