Alysa Salzberg

Alysa Salzberg
Paris, France
December 31
Writer, copy editor, translator, travel planner. Head servant to my cat.
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MAY 27, 2012 10:57AM

Black is the new black: Eurovision 2012

Rate: 21 Flag
donny montell
Lithuania's candidate, Donny Montell, sings "Love is Blind"...blindfolded.
When I first heard about the Eurovision Song Contest, an amicable competition in which each European country sends a musical act to represent it, I imagined an evening of refined entertainment, a bit like a televised symphony performance.

I was very, very wrong. Founded in 1956, the Eurovision Song Contest has evolved into a mecca of kitsch.  Typical things you might see during the show include: female backup singers with winged hair...and butterfly wings attached to their evening gowns, pyrotechnics, flashy choreography, bare legs and daring décolletés for the ladies and bare chests for the men, gimmicks that are usually completely unrelated to the song being sung (actual examples: sand painting on a projector, Olympic medalist Evgeni Viktorovich Plushenko skating on a mini-ice rink), and so on.  
The Eurovision does not encourage subtlety.  And while some acts do show impressive talent -- notably, ABBA and Celine Dion (representing Switzerland for some reason) were both discovered here – a majority of them run the gamut from soupy pop or techno, to downright amateur-seeming.  They often appear to have been chosen to represent their country for the flashiness of their performances, rather than their musical skill.
typical act 
InCulto, Eurovision 2010  
 The Eurovision is something you roll your eyes over, yet delight in.  Even as you bemoan the fact that high scoring acts frequently get votes based on visual appeal – and, even more commonly, because of political and cultural affinities between countries – you still want to see how everyone will do.

Thanks to my boyfriend and his mother, I’ve become a diehard fan of the event, eagerly looking forward to it every year.  When the show started last night, I was excited even before the opening act had ended.  A huge spectacle featuring previous winners and a countless number of dancers in a mix of traditional and over-the-top, tacky costumes, it perfectly captured what the Eurovision was all about. 

But that’s where the resemblance ended.

Maybe we should have seen it coming.  There were some issues these past weeks leading up to the contest.  For one thing, this year’s host country, Azerbaijan (last year's winner - the country whose act wins hosts the following year's competition) has been accused of human rights violations.  On a slightly less serious note, Spain’s singer, Pastora Soler, made headlines when she told an interviewer that her advisors had asked her to do everything possible not to win, since her country can’t afford the millions of euros it would take to host the event next year.  She later rescinded this comment, saying she was joking, but no one forgot about it.  

Human rights violations and the financial crisis are sobering indeed. Maybe they somehow influenced the seemingly untouchable kitsch universe that is the Eurovision contest.  Because this year, the norm wasn’t flashy costumes and choreography (though there were some impressive pyrotechnics on the new Crystal Hall stadium’s stage). Instead of white, or fluorescents, or pastels, the color of choice for the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest was…black.

Not only did most performers wear the somber shade; the cavernous stadium and its big screens seemed often to fill the space with the color, so that singers, musicians, and even the dancers that surprisingly few acts boasted, were swallowed by the void.  On top of that, a majority of the artists in black also had pretty sensible-looking clothes.  For example, Kaliopi, a talented singer from Macedonia, looked like someone going to a job interview.
The occasional bright spots of color –Cyprus’ Ivi Adamou who sang the delightfully cheesily-titled (and surprisingly catchy) “La La Love”,
la la love 
or the tacky fringe dress and odd costumes for the act from Ukraine, or the whimsical, yet couturish frocks on the dancers from Moldova’s act, were welcome sights.
Moldova's Pasha Parfeny, and dancers
Even the cheesiest and most inexplicable performance of the night, 
(no, not Jedward, Ireland's representative for the second time in a row)
Can Bonomo, from Turkey, who sang a song that might have been a lesser number in a high school play about sailors, were dressed in drab grays and dark blues.  If it hadn’t been for the nautical theme, I would have thought: "Dracula: The Musical", and I was delighted when the French commentators compared them to bats.

 (If you can't see the video, click here to watch it - it is totally worth it!)

The winner of the competition was not, sadly, my favorite - Nina Zilli, who's like an Italian-style Amy Winehouse,

(If you can't see the video, click here to watch it.) 

but rather an artist who was very much in the spirit of the evening. Beating out an adored group of brightly-dressed grannies from Russia, Swedish artist Loreena, whose single was already at the top of the charts in her home country, earned an incredible amount of votes.  A Gothic-looking twenty-eight-year-old whose face is often partially hidden by a long curtain of black hair, Loreena sang a pretty standard techno-pop song (though she does truly have an impressive voice). She wore a modest one-piece black pantsuit and a sort of transparent kimono over it.  Her entire performance more or less consisted in her singing and moving in strange ways while a fan blew her kimono’s sleeves up.  It made me think of being a teenager and putting on my own show to Evanescence’s first CD when I was alone in my bedroom. 

(If you can't see the video, click here to watch it.) 
Whenever she was announced as the person with the most voting points from a country (each country gives out a certain number of points to candidates, and can't vote for themselves), she seemed quietly moved, not exuberantly cheerful like a typical Eurovision victor.  At times, she even held a hand seemingly protectively around her stomach.  The boyfriend and I worried she was going to be sick.

So that was 2012’s Eurovision: very little glitter.
As for France, as usual they were one of the lowest-scoring countries.  Only, this year it wasn’t because they’d decided to do something unlike the typical acts.  Instead, as I watched pop singer Anggun, a beautiful woman with a decent voice, singing an instantly-forgettable song while wearing an incongruous and absolutely stunning outfit created by Jean-Paul Gaultier, with bare-chested male gymnasts dressed like they’d just come from the gym doing flips and other moves around her, I realized that after years of struggling to find a way to win while still staying a little avant-garde, the French had given up.
anggun 2 
Maybe if the song had been catchier or the gymnasts better dressed, or if there’d been more pyrotechnics, they would have gotten more points.  But no one, not even the French commentators, who are usually at least somewhat hopeful at the start of the evening, seemed to think we had any chance of winning.  Instead, they politely expressed their support of Anggun, then began the annual and expected riffing on all of the performers and international vote readers.  It’s one of the best parts of the Eurovision (if you're watching it in France), and it was thankfully unchanged by the current trend.  The only thing dark about the French last night, was their sense of humor at times.

For me, this year’s Eurovision was sort of like a horrible vision of what could be.  What if the competition did get more serious, and came to resemble a night of cultural enrichment?  Now that I’ve seen the toned-down version, I want the old glitter and fire and butterfly wings back! 
If you live in a country where you don't get the Eurovision Song Contest on TV, but you want to see more, there are a lot of videos posted on sites like YouTube.   
To read about last year's very different Eurovision Song Contest, please feel free to check out what I posted then

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What a cool event. I never heard of it! It's so sad they took out the glitz. Maybe it will come back next year! What a hoot! Thank you for sharing this, Alysa! :)
This looks like lots of fun to watch. Thanks for the videos and reviews. I enjoyed this post very much. I loved Nina Zilli and Lorena.
rated with love
It is so funny that you wrote about this--I came across it last night for the first time when I saw on MSNBC that Sweden had I jumped to YouTube and watched all 42 preliminary videos for the different countries.

What can I say: I rolled around in their kitschy splendor with glee...I was up until 1 a.m. watching those videos. I was going to blog about it myself, but I figured I have no background nor understanding of how it works or what it is---so it's nice to see someone from France talking about it :)

I have to admit that the cheezy, glitz and pop music made me smile--it's a nice change of pace from what's played on most of the music stations I can get on my radio here in the States....
Joanne - Thanks for reading, and I'm glad I'm the person who made you discover the Eurovision Song Contest...then again, I'm not sure I should be glad...maybe I owe you an apology! :-)

RP - It is a lot of fun, even if it was more sober this year. And I'm glad you liked those performances. I really want to hear some of Loreena's other songs, because I wasn't crazy about this one, but man does she have a voice!

Pensive Person - Please, please don't let me stop you from writing about your Eurovision experience! I'd love to read your thoughts (and find out which acts you liked and didn't)!
Looks like a hoot. I'd much rather watch something like this, obvious kitsch, than the American Idol-type shows where everybody's trying to be serious. For entertainment I want either top-tier stuff or kitschiness, like this. Great write-up, Alysa. Thanks.
I saw some of this as I have followed it since a Quebcquoise did very well in it. Cheesy yes.. but entertaining..:)
Great post, Alysa! The kookier the better/more entertaining as far as I'm concerned, so hopefully they go back to that next year. Though your line about the singer looking like she was going to a business interview did make me laugh out loud. :)
Oh, those wacky Europeans! (I definitely want my own set of butterfly wings.)
I think I would enjoy this tremendously, even the Turkish twins. Seems like a lot of fun.

I have never heard of this either but man those bat guys yes made me smile! I will find some time and go view some more of these...I love that they are or were big and silly!
If I were a rough hewn Ugly American, I might say,
"well, this kind of sums up France, does it not:
'after years of struggling to find a way to win while still staying a little avant-garde, the French had just given up.' "
I would never say that, though.
Mostly because you would get mad at me.

Europe is clinically depressed. America is having one of its
bipolar episodes. Thank heavens for the staid, somber, solid
stability of Germany.

: )

I have little to say about all this European music, except I am glad
i was born in the USA. On other matters, I was wondering
how your pointy headed new socialist guy was doing.
It was big news here in America, for like 20 minutes.
How he won. Mostly due to your OS posts.

Austerity, that is the catchword, over there, yes?
Meanwhile, we are all having cookouts this weekend.
Flags are flying, people are parading.
Alysa, no apologies necessary! I love it!!
I always give this a miss-- but I'm dying to know this year: How did Engelbert do?
Just to throw in my additional "two cents"--I thought Iceland was amazing... so, so beautiful....
Heard about this for the first time on the radio the other morning while on my way to work. It sounds mahvelous. I'd love to see those "babushkas" from Russia.
Chicken Maaan – It definitely is a delightful watching experience. And amazingly, it makes “American Idol” look not kitsch at all by comparison! :- )

Linda – I know you’re a fan. What did you think of this year’s show? Did the parts you saw seem a bit toned down to you, too?

Sally – Thanks and I’m glad you enjoyed this. Yeah, as I saw Kaliope perform, I was impressed with her voice, but I was so distracted by her very businesslike outfit, which did not at all go with the music!

Jeanette – I’m glad I’m not the only one who wants butterfly wings! : -)

Lezlie – It is really fun! Just to clarify, the twins are called Jedward, and they were Ireland’s artist. I wanted to show that they were not even the most over-the-top or astonishing – I don’t think I’ll soon forget the Turkish bat/sailor/vampires!

Lunchlady – Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoy watching the performances. Some of them are just unbelievable…and not necessarily in a good way!

James – Your message made me laugh. President Hollande is doing well enough - and you know, "austerity" is one of the reasons he got elected; the French are sick of the idea and want to see if there's another way. I'm all for that, and hope it works! As for the sales I’m missing – sigh - it’s probably for the best, as I am more or less flat broke at the moment… Hope you’re enjoying your Memorial Day weekend! And I love your new avatar picture!

Joanne – Glad I don’t need to apologize! : - )

V. Corso – You are a stronger person than I, to be able to resist the cheesy lure of Eurovision! To answer your question, Englebert was the opening act. I thought he did really well, musically – the song had meaningful lyrics and definitely could be something you’d hear on certain radio stations. But the performance made me think of Patricia Kaas’ back a few years ago: a quality voice and a decent song, but nothing going on, just the singer in sober clothes. In a sea of relatively muted acts, Humperdinck’s was one of the dullest! The UK ended up with a very low score, which is unfortunate because, again, I felt like he did really well. But quality does not necessarily a Eurovision winner make.

Pensive Person – I’m so glad to be able to discuss with someone who saw the performances! The boyfriend and I liked Iceland a lot, too. Our other favorites included Italy, the UK, Hungary (my top three), and Macedonia, Cyprus, and Italy again (the boyfriend’s top 3).

Margaret – It was awesome. Luckily, you can go on YouTube to watch the performances. As for the Russian grannies, I’d heard so much about them that I had to admit I was super-disappointed when they performed. They were cute, sure, and they had a really interesting prop idea: an oven from which they pulled out a tray of cookies at the end. The start of their number, which was a traditional-sounding song, wasn’t too bad, but when they kicked it into high gear with a more modern-style performance, I really thought they kind of sucked. I was super-disappointed, even though I’m glad they got to go to the Eurovision. I can’t imagine what most of those women have gone through in their lives – they deserve fame and fortune and glory and glitter.
I follow it occasionally on The Guardian's website (or maybe The Telegraph's) but never had the chance to see it. It's always sounded like fun.
Oooo! I saw the name "Patricia Kaas" and had to throw another comment on here. I LOVE HER!!

As for my top 3: Iceland, Hungary, and Macedonia or Moldova--Macedonia because that woman's voice is just haunting...and Moldova was just too fun--I want to dance every time I hear it.

I agree that UK presented a beautifully simple song...wonderful lyrics
Boanerges - It really is a fun couple of hours! You should go onto YouTube and check out some of the performances.

Pensive Person - I loved the girls from Moldovas' outfits! They were so fun and whimsical. And it was cool that the show ended with some color! I'm also glad I'm not the only one who liked Englebert Humperdinck's song. But I just don't know why he had to be so sober. As for Patricia Kaas, I don't follow her very much but I've never heard something by her that I didn't like. When she was France's candidate for the Eurovision a few years back, people thought she'd win, because apparently she's huge in Russia, and a lot of the Eastern European countries tend to side with Russia when it comes to voting. But I think that her simple, dignified performance did her in....
I just YouTubed Patricia Kaas's song from 2009's Eurovision...I would agree that the song was probably not the greatest choice. It almost sounded like she was trying to be a female version of Jacques Brel....very, very simple.
I haven't watched Eurovision the last couple of years but when I have watched, it's been the wonderfully eccentric costumes and dance routines that kept me watching what is a long show.

I enjoyed reading your take on it all, Alyssa. It sounds like this year was indeed a lot duller than in the past.

We actually used to be pretty avid Eurovision fans.

If nothing else it's good comedy, nowadays. We pretty much gave up on it when Arash didn't win in 2009. Then I completely gave up when Germany won in 2010.

To show you how freakin rigged it all is, Germany won with a SERIOUSLY lackluster version of "Satellite" and Sweden didn't even make the finals with Anna Bergendahl's amazing performance in this video:
P.S. Every time I see that first picture, I am reminded of the cover of "Touch" by The Eurythmics. Link here, fourth photo on the page.
I like cheese on my hamburger, but not on my television, so I'm glad my exposure was limited to your amusing and informative post.
That was wild. Enjoyed it.
For pure kitsch and insanity there is nothing in my experience that can compare to the Leningrad Cowboys:
They will forever have a place in my heart for this celebration of the end of the Cold War at the MTV Music Awards.
Thanks for the update. The last Eurovision I saw was the one won by Lordi -- Hardrock Hallelujah!
I LOOOOOOOOOOOVED THIS. I remember your other Eurovision post and licked the old lips when I saw this. This should go viral dammit.
"For example, Kaliopi, a talented singer from Macedonia"
Can't make this shit up!
Hilarious and surreally exciting.
What a show! Though the "Love is Blind" thing looks seriously corny, I like the *idea* of being on stage with a blindfold. I have a tendency to close my eyes when I perform--as it helps me focus on the emotional aspect of the song as well as my intonation--but I fight against this because it doesn't look so good on stage.
I've seen some of the Eurovision videos on YouTube. Wish I could watch the whole thing (especially now that "Dancing With The Stars" season is over). It seems like enormous fun. I'm not surprised you got seduced by it.
Whether we were in England or France, years ago Ms. Stim and I were channel flipping and stumbled on Eurovision. It was like watching a train wreck in slow motion. So horrifying that you couldn't look away, but instead of your heart going out to the poor train passengers, I found myself rooting for the theatre roof to collapse and end the pain.

If France wanted to win, instead of the male dancers, Anggun should've gone bare-chested.
Pensive Person – I totally agree. I just don’t know why she thought such simplicity would fly at the Eurovision. I’m still scratching my head over it….

Little Kate – Thanks for reading. I so agree – the show is long but it really does go by fast. This year it did, too, even though it was a little more sober.

Safe Bet’s Amy – Thanks for reading. And for sharing that song – I hadn’t heard it before – it really is good! But I think often that songs that are actually good but not pop or techno just will not win the Eurovision, sadly enough. I’m glad I know it now, though – I have a feeling I’ll be re-listening to it a lot. As for the German win with the performance for “Satellite”, the boyfriend and I actually really enjoyed that song!

Jeanette – I definitely see what you mean! …But I was also really distracted by the picture of Tina Turner with a cat who looks a lot like Ali…my mind is now veering into this whole story about him having this secret career of posing with stars…. :- )

Cranky – Thank you, and I’m sorry about the cheese!

Miguela – I’m glad you enjoyed it. It is definitely a very…unique evening of TV….

Jmac – I did not know the Leningrad Cowboys, and I can’t thank you enough for introducing me to them!

V. Corso – Actually one of the best parts of the Eurovision this year was that the person reading the voting results from Finland was one of the guys from Lordi -- in full costume, and very much in character, licking his lips and doing a crazy menacing voice. It was utterly delightful.

fernsy – I’m so glad you enjoyed this. It is a fun night of TV indeed. In her defense, though, I have to say Kaliopi really does have a good voice….

BSB – It’s good to see you! Well, read you…eh, you know what I mean. I miss you. As for your comment, that’s a really interesting perspective. I don’t think I’d mind seeing a singer who closed her eyes – I feel like it gives emotion to a performance. A blindfold might also be okay in certain situations…just not when you’re singing about love being blind, I feel like…

Eva – It really is great entertainment. I wish they would show it in the US!

Stim – Haha! It really is awkwardly cheesy but I try to think that most of the performers probably feel no shame (maybe not even the Turkish act from this year. Maybe.). That helps. As for the topless thing, I think there might be rules against that. There was apparently an issue where one of the acts this year had a fan that was blowing her short skirt up to give glimpses of her underwear, something one of the French announcers very much liked – and she wasn’t allowed to do that during the final performance (much to the French announcer’s chagrin).
I LOVE Eurovision! This year I actually got to watch the semifinals in Europe, although the Swiss TV stations only ran the highlights. There are always wacky elements and I love the element of unpredictability that sometimes propels them into the finals. I don't always agree with the winners (I was NOT a fan of Finland's Lordi), but I like that has-beens like Englebert and Katrina and the Waves compete and sometimes win. Of course, my all-time fav is Norway's Alexander Rybak from a couple of years ago. Didn't he win with the biggest margin ever? Next year in Stockholm!
Alysa, I see why you've become a fan! I guess the somber mood of the whole world is affecting even entertainment -- I hope the butterfly wings return!
I do like those Moldavian dancers' costumes! They could be walking down the runway at Prêt-à-Porter, no?
I'd wear : )
Okay, maybe I ought to say, "I would have worn..."