On Saturday night we will field music legend Englebert Humperdink to be our latest attempt to try and get the top prize at the Eurovision Song Contest though I think most of us have already reconciled with the fact that we’ll never win it again. We were though about to at least break the record for the oldest Eurovision entrant ever, that was until Russia unveiled their entry six grandmothers that go by the collective name of Buranovskiye Babushki combining their country’s traditional roots with a Europop twist.
As you can imagine these ladies were the main highlight of a semi-final, that also included an ode to social networking and a familiar pair of Irish twins, which emanated from the newly built Crystal Hall in Baku, Azerbaijan. For those unaware of how the Eurovision structure works the semi-finals see thirty-six countries compete for twenty spots in Saturday’s final with the other six places filled up by the western countries who fund the whole thing but never win as well as this year’s hosts.
Last year’s winner Eldar was also one of tonight’s presenters alongside two female co-hosts one of whom is bizarrely a lawyer and is a lot older than a colleagues evidenced by the fact that she refused to give her birth year during the welcome introduction. While Graham Norton will be on hand on Saturday night our guides for the semi-finals will be the team of Scott Mills and Sara Cox who were both constantly trying to outfunny the other one with their witty puns about the strange Europeans who entered.
Talking of strange Europeans right off the bat we had one of my highlights of the evening with the representative from Montenegro, going by the name of Rambo Amadeus, came onto the stage wearing a cloak before revealing himself then breaking into a rap before welcoming on a wooden donkey onto the stage. Rambo’s track, entitled Euro Neuro, was predictably naff as he rhymed words such as institution, revolution and pollution to make a song which I think was about climate change but overall he just came across as a sweaty man who shouldn’t be there. A complete contrast from this was the very polished Icelandic entry which was a folksy Evanesence style duet performed by the beautiful Greta Salome and former Eurovision entrant Jonsi which I did check isn’t the one who sings for Sigur Ros. What these Iceland natives did have was an amazingly pretty violin player who added an air of class to one of the best proper songs of the evening. Then we had something for the dads as the Greek Eleftheria Eleftheriou flaunted herself on stage randomly pinching the bottoms of her male backing dancers while belting her way through a Europop number about how her lover is her aphrodisiac even if he does touch himself too much. I also noticed for the first time in the evening that the stage at the Crystal Hall had been littered with video screens both behind and underneath the performers which were used, in the case of Greece, to display oyster shells because of course oysters are aphrodisiacs.
Song four looked to be the Latvian approximation of Girls Aloud but actually turned out to be lead singer Anmary and her four back-ups who were all clad in satin to sing her self-referential hit Beautiful Song. In it Anmary tells us how she got to be a singer and what will happen in her future including an imagined telephone conversation in which she has to turn down Mick Jagger. I have to say I wasn’t a fan of the Albanian entry, a woman who looked like Samantha Morton but with a beehive attached to her sculp singing one of these big boring ballads, so let’s move onto Romania. The Romanians fielded the band Mandinga who were a seven-piece ensemble but as Eurovision rules only allow six people on stage at one time they had to leave tambourine-player Tony in the dressing room. I have to say Mandinga were an odd group as they combined the Europop vocals of their lead female singer with an almost Highland pipes and drums backdrop. The Swiss also put forward a group in the form of Sinplus an electronic indie band who are sort of a rubbish Muse covers-band who wanted to play some of their original songs which are a bit rubbish even though they try to hide this with strobe lighting. Then we had a 17 year old girl singing a tune called ‘Would You?’ in which the opening line was come and find me I’ve been hiding from you. To be fair to the Belgian entry Iris she did give it her all and came across as someone who was a lot more mature than her years.
The Finnish entry Pernilla captured everything that exemplifies Eurovision as she was wearing a long-flowing green dress which kept me upturned by a wind machine while a cellist strummed away behind her although I can’t for the life of me remember what her song was about. Israel bought to us a creepy gypsy band that went by the name of Izabo who had unique staging idea in that their backing singers would stand in front of the band in order to nail the ultra-high chorus. The Israeli song, entitled Time, used the video screens to full effect by showing a cavalcade of watches and clocks while the creepy lead singer instructed the audience to feel free to turn him on. Act of the night for me, or at least the one that didn’t get through to the next stage, was the San Marino entry Valentina with her ode to Facebook entitled The Social Network song. Valentina’s number was originally going to be entitled Facebook but the rules state that no advertising be done so the name was changed however most of the words that rhymed with the social networking site stayed on. There are really no words to describe how amazing Valentina was but she was joined on stage by a captain, a doctor and a cheerleader while in addition she sung and typed on a fake laptop at the same time belting out such classic lines as ‘if you want to come to my house then just click me with your mouse.’ This song about Facebook was so bad it was almost enough to make Mark Zuckerberg jump in a time machine and just form a society at Harvard instead.
After San Marino it was all downhill for a while although Cyprus did put up quite a catchy number entitled La La Love which was one of those European dance numbers that you’d expect to hear while on holiday in Crete but it seemed that the backing dancers would have had an awkward moment earlier in the evening when they’d all realised they’d come wearing the same outfit. From there it was Denmark whose entry was sung by a Miley Cyrus lookalike dressed as a captain who in fact was 21 year old Soluna Samay an accomplished singer, musician and songwriter. The Danish entry was one of my favourite songs of the whole evening with Samay being a talented young lady and her band including a xylophonist which is always a good thing.
Then it was the main event for most people the aforementioned granny sextuplet whose act opened with two of them putting some pastries in the oven before joining up with their pals to sing their hit Party for Everyone. In fact this is a fairly gimmicky number as the central joke is old women dressed as Russian dolls singing Europop I’m sure everybody will find this completely amazing but at some points the girls went completely out of tune or just didn’t sing at all. Though I can’t really say anything bad about these women as they are trying to raise money to rebuild the church that Stalin destroyed seventy years ago but maybe they could’ve just set up a Just Giving account rather than participate in a global singing competition. Before the final acts could perform we had a quick interview with Englebert Humperdink in which Sara Cox tried to get in as many questions as possible before we had to return. It seems to have been decided that young kids can’t say the name Englebert Humperdink as it just has far too many letters in it so now we just have to refer to him as #thehump or at least until he loses on Saturday night.
The Hungarian band Compact Disco sung a catchy tune which felt about fifteen years out of date while their keyboard player looks like he teaches physics at a local secondary school. Then it was onto the Austrian duo who go by the name Trackshittaz and perform a style of music they call gangster party rap which when they sing it in their native tongue sounds like they are swearing a lot of the time. Thanks to the magic of subtitles I was able to translate some of the lines they sung with a typical sample being something like, ‘unpack your pots, here come the noodle soup gangs.’ The two boys, one of whom wore a baseball cap and looked about twelve, were flanked by four gorgeous pole-dancers before descending into a finale which included everybody on stage revealing the flashing portions of their clothing when the lights went down. Following this was a sort of Eastern European Michael Buble number as sung by a Colin Farrell lookalike as Moldova took to the stage their main man serenaded the woman of his dreams with lines like, ‘you’ve never been to my show you haven’t seen before – how looks the trumpet? ‘ This number ended with a very interesting dance routine which could be best described as a bunny hop conga an act so strange that it would’ve been hard to follow.
Luckily the final act of the night was the returning entry for Ireland who are those twins that you love or hate the mighty Jedward. After coming eighth last year with the annoying and confrontational ‘Lipstick’ they’ve returned with their hit ‘Waterline’ which is incredibly catchy if not a song that makes any sense at all when you examine the lyrics in detail. In fact Jedward’s only concern seems to be the staging in which they were clad in silver spacesuits looking like two extras from Starlight Express before doing a special dance routine in which they tried to mimic a waterline what ever one of those is. This all built up to a grand finale in which the boys actually stood in an actual fountain of water as their quiffs fully deflated they’d definitely put everything into this final number. As we went back to the European announcer they informed everyone that Jedward were back after last year to which I was tempted to tell the rest of Europe that they were the lucky ones if they only had to deal with this pair once a year.
After lots of faffing around showing video packages and interviewing a man who has a doctorate in the Eurovision Song Contest/has a lot time on his hands it was time to reveal the results. Some of the mediocre acts, such as Moldova and Hungary, made it into the final alongside Iceland, Albania, Romania, Cyprus and Denmark. With only three places left it was Greece who got the eighth spot before those pesky Russian pensioners got the penultimate pick so everybody was on tenterhooks to see who got the so-called ‘Golden Ticket’ i.e. the last place. Of course it was Jedward who were so utterly excited that they cart-wheeled their way to the stage possibly suffering some mild brain damage along the way but then who would notice if they had done? I have to say every year I enjoy the semi-finals more and more as they give you the chance to see the really camp and awful acts who don’t make it through to the finals. I feel sorry for those who didn’t watch Valentina on her laptop, haven’t witnessed the Montenegron donkey or are yet to experience Austrian Gangster Party Rap as they missed a treat and I’m just hoping that the second semi-final produces as many classics as this one did.
Did you watch this semi-final? Which acts stood out to you? Are you supporting #TheHump this Saturday? Leave your comments below.