Voters swayed by German singer's fresh and unusual approach

Mon, May 31, 2010, 01:00

Traditional power ballads fared poorly on the night. Lena, the triumphant singer, drew on the well of popular culture and freed herself of reverence for the conventions of the song contest format

GERMANY WON the Eurovision Song Contest on Saturday night for only the second time in its history – an unexpected and historic result on many counts. Nineteen-year-old Lena Meyer-Landrut, singing the edgy uptempo pop number Satelliteearned 248 points from juries and public voters across Europe.

Ireland, by contrast, finished a disappointing and surprising 22nd. Niamh Kavanagh had been tipped to finish in the top 10 with the classic Irish power ballad It’s for You but, in the end, came home in third-last place, having earned only 25 points.

Kavanagh was gracious in defeat: “I’m proud of the performance,” she said soon after the votes were announced. “Everyone did a great job. I wish Lena all the very best.” RTÉ offered a statement via a spokeswoman: “Niamh did RTÉ and Ireland proud.”

Kavanagh had experienced some vocal problems during the week, but gave her best performance at the final.

Lena’s success, and Ireland’s difficulties, are part of a wider trend: in recent years, young artists giving youth-friendly performances have come to dominate Eurovision, while classic formats such as the big ballad have waned in popularity. The other two simply presented ballads in this year’s contest, Israel’s Milim, sung by Harel Skaat, and host country Norway’s My Heart is Yours, sung by Didrik Solli-Tangen, both like Ireland’s entry predicted to finish in the top 10, ended up 14th and 20th respectively.

Germany had consistently figured in the bookmakers’ top five, but Lena’s victory was far from a foregone conclusion, and indicates a sea-change in Eurovision away from tried-and-true formats towards acts more in tune with contemporary popular culture.

While this year’s contest featured many young female singers, most were dressed in expected Eurovision style, either in evening gowns or body-revealing outfits. Seventeen-year-old Safura from Azerbaijan sported a floating blue gown encrusted with twinkle lights, while Armenia’s 22-year-old Eva Rivas’s low-cut bodice drew attention to her impressive cleavage.

Lena, by contrast, wore a simple black dress that looked like she might have picked it up on the high street on the way to the arena. The presentation of her song was pared-back: she performed on a bare stage with four backing singers. Her onstage manner was informal, at times gangly and awkward, and the lyrics of her song express a young person’s real-life experience of love (“I went everywhere for you/I even did my hair for you/I bought new underwear that’s blue/And I wore it just the other day . . .”) rather than expected platitudes about beauty and world peace.

This sense of a lack of reverence for Eurovision conventions extended to Lena’s offstage manner: in press conferences, she claimed to have been dating last year’s winner, Alexander Rybak, for “three years and four months”); pretended to fall asleep when other questions (usually about her personal life) bored her; and was asked so often about her strangled pronunciation of English (“lavf” for “love”) that she said she wrote a song about it.

All this added up to a fresh and unusual package that won over voters across Europe, particularly in the Scandinavian and Baltic countries: Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Norway, Slovakia, Switzerland, Sweden and Finland all gave Germany their coveted 12-point top score.

The results overall offer evidence, however, that the reintroduction of 50 per cent jury voting alongside public voting does not prevent neighbouring countries from voting for each other: the former Soviet republics, as in recent years, exchanged top votes.

Germany’s only other Eurovision victory was also by a teenage girl: in 1982, 17-year-old Nicole won with Ein Bisschen Frieden( A Little Peace).

Lena’s victory marks the first time that one of the “Big Four” countries – the UK, Germany, France and Spain, so named because they provide the lion’s share of the funding for the contest – has won the Eurovision since 1997.

In 2000, the Big Four (along with the previous year’s winning country) were granted an automatic place in the contest final. It has been widely believed that this puts these countries at a disadvantage since voters only hear their song once. Lena’s decisive victory with an unusual song indicates that these suppositions may need to be reconsidered.

Turkey came second in the contest with 170 points, followed by Romania with 162.

The United Kingdom finished last with 10 points. Its entrant, 19-year-old Josh Dubovie, put on a brave face yesterday: “This has been one of the best experiences of my life, no matter where I’ve come in the contest,” he told the BBC. “It’s been a privilege to represent the UK. I will keep performing and I’m still smiling.” There was unexpected excitement in the contest’s first minutes when Spain’s performance was disrupted by a spectator who jumped on stage during Daniel Diges’s performance of Algo Pequeñito. Diges and his backing dancers, to their credit, kept performing as guards hustled the interloper offstage.

The European Broadcasting Union, which produces Eurovision, quickly ruled that Spain should have the right to perform without interruption, so the song was repeated after the other performances had finished. Spain ended up finishing 15th, with 68 points.