Eurovision: Politics v pageantry

By Tim Stanley

Winning song about ethnic cleansing epitomises is annual event's mad mix of international issues and idiocy.
Ukraine won with a highly political song. Photo / AP
Ukraine won with a highly political song. Photo / AP

For its fans, the annual guilty pleasure that is Eurovision can be read in all sorts of ways. On the one hand, kitsch entertainment. On the other, deadly serious international rivalry. This is where camp and politics collide: 26 countries, battling it out for the title of best song with a fervour that is both ridiculous and sublime. This year it was won by Jamala of Ukraine: a pretty lady crowbarred into a cocktail dress who sang about the ethnic cleansing of the Crimean Tatars by their former Russian overlords. Ukraine's prize will be to host the contest next year in Kiev. Will the Russians go? If so, will they ever leave?

Millions of Europeans tune in to watch a show that consistently defies common sense. Almost everyone sings in English but the British haven't won since 1997. Competitors are drawn from the member countries of the European Broadcasting Union - not just continental Europe - so can include distinctly non-European nations like Azerbaijan. Australia has also recently been invited along simply because they are so jolly keen to come - something they might want to remember next time they turn away a boatload of refugees.

You'd struggle to detect any true musical competition. The songs are forgettable and the singing as tuneless as cats making love. No, the pleasure lies in spotting foreign archetypes. Balkan countries are generally miserable; Scandinavians are Aryan divinities. France's entry this year looked like he'd chat you up on the beach, marry you, empty your bank account and run off with your best friend.

Then there are the fashions, which suggest a post-apocalyptic Hell designed by Jean Paul Gaultier. Poland's entry - moustache, long red coat, looked as if he should have been making white tigers disappear in Las Vegas. Germany - turquoise taffeta dress with rainbow antennae - looked uncomfortably like a Japanese fetish cartoon. My personal favourite was Bulgaria. Utterly insane, chirruping like a little bird, she strutted around the stage dressed as a Transformer midway between evolution and a Ford Capri.

The Swedish hosts opened Saturday night's show by talking about Europe's divisions, and how the evening would "unite us in song". Ukraine's morbid entry (actual lyrics: "They come to your house/ They kill you all") played very well to the continental audience's desire to show solidarity with someone. Russia, incidentally, has some right to be miffed. Ukraine was occupied by the USSR, yes, but it was also occupied by the Nazis, who wreaked at least an equal amount of horror. And a lot of contemporary Ukraine still identifies with Moscow. When Ukraine hosts next year's show it will surely be the most political in memory. If I were Vladimir Putin, I'd be tempted to cut off the electricity.

- Daily Telegraph UK

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