Sunday, May 22, 2005

Ah, Europe

Two important competitions were decided today. The first is the FA Cup, which Arsenal won, beating Man U by 1 penalty kick. I care nothing about this (other than a residual preference for Arsenal from when I lived in Manchester), except that I caught the last half of the match and it was so close even I got kind of caught up in it.

The second is the Eurovision 2005 contest. For those of you who don’t know, and I’ll bet money that that’s most of you, it’s an annual song contest, with one entry from each European country (and, uh, Israel; yeah, I don’t know either). It’s geared towards pop acts and the songs are absolute, total crap. So, naturally, it gets lots of people very excited. Ukraine hosted it this year, in Kiev, and they had to set up a tent city to house everyone who came to see it. Now, when I say absolute total crap, I mean it. This is the 50th anniversary of the contest, and, as far as I can tell, the best song to have won in all fifty years was Sweden’s entry in ’74, Abba’s “Waterloo”. Which says a lot.

Now, I normally would care nothing about this competition, either, except that in recent years it switched from being judged by a panel of “experts” to being judged by people voting in from their phones, which means that all the acts suddenly got much more photogenic and there are more scantily-clad dancers on stage. The rules are that each country ranks their top 10 vote-getters and reports to Eurovison central, which doles out points. No matter how small your country is, you get the same number of points as anyone else to give out. (So, just for example, let’s say you’re a small island nation with a mere 4 million people; you get the same voting power as Germany’s 80 million people. Hey, it’s kinda like the EU! But I say too much.) However, and this is key, you can’t vote for your own country’s entry. This results in a pattern of voting that is, in essence, a reflection of what goes on in Brussels and gives a great picture of what Europeans think of each other. For instance, Turkey and Greece normally never vote for each other’s entries (except for this year, it turns out), and the UK always gives high points to Ireland’s entry because there are so damned many Irish living over there. For the same reason, Germany tonight gave 10 points to Turkey, even though their song sucked so much no one else was voting for it. The Baltic states always vote for each other, likewise the former Soviet states and Sweden, Norway and Denmark always vote for the other Scandinavian states. It’s just fascinating watching the results roll in and seeing who gives high points to an entry that everyone else had so far ignored, and who ignores an entry that everyone else has given high points for.

Another interesting thing about the Eurovision contest, which I think also says a lot about modern Europe, is that so many acts come from countries other than who they’re representing, and the same goes for the writers of the songs. The winner this year is Greece, with the singer Elena, who was born in Sweden. (And whose winning song includes the lyrics “you are the one, my number one” and “you’re my lover, undercover”. Hey, I warned you it was utter crap.) And I believe Ukraine’s entry was written by an Irish dude living in Sweden. What surprised me was that the vast majority of the songs were sung in English. Oh, a few acts stubbornly insisted on singing in their native languages (and of course, France would probably rather pull out of the contest than have a song in a language other than French, even though their lead singer this year was Israeli-born), but everyone else sang in English. The hosts spoke English. The different countries reported their rankings in English or French, with most opting for English. Jeez, no wonder English speakers never bother learning a second language.

All in all, a fascinating day of television.

Reading: Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go, in preparation for seeing him speak at the Hay Literature Festival.

No comments: