20140321_Dancing_Stars_Conchita_Wurst_4187Wow, Eurovision.  Just…. wow.

Well done you!

I had become cynical about the Eurovision Song Contest.  Sure I still enjoyed watching it (and listening to Graham Norton’s fantastic commentary) but I was resigned to the fact that 1) the songs I liked would never win and 2) the voting was hugely unbalanced and messy.  To be fair, this had always been very obvious in previous years.  The countries would always vote for their neighbors, and the Scandanavian and Balkan countries were always a massive block.

There were two major issues going into this year’s competition.  The first was of course the situation between Russia and the Ukraine.  Being held in Denmark meant the crowd’s loyalties would be with Ukraine (and in fact the Ukraine entry went first in the contest).  There was audible booing of the Russian entry and anytime Russia received points, which made you feel bad for the two 17 year old girls chosen to represent Russia with a pretty decent song, but then also you couldn’t help feeling good that Putin heard all the booing as well.

The other big story was Austria’s entry, Conchita Wurst, who grabbed headlines for months before.  Conchita is often called a drag act, but she actually is interested in offering a very astute and powerful commentary on gender and tolerance.  And she can really sing!  When she was included, the Ministry of Information in Belarus petitioned for Conchita to be edited out of that country’s broadcast.  Of course they slung slurs.  Russian officials followed suit as well.  It was widely expected that the Eastern European countries would all refuse to vote for Conchita and her chances were not good.  However, along with Ukraine, it was thought she might have a chance if the other countries rallied.

And not only did they rally, even some of the dismissed Eastern European block threw their votes behind Conchita.

The Eurovision voting process (much mocked) is usually painful, but this night it was actually dramatic and exciting.  At the midway point, Conchita’s votes began to edge up until she was in a three-way race with Sweden (dull song) and the Netherlands (out of place but awesome song).  The camera kept showing a clearly emotional Conchita as she pulled into the lead by locking down several “12 point” votes all in a row.  She was voted top by Greece, Sweden, Italy, Slovenia (!), Finland, Spain, Switzerland, the Netherlands, the UK, Belgium, Portugal, Israel (!), and Ireland.  Iceland, Norway, France, Hungary, Malta, Georgia (!) and Lithuania (!) gave her the second highest “deux points“.  Conchita was able to rally most of western Europe and even some of eastern Europe for an impressive win.

Perhaps also unsurprisingly, the following countries gave her none or a single point: Belarus, Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Poland.  Screw you Belarus, Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Poland.

There will be endless debate as to whether it was a gimmick win or if there was something stronger at work.  Her song was memorable and definitely one of the better entries this year (a sorta Bond meets Ru Paul anthem), so I don’t think the gimmick argument is very strong (and gender gimmicks can certainly cut both ways).  With all of the publicity around her leading up to the finals, the world found out that not only is Conchita a very nice person, she’s also very smart and savvy about what she is doing, and that she was there at Eurovision to challenge bigotry and support minorities, especially gays, lesbians, and transgenders.

I believe Conchita came to embody that message through all of the publicity, and in a contest overshadowed by Russian aggression toward the Ukraine and its gay and lesbian population, the Eurovision voting became what it always has been: political.  It was a pan-European thumbing of the nose at Putin’s simple fascism and the warm embrace of complexity and freedom.  Well done Conchita and well done Eurovision!

Another bonus on top of all this goodness was the fact that there were some really great songs this year!  Many more than the last two years that’s for sure.  I’ll post my favorites below.  Musical tastes are so subjective, but apart from some snoozy ballads that seemed to go nowhere, I’m glad Poland’s soft core mess did not place very high, and I’m secretly happy anti-gay Belarus and Azerbaijan’s entries did not do well either (although Belarus’ was catchy).

Along with Conchita from Austria, my top five were:

The Netherlands.   The Common Linnets – Calm After The Storm.  They came in second, although everyone thought their sound was too out of place.  An amazing song and performance, the second difference and distinction the voters recognized this year.

Greece.  Freaky Fortune feat. RiskyKidd – Rise Up.  Greece is my guilty pleasure, and always one of my favorites each year.  They replaced their usual busty female singer strategy with an energetic male duo, and bonus points for singing while on a trampoline!  A great fun song.

Iceland. Pollapönk – No Prejudice. Rounding out the inclusion theme, a punky tune about fighting prejudice with truly awesome outfits and choreography.

Romania. Paula Seling & OVI – Miracle. Overshadowed by the round keyboard, and a bit forgettable after you hear it, but catchy europop nevertheless.

Malta. Firelight – Coming Home. They didn’t place very high, and were called a bit derivative, but their song proved very catchy and grew on me when I listened to it again.

Some other good ones:

  • Italy.  Emma – La Mia Città.  I liked the brassy balls of this band.  They took a chance on the rocky song, singing in Italian, and the costumes (which were pretty amazing).  I downloaded it and will listen to it (and even practice my Italian).
  • Denmark. Basim – Cliche Love Song. Catchy and energetic, but pretty brainless.
  • Germany.   Elaiza – Is it right.  Germany always gets shut out with the political voting, but I liked this “P!nk goes Oompah” entry.
  • Slovenia.  Tinkara Kovač – Round and round.  Did horribly in the voting, but I though was a pretty solid Eurovision song.  I even forgave the flute.
  • Switzerland.  Sebalter – Hunter Of Stars.  I can’t stand whistling in songs, but this was saved by his charisma and his musical ability.
  • San Marino.  Valentina Monetta – Maybe (Forse).  Bless little San Marino for finally getting in.  Pretty parochial ballad but listenable.  Did horribly in the voting (but not as bad as France who was indeed terrible).