Weaver's Week 2020-05-24

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When did The Beatles do Eurovision? They didn't, they'll never be as big as The Wombles.



The television reviewer for NRC, a Dutch-language newspaper, wrote last week:

"The TV show for the Eurovision Song Contest is like a dinner party where the main course is burned in the oven and the guests help themselves with the starters and side dishes."

It was remarkable to compare how different broadcasters approached the problem of a year without Senior Eurovision. ARD, the German-language network, concentrated on the starters, the videos and performances put about before the contest. They had a vote to find the public's favourite of the songs entered for this year's contest.

Guaranteed banger.

ProSieben, a private German network, called up for a takeaway meal, and made the Free European Song Contest. Hosted by Conchita Wurst, the contest featured such massive stars as Ilse DeLange from The Common Linnets, chart star Vanessa Mai, and established singer Stefanie Heinzmann. The winner was Nico Santos, whose biggest hit "Rooftop" sounds a lot like the theme from Blankety Blank.

Back to the international comparisons. NPO, this year's host broadcaster, proudly served up its delicious side dish, Beste Zangers, where top stars turn their hand to Eurovision favourites of old. SBS also tried to scrape something together from the smokey kitchen, and Big Night In! showed us what Montaigne would have sung, if she wasn't stuck halfway around the world. NRK in Norway served a new twist, and asked the public for their favourite Eurovision moments. RTVSLO remembered their 25 entries under the badge "Slovenia".

When they sent Taylor Swift Clone #14.

But most broadcasters reached for the comfortable old favourite, the sticky toffee pudding of Eurovision, a collection of vintage performances. RTVE might have had indigestion, showing the last 16 (count 'em!) annual finals on consecutive nights. RTÉ got vintage commentator Marty Whelan to reflect on his many years with the contest, and Francophone-Belgium's RTBF picked their favourite 20 songs.

The BBC did the same, and as this is a UKGameshows column, let's have a quick look at the 16 performances they chose.

Eurovision Come Together

The tunes were selected by "a panel of Eurovision experts", albeit one without trope namers Jedward, so it barely counts.

"Heroes" was first up: a sensible staging decision, so Graham doesn't have to fill awkwardly while they get the back projection thingie in place. Then came "Diva", a lot more subdued than we remembered it.

Both of these performances have come up on the Eurovision Again project, which shows complete old competitions and is the best way we know to spend a Saturday night. "Diva", in particular, makes more sense as a winner in context: 1998 still had a live orchestra, it still required vocals in a relevant language for the broadcaster. Most importantly, the broadcasters hadn't realised that the televote changed everything: a winning song required a lot of show and less vocal brilliance. Any other combination and we'd have been in Valetta in 1999.

Remember her this way.

"Sound of silence" is an ice song, Dami Im is distant and remote from the viewer, at one point she plays computer games with the camera. It lost because "1944" addressed the heart, and televote winners Il Volo messed up the jury final. The 2016 contest was the first to clearly split jury votes from televotes, perhaps leading in subsequent years to a bifurcation between "jury vote" songs and "televote" songs, and very little between.

An unusual arrangement of "Making you mind up", thanks to the mandatory orchestra of 1981. Then came "Fuego", the ultimate bubble song. Here's a completely cynical theory: CyBC of 2018 deliberately understated the potential of "Fuego" before the contest, so that first rehearsal would be a positive surprise, and they'd get enough positive press to knock "Toy" off its perch. Naah, too calculating.

Naah, naah. Fuego.

Never mind Senior Eurovision, "Poupée de sire, poupée de son" would be laughed off stage at Junior Eurovision these days. Then "Euphoria" again. Eurovision Come Together featured some montages of other songs, including RTÉ's winners. Brief clips of each one. All? No! We don't get to see any of the 1994 winner, Riverdance.

Ah, good old NTU. Xena warrior princess, protest songs, Thrall demons, sand sculptors, man in a hamster wheel, centurions in a hamster wheel, songs for the heart, and hungry vampires. And the BBC's panel picks the most artless entry of all, "Dancing lasha tumbai". 2007 was the zenith of the televote's power, and a squillion tipsy voters in every territory sent SMSjes for this song. Even those watching the BBC, there was a time when the Corp allowed text voting for Eurovision.

They've done a lot better than this.

The annual Terry Wogan Memorial Drinks Break has taken place after songs 7, 9, and 11. If you're going to make a tradition of it, lads, make it consistent.

Looking back through recent history, it's absolutely impossible to pick an RAI entry and not say "that's brilliant". "Soldi" from last year might not be this column's choice, only because we can think of many better. Indeed, prior to Eurovision Again, we hadn't seen the 1997 contest at all, and we were blown away by just how good RAI's entry was.

From 1974, "Waterloo". It'll go on to win the public vote here, just as it went on to win the 170-person vote at the Brighton contest. That's another show we've seen on Eurovision Again, and it's so very different. Everyone stands there and emotes, there's a lot of head-and-chest voice, everyone seems to be singing for clarity. And there were only a couple of slow numbers – thanks to a random draw, both were at the end. In this run of fifteen near-identical mid-tempo songs, ABBA had the gimmick to stand out.

AA (BB not pictured).

The real winner of Eurovisie in 2015 was Loïc Nottet. "Rhythm inside" showed the world that he's got a massive talent. Dancing avec les Stars followed, and he's now on album number three. The Vienna contest suffered from tremendous bloat – it was over 25 minutes before the first song, Brighton was already moving towards the Terry Wogan Memorial Drinks Break by then. More culpably, the producers chose to make the third quarter of the draw particularly dull, with absolutely no songs anyone could remember. 1974 and 2012 had shown the problems with a random order, but sometimes it gave us juxtapositions no producer would dare make.

"Ooh aah just a little bit" from Oslo 1996. It's the only "also-ran" in the BBC's list, stuck in 8th place, thanks to some very dodgy singing. Gina's co-stars on stage included two massive computers, because every instrument had to be portrayed either in the orchestra or on stage. These days, she might wear a computer in her watch.

Ooh! Aah! Just a little bit out of tune.

Another interstitial segment, BBC entries coming second. "Congratulations", Michael Ball, Sonia, Imaani.

"Satellite" from 2010, the only time this column could sit back on the night and say, "Yeah, that's the best song, and it's sure to win". Lena had shot up the German download charts, stayed at the top, and then shot up the airplay charts in the Baltics and Benelux. Along with Loïc, along with Céline Dion, Lena made an effortless transition from Eurovision winner to credible recording star in her own right, We particularly liked her duet "Better" with Nico Santos. Hmm, him again.

The biggest Eurovision star of the past decade.

We've given you "Waterloo", we'll give you "Nel blu dipinto del blu", proof that RAI always sent something brilliant. And when did we last have a song this old and this foreign on primetime BBC1?

"Toy", Netta's winner from two years ago. Kinda feared this was going to be a new "Heroes", a song so much of the moment as to be left in 2018. Glad to be proven wrong. And then a throwback to the start of BBC4's Top of the Pops reruns, "Save your kisses for me".

Clucking brilliant.

"Rise like a phoenix", from the 2014 Contest of Blessed Memory. This song struggles for a place in our top ten, such was the quality on show in Copenhagen. Another thing we really liked: the show structure. A brisk opening, a creative stage, and a 20 minute voting window. Not so short as to break the telecom networks, not so short that people's SMSjes would be lost, but not so long that they can afford to be too self-indulgent. (That said, we're probably the only column who liked People Singing A Mournful "Ode To Joy" While Standing On Illuminated Ladders.)

Another clipset, long waits for wins: "Arcade", "Hard rock hallelujah", "Amar pelos dois".

We'd love to see Alexander duet with Lindsey Stirling.

The best stage of Eurovision Again was Moscow 2009, the first time we'd had really convincing wraparound LED: on the walls, on the floor, even raised above the stage. "Fairytale" used that stage so well, Alexander Rybak convinced us all about his folk tale of lost love. We had this down as a winner from the moment we heard it.

The second best stage we've seen on Eurovision Again was Dublin 1997, as demonstrated by "Love shine a light". There are no moving parts, but some very creative lighting and inset television monitors give the illusion of movement and space. Katrina and the Waves took a rejected Sally Army band song and turned it into an empowerment anthem for the new continent. Or something.

Victory: this way.

All of this was a bit... predictable. While Graham Norton had introduced people at home being Epic Sax Guy, or messing around like Eurovision Experts Jedward, or having a video chat with James Newman, and "Bigger than us". Our mind wandered. What five wildcards would this column have put in the BBC's predictable show?

  • "Genti di mare" – Umberto Tozzi & RAF / RAI / 1987, the BBC list was really deficient in slower songs, and this emotional song hits home.
  • "Fly on the wings of love" – Olsen Brothers / DR / 2000, a very simple, very upbeat song. Blindsided everyone with its victory in 2000, and a later dance remix was a huge summer hit.
  • "Et cetera" – Sinéad Mulvey & Black Daisy / RTÉ / 2009, an astoundingly catchy bop that somehow got locked into the semi-final. Justice would be served by finally sticking this on Saturday night.
  • "Calm after the storm" – Common Linnets / AVROTROS / 2014, Look upon these works and weep, BBC, for this is the road to succes.
  • "Doma" – Marija Spasovska / MRT / 2018, the definitive Balkan ballad, turns this column into a mushy mess in three minutes flat.


Eurovision: Europe Shine a Light


One year later: one different world. Lots of deserted streets and squares all across the EBU.

Let's meet our hosts: Chantal Janzen, Edsilia Rombley and Jan Smit.

And hey, they're doing some presentation in French, first time that's happened in a few years.

Edsilia, Chantal, and Jan.

Johnny Logan is the first interviewed, and performs "What's another year?". He's aided by viewers who sent in footage of themselves singing the song. The presenters also join in: at least they remember the tune.

One reason for this show is to present the songs of 2020. There's a short introduction to the performer, 30 seconds of clip from the broadcaster's final or the video, then a short message from them. It's – brisk. Can't be any other way – the EBU has been able to claim most of the costs back from insurance, but can't be seen to put out anything like a contest.

Måns in his back garden.

Måns Zelmerlöw offers a special song for the heroes of this uncertain time, complete with footage of folk in extreme protective garb. It's a morose take on "Heroes", performed from his own back garden in London.

Can we go better? What about some superheroes? A trip to Warsaw and a chat with Viki Gabor, reigning Junior Eurovision champ. What's it like being Young and stuck at home? "Dream a lot." Viki's here to unveil the JESC 20 slogan: Move the World. The contest's to be held in Warsaw on Sunday 29 November.

The virus tried to kill us. It failed. Let's celebrate.

"Hallelujah!" It's Gali Atari, winner for the late IBA in 1979, singing with some of last year's JESC performers. CGI candle lanterns are the best kind: look wonderful and won't set fire to your penguin enclosure. After a very downbeat start, this is positive and (literally) uplifting.

Ooh! It's Nikkie from Wie Is de Mol and Glow Up! She's been video-chatting with the contestants, see how they've been filling the unexpected time on their hands, and plugging the ESC Home Concerts on the internets. There's also a message from the King and Queen of the Netherlands.

Only for Chantal's right leg.

Diodato is on the line from Milan, talking about how his song has been a beacon of hope for folk in Umbria. How come everyone knows it? He won the San Remo festival, and the San Remo festival is huge. Imagine if Bake Off was shown live every night for a week, starting with Junior, with the nightly winners going through to a super final on the Saturday night. He gives us a piece of "Volare".

The satellite delay on these interviews was a pain: over the past few years, we've become used to fibre links, or the IP connections they use for the ESC voting. A long satellite delay ought to be a thing of the past by now.

More songs of 2020.

A crossroads for the squad.

Thirteen years on, Eurovision Again finally gave us a chance to see the reprise of "Molitva". It was worth it: Maria Serifovic and her Best Friends Squad pass through the fright zone of photographers, and finish in a group hug. The BBC chose not to show it, because of sponsors' logos briefly on screen during the reprise. Shine a Light had a new video, people of Belgrade helping each other, and moody shots of the deserted city. It's a prayer, for those who appreciate it.

In the spotlight, landmarks of Europe are lit up as musicians from the Rotterdam Symphony Orchestra interpret "Love shine a light" from their homes.

Oh, what could have been.

On the livestream, Nikkie tries to matchmake Ulrike from NRK and Tom Leeb from France Televisions. Ulrike, sweetheart, you can do so much better. BBC viewers suffered a piece to camera from Graham Norton. BBC, sweeties, you can do so much better.

Next set of 2020 performances.

Michael Schulte is on the end of another massive satellite delay. He performs with Ilse DeLange (the public face of AVROTROS's weg naar succes), and their chosen song is "Ein bißchen Frieden", Nicole's winner from 1982. They're in the Vredespalais in Den Haag. Could have done with more of this.

From the Friends Palace.

Shall we have the fourth group of songs? Let's have the fourth group of songs.

Then another wet piece of string to Jerusalem, where Netta is waiting. For the third year running, she's going to give us a new song at Eurovision. "Cuckoo" is her response to the current crisis, it's performed from her bedroom, and it's really very lovely. Highlight of the night, as far as we're concerned.

A very lovely song.

Various contestants perform their takes on "Arcade", last year's winner. Nikkie asks who the performers reckon would get the douze points from their broadcaster's juries.

A recap of Duncan Laurence's win from last year, and his new song "Something else". It's another piano ballad, it's the moment in the Infinitely Prolonged Active Voting Window when we wonder who's delivering the BBC votes this year.

Messages of support and encouragement from previous winners and contestants, and the final set of performances from 2020 follow.

Björn Ulvaeus, the Tom Hanks of music.

There's a special message from Björn Ulvaeus of ABBA. Eurovision royalty is simple: ABBA are the God Tier, Céline and "Volare" their courtiers, Lena and Cliff Richard and Olivia Newton-John and Stefan Raab float around the palace.

A link with Graham Norton from The Graham Norton Show – he also commentates on Eurovision for the BBC. In this neck of the woods, we don't quite appreciate the reach of The Graham Norton Show, it gets syndicated on many stations across the continent. BBC viewers had to suffer through his ceaseless stream of snark, he seemed to like nothing and wittered on all over the presenters. It's mean, and it's rude, and it became really annoying. Eurovision Shine a Light was much, much better without Norton.

The final performance: the 2020 contestants all join in for a montage of "Love shine a light". They've all made an entire video, and the EBU editors select the best bit for broadcast. Some of us remember the Beeb pulling a similar trick for "Perfect day" a few decades ago.

This year's top 41.

And the finale: we'll be back. May 2021, Ahoy Arena, Rotterdam.

Eurovision Shine a Light was mournful in tone, it felt like a memorial service for the recently departed. We completely understand why. The current health crisis is huge. When we checked on Thursday night, official figures from the Eurovision area showed over 170,000 dead from this infection; the excess deaths are likely somewhere over 250,000.

That's a lot of people. The EBU explicitly gave respect to the frontline workers, those putting themselves in the line of fire. It implicitly gave its respect for the dead, for the ill, for those somewhere on the path to recovery. And gave respect for all of us, we who have followed medical advice and chosen to change our lives in order to protect our fellow humans. Whether we're supported by those in power or we're not, we've all made a sacrifice.

Your joke's got to work here: the national library in Minsk.

Were Eurovision Shine a Light going out in a more homogeneous area, it would know its own culture far better. It could afford to crack a few jokes, play to local memes. But the point of Eurovision programmes is that they go out across the continent, they bring us all together. People often watch the show in a foreign language, with a local commentator translating the gist of the script. And it is safest to play a straight bat, not offer too many chances to offend people. A pun in English might be mistranslated and lead to trouble.

Let's circle back a bit. We mentioned that at least 170,000 people have died from this infection. Where are the tribute programmes? Where is the memorial to all these lost lives? We've not seen them. As soon as the crisis began, broadcasters on this island chose their tone: "upbeat", "keep spirits high", "don't be depressing". It's a valid choice, it quite probably encouraged people to stay at home, and it's easier and safer than making new shows.

The choice has consequences, though. By not showing the loss across the culture, broadcasters have kept us in an early stage of grief: denial, mixed with anger as the novelty of confinement has worn off. Eurovision Shine a Light was further along the Kübler-Ross model: it had accepted that there would be no contest, and made an effort to find meaning in this uncertain time.

Your joke's got to land here, too.

The reaction from other Eurovision fans on this island seems to be uniformly negative. We will agree that the production should have been better, the first half-hour was too depressing for its own good, and set a negative tone for the rest of the show. Tighter satellite link-ups could have added some sense of pace and urgency to proceedings.

But we wonder: is the reaction because we've not been encouraged to think about the greater implications of this crisis? Where is the deep discussion about the new society? How can we build on the respectful co-operation of the last few weeks, or are we to return to the nastiness that preceded it? Where are the hard questions for Downing Street, what are they learning about the scientific method, have they heard of anomic government? Where is the series on BBC1 or ITV telling the stories of lives both lived and curtailed in these times?

Eurovision isn't just memes and fun and glitter. It's serious singing, musical theatre, and a way for broadcasters to show their best to each other. Eurovision Shine a Light wasn't the show any of us wanted, but it's the show we had to have this year. And, if you start at about 30 minutes, and try to ignore Graham Norton prattling, it's actually quite pleasant.

Small wins still count.

Let's take a small victory where we can find it.

In other news...

Ben Justice has confirmed the top 40 shows in The People's Game Shows. There's a one-hour video to reveal the qualifiers.

And if you don't want to know the results, look away now. Race Across the World won the play-in vote.

The next step is two semi-finals: watch bothersbar.co.uk over the next few days to support your favourite.

There's a special edition of the BBC's most popular daily quiz: Popmaster Day takes over Radio 2 on Monday. On the telly, there's a new series of Eggheads (BBC2).

More returning favourites: Bake Off The Professionals sharpens up your Tuesday (C4), Brightest Celebrity Family invites Anne Hegerty to your Thursday evening (ITV), and QI hits the R-series (BBC2, Thu). Next Saturday has sitcoms on Pointless Celebrities, while ITV has embargoed their big attraction, so we won't publicise it.

Photo credits: BBC, EBU / DR / SVT / RTVSLO / NTU / YLE / NDR / GPB / NPO / NOS / AVROTROS, NRK, RTÉ

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