Eurovision 2016: Old stereotypes persist in song contest semi-final

Hugh Linehan: Swedish hosts show Common European Sense of Humour show has failed

The first semi-final in the Eurovision Song Contest was held in Stockholm, the ten lucky qualifiers will compete in the final on Saturday. Video: Reuters

 

The 61st Eurovision Song Contest kicked off on Tuesday night with 18 countries performing in a first semi-final which included the competition’s largest and smallest competing countries.

But, whereas bookies’ favourites Russia sent their biggest popstar, Sergey Lazarev, encased in the sort of bulletproof hi-tech staging that has proved a winner with voters in recent years, tiny San Marino went for a discotastic number featuring a seedy gent of uncertain vintage reliving Baccara’s Yes Sir, I Can Boogie.

Russia got through. San Marino will pack away their mirrorballs for another year.

Broadcast from “the world’s largest hemispherical structure” in Stockholm, the show featured a lot of talk about “Europe”, and a well-made and heartfelt interval piece on the refugee crisis. Thankfully, though, many hackneyed national stereotypes persist: the Dutch love affair with country and western continues; Hungary’s Bryan Adams clone farm is still operational.

Congratulations are due to Austria for confusing matters entirely with an entry sung in French by the sort of sweet jeune fille who used to dominate this thing in the Sixties. And yet again we were reminded by our Swedish hosts what a dismal failure the Common European Sense of Humour programme has been.

In truth, most excitement will be reserved for Thursday’s second semi-final. Not for Ireland’s Nicky Byrne but for Ukraine’s musical reminiscences of Stalinist war crimes, and the devoutly to be hoped for prospect of Belarus performing naked in the company of real wolves.

Combatants

Tuesday’s proceedings did, however, include at least two current real combatants. Armenia and Azerbaijan may have been lobbing tank shells at each other in recent months, but musically they’re like peas in a pod, both featuring skimpily-clad divas belting out power ballads. They’ll be glaring at each other again on Saturday.

However, seasoned Eurovisionists know better than to delve for too much meaning amidst the lasers and sequins. The night’s most controversial entry, we were assured, would be Utopian Land, Argo’s stirring call to arms for Greece. Anyone hoping for a critique of late stage capitalism will have been underwhelmed by the English translation: “I got some pickles and my friend has got the drinks/ Vodka it is, then, and whatever else time brings/ Grandma’s frying fish/ And we‘re on the plane dancing.”

Argo will be on the plane dancing all the way home, as they failed to figure among the ten qualifiers who get the chance to do it all over again on Saturday night.

Azerbaijan, the Netherlands, Hungary, Croatia, Austria, Armenia, Czech Republic, Cyprus and Malta joined Russia in progressing to the final. Two more hours of this on Thursday, followed by four hours of the main event on Saturday. Pace yourself, folks.

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