2007 Eurovision Song Contest
Click that picture to brighten your day. That's Verka Serduchka.
I'm late with this, but last Saturday was the Eurovision Song Contest, an annual televised pop music event event now in its 52nd year. This time it was held in Helsinki. To watch it, we went to a dinner dance party in Amsterdam hosted by The Undutchables, an employment agency for foreigners like us. The party, held in the sanctuary of an old ex-church, featured a buffet, massages, and a "silent disco," in which folks wore headphones with music playing and danced around in an otherwise quiet room with others who were also wearing the headphones. We didn't do it, but it looked like fun.
In the main hall, two huge screens loomed on either side with the volume up very loud -- so loud, in fact, that it was hard to talk to people, especially given that we didn't know anyone there, so we ended up focusing on the Eurovision Song Contest. The show holds a special place in our hearts, because for the 2000 contest we got very drunk watching it at a bar in Galway, Ireland, nearly ruining the next day's trip to the Aran Island of Inishmaan, where I had planned to propose to traca da broon at Synge's Chair, a seat-like formation somewhere along the rocky shoreline -- but we couldn't find the Chair and we got kind of lost and we were kind of bickering about which rock wall would lead us back to what passed for the town, so, at length, on our return I ended up proposing inside the only place that was open, a large pink hotel/pub. (Incidentally, Ireland has won the Eurovision Song Contest seven times -- two more than any other country.)
Anyway, it's one show they should televise in the States (do they? I've never seen it there) because it has it all: schlock, glitz, kitch, and razzmatazz -- plus sincere, traditional, heartfelt singers belting out their best in what will probably be their one moment of fame. Bands qualify for national heats, and the winner in each country is entered in the contest, but not all of them end up qualifying. Some two dozen acts were chosen for this year's, and at the end of the evening, after all of them have performed, the viewers in all eligible countries phone or text in their votes for the winner. One brilliant, simple rule: You can't vote for your own country.
Famously, ABBA won the contest in 1974 with "Waterloo," launching their career (check out that guitar, btw). Last year, the semi-Satanic Finnish metal band Lordi won with "Hard Rock Hallelujah." This year, many acts were merely okay, not bad, your standard pop songs -- and then Ukraine came on. Everyone was immediately hooked on "Dancing Lasha Tumbai" by Verka Serduchka, a bizarre cross-dressing character of Ukrainian comedian Andriy Danylko, who created an out-of-control spectacle that is much better experienced than described. (According to Serduchka, lasha tumbai is Mongolian for "condensed milk" -- "I want to see (Mongolian) condensed milk.")
Serduchka's outrageous flamboyance created a sensation in the room. I predicted easy victory. However, when the voting was finished, he/she had been narrowly edged out by the Serbian entry, "Molitva" a ballad sung by the obviously talented Marija Serifovic, which was admittedly "better" in terms of actual musical quality, and she probably deserved to win ... but man, at the end of Ukraine's performance my jaw was hanging open and I began cheering wildly. Because that is how it's done, mm-kay? That is a three-minute show. Of course it's silly. But it's also a little scary. And just try to get it out of your head.
I also liked Bulgaria's entry, "Water," a lot and had them as my number two. As far as the lamest goes, I'd give that honor to the UK -- Scootch''s "Flying the Flag," which is, yes, instantly, insanely catchy, but may as well have been a British Airways ad (the song starts about 40 seconds into the clip).