In your household do you stand and salute when you hear the Eurovision anthem? You should. The Eurovision is a miraculous thing. This week, 180 million people stretching from the frozen European north of Norway to the deep European south of Australia, join together for the love of silly pop music.
Before long I’m watching a topless hunk play a laser harp on a flaming stage; a woman writhing about with an electric guitar; silver men spinning in hoops; people in balloon-like hammer pants grooving atop a fountain. Not since my wedding day have I seen the like.
Presenters Mika, Laura Pausini and Allesandro Cattelan multilingually introduce the show but the real presenter, for our people, is Marty Whelan. You can almost hear his moustache rustling comfortingly in the warm Italian breeze as he welcomes us to the PalaOlimpico.
Soon Albania’s Ronela Hajata is warbling compellingly while surrounded by sexy monks. She whips her blonde ponytail around like a violent Rapunzel, all the time flanked by shirtless hunks in leather skirts bumping and grinding frenetically.
I know. This is how you expected your life to turn out but you’re just sitting on your couch watching, like the wretch you are.
Latvia’s Citi Zeni sing a song called Eat Your Salad with a chorus goes: “Being green is hot, being green is cool, save the planet, eat some salad, being green is sexy as … ”
They kind of taper off there. Sexy as … what? Probably a parping saxophone because that’s their featured instrument. Look at him there. Parping. I feel they could have thrown some more policy specifics into the middle eighth, but well done all the same.
Lithuania's Monika Liu croons her song Sentimental in a glamorous ballgown while rocking the bowl haircut of Mo from the Three Stooges. I can't help but feel that it would have been better if she was flanked by backing singers with the hairstyles of Curly and Larry. But it's a good song.
Switzerland's Marius Bear (not a real bear) has spent years brooding over the Cure's ode to male stoicism, Boys Don't Cry. Marius Bear loves crying and has written a sweetly swelling torch song to that effect. "Boys do cry," he sings, standing in the middle of a broken heart, with another broken heart projected on his face in case you missed the point. Your move, Robert Smith.
Slovenia’s LPS play a song called Disko while surrounding a huge, grounded disco ball. It does feel a bit like they’re holding disco hostage. The singer wrote the song, Marty tells us, after he was dumped at a disco. “A sad moment, but he seems to have recovered.”
One of Ukraine's Kalush Orchestra's members can't be here because he is literally fighting in Kyiv. Another member has an organisation that helps house refugees. Their song, Stefani, is all powerful folk melodies, rap and traditional woodwind motifs. Not to get political, but they should win.
There is always a metal act at the Eurovision. It’s the law. Bulgaria’s metal act are called Intelligent Music Project (“You couldn’t make it up” says Marty, even though someone did make it up). There’s shrieking and shredding and the stage erupts in flames, possibly due to a wiring problem.
S10 from the Netherlands stands amid glowing search lights for some majestic Millennial whooping. Moldova's Zdob si Sdub and the Advahov Brothers engage in boisterous fiddling and exclamations of "Hey Ho! Let's Go!" It sounds like a Klezmer band is mugging the Ramones. In a good way.
MARO from Portugal stand in a circle to sing gentle harmony-laden 'Saudade Saudade.'
Mia Dimsic from Croatia sings Guilty with a guitar around her neck and three dancers dramatically enacting a love triangle nearby. (A child may turn to you at this point and say: "Mother, father I wish to be an interpretive dancer" and you'll have to decide whether to crush their spirit on the spot or wait until after you google: "Interpretive dancer, is there money in that?")
Denmark’s all-girl rock band Reddi play a catchy song about neoliberalism’s always-on culture. “I will never let it go,” they sing. “I will keep up with the show.”
Austria’s DJ LUM!X has an exclamation mark in his name and now I’m insisting on an exclamation mark in my name (Patr!ck).
Iceland’s Systur, who are, coincidentally, sisters, play a Carpenters-like folk song called Með Hækkandi So?l, emitting the relaxed sound of a generous social safety net.
Greece's Amanda Georgiadi Tenfjord sings on a set filled with chairs that are in a terrible state of repair. She sings mournfully, like a particularly glamorous school principal driven to despair by budget cuts. Her torch song, Die Together, has very few lines about municipal accounting but lots about how if she and her beloved were to die, they would never have to part. Morrissey was there first but he had fewer chairs.
Subwoolfer from Norway are dressed like modernist wolves with snouts and ears and business suits. They are accompanied by a spacemen. Their song, Give that Wolf a Banana, contains the refrain of “Yum, yum, yum” and a verse that goes: “Not sure I told you but I really like your teeth, That hairy coat of yours with nothing underneath, Not sure you have a name so I will call you Keith.” I really respect this.
Marty is losing it at this point.
Armenia's Rosa Lin sings some gentle acoustic pop in a bedroom-themed set covered in … Can we go back to Subwoolfer for a minute? I'm still not over it. I think music is over now. I think we can stop.
It doesn’t stop. As we wait to hear which 10 acts from the 17 are voted into the final, we’re given a live medley of Italian dance music ear worms with silver clad dancers, DJs and singers. “It just keeps going lads,” says Marty, and it really does.
The first 10 finalists
The following 10 acts were chosen to go through to the Saturday night final. The second semifinal is on Thursday. Armenia Greece Iceland Lithuania Moldova Netherlands Norway Portugal Switzerland Ukraine