When Austria’s Conchita Wurst began singing the James Bond-esque glamour number, ‘Rise Like A Phoenix’, at Eurovision this year, she stole both the show and Europe’s heart. Not only was her voice strong and in-tune (criteria one would assume are stock standard in a singing contest, but really aren’t in Eurovision), her performance was a perfect blend of camp and glamour that best epitomises the competition. The self-described ‘bearded lady’ who looks something like the lovechild of Kim Kardashian and Aladdin proclaimed a message of tolerance, acceptance and freedom as she won the contest with a whopping majority.
Apart from Conchita, though, I found Eurovision kind of boring this year. Of course, the contest, by nature, is a bit boring – performers are announced in advance of the competition and usually the songs have already been released as successful singles. Furthermore, artists perform the same version of the song in both semi-final and grand final, making for reasonably repetitive and predictable viewing. No one watches Eurovision to discover surprise new talent, or even to hear good singing. I watch it for the kitschy, pop-tastic visual onslaught which rarely fails to assault viewers.
This is why I was a bit disappointed with this year’s calibre. Many of the entrants seemed to be aiming for tasteful performances, and while there was nothing wrong with the entries from Hungary, Switzerland, Slovenia and Armenia (to name a few), there was also nothing outstanding about them. Where were the garish costumes? The inappropriate hairstyles? Some of the artists didn’t even have backup dancers! Norway and Sweden also showcased inoffensive solo acts with simple costumes, but they were compelling where others were bland; their performers sung incredibly haunting ballads with technical panache and a level of class that only Scandinavians can achieve.
Other groups had moments of kitsch that somewhat assuaged my hunger for shamelessness. An incredible circular keyboard appeared halfway through the Romanian duet ‘Miracle’, which the male lead actually seemed to be playing; Iceland’s entrants, dressed like the Wiggles, sang a great 1980s-style pop rock anti-prejudice ditty; France’s ode to the moustache was an interesting idea, if not very well executed. I admit that Georgia’s dissonant jazz/folk number with improvised scat/yodelling nearly won me over, their lead female singer bounding around like a crazed wood-sprite and their drummer tethered to the stage with a full-blown parachute.
Nevertheless, I couldn’t help but reminisce on the bombastic and daring performances of Eurovisions past. Have we so quickly forgotten the vampire-inspired falsetto-opera from Romania’s 2013 contestant, Cezar, who performed amidst a floating sheet of blood-red cling wrap? Or Moldova’s light-up, flame-filled, Katniss-inspired ball gown? Finland’s ‘Marry Me’ which culminated in an onstage lesbian wedding? Or the 2013 half-time entertainment provided by host-country Sweden, which included an ode to Swedish meatballs, a cameo from the Muppets’ chef, and poked fun at their anally retentive recycling habits? I first watched Eurovision in 2007 and was fundamentally changed for the better by Ukraine’s holographic, aluminium-clad ‘Verka Seduchka,’ a viewing experience which left me feeling as though the Pet Shop Boys had been reincarnated as disco balls and let loose in my lounge room.
The undisputed most tasteful moment of Eurovision 2014 was when Jessica Mauboy raised the Australian Aboriginal flag at the end of her half-time performance in celebration of Eurovision’s popularity in Australia. As for the rest of this year’s contest, perhaps I need to accept that Eurovision doesn’t necessarily equal Eurotrash. On that note, I leave you with a performance that, like Conchita, embodies the ridiculousness of Eurovision at its best: a white guy, singing reggae, in a jester costume.