I KIND of feel bad for Jedward. Modern pop-culture demands cheesy envelope-pushing à la Lady Gaga, and sex-ified soloists akin to Kim Kardashian. They were just following suit at the 57th Eurovision Song Contest in Baku.
Eurovision stage performances have become increasingly bizarre since the introduction of tele-voting in 1997. Gone is the bunch of seasoned professionals weighing in on the song, the costume and the staging – enter the public voting for the stand out act; be it most emotion-enducing performance, whackiest get-up, or closest neighbour.
The competition is ‘on’ in so many respects that the song element has really suffered. Costuming, either by fashion designer or circus seamstress, combined with gimmicky dance troupes and thematic surrealism dominate performances over singing ability, quality of songwriting and real stage presence.
I personally had not heard Jeward’s ‘Waterline’ until the final performance but I can still call it up for reference without a trip to Youtube. In the context of the Eurovision it’s a good song – albeit sung by a pair of near tone-deaf popcorn pixies. What Team John and Edward figured was that their physical presentation and theatrics would put them in pole position.
Jedward allegedly funded the €7,000 Elizabethan spacesuits themselves. What a dreary sign of a lack of faith in their singing abilities. The problem was that the costume bore no relation to the song – a tactic that works for Lady Gaga. She rarely goes for the obvious in dressing for a video or stage performance. She is unpredictable, but with an incredible voice. That’s why her fan base finds her so addictive.
Costume aside, Jedward’s voices are predictably uninspiring, so the whole thing fell flat. In attempting to be something they are not – talented artists with a unique look – they came off as sad attention-seekers. I swear if I was not already familiar with their sex, I would have spent much of the performance trying to break down the androgyny brought on by the oddly curvy glam-armour.
Jedward were not alone in the pursuit of the win, armed with a bag of gimmicks and, in places, dodgy pipes. And were we ever entertained by them all. The Eurovision has a trick of serving you up delights you never thought you would voluntarily sit through.
The world didn’t know it had been waiting for a faux-live cookie oven with six Russian granny party persuaders. Brunette being the new blonde; Cyprus, Azerbaijan, Romania, Greece, Spain and Ukraine put their best foot forward with the closest thing to a Kardashian they could find who could move and hold a microphone - all decked out in Kim-centric Grecian showgirl chic and a Geordie Shore house-full of make-up.
No Euro cheese-fest is complete without a couple of captain’s hats. Denmark and Turkey happily obliged in this regard, with the latter adding a sail-boat mimed with a prison blanket and a huge white bath towel for good measure. No one told these acts that to start an international career wearing a naval hat, is to wear it forever – look at Captain & Tennille.
Though there was a general feel of Gaga’s influence in wild staging and dancer performances, Albania and Bosnia & Herzegovina truly went there with solo acts reflecting her power ballad quirk. Rona Nishliu piled up her blonde dreadlocks into an enormous bun - one strand wrapped around her neck like a pet snake – paired with a dramatic blue boob-curtained sorceress gown. Maya Sar treated us to a powerful piano moment in a ‘Tina Turner circa Mad Max’ meets ‘Ming the Merciless’ pointy shouldered gown.
Who was not head over heels for the man from Lithuania, Donny Mortell, who opened his song ‘Love is Blind’ in a sparkly blindfold, only to rip it off and jump head over heels like he was part Michael Jackson, part rubber band.
There was classy tailoring from competitors FYR Macedonia, Iceland and Estonia who missed the mark by taking the whole thing too seriously. Also coming up short were the likes of Norway, Germany and Malta who seemed to showcase what an individual can get for €50 at H&M.
Speaking of Malta, I cannot take men in pointy brogues, skinny jeans and Morrissey quiffs seriously. I was neither laughing with nor at the Euro metrosexuals.
Sartorial winners on the night were France’s Anggun and Sweden’s Loreen. Anggun’s staging was simple but topical, featuring Olympic-style gymnast performers and a Jean Paul Gaultier custom-made corseted warrior gown with a high flying chiffon cape.
It was surprising among all the fluff, and given the trend for the bizarre in Eurovision winner history, that Loreen’s trance-ninja performance took the prize. It was a perfectly good entry, but we are not accustomed to a gimmick-lite winner. What she did, she did well. Her look was the embodiment of fashion: full brunette hair, and a simple black plunging jumpsuit.
One brunette who bit off more than she could chew, causing us all to grieve for an actual talent, was the Amy Winehouse look-a-like competing for Italy.
The Eurovision is no longer a song contest. Barely anyone can recall more than one tune from Saturday night’s performances. Everyone is talking about the blindfold, Jedward’s awkward video game armour and the karate-kid.
Think back to Abba, Paul Harrington and Johnny Logan – can you recall what they were wearing or if they had contortionist dancers? It has become predominantly a contest of costume and staging, rather than song writing and singing. Granted Bucks Fizz did a great job with their skirt-ripping antics back in the ‘80s, but the song was really great.
Sweden’s song had already topped the charts around Europe, and they still played the muted ninja gimmick for the win. One could take this as a sign that underplayed quirk is what Europe is looking for. But despite Sweden’s landslide, the singing grannies and one each of the Kim Kardashians and Lady Gagas followed in the top rankings. They may not have been Europe’s first choice but the contest would have been far less entertaining without them.
Aisling tweets @ashinyoconnor