We are going to need a new approach to Eurovision


The international song contest seems to have moved on without us in a way we don’t understand

IT IS strange, perhaps nowadays unheard of, to watch Eurovision without a remote. You have a remote, and you have a gay man on speed dial, if not at the end of the sofa. These are the laws of Eurovision, which have evolved seamlessly down the decades for anyone with the patience to watch it.

Because there are some things you don’t want to see all of: seriously, you don’t think those Russian grannies have been trafficked, do you? And poor Engelbert, out-grannied and wearing black, and then having to go first, never had a chance.

Sometimes it’s best just to have a quick look and to flick as fast as possible. Flicking is such an integral part of the Eurovision experience – flicking between commentators, flicking to news from other countries, flicking blooming anywhere during the Albanian song, which we came to love – that not being able to flick, having to watch the whole thing the whole way through without interruption, is extraordinary.

The reason that the use of the remote control was out of the question is not entirely clear. Something to do with having paused live television in a digital way, and then trying to catch up on the live broadcast. We put ourselves in the hands of the youngest person present – “She’s a sort of TV whisperer”, said her sister respectfully – and everything turned out fine.

We had started the evening well, by singing Jedward’s last Eurovision song “Lipstick, de, de, de, de Lipstick!” in the kitchen, with some spirit. During the brief technical hitch, we were able to regale the youngsters about the days when the youngest person in the room had to run upstairs to another room, or possibly to the attic, to change cables in order to change channels. Later on, families had hour-long rows about who would cross the living room to change channels on the television set itself.

Ah yes, the only time we saw television remote controls was on television; we gazed in wonder as they were used by characters in American dramas in some of those strangely pleasing instances of television infinity.

The remote control was like the white telephone – the very acme of glamour. Eric Polley, who invented the remote in the 1950s, died in the States last week at the age of 96.

The thing is, superior technology has ruined Eurovision. Time was when you could rely on at least one international connection breaking down and a whole continent sweating bricks on its collective sofa as a man in a dinner jacket with perspiration standing on his forehead went “Hello, Paris? PARIS? Your votes, please.”

And by the time the Paris guy had come on board and exchanged a couple of Bon Soirs with the guy in the dinner jacket while saying “Nul points”, in a way that made you realise there were other ways of life elsewhere, we were all hysterical with relief and so grateful for the miracle that allowed us to talk to foreigners that we would have wished anybody well. But now everything goes swimmingly, and there are no technical hitches even when the president’s son-in-law is being lowered from a very high roof on two cables. And just as well there were no hitches on that particular project, eh?

What with the flames and flashes and water features and a very big wind machine – last night’s has to have been the windiest Eurovision ever, over the course of the evening kilometres of chiffon whistled in the breeze – to say nothing of the Russian grannies’ bread oven, the potential for onstage disaster was immense.

Yet nothing happened and everyone seemed pretty calm. Some of us thought that the singer of the Azerbaijan entry seemed a little too calm when she was interviewed backstage after the show. And the cartwheel has become a bit of a theme. When did that happen? Dana didn’t cartwheel. Dana International didn’t cartwheel either – oh, how I miss them both. But now everyone’s cartwheeling all over the place.

I thought cartwheeling to display youthful vigour was one of our – I mean, Jedward’s – great strengths, but no. It’s like the folk thing, they’ve stolen that from us too. I mean, the Serbians came out with a bodhrán, for God’s sake. And Italy stole Imelda May’s Johnny Got A Boom Boom song as well as Amy Winehouse’s clothes. Foreigners!

No one blames the Azerbaijanis for flogging the whole “Azerbaijan land of tea” and “Baku city of fine cuisine” routine. After all, if memory serves, we used to show the whole of Europe short films on the manufacture of Waterford Crystal during Eurovision’s slower moments. And if we didn’t, we should have done. The Eurovision is no place for national shyness. If the president’s son-in-law thinks it expedient to kiss the Azerbaijani flag, then let him, even as the jails groan.

Jedward, who are terrific, looked as if they were in another competition. Their number was somehow misjudged and they didn’t look comfortable. We’re going to have to come up with a new approach to Eurovision, which has moved on without us in a way we don’t understand (see last week’s column on the difficult second album syndrome.)

Perhaps it comes down to the fact that Eurovision is about younger countries, not younger performers. Anyway, it was a lovely evening.

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