Thursday 26 April 2018

All kinds of everything

We all recognise the iconic theme music. We all associate this time of year with the event. And cometh the hour, we'll all be sitting around the TV, watching Eurovision. Just like we do every year.

Well, maybe not quite everyone will watch this semi-final, coming live from the Fortuna Düsseldorf in Germany. The continent-wide audience still hasn't quite come to terms with the fact that Eurovision now requires a play-off system, like the Champions League or some other sporting event, such is the number of countries now competing. And our own entrants, the not-really-singing sensation that is Jedward, don't feature until Thursday night's second semi-final.

Despite their denials, despite all the derision heaped on its poor head by trendy people with impeccable taste, the contest continues to enjoy huge viewing figures, year after year, decade after decade.

Everyone has their favourite bits, their little Eurovision rituals. One person will religiously sit through the whole thing; another will simply pop their head in from time to time, to make mildly xenophobic jokes about eastern Europeans' fashion sense and ask is Azerbaijan really in Europe anyway? A large chunk of the viewership, of course, just tune in for the interval spectacular and then the most important part: the voting.

Sure, the competition is awful kitsch when you think about it. It will never win any awards and it won't be confused with The Wire or Newsnight any time soon. But none of that really matters: this is Eurovision, and in a paradoxical kind of way, it's beyond disparagement.

Indeed, many of us watch Eurovision precisely because it's so bad. What other event presents such a woeful array of tuneless caterwauling, ludicrous dancing and 'performance art' that looks like it was choreographed by a drunken monkey?

If it's high art you want, tune into the Avant-Garde Compositions for Bassoon and Timpani Competition. Eurovision is about fun, silliness, irony and shouting at Marty Whelan to stop attempting to be funny. RTE's veteran jack-of-all-trades broadcaster has been commenting on the competition for the last half-decade or so, and God love him, he's painful.

Of course, you need someone there to move the whole thing along for the viewers and keep everyone amused, but there's one slight problem with this: Marty just isn't funny. At all. He repeats the same lame jokes over and over, blithely indifferent to the law of diminishing comedic returns.

Still, we'll overlook that for this European institution, this titan of trash TV.

The Eurovision Song Contest was born in the 1950s, when a war-torn continent was looking for ways to heal deep wounds.

The European Broadcasting Union decided to organise a "light entertainment programme" for this purpose. The first competition was held in Lugano, Switzerland, in 1956.

Only seven countries took part then and the inaugural winner was the host country, though of course Ireland holds the record for most victories, seven, the last being Eimear Quinn with 'The Voice' in 1996.

That was at the tail-end of an unparalleled era of song contest dominance, with Ireland also winning gold in 1987, 1992, 1993 and 1994. (Our previous victories came in 1970 and 1980.) It was a time when we sort of assumed we'd win Eurovision every year; little did we know the horrors that awaited. No win for a decade and a half, failing to even make the final more than once, a song written by Brian McFadden, the McCaul twins, Dustin the Turkey. . .

Not every Eurovision song has been as dire as those last mentioned, however. Indeed a number of classic pop songs featured down the years, the most famous being ABBA's 'Waterloo'. 'That's Amore', later immortalised by Dean Martin, began life as a Eurovision song called 'Nel Blu di Pinto Di Blu'.

Meanwhile, the Riverdance phenomenon was kickstarted at the 1994 interval act, and that basically created an entire industry that has earned hundreds of millions around the world. Which isn't something you can say about the Avant-Garde Compositions for Bassoon and Timpani Competition.

Incidentally, Jedward are favourites to win the contest this year, according to a search-related algorithm run by Google. Will this be the dawn of another great era for Ireland in Eurovision? Let's hope so.

Irish Independent

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