eurovision journal 2003
(author’s note: the eurovision song contest is an annual celebration of pop songs and (inadvertently) glitzy, tacky performances. the event is held in the country of the winner of the previous year’s contest. up to 26 european (and extended family) countries participate. reviled by some, worshipped by others, it has been a european institution since 1955.)
this year’s festival of the song, sequins, and wonderbras was held in riga, capital of latvia (if that sounds bewildering to you, check your atlas. this lovely and often beleaguered country is just due east of russia). the following is a capsule diary of my journey there and back, and the silliness in between. by roger mraz
thursday, 22nd may
skived off work just after lunch today and made my way to london heathrow. I’m asked at check in if I have health insurance. it seems latvia needs to know if I am covered before entering. the potential spread of eurovision audio revulsion syndrome (ears) has obviously spooked locals. and the latvians know about being spooked. this sweet baltic nation has only been occupied by sweden, france, nazi germany, soviet russia; hell, being occupied by thousands of eurovision geeks—er, fans—must seem like a walk in the park.
friday, 23rd may
faux lesbian russian teens tatu arrived in town today and, as is per usual, they have brought a nasty attitude with them. they hate the eurovision stage, apparently, along with everything else. and they announce that they won’t be seeing much of the town, as they’ll be much too busy having sex. the duo are tipped to win this year’s competition for russia. god, I hope not. they’re just plain evil.
I attend the rehearsal this evening at skonto hall, which is a perfect venue; not too big, not a bad seat in the house really. the stage is stunning; swirling arches in a sea of stars and reflective surfaces. it looks otherworldly, which eurovision can seem like sometimes.
after a painful hour of local warm-up acts (imagine a children’s choir singing disney hits, followed by the local r.e.m. cranking out “cocaine”), the highlights of the evening go like this…
the austrian entry is very old-style eurovision—lots of oom-pah-pah and sung in austrian german. the crowd adores it, but there’s no way it can win.
turkey is one big belly-dancing bump and grind and clearly the crowd favourite. thanks to the singer performing in english, it could be the winner.
bosnia and herzegovina. I want to like this act, but I read a book about the balkans recently and keep thinking about people hacking away at each other with small axes. sounds like a bit like sex bomb anyway…
croatia. very britney. but the note above applies. ethnic cleanse me, one more time!
germany. gay, gay, gay. who does this woman think the voters are anyway? oh…yeah. sorry.
russia. tatu. according to the announcer, one of girls is ill and can’t perform tonight. the number goes on with just the one little madam. the crown breaks into angry howls. I find myself shouting “evil”. the number goes off okay and is certainly more interesting than what you normally get…but I still don’t want them to win.
israel. another old-style eurovision, but in the worst way. extra cheese, please!
united kingdom. just complete crap. jamie oliver meets second-rate kylie. we’re doomed.
ukraine. there’s a contortionist on stage as part of the act. I am stunned.
norway. wow…a lovely simple ballad that is my favourite so far. and the singer is…well…soooo dreamy. but they say no one’s ever won eurovision while sitting behind a piano.
belgium. beyond scary. the group have chosen to sing in a completely invented language. and use a sort of semaphore to convey… what?
the evening ends at 11.00, where the voting will begin tomorrow night. I am happy to escape now, but it’s been a fantastic evening. and more fun than I hoped for.
saturday, 24th may
I spend the day with friends wondering about riga, shopping etc., but mostly discussing last night and what our expectations are for the contest. the whole city is buzzing and they’ve set up huge screens in all the main squares so the masses can all watch tonight. there are local bands playing, dancing, and, oh yes, drinking throughout the day. my friends leave me to attend the evening performance and I am left in the company of hundreds of lats, russians and oddly, a band of renegade belgians. is there something I don’t know?
the televised evening runs much as it did the night before, except that both teenage she-devils in tatu do their thing and that the u.k. entry is actually worse than the night before. yikes.
and so on to the voting. (author’s note: given 5 minutes only following the last contestant, each country’s viewing population can vote for their favourite act, provided it’s not their own. this leads to a load of political voting, particularly in the balkan, baltic, and scandinavian regions. it takes a pretty mighty song to break this up.) and this turns out to be just the kind you hope for at eurovision. turkey takes an early lead, but is quickly followed by russia and then by…belgium? and so it’s neck and neck between these three through most of voting. (belgium???) every vote for satan’s lesbians brings cheers from drunk russians in the square. the lats are getting no votes so there are actually fights going on. drama! and the belgians are getting rowdier too. this is great.
in the end though, turkey pull away and win the day with 167 points, belgium coming in second with 165 and russia in third with 164. (a most confusing score sheet can be found at the following link).
not surprisingly, the u.k. entry received no points at all, which is a first for a country who’ve won the contest umpteen times. on the plane going back the next morning, disgruntled brits complain that no one voted for them because they backed the u.s. in iraq, but most agree that their entry sucked. the act, jemini, are on the plane too, and we can all hear them discussing how the outcome might be good for their career. career? only in eurovision…
see you next year in istanbul!
(for further information on this year’s participants, lyrics, pics, etc. please try the following link.)