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Eurovision in Düsseldorf: From Magic Men to Haba Haba

By Binoy Kampmark - posted Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Eurovision is the lovable farce. Magdalena Tul of Poland was ravishing in her song delivery, a combination of stage murder and acoustic inadequacy. Georgia’s Eldrine came across with an American resonance, synthesised (alliance building in the face of a potential Russian onslaught?). The camp Russians, fronted by the hormonally crazed Alexey Vorobyov, thought they were reformed and revived Backstreet Boys. This was only beaten by the British entry – the superannuated boy band Blue who sang, somewhat unfortunately, the lyrics ‘I’ve never lost anything quite like this.’  The San Marino contributor Senit sung ‘Stand By’ and was stood aside. The sultry Israeli contestant Dana International went ‘Ding Dong’ with her track, backed up by an array of ladies in luscious cocktail dresses. 

In this Düsseldorf pyrotechnic spectacular, Norway decided to shed any pretensions to being a nation starved of sunshine – it went south and dark, in the form of the festive ‘Haba Haba’. Eurovision has ceased merely being European – it has become a global fantasy, rootless in the specific nature of the competition. Its winner for this year, Azerbaijan’s Ell/Nikki, was a case in point. Had Germany actually won the Second World War, this might have made more sense. 

A few notable pointers at this event. First, there was that nauseating brand of homogenised English, lyrics stale and re-run they seemed worn before they left the mouths of the contestants. Going, let alone staying native, is no longer as popular as it once was. Could this be the disease of the X-Factor, a contagion that has produced much in the way of robotic, nondescript mimicry? The countries that dare deviate from that formula tend to be punished. Then there was that hideous retro fascination with the boy band culture, which several countries decided to bank upon in saturating quantity.


Participants have realised that, to have a chance, one has to be a touch camp, more than a touch idiotic, and totally incompatible with high, let alone middlebrow art. This is Terry Wogan territory, and to pass the Wogan metre of touted mediocrity, one has to be spectacularly bad in the allotted three minutes.  Half or more of these characters would be beautifully positioned in San Francisco’s Castro district – witness Ireland’s noxious twins Jedward who pondered in their song if they were ‘headed for a car crash’. If you like men, or barely pubescent boys who dress like they have head-pinned meringues and scalps like genetically modified rainforests, this was the crash act for you. 

The Serbian entry pitched it perfectly. The girls were appealing to the audience and Nina, a front singer plucked from thin air (no dramas with the gorgeous and feisty Ana Nikolić this time), pieced together an ideal compilation. Yes, there was that old theme of love; there was magic (čarboran) and unremarkably, about undeserving men, but the tempo and liveliness was perfect. Like a true vaudeville hall with colour, Eurovision precludes depth and intensity, a shallow pool that ripples and delights for showing exactly where we stand. There is no ambiguity, no doubt. Nina’s performance was a nostalgic work of art in acknowledging this. One thinks of an eternal, throbbing summer, and the hope that the leaves of the season shall never fall.

There are always protests about the voting system, and there is the predictable alienation that happens every year about how power is distributed between various voting blocs. How various countries attain their rankings can be acts of arithmetical perversion. Contestants are right to be peeved at the automatic qualification places allotted to the ‘Big Five’ (Germany, Italy, France, Spain and the United Kingdom). 

The response from this security council of music would be simple: contribute more to the European Broadcasting Union, and you might get a look-in. The writers of an academic paper in the journal Acta Sociologica (1996) are very serious with this heavy mouthful: “hegemony results from the unique structural position that the Western bloc occupies”. (Yes, the writers are talking about Eurovision.) One can only imagine what Antonio Gramsci’s musical entry in the competition might have been.

That said, what is ghastly to see may be much fun. Music may go to Eurovision to die, but the dead are easier to resurrect than the living. Besides, it is good seeing Europeans murdering each other with music other than ingenious weapons of war. Not all would agree, but better a singing European than a dead one. In the meantime, Simon Webbe of Blue might well make good his promise to the Daily Mail and emigrate.

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About the Author

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He currently lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne and blogs at Oz Moses.

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