The stage is set, literally. What has been described as the Hunger Games of music (by a few people) is now being broadcast in the US for the first time. If something can be both overwhelming and underwhelming simultaneously, this is it. The presentation is the definition of excess, the quality that of underwritten pop that would seem more at home in a green-screened YouTube video than on a proper stage with a proper audience. If you’ve seen The Apple then first of all, I’m sorry. But secondly, you will know exactly what I’m talking about.
I’m sure that things are different if there’s some sort of cultural cachet that comes along with the whole thing, but to a first time American it’s just a strange mess, as if American Idol took the early auditions and gave it the budget of the entire season. To better understand the spectacle I found a few introductions for Americans, the one from Tor.com being my favorite. The basic idea that I’ve picked up on is to go in with no prior knowledge and no expectations, just letting the weirdness wash over you.
From the hits on this site I can see that most of our readers are from North America, and therefore probably not all too familiar with this competition. I would like to act as your guide. For my qualifications I present you only with my lack of research and a fascination with all things television. I may lead you into the wilderness to die, but I assure that we’ll be looking at shiny things when the end comes.
The format of the Eurovision is as follows: semi-finals part 1, semi-finals part 2, and the grand finale. My first thought was that this was short as compared to both full season competitions that I’m used to, as well as the Olympics. My second thought was that it was just long enough. Three nights, spread out over the course of a single week, is the perfect amount of time to give something like this. American Idol could have learned something from a more concentrated format, if it hadn’t already been put down like the dying creature it was.
Each performance is preceded with a short video that is meant to function both as a glamour reel for the singer’s portfolio as well as a tourism video for the nation they’re representing. Watch the performer in their native habitat. See them play with with snow or bake some sort of ethnic bread. I like to pretend that this faux-native display extends to the performance, and that every over-produced pop song is in fact an ancient hymn from their motherland. Wonder at the Japanese drums that are apparently native to Hungary, or nude-colored unitard that is handed down from generation to generation in Armenia.
What struck me early on is how generic so many of the performances are. I understand that they’re trying to cast the widest net of appeal, but the majority of the songs struck me as what Americans stereotype Euro Pop as about seven years ago. There were some standouts, so let me show you the wonders:
- Croatia – Nina Kraljić: She has a legitimately interesting voice. I’d listen to her.
- San Marino – Serhat: This guy is Turkish, went to school for dentistry, presented his country’s equivalent of Jeopardy, and is now singing for a random nation in Eurovision. That is a journey.
- Russia – Sergey Lazarev: Mediocre song but fun stage show. Have you seen Ghoulmaster’s show? No? Then I pity you. But this guy’s show had a lot in common, such as choreography to match rear projection special effects.
- Estonia – Jüri Pootsmann: Want to be creepy AF? Be this guy and put a card trick in the middle of your performance.
- Belarus – IVAN: This performance was the WTF I had been waiting for. Let me show you why.
- Australia – Dami Im: Since Australia isn’t in Europe they may as well be creative and create Minority Report: The Musical. And it sounds like passable Taylor Swift.
- Bulgaria – Poli Genova: I really liked this one. The song was fine, but I truly appreciated how she embraced the Hunger Games aspect of the whole thing.
- Italy – Francesca Michielin: Italy’s song looks like it was made by Nintendo. Whoever produced it, she’s going to win on Diorama-Rama Day.
- Germany – Jamie-Lee: The other WTF of this year was Germany. Here’s someone decked out in Japanese Etsy-Couture while standing in a forest of laser trees.
- Spain – Barei: Some performers aren’t actually from the country the represent. Spain has outsourced a Goa’uld from Stargate SG-1.
- Armenia – Iveta Mukuchyan: And the last lesson learned is that Armenia cannot Beyonce. They are unable to Yonce.
In closing, here’s a slideshow of contestants posing awkwardly in front of tourism shots of their countries.