Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Square-Eyed Couch Potato: June 2014

OK so I know I said that I wouldn't be doing a TV review until the end of July, but I've been on holiday this week and had some spare time, so here's a quick look back at June's TV.

As I mentioned in the last Square-Eyed, a new TV channel has taken to the airwaves - STV Glasgow.  It's a local version of STV which is the Scottish version of ITV....anyway as you'd expect from local telly it's a bit low-budget.  Someone on Twitter, I think, referred to it as "two couches facing the Clyde" which kind of sums it up!

The channel's flagship evening show is "THE RIVERSIDE SHOW" - picture that legendary STV teatime show "The Hour" (in the days before The Chase) re-imagined by posh Glasgow university people.  The magazine format is a bit like "The One Show" - or in Glaswegian should that be "The Wan Show" (!) - and is best watched pre-recorded and on fast-forward, due to (a) too many ad breaks and (b) you can't please everyone all the time.  There are some occasional interesting features but my problem with it is that it's just too posh.  Come on STV Glasgow - give us more 'ordinary' people rather than what feels like a parade of ex-Glasgow Yoonie alumni, picked for their posh-ness.

I wanted to mention one unmissable programme which I'm addicted to on this new channel is a Polish-language drama, "CZAS HONORU" (Days of Honour) which is set in Warsaw during World War II, and looks at life under Nazi occupation from a Polish perspective - just weeks after "Generation War" did the same for the Germans.  It's gripping and highly addictive viewing, and of course it always helps when there are some not-entirely-unattractive cast members to enjoy ;) Anyway at the moment this is only being screened in the Glasgow area but I think it would be a very good idea if, say, ITV3 picked this up for transmission across the rest of the UK.  It's probably my favourite TV drama at the moment, and after every episode finishes I can't wait for the next one.

Which would probably make it a perfect candidate for that most Noughties thing, binge-watching.  Yes, why watch one programme when you can watch at least 7 episodes in a row.  Unfortunately my uninspiring attention span doesn't run to binge-watching.  Two episodes in a row is a major achievement for me.  So to get to almost three episodes in a row is record-breaking.  I managed that for the re-run of "BROADCHURCH" on another new channel, ITV Encore.  Broadchurch was one of the most talked about British dramas of last year, but me being me, I missed it.  My work colleagues raved on about it, and it was described in the British media as the closest thing to a Nordic drama.  So when it was finally repeated, I had to check it out.  It was certainly worth watching, but between you and me I still prefer my Nordics. 

Talking of which, I still haven't seen the final Swedish series of "WALLANDER" (BBC4) but it's been Sky Plussed and I'm ever hopeful that I'll finally get round to watching it before 2014 is out! :))

Now, I come from a generation which is old enough to remember a time when - wait for it - not every World Cup match was televised live on TV.  We have come a long way since then of course, as these days the TV channels make sure that we don't miss a minute of any game.  Yes, it's World Cup time in Brazil, with all the usual irritating commentators and pundits in place.  Unfortunately I haven't seen as many games as I'd have liked - but what I really would have appreciated, particularly during the group stages, would have been a highlights programme on TV at a decent hour.  Is that too much to ask?

It's just as well that the World Cup is all over our telly at the moment as there's really not much else, is there??  The big, massive, major problem with TV in this country at the moment is the alarming growth in the 'blame the poor' documentaries (hello Channel 5/Channel 4!) - "Big fat illegal immigrant gypsy mums of 13 on benefits and proud". What's happened to British TV's classic tradition of investigative documentary making?  Sadly dead and gone by the looks of it....

Something else which is losing its appeal is "CORONATION STREET" (ITV) which I have watched for virtually all my life.  Corrie was once renowned for its humour, now all we have are murders, affairs, and people shouting at each other in almost every scene.  Flippin' eck, I thought we'd walked into EastEnders.  Anyway, Tina was recently killed off of course, I'm a bit annoyed that we got to see the identity of the killer when a whodunit would have been so much interesting.  In real life, Michelle Keegan has quit the show for a life in Essex with "star of ITV2" Mark Wright.  Presumably she will now have more time to top up her tan.  Maybe the arrival of Les Dennis in the show might bring some much-needed comedy: if Steve McDonald is described as the best comedy character in the show, then that really says a lot about how much this show is in decline. 

Back to where we started - in Glasgow.  Based on its first episode, "I BELONG TO GLASGOW" (BBC1 Scotland)  is a winner.  Week 1 saw Chewin' The Fat's Karen Dunbar with her own take on her adopted home city, exploring everything from the gay scene to karaoke and the notorious Glasgow diet.  Looking forward to the remaining episodes.

Eurovision Song Contest 2014: The Grand Final, Saturday 10th May 2014

The waiting is over.  On a personal note, it's been a particularly enjoyable fortnight's lead-up to the contest, for a number of reasons.  Firstly, the timing - I'm usually either on holiday on Eurovision week, or the week after, but this year I timed it perfectly and was able to follow all the rehearsals and the week of the contest itself.  And then there was Twitter.  All my best Twitter friends who were in Copenhagen really brought the contest alive.  For various reasons I can't go to Eurovision so this was like the next best thing to being there, for this stay-at-home fan. 

But on Saturday, 10th May, it's just me, mum, and the telly.  And mum is not in Eurovision mood. For which I apologise in advance. As ever, don't expect detailed analysis (you'll find that on many of the excellent ESC sites out there in internet land), just some musings by (a) an obsessive fan and (b) someone who isn't.

The show begins with that oh-so-21st-century thang, an X Factor-style recap of last year's festivities in Sweden.  Which makes way for an army of James Bonds (or Milk Tray men!) - delete as appropriate -  making their way from Malmö to Copenhagen, (to the soundtrack of Denmark's first ever ESC winner, "Dansevise" from 1963) ending in a very athletic flag parade.  As it turns out, that's not the last James Bond reference of the night.  Anyway it's not quite as spectacular as last year's 'Bridge' entry in Malmö but it's still pretty good.  I like the way they're introducing the artists who all come out on stage individually to that "woo-hoo" song which was a hit a few years ago and still gets up my nose if I'm honest.  Austria's Conchita Wurst gets the biggest roar of appreciation from the audience and there are also big cheers for Basim (Denmark) and The Common Linnets (Netherlands) whilst the UK's Molly also receives a warm reception.

Then it's time for confetti pyros! I don't envy the poor cleaners who will have to clear all this up: Graham Norton agrees.  The three hosts, Lise, Pilou and Nikolaj 'join us' (groan) on stage.  Pilou kicks off his running Chinese gag which would, um, run and run and run.  The boys are in nice suits and Lise is in a rather drab beige ballgown - perhaps a subtle tribute to the queen of beige herself, Emmelie de Forest? 

In the technically advanced land that is the UK, "UK viewers cannot vote by text".  (This doesn't really matter to me as it takes me about half an hour to send a text anyway...!).  UK viewers can't app-vote either. At least Graham Norton is explaining that the jury final took place on the night before the Grand Final, and this was which the international juries voted on.  Their votes are worth 50% of the overall total. What no-one really mentioned was the influence which the jury ranking system would have on that overall total. 

As it turns out I don't get to hear much of what the presenters say, and can't really tell if Graham Norton's commentary is any good or not, as my mum talks over everything from the beginning to the end of the show.  She hasn't been very well over recent months so I will let this go, and rewatch some parts of the show later to complete my review. 


UKRAINE: "Tick-Tock" - Mariya Yaremchuk.

The hamster wheel's still there, she is still wearing that midnight blue dress and she is still stunning. However it's also still too gimmicky and the song just doesn't cut it for me: it does nothing to change my view that Ukraine hasn't sent a decent song to ESC since "Shady Lady". However you have to hand it to Ukraine for maximising the potential of every entry they send.  Talking of recreating flags, at one point the guy in the hamster wheel recreates the three-legged Isle of Man flag.

Mum: Would this song be called Tick Tock?
Laura: Indeed.  There's too many props here.  Ukraine is notorious for throwing everything including the kitchen sink at their songs.  This will be top 20 but probably more to do with the current Ukraine-Russia conflict and sympathy votes accordingly.

BELARUS: "Cheesecake" - Teo.

A funny thing happened on the way to Eurovision.  When "Cheesecake" won the Belarus final I thought it was ok but nothing more.  Yet it was one of those songs which grew on me as it became more and more familiar.  So far so good.

And then it happened.  Behold the cult of #TwerpyHamsterDave.

This started with the misheard lyric in the song's chorus which started in our little Twitter fan bubble - it has become "I don't wanna be your twerpy hamster Dave" to the point where I am completely disinterested in actually learning the real lyrics. I explain the whole twerpy phenomenon to mum but she doesn't really understand.  Graham Norton doesn't seem all that keen on this one.

M: He looks familiar - have I seen him before?
L: Yes he was on the other night.
M: I like that little dance he does.
L: This whole song has just reached a new level of greatness thanks to #TwerpyHamsterDave.  I really like it now.
M: I can't see this doing very well.

AZERBAIJAN: "Start A Fire" - Dilara Kazimova.

She has a presence and dare I say, a sense of wonderment about her, which is wasted on this non-song.  I've heard this song countless times and still struggle to make out the lyrics apart from "start a fire".

M: This is boring me.
L: Ditto here.  The trapeze act is just a distraction.  They've always been up there in the top 5 but I can't see this keeping that record going.

ICELAND: "No Prejudice" - Pollapönk.

As in the semi-final, it's an animated and infectious performance which sticks out after the Azeri snooze-fest. 

L: Ppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppp.  I really love this now.
M: It's very colourful, but not much of a song.
L: I disagree.  The lyrics are actually very good and there's a strong message in there. 

NORWAY: "Silent Storm" - Carl Espen. 

Or according to Graham Norton, Carl Epsen.  Que??  Whatever way you pronounce it, Carl's vulnerability when performing this song never fails to move me, and I don't know about you but I'm in bits by the end of it. 

M: I remember him!
L:  This is a bloody great song.  And listen to the cheers from the crowd!
M: He reminds me of someone.  This is a very hard song to sing, but he sings it well. If this doesn't finish in a high position it will be a fraud!

ROMANIA: "Miracle" - Paula Seling and Ovi.

Remember when Simon Cowell used to say on all those talent shows that "this sounds a bit too cruise ship cabaret?".  Where once in 2010 they were an appealing couple, in 2014 they're just annoying.

M: He's a wee man isn't he, compared to her.
L: Although he's probably not wearing 4-inch heels.
M: I remember this from the other night.  He's getting on my wick now.
L: The song is just far too generic. 
M: And it's too loud.  Turn it down.  These songs are too samey.
L: I don't think you could ever say that any of these songs this year sound the same!

(things are getting pretty heated at this point so let's move on).

ARMENIA: "Not Alone" - Aram MP3.

Once an absolute pre-contest fave, and then its chances spectacularly bombed.

M: My main problem with this is that there are too many strobes and lights.
L: He's not doing it for me tonight at all: I've heard him sing better than this.
M: And then the wind started up.
L: OK you're not alone.  We hear you.

This is perhaps the most disappointing performance from a favourite that I can remember in a long time.  I don't think ESC will be heading to Armenia next year.

MONTENEGRO: "Moj Svijet" - Sergej Cetkovic.

I then go into ranting mode about the completely unnecessary use of a figure skater on stage.  Rant out of the way, let's talk about the song.

L: The Balkan ballads always do well here, and I think this is rather lovely.
M: (goes into inexplicable rant) I can't believe what I'm watching.  The songs are all so forgettable beyond belief.
L: I really don't understand where all this is coming from.  This is one of the best contests in recent years so please stop slagging it off!!

POLAND: "My Slowianie - We Are Slavic" - Donatan and Cleo.

L: Boobs, that's all.
M: Typical Eurovision!
L: They're like the Babushkis' younger Polish cousins.
M: This is hellish.  Where is this from?  I hate this. 
L: But it has to be said, they sure as hell know how to churn butter in a seductive manner ;)

GREECE: "Rise Up" - Freaky Fortune featuring Riskykidd.

The excitement is all too much for Risky who is going off on one in his opening rap. 

L: We'll see how long until you say...go on, say it.
M: Is this song called Rise Up?  I'm surprised everyone doesn't rise up and walk out!
L: Now come on, I'll admit that the vocals aren't the best, but I still like the song.  And I really wish I was on that trampoline with them ;))

Now....the wurst is yet to come!

AUSTRIA: "Rise Like A Phoenix" - Conchita Wurst.

If winners were judged by cheers from the audience, then she's already a winner. 

M: I still can't really understand what he/she is about.
(At this point, I have to give mum yet another explanation about Conchita).
M: She looks great though.  I love her eyes too!
L: Is ESC going to Vienna?  Looks like it!

GERMANY: "Is It Right" - Elaiza.

Otherwise known as "Is It S***e" at EuropeCrazy HQ.

L: I still don't like this.  At. All.
M: The German public must have been really stupid to pick this one.
L: This didn't deserve to win their final (I go on to explain to mum that Unheilig should have won the national final....)
M: Her outfit is terrible too.  There is nothing good about this at all.
L: It's still my tip for the bottom of the big 6, and even the whole scoreboard.
M: If it's yes or even no? Get off!!

Break time brings another instalment of the book of records: the highest note.  Which belongs to Croatia's entry from 1996, which, fact fans, is one of my least favourite contests ever. 

SWEDEN: "Undo" - Sanna Nielsen.

Another of this year's major contenders.  It's an impressive set, and the audience is singing along.

M: What age is she?  She looks quite old.
L: She's 29.
M: Never!
L: It's true.
M: This is the worst Eurovision ever for dazzling lights!!

My migraine-suffering mum is really struggling by this stage.  As Graham Norton would say: "Many of the songs contain flashing images".

Even though I have never particularly liked this song, I can probably now understand its appeal. It's a very well-staged professional product which is guaranteed votes.  But for me, it's still crucially lacking any heart.

FRANCE: "Moustache" - Twin Twin.

Twin Twin Oh Yeah!!
L: This is catchy.  I know that not many people like this, but I do.
M: Are they a group?
L: yes.
M: Interesting hair.
L: Je veux ci je veux ca.  I like the lyrics, and the song has a message, but I think that will be lost on a lot of people.  This is probably bombing.
M: All the flashing lights have completely ruined my night. 

RUSSIA: "Shine" - The Tolmachevy Sisters.

And now from one set of twins to another.  This time, with interlocked hair and ready-made booing.

L: This is a very confident "we're on our way to invade you" performance. 
M: They don't deserve the boos.  They are just a couple of young girls and they don't deserve that.
L: But it's what they represent which is being booed.  I'm not advocating booing them at all, but I can understand why it's happening.

The main problem I have with this song and performance is that it's just too forceful and sterile.  Their professionalism is not in any doubt though, and I think that will be rewarded with votes.

ITALY: "La Mia Citta" - Emma Marrone.

Another one of the big 5.  I explain to mum that Emma is a big star in Italy but this is not a patch on "Non è L'Inferno" which won Sanremo 2012.  But all of this pales into insignificance as the lights are flashing again.  Emma's dressed as a 21st century Roman empress, but does she impress?

M: Not more bloody flashing images!!  Can they not just sing?  I don't like this.
L: She is capable of much better than this, but having said that, I like this song. 
M: Eurovision is far too serious's lost its humour.
L: It's still very enjoyable though.  I hope Emma does well, as I love Italy in Eurovision.
M: I just wish the song was more....melodic.  More traditional Italian.
L: I'm just glad it's in the Italian language.

SLOVENIA: "Round and Round" - Tinkara Kovac.

It's a competent flute-flaunting performance from Tinkara.  Slovenia in the final is a rarity indeed, so it's just lovely to see them here anyway.

M: This is ok, although quite bland.
L: I can't see it doing that well though.  There is such a high standard this year that this one will probably get lost. 

FINLAND: "Something Better" - Softengine.

Yay!!! But mum.....
L: Warning - the next performance contains strobe lighting, etc etc.  I'm really glad this made it though!  They have really made the best of their staging/lighting.
M: The lighting is (still) getting on my wick.  I like this group though.  Good song.

SPAIN: "Dancing In The Rain" - Ruth Lorenzo.

I explain to mum that she appeared in the British version of X Factor and is therefore known to British viewers.

L: I'm not liking this at all.  Get the woman a hairdryer.
M: She's taking the song title a bit too literally.
L: I'm off for my toilet break now because Switzerland is on next!!!!
M: She's far too loud.

SWITZERLAND: "Hunter of Stars" - Sebalter.


I explain to mum that she missed him in the semi-final but that is not going to happen again. Never mind the fact that I am completely and utterly under the spell of Sebastiano Pau-Lessi, isn't "Hunter of Stars" such an infectious song?  If you head over to this blog around Christmas time you probably won't be surprised to find this song in my year-end top 10.

L: God, that guy could charm the birds out of the trees.  I love him.
M: Yes he is very good looking...strange song though.
L: I absolutely love it now, so catchy and likeable. 

And if you're participating in a pyro curtain drinking game, drink now :)

HUNGARY: "Running" - Andras Kallay-Saunders.

As I said in the semi-final, I'm not too happy with the interpretative dance.  The subject matter would have been fine on its own.

M: I don't like this song, I'm not impressed.
L: See, I do like it, but I would have changed the staging of it.  I really want Hungary to win it one of these years - they've entered some good songs over the years. 

Of which "Sound of Our Hearts" remains my favourite.  I wish Compact Disco would come back and represent Hungary some time.

MALTA: "Coming Home" - Firelight.

Another pre-contest favourite of mine.

M: Not more bloody flashing images!!
L: You have to admit though that it's some show.
M: Some size of set anyway.
L: I still like this song a lot.  Their performance tonight is much better and more confident than in the semi-final.

DENMARK: "Cliché Love Song" - Basim.

This has become one of my pre-contest favourites and finally, local favourite Basim gets the chance to wow the viewers across Europe.  "Cliche Love Song" might annoy a lot of people, but for me it has a smashing feelgood factor, and puts a big smile on my face every time I hear it.

L: I still think this is going to do very well, although it's not a patch on the staging in the national final.
M: (sings) "You to me are everything..."
L: I know it sounds as if it's ripped off another song, and he's a bit of a Danish Bruno Mars, but I still really like it!

There is a silly 'love' banner draped towards the end of the song where the Danish flag used to be in the national final.  Why?  They should have kept the Dannebrog in: it would have been a nice nod to the fact that the contest is coming from Denmark this year.

NETHERLANDS: "Calm After The Storm" - The Common Linnets.

Sing along with the Common Linnets...
What everyone didn't expect was that since the semi-final two nights ago, "Calm After The Storm" has soared up the iTunes charts all over Europe - even here in the UK!! - and become a major contender.  The song/outfits/staging/performance is just the complete package and whilst it's a million miles from "old" Eurovision, I'm delighted that a song like this is doing so well, if only to help to change the (non-fan) viewing public's perception of the contest, and break down that peculiar stigma which still exists in this country about ESC.

M: (sings) "Tulips from Amsterdam"/"Every Breath You Take".
L: Since the semi-final the other night this has become a really big hit so it's going to do very well tonight - serious contenders. 3rd from last is a very good draw.
M: This does have a very good chance.
L: Netherlands haven't won for almost 40 years.
M: So it's about time they won it then!

SAN MARINO: "Maybe" - Valentina Monetta.

Unashamedly, unapologetically, 'old Eurovision' with a wind machine and a talky bit and Ralf Siegel doing a Lloyd Webber 'featuring' bit on the old piano. 

L: She's been in it 3 years in a row and everyone's happy that she's made the final.
M: This is very, very old fashioned compared to a lot of the other songs. 
L: "Maybe" (groan) that's why it appealed to a section of the voters then.


UNITED KINGDOM: "Children of the Universe" - Molly.

I'm not being patriotic here, but I have to say that the postcard - a Union Jack made out of London buses, Post Office vans and an army of willing volunteers in blue cagoules - is probably one of the best and most ambitious postcards this year.  Could we say the same about our song and singer?

The previously unknown Molly Smitten-Downes was chosen to represent the UK this year, using the 'BBC Introducing' process.  During one of the programmes on the excellent pop-up radio station BBC Radio 2 Eurovision, I think it was Guy Freeman who said that this is part of a long-term strategy for the BBC at Eurovision.  Maybe the Beeb has finally got the message that they must try harder to attempt to win the contest.  This year's UK singer and song have certainly had a much warmer reception from the fan community in the weeks leading up to the contest, the "Children of the Universe" video received lots of airplay on Chart Show TV but there could have been more promotion both here and on the continent.

It's a pity that Molly's performance is a bit of an anti-climax after that impressive postcard.  Molly is all post-apocalyptic gold lame and gladiator sandals.  There's an enthusiastic drummer and some reliable backing singers, and Molly gives a good enough performance; that in itself is a nice change for a UK entry (!) but crucially, the spark is missing, and Molly fails to make that vital connection required of a winning entry. 

M: (scoffing): Power to the people! 
L: It's a good performance but that's all.  We need something more special than that.
M: It's too repetitive, and not a very likeable tune. 

Then the commentators get a little tribute from Pilou and Nikolaj - and they single out Graham Norton.  Is that an omen?  Anyway it's more work for the cleaners tomorrow as this tribute culminates in a shower of confetti.

Europe - start voting now!!  Which here at EuropeCrazy HQ means....dialling the number for Switzerland!

Interval act time, by a group of people called Momoland.  They are defying gravity, sitting at the top of ladders, singing a "Joyful" song to the tune of Ode to Joy.  On first viewing, I really don't get the point, and neither, it seems does the audience, given their rather muted reaction.

I rewatched this segment again after the contest and listened closely to the lyrics (which are just lovely) after which time I felt a bit more positive about this interval act.

Next up, the three hosts sing this "twelve points" song - yes, 12 is such a mindblowing number - and cue more of that running joke about China.  Nikolaj to Pilou: "you keep going on and on about China...!" Of course I like Pilou, but I'm getting bored with that running joke.

Back in the green room, Lise introduces Gaia from Malta, a little girl with a huge voice, who won Junior ESC last year and I have no doubt that we'll see her back in the 'big' ESC representing her home country in a few years. 

M: I didn't know there was a junior Eurovision.
L: Yes there is, it's been going for a few years, the UK used to be in it!

Yet another recap to gather up the last of the votes.  Then....Europe - stop voting now!

Whilst the votes are counted, Pilou takes us to the museum of Eurovision history - including an interactive Johnny Logan, kiddie-scaring Lordi, and gyllene skor-wearing Herreys.  I wish that such a thing existed!

Lise's in the green room, providing a full English breakfast to Richard from Firelight, a curly wurly cake to Molly and Twin Twin's favourite meal - they certainly react a lot more enthusiastically than Molly, whose reaction briefly becomes an internet sensation.

Here's a 'fun fact', Pilou - EMMELIE DE FOREST IS NOT WEARING BEIGE. Appropriately for her name, she's got twigs in her pink and white dress.  A brief recap of "Only Teardrops" leads into a performance of this year's official ESC song "Rainmaker".  The stage is spectacularly transformed into a giant pool, and the dancers jump into the moat around the side of the stage.  Then this year's contestants all join Emmelie on stage for the song's finale, singing, dancing and waving flags.  It's a very satisfying end to a modern, stylish, professional production by DR.  But it's now on to the voting results and all the predictable and unpredictable craziness which that brings.

The 12s to Russia from Azerbaijan and Belarus are greeted with mass booing, whilst there are various 12s being thrown around in the early part of the voting to Spain, Sweden, Hungary, Belarus, Italy, Armenia, Montenegro and an 'interesting' (to say the least) 12 from San Marino to Azerbaijan.  What does become very clear, very quickly though, is that the pre-contest worries that much of Europe would not accept Conchita Wurst, turn out to be unfounded.  12s start to fly Austria's way - including from the UK - and particularly in the final half of the voting, the 12s are shared almost exclusively between Conchita and her closest competitors, The Common Linnets from the Netherlands.  With 3 juries to declare, Conchita is announced as the winner.  With their first Eurovision win in 48 years, it's finally time for Austria to "rise like a phoenix!!"  Both of us on the EuropeCrazy HQ were particularly delighted by Conchita's win.

In Conchita's winning speech, she dedicated her win to "...everyone who believes in a future of peace and freedom....we are unity - and we are unstoppable".  Conchita represents everyone who has ever suffered bullying or intolerance, and for those who just want the freedom to be who they want to be; the lyrics of "Rise Like A Phoenix" are pretty inspirational. She is certainly a memorable and worthy winner in a time when hate and intolerance is on the rise across our continent, as sadly demonstrated by the European election results just two weeks after the contest.

If at first you don't succeed.....

Who'd have though that we'd have seen the day when Austria and the Netherlands were fighting it out at the top of the ESC scoreboard?  Austria's first and only win was in 1966, whilst the Netherlands last won it in 1975, and in recent years both countries have spectacularly underachieved at the contest.  The success of these two countries screams 'don't give up!' to all those countries thinking of quitting the contest because they don't achieve good results from one year to the next.  These songs are absolute opposites - a big diva ballad and a subtle, quiet country song.  Both are a long way from the boom-bang-a-bang stereotype perpetuated by those in our country's media who refuse to accept that the Eurovision Song Contest has moved on to the modern, contemporary entertainment event which it is today.

Something rotten in the state of Eurovision

There remains a dark side to the glitter and glamour though: the current split voting system between juries and televoting.  After recent voting scandals, the EBU attempted some transparency and revealed the names of each country's jury members before the contest, and revealed their scores and rankings after the contest.  I'm not going into detail about this - there are some excellent ESC fansites out there with all the analysis that you'll ever need - but suffice to say that there continues to be something rotten in a jury ranking system which completely overturns the televoting result from a particular country, and makes you wonder what's the point of televoting if it's not going to count.

Eurovision is just tweeter than ever!

ESC has also spectacularly evolved over the past couple of years into a massive social media event.  As I mentioned at the start of this post, Twitter completely brought this year's contact alive, and the contest dominated the full top 10 trending topics in Glasgow.  That particular site may have some dark, nasty aspects from time to time (the current debate on the Scottish independence referendum being a case in point), but I can honestly say that when it comes to Eurovision, it's been an incredibly welcoming and inclusive community which I am happy to feel part of. 

What happened next....

The immediacy of downloading music has also had a very significant impact on the contest.  Once upon a time, we had to wait weeks for the release of Eurovision singles.  1974 was a massive year for the contest, with Abba, Gigliola Cinquetti and Mouth and MacNeal all making the UK singles chart.  Fast-forward 40 years and on the day after the contest there were, I think, 7 (maybe more?) ESC songs in the UK top 50 iTunes singles chart.  At one point, "Calm After The Storm" was as high as no.2, and achieved an overall chart position of no.9 in the UK Official Top 40 the following week, with "Rise Like A Phoenix" at no.17. 

For although Conchita won the contest, The Common Linnets won the chart war all over Europe.  Then something very strange happened.  Just at the height of their fame, at the end of May, Waylon issued a statement that he would be leaving The Common Linnets; this was never going to be a permanent project for him - it was Ilse's project, which would continue, but Waylon is now going to focus on his own solo career. 

Russia got annoyed by Conchita's win (quelle surprise) and announced their own Turkvision-style breakaway song contest, the revival of the old Soviet-era "Intervision", and it was reported that some Russians had even shaved off their beards in response to Conchita's win.

As for Conchita, she certainly had a dramatic impact and went on to dominate the media for quite a while, and will be appearing at several events over the summer. So where does Conchita Wurst go from here?  I just wonder if she will pursue a recording career out of this, or focus on being a TV/media celebrity?  One thing's for sure, she will remain one of Eurovision's most memorable winning artists, long after her song has been forgotten.


1.  Austria - 290 points
2.  The Netherlands - 238 points
3.  Sweden - 218 points
4.  Armenia - 174 points
5.  Hungary - 143 points
6. Ukraine - 113 points
7.  Russia - 89 points
8.  Norway - 88 points
9.  Denmark - 74 points
10. Spain - 74 points
11.  Finland - 72 points
12. Romania - 72 points
13.  Switzerland - 64 points
14.  Poland - 62 points
15. Iceland - 58 points
16. Belarus - 43 points
17.  United Kingdom - 40 points
18.  Germany - 39 points
19.  Montenegro - 37 points
20.  Greece - 35 points
21.  Italy - 21 points
22. Azerbaijan - 33 points
23.  Malta - 32 points
24.  San Marino - 14 points
25.  Slovenia - 9 points
26.  France - 2 points

So, as I post this seven weeks after the contest, our thoughts turn to Eurovision 2015.  Countries are already announcing their participation and seeking song submissions; Austria has confirmed it will host the contest next May but the host city has yet to be announced although I can't imagine it being anywhere else but Vienna; and just think, it's only 6 months until Festivali i Këngës. And then it all begins, all over again.....

Let's get summer out of the way first though!! :))

Eurovision Song Contest 2014: Semi-Final 2, Thursday 8th May 2014

Time for the second semi-final then.  Things are slightly different tonight from Tuesday.  My Eurovision experience will be fuelled by Pinot Noir rather than Irn Bru, as I've got a day off work tomorrow.  (Last year I also took Eurovision Eve off work as I was packing for my holiday, but I had so much fun catching up with all the blogs, podcasts and radio shows that I thought it would be a good idea to do the same this year).  But I digress.  Once again mum and I are watching BBC Three's coverage, and I've got the official coverage going on the laptop just to see what the BBC's replacing with its inane 'inserts'.  The show begins with a 'previously on Eurovision' X Factor-style recap. Hosts Scott Mills and Laura Whitmore read out the names of the qualifying countries from Tuesday, which kind of reminds me of the opening of Eurovision 2000 when all the country names were read out.  But there the similarity ends.

The show opens with a dance number entitled "Building The Stage".  Is this some act from Denmark's Got Talent?  There's a Lady Gaga lookalike and a guy playing the fiddle.  Get out the way mate - there is only one violinist worth mentioning tonight, and he will be appearing later in the show :))

Mum: Do you get money for winning this contest?
Laura: Nope, don't think so.  Just a nice trophy and you get to be a lifetime legend in Eurovision circles.

Once again the three hosts Pilou, Lise and Nikolaj take the stage, but I'm not to hear a word they say all night.  (Not only are the BBC Three presenters yakking on about "yes you can vote in this semi-final tonight" but don't even think about voting by text/mobile app, yada yada yada....but my mum also talks over almost everything tonight, so I can't comment on the commentary or hosts as I don't hear a thing).  I can't wait to buy the official commentary-free DVD :))

Let's do some songs!!

MALTA: "Coming Home" - Firelight.

This is one of my favourite songs this year.  And oh my - that Richard has got better looking over the last couple of months, hasn't he! The band perform the song well, although it lacks that 'spark' which they are hopefully saving for the final.  I have no doubt this is qualifying though. They are so likeable you just want them to succeed.

M: This is pleasant. 
L: I hope it makes the final.

ISRAEL: "Same Heart" - Mei Finegold.

This has been a massive fave in fan circles - this year's 'fanw**k' if you like - but I have never understood the love for it.  It's also in the draw of death, as Aarzemnieki would tell you.  It doesn't seem to be a good year for the 'fierce females' - Cristina from Moldova's out, and Emma Marrone hasn't impressed in her rehearsals.  Mei is fierce, she struts, and at one point it sounds as if she's singing "I touch your d**k". 

L: This is only a borderline qualifier for me as it's a tough night.
M:  I don't like this at all.  Too much shouting.  And these dazzling lights are annoying me. 

*Edit*: on the night I didn't get to see/hear the full song/performance but rewatching, it has definitely gone up in my estimations.  But which other qualifier would it have replaced?

NORWAY: "Silent Storm" - Carl Espen.

I tell mum this is one of my biggest favourites this year.  She immediately remembers seeing him before.

L: You saw him in the Norwegian final.  And you liked this song then.
M: He has a really good voice. Very distinctive.  I like this.

It's a nervous beginning but that soon passes, and the cheers ring out from the crowd. Carl has been styled away from heavy-metal-club-bouncer to a more appealing, smarter suit jacket.  This song is exquisite.  I'm just hoping that its chances are not harmed by the early draw.

GEORGIA: "Three Minutes to Earth" - The Shin and Mariko.
Postcard: Douze points from me for their postcard, as they make the Georgian flag out of glasses of red wine.

Which, coincidentally is around the time that the bottle of Pinot Noir is opened, therefore I declare it my favourite postcard so far.  I thought Three Minutes to Earth was going to be my scheduled toilet break, but I stick around for what turns out to be one of the most entertaining parts of the evening.  There's a lot of yodelling.  There's a guy with a parachute. Sorry fans of 70s prog, but there's no place in the modern day Eurovision Song Contest for this type of thing.

POLAND: "My Slowianie - We Are Slavic" - Donatan and Cleo.

On to what is arguably the most risque of this year's performances.  There's no sign of Donatan, who's given up his spot to allow an extra dancer on stage.  Cleo is accompanied by dancers shaking what their mama gave them, and, um, 'decorative' ladies indulging in washing and churning butter.  I'm not sure if viewers will get the song's message (apparently there is one) and will just go straight for the 'saucy' angle.  Faithful travelling companion hasn't seen this yet, but he is going to like this.

M: This takes me back to the old Eurovision days.
L: I can't remember anything like this back then!
M: No, I mean the costumes and the silly stuff.
L: Diaspora vote will absolutely get this one to the final. 

There's a break now, which means another BBC3 VT, this time of Molly's week.  Following which, it is Conchita time.

AUSTRIA: "Rise Like A Phoenix" - Conchita Wurst.

This is very cleverly staged, as the camera slowly fades into the big reveal.  Conchita is wearing a fabulous gold dress.  She looks great and her vocal performance on this is phenomenal.  Although my mum is initially a bit confused about Conchita's identity. 

M: Is that a man or a woman or what?
L: It's a man, playing a female character, with the added bonus of a beard.
M: Tell you something, he/she's got a great voice.
L: I think that's what people forget - they're too busy focusing on 'the look' but she's got the voice to match.

There are massive cheers from the audience all through the song.  This is a potential winner, although there remains massive question marks over whether certain countries/juries will accept Conchita for who she is. 

LITHUANIA: "Attention" - Vilija.

The postcard, a Lithuanian flag made out of brollies, is better than the song. It's all very 'contemporary' and dubsteppy, and Vilija is dressed in a futuristic tutu.

I just realise tonight that the biggest problem with this song, apart from the tune (or lack of) is that for some reason, it makes me think of Jessie J.  Which in my world is not a good thing.  As with neighbouring Estonia, the Lithuanian entry boasts its featured backing dancer, shaking what his mama gave him.

M: This 'song' feels as if it's been on for about three months.  And what is the point of that guy dancing?  This is rubbish.  There's a bit which reminds me of something...
L: "My Humps" by the Black Eyed Peas?
M: That's it!
L: They've qualified a lot over the past few years, but I wouldn't want this to qualify at the expense of a more deserving song.  This is completely missing any redeeming factors.

FINLAND: "Something Better" - Softengine.

Their postcard may be made of ice, but their performance sets the contest on fire!  There's been a lot of talk during the last couple of weeks about this young band's lack of experience and how this might be exposed when they take to the stage.  That didn't happen.  They cracked it!!  Something Better is a well-staged uptempo pop/rock number.

M: Put my tick next to their name. I really like this. There are not enough bands in this anymore, too many solo singers.
L: This is a triumph for them.  I'm really impressed and hope they qualify.  Very clever lighting and staging here too.  This is certainly 'something better' than I expected.

IRELAND: "Heartbeat" - Can-Linn featuring Kasey Smith.

This year's Irish Eurosong final put the "ire" into Ireland as it is best remembered for the FIIIIIIIGHT! involving Linda Martin.  We all remember that more than this forgettable nothing of a song.  Now Kasey is a pretty girl but they've dressed her as a ridiculous warrior princess.  The backing singers are woeful, and look!  There's some Irish dancing going on.

M: I hope those guys have something on underneath those kilts.
L: The fact that we are spending most of this song talking about that, says everything about this song. This is going home. 

BELARUS: "Cheesecake" - Teo.

What was once a slice of Robin Thicke-style sleazecake is now reinvented as a more appealing boyband-style number.

M: Who's Robin Thicke?
L:  Oh never mind.
M: This is entertaining.  I quite like this.  That little dance is funny. 
L: I really want this to make the final, it's grown on me so much.  I sent him a good luck message on Twitter and he replied to me, which was lovely, so I want this to do well. 

FYR MACEDONIA: "To The Sky" - Tijana.

I forgot to mention in my semi-final 1 review that Tijana was interviewed by Scott Mills and Dr Eurovision on BBC3 on Tuesday night and she was an absolute scream, totally bonkers.  Sadly though, for someone with such a great personality, the staging of this song is a bit too sedate - the trouser suit does her no favours, and where's her trademark glasses? 

L: They could have done without the dancer in the hoodie.  Pulls the song right down.
M: I don't like this at all.
L: I disagree - I quite like this song now, and I like her, but they haven't given the staging and presentation the 'oomph' which it needs to make the final.
M: Nothing has really stood out for me tonight.
L: I disagree (again!) - this is the best of the two semi-finals and you will love what is coming next!!

 SWITZERLAND: "Hunter of Stars" - Sebalter.

The moment I've been waiting for.  I tell mum that for the next three minutes there will be no talking.  There will only be drooling.  Ohhhhh yessssssss.

Unfortunately something comes up and mum misses Sebalter, which is really bad timing :(

I love the staging of this.  There is even a pyro curtain.  He is hyperactive and beautiful.  Who cares if some of the lyrics still sound like gibberish, because I really like this song.  Sebalter is an incredibly charismatic performer who immediately makes a connection with the viewers.  "I fear your judgement" he sings.  Hopefully there will be no fear and that judgement will be a place in the final. 

He does that cute little run down the catwalk, he plays the violin solo, he bangs the drum, and the whole thing is so infectious that it's impossible not to love it.

Time for another break.  Twin Twin are being interviewed on BBC Three, and they're good fun.  Unfortunately I still find Laura Whitmore very irritating though. 

GREECE: "Rise Up" - Freaky Fortune featuring Riskykidd.

Whilst we're in the hotties section of the show, here are some more.  There are lots of cheers for this and it's one of my favourites.

M: The problem I have with this is that it's too repetitive.  Too much rising up going on. It sounds about 4 years out of date.
L: I'd disagree.  I think it's very 'current' and would fit right into the top 40.
M: No, I didn't really mean to say it was outdated, what I actually meant is that this type of music's been around for a while, so people are familiar with it and more likely to vote.  The recognition factor. 

SLOVENIA: "Round and Round" - Tinkara Kovac.

A.K.A. The one which is very reminiscent of Cheryl Cole's "Parachute".  Only with added flautism.

M: Oh no, not a flute :(((  And the lighting is a bit overdone again.  I don't like all these dazzling lights this year - was it always like this?
L: Over the last few years, yes.
M: This song is not good enough to make the final. 
L: It's OK, but that's all.  I always want Slovenia to send something great for a change, as they've always been underwhelming.

ROMANIA: "Miracle" - Paula Seling and Ovi.

I decide to take a back seat here and ask mum to rate the song, as I'd be grateful for an independent ear to try and make sense of this.  

M: Firstly, I don't like the stage set.  It's not the worst song I've heard, but it doesn't really go anywhere.  And that wee guy annoys me.
L: Actually I like Ovi, but I don't like this song.

I explain to mum that P and O did ESC 4 years ago with a much, much better song.  However, everything about this is just wrong for me - the stupid hologram, the round piano, the hug, the biiiiiiiig note...this is qualifying but would not be a worthy winner. 

After hearing all the songs, here's what I predicted to make the final:

Lithuania (purely based on previous years)

Following another recap, the show takes a bizarre turn by saluting Australia!  Yes, the land down under has a renowned Eurovision fandom.  So they'd do anything to get into Eurovision.  Like move the country to Europe.  What follows is a cheerful, cheesy little song and dance number which includes every national stereotype you can think of about Australia. 

M: I like this little Australian song.
L: Just a pity that I can't make out the words of what they're singing.

This leads into a performance by Jessica Mauboy, one of Australia's most famous singers.  This has obviously been intended as a nice launch for her international career, however her vocal performance of "Sea of Flags", specially written for the contest, is a bit hit and miss to say the least.  No offence whatsoever to Australia, but I'd have preferred a Danish singer for the interval act, the way SVT showcased Darin and Agnes last year.  Rasmus Seebach would have been perfect, given his Eurovision ancestry.  Oh well :(

My mum, who is a migraine sufferer, is struggling with all the screens and the flashing images.  Guess that's just the modern-day Eurovision for ya.  Cue intensive discussion about Eurovision stage sets of old. Which were static, memorable, and unchallenging to migraine sufferers. 

Time for another recap.

M: Well, Georgia won't be holding it next year, that's for sure.
L: Poland = boobs.  That's all that people will remember - the boobs. 
L: Austria = the great lost Bond theme.
M: He/she is certainly different.  We won't see his like again.
M: I like the cheesecake guy.  And he replied to you on that Twitter, which is good manners. 
L: I'd substitute "FYROM" as the politically correct people call it, for Poland, or Lithuania, if either of them was to qualify.

So it's time for another interval act and it all kicks off with Megan from Ireland, and then before you know it we have a whole continent of dancers on stage.  It's all a bit "Europe's Got Talent" and yet again it's a bit of a missed opportunity.  It's very nice to see all ages dancing together on stage, culminating in the 86 year old dancer from DK.  Don't get me wrong, I like watching dancing, but for a song contest there's been a bit too much dancing tonight. 

Europe - stop voting now!!  Cue yet another pointless VT from BBC Three, this time with Scott and Laura talking about 'Eurovision Club'.  Oh goody, I thought they were maybe going to show us Euroclub.  But no.  Meanwhile Lise's in the Green Room, then it's another instalment of the Eurovision Book of Records,  which yet again we don't get to see.  We get Scott Mills interviewing Dr Eurovision and Katrina from Aarzemnieki. 

Lise's hanging out with Jon Ola Sand.  Do we have ett resultat?

Nope.  Or as it was once famously said: "I don't have it!"  The results announcement is delayed, we get a 3rd recap of the songs, and my mum goes into fully-fledged conspiracy theory mode.

M: Do you mean.....there is.....cheating going on????
L: Something is afoot.
M: I smell a rat.
L: I just hope all our favourites qualify.
M: Did I say that guy with the round piano annoys me?
L: Well I usually like Ovi but the piano, and the song, annoys me this year.

Finally, after what feels like an eternity, the names are revealed, as usual in random order.

Switzerland (I am hyperventilating!!!!!)
and finally....

Again, I'm very happy with my predictions: only one wrong tonight, and I'm glad as Lithuania didn't deserve to go through.  I can live with Slovenia in the final, and I am absolutely buzzing with delight that Switzerland and Norway have made it.  At the moment, I'd say it was the most wide open final in years, with no obvious favourite.  The winner could come from any one of four or five songs, and I wouldn't dare predict this result!!