You‘re sailing around in my peripheral

st,small,507x507-pad,600x600,f8f8f8Czech Republic
We Are Domi
Lights Off

There are some countries that really try. They have big national finals and send talented try-hard X Factor rejects and hire big name songwriters and blow half their GDP on staging and go to all the preview parties and film a lovely touristy postcard. And then there’s Czechia.

This year is the sixteenth year in a row they’ve entered without the Slovaks, and every year has been rusty nail in the foot rubbish. Their underwhelming debut in 2007 consisted of three mechanics from Kwik Fit morbidly growling, a (lack of) effort that earned them precisely one point in the first semi, from Estonia.

Things didn’t get much better in 2008 when they entered overproduced “something for the dads” act Tereza Kerndlová, whose flat vocals were tempered only by the inclusion of a winged DJ imploring us to “Have some fun“. We didn’t, and they scraped 1 point from Turkey and Malta, 2 points from Croatia and 5 points from Macedonia in their dismal semi.

In 2009 they entered the Czech Republic’s answer to Goldie Lookin’ Chain – an entry that featured a Tim Westwood lookalike in a luminous unitard, flanked by an Amy Winehouse lookalike artist and a handful of men who looked like waiters at a novelty tourist restaurant. On the night the Czechs received nul points from the 20 countries voting in that semi-final, becoming the 16th entry to achieve this result since the current voting method was introduced in 1975.

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And so on and so on to be honest. We almost got Eurovision try-hard Elis Mraz, who was so bad that when she tried also to enter for San Marino, even the microstate was having none of it – and that left us with “We Are Domi”.

When your Dad is slurring at the TV “where do they find them from”, this year you can answer that question with “Leeds College of Music”, as the band was literally formed as a final year project for their undergraduate music degree there in 2016, and to be honest it shows – giving off the distinct air of an act you are forced to go and watch in a poorly attended battle of the bands night that participants imagine A&R people will come to, when in reality it’s just their housemates, their slightly creepy module leader and five lads from Tech Crew who have terrible skin.

With graduation under their belt, Dominika, Benjamin and Casper relocated back to Prague to hone their eclectic “EDM style alternative electro-pop with hints of indie” sound and the result for Turin is “Lights Off”, a perfectly acceptable yet viciously forgettable three minutes of european dance music that they’ll love in the Euroclub but won’t be picking up the phone for across the homes of Poland or Estonia.

Guess what, fact fans! The Czech Republic has the highest castle-density in the world! There are 2,000 to Czech out! And “Czech out” is precisely what We are Domi will be doing from their hotel the morning after their semi.

Take my pain away

product_h_e_heart_pin_cyprus_2Cyprus
Andromache
Ela

And so to Cyprus, a country famous for driving on the left and laundering Russian money. Like London, only warmer.

We used to go to Cyprus on holiday when I was a kid, and I was always badgering to go visit that haunting disused airport in Nicosia but instead we just seemed to visit pirate video shops to buy grainy copies of the Goonies than ran out before the e

It’s not cheap entering Eurovision you know. There’s the entry fee, flights, hotels, ridiculously overpriced souveniers, half a ton of cocaine, and flags for the delegation to be acquired – not to mention the ever present fear that you might win the thing and then be stiffed with shelling out on hosting it the year after.

So after their financial collapse and big banking bailout in the last decade, times were tough for the Cypriots, with their entries having to become ever more creative about the financials – they sent their singer on her own in 2013, they’ve found record companies to sponsor the entry, and when Eleni’s Fuego almost won the other year, state broadcaster CyBC had to do a deal with Fyffes – the fruit people with the funny little stickers – to afford the air fare. Oh look! There’s Eleni with a pineapple! Ooh er- there’s Eleni with a bunch of bananas! That sort of thing.

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Now I like to think of myself as a fan of pop music – a keen one at that – but when the press release for this year’s entry says that “keen pop fans will know that Andromache’s star has been in the ascendancy across Europe for the past few years”, Cypriot broadcaster rik is talking right out of its γάιδαρος.

Having got kicked off The Voice Of Greece in week 2 of season 2 in 2014, “Na Soun Psema” became Andromache’s “big breakthrough hit” across radio and streaming platforms, “cementing her status as a pop star to watch”. In fact it failed to chart – probably because it sounds like the sort of thing you’d be forced to listen to while you’re waiting for your waiter to bring you Kleftiko, Ouzo and chips while some 19 year old tries to sell you a timeshare.

Her actual entry is little better – sounding exactly like the sort of thing you’d be forced to hum along to while you’re waiting for your appointment with an official at the British High Commission in Nicosia because your wallet and passports were nicked while you were at the waterpark that the timeshare rep took you to when he persuaded you to sign up for a timeshare on an apartment in Limassol that is unlikely ever to be built.

Guess the joke‘s no longer funny

st,small,507x507-pad,600x600,f8f8f8Croatia
Mia Dimšić
Guilty Pleasure

Those were the days. Back in the noughties bookies still regularly placed the UK in the top 5, and we were still completely baffled when phone voters around the living rooms of Europe failed to vote for whatever tuneless noise we’d spat into the content that year.

“The UK was robbed!”, we’d say, like we say when we lose at every international competition involving a level of competitive skill ever except the Darts. And even that bloke off the Darts is dead now.

But try being Croatia. Amazing Spice Girls knock off act ENI obviously deserved to win with this work of almost complete genius, but only came 17th in 1997. This spine-tingling work of genius from 2010 from a girl group who put the F into Eminem somehow didn’t even make it to the final. Or take Doris Dragovic’s haunting “Maria Magdalena“, which somehow only scraped fourth in 1999. For a good 18 months this solid gold classic was my ringtone, my alarm clock and my start up sound on Windows Vista.

The trouble is there’s always something just a bit off, just a bit missing about the Croatian entry – and this year’s play on the concept of the “guilty pleasure” is no different.

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It says here that Mia Dimšić is a globe-trotting singer from Croatia with a “string of hits” to her name – that checks out, but those hits all seem to be introspective, low energy pop folk songs that you have on in those shops that sell candles and hope and framed inspirational quotes about the meaning of failure.

Is your least favourite Taylor Swift song Willow too? Think that, only worse, being sung by someone who appears to have no idea why she’s in Turin, flanked by dancers designed to make her look more interesting than she really is.

My all time favourite Croatian entry, by the way, was Severina’s “Moja Štikla” from 2006, the first year me and Mrs D went to see the contest live in Athens. The costumes! The dancing! The Eukulele! The bit where she sings “Shits, Shits”!

As Justin “difficult recovery from alcoholism” Hawkins said on our 2007 national final, they don’t make them like they used to.

The illusion of safety‘s surreal

st,small,507x507-pad,600x600,f8f8f8Bulgaria
Intelligent Music Project
Intention

“I only saw a little bit of it, and only for a short time. I think we were in the country for maybe minutes, almost all of it at a Metro hipermart, before we turned around and came back home. My impression was ’Wow, what a dump’. Shortly after crossing the border your nose is assaulted by a sulfurous stink that makes you wonder whether you just crossed the Danube, or the River Styx.

“The parts of the country that I saw were all really run-down and grim. It’s possible this is just the area we happened to pass through, but boy what a mess. The industrial parts were like something out of a dystopian-future sci-fi movie, and the residential blocs were dirty and really ugly. But hey, now I can say I’ve been.”

Yes here we are in Bulgaria, one of those Eastern European countries we only catch glimpses of on shows like the Eurovision that we look down on. Maybe every few years you see a Bulgarian champion weight-lifter at the Olympics, or maybe you’ve seen a odd-looking sachet of old Bulgarian stamps at a car boot – identified by a Cyrillic-looking alphabet, communist logos, and skilled drawings of prized Bulgarian buffalo.

Maybe you remember seeing a late-night 1980’s documentary featuring Bulgarian taxi-drivers with big moustaches wrestling pigs and talking about politics and America whilst the women made yoghurt and darned socks. Bulgaria. You know Bulgaria. A poor, grim, ramshackle, commie, Iron Curtain mess of a country where donkeys outnumber cars.

Maybe that’s what really irked Wogan. That all of that is nonsense. That Estonia has some of the cleanest air in the world. That Budapest has the newest subway line in Europe. That Romania has the fastest internet anywhere on the continent. That the entire carefully crafted image of Eastern Europe as a backwards, drab, grey, muddy, dangerous, poor little cousin of Western Europe is absolute twaddle.

And that’s why they do well in the Eurovision. Because unlike us and Germany, they are not lazy, incompetent, imperialist arseholes with a saviour complex that think the people of Europe somehow owe us another win despite entering songs like the one written by the same man that created the Bird’s Eye Potato Waffle jingle and the theme to Jim’ll Fix It.

This year’s Bulgarian entrant is the “Intelligent Music Project”, a kind of Bulgarian supergroup hoping to ride the crest of Maneskin’s rock wave with “Intention”. Milen Vrabevski, the “mastermind” behind the group, is a prominent physician, entrepreneur, and philanthropist – in 2020 he played a large role in distributing Covid-19 vaccines to both Bulgarian and North Macedonian citizens at mobile vaccination centres, and in 2007 he created the Bulgarian Memory Foundation, an organisation designed to bolster a Bulgarian cultural identity, increase access to quality education, and strengthen relationships with neighbouring nations.

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The production initially sounds like a fairly polished bit of Eastern European rock, but the problem is that unlike Maneskin, a) this is absolutely not a group of lads who you would want to see with their shirts off and b) the song is absolutely all over the place – one minute it’s all grunge guitars and drums, the next minute it’s a backing track to a loading screen on an early noughties skateboarding console game, and then suddenly it sounds like the theme to an 90s steadycam drama about people who talk too fast in the legal profession in Islington. And what a stupid name for a band.

Don‘t wanna live my life waiting for your call

belgium-eurovision-heart-flag-clipart-download-belgium-eurovision-heart-flag-interior-design-indoors-pillow-cushion-transparent-png-1030553Belgium
Jérémie Makiese
Miss You

In normal circumstances we’d be in Belarus next, but things all went wrong in Lukashenko’s little dictatorship last year which means they can’t play. Belarussian boomer-pop sensation Galasy ZMesta popped up in February 2021 with a back catalogue of problematic songs about women and attempted to enter a song called “I’ll teach you” that included the lyrics “I’ll make you dance to the tune, I’ll make you rise to the bait, I’ll make you walk along the line, you’ll be satisfied and happy with everything”.

We’d been there before of course. Armenia changed the title of “Don’t Deny” in 2015 to “Face the Shadow” after neighbouring countries Azerbaijan and Turkey claimed the lyrics were about their denial of the Armenian genocide. And Georgia was asked to change the lyrics to “We Don’t Wanna Put In” in 2009 due to the suspicion that “put in” was a reference to the Russian leader, Vladimir Putin, but the country’s public service broadcaster refused and withdrew.

Alex Tracer from reddit reckoned “I’ll teach you” was just sarcasm and in fact the song was about “an entity” that “lures people to its side” by the promise of “freedom and material stuff like gadgets”. He continued:

“And the wording that is used in the text means that such promises of freedom is just a bait and a way to manipulate people. So the message of the song is do not look for freedom, do not do new things, do not be modern, stick to your history and tradition” and “if you don’t then you will be exploited. And yes, that bad entity that lures people by gadgets and material things is a reference to Europe (and Democracy in general)”

That might not have been the defence of the song that Alex thought it was, but either way the EBU were having none of that and said “try again”. Lukashenko then personally intervened (he’s the sort of dictator that would KNOW who Lorraine is) and said “We’ll make another song… you see that this is all politicized”, and then three days later said songs leaked and was revealed to be about how democratic protesters (in the song described as” bunnies”) are too young and stupid, should listen to the government, and that Svetlana (the opposition leader against Lukashenko, in the song being described as the “fox”) should be locked up.

So yes, they’re not in it this year, or next. And so to Belgium.

I had a terrible dream last night. Charleroi 2022. Jean Claude Van Damme is hosting with a script in rhyming triplets. The venue puts mayo in the beer. Every song is a ballad. Technotronic do “Pump up the Jam” in the interval act dressed as that statue of the boy taking a piss whilst three English fans sing along with the words to “Pump up the Bitter” (brew it brew it) instead. It’s worse than that year Ireland held it in a cowshed. Belgium. The Aldershot of Europe.

In 2009 Belgium entered an Elvis Presley impersonator that claimed that he invented being Elvis Presley before Elvis Presley and that Elvis Presley was stealing his soul even though he’s dead. With a Jive Bunny video. In 2010 we had to sit through a kind of low rent Marc Cohn doing a low rent Walking in Memphis, 2011 saw it entering some smug acapella beatbox with sideburns, and in 2012 they sent a warbling child wittering on about burglary.

In 2013 they sent a man to sing a song called “Love Kills” in a strong Belgian accent, resulting in the whole of Europe hearing Roberta Bellarosa singing “Love keels, over and over”, over and over again.

In 2014 they sent Paul Potts lookalike Axel Hirsoux singing about his actual mommy, in 2015 they ripped off Adam Rickett’s “I breathe again” and robbed it of any melody, in 2016 we got eleven year old Laura “Tesco” Tesoro doing a Tesco Value version of Fleur’s Sax (itself a Tesco Value version of Uptown Funk) in 2017 a terrified woman called Blanche had a three minute panic attack in an inappropriate octave all alone in the danger zone, in 2018 a woman called Sennek rhymed station, combination, imagination, and sensations into the sort of thing you don’t want to hear being played in the lobby of a hotel you can’t afford, and then in 2019 we got a boy called Eliot who said his dismal song was a “call to youth to improve the state of the world and mobilize for peace – the awakening must be collective but it needs a trigger”. Sadly as it turned out “Wake up” was more of a “trigger” to pop to the toilet and take a long streak of piss, and he went home after semi-final one.

To be fair last year Belgium’s biggest indie band of the 90s Hooverphonic (best UK Charts placing: 91) wasn’t terrible, although the title “we’re in the wrong place” turned out to be prophetic given they came a dismal 19th in the final.

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That then gets us to 2022, where a lad called Jérémie Makiese (the winner of Season 9 of Belgium’s The Voice) is doing a Belgian Bond theme. There’s very little else to say – we’ve heard it a million times before, it’s one of the songs in this year’s contest that somehow gets less interesting during each of its three tedious minutes, and the most interesting thing about Jérémie appears to be that he once sustained a dislocated elbow while goalkeeping.

I need some time to fix this, can’t you wait?

downloadAzerbaijan
Nadir Rustamli
Fade To Black

Shipwrecks resting in the sea. Oil floating on the water. Plants and soil overlaid with a crust of pain. No, these aren’t lyrics- they’re FACTS, FACT fans. Welcome to renowned Eurovision cheat nation Azerbaijan – the most polluted country in the world.

They love Eurovision in Azerbaijan. For a start they’re so into the Eurovision that they play a compilation of past entries on the escalators and platforms of the Baku Metro. I suspect if we played Daz Sampson on the Tube we’d have nine suicides an hour, an RMT strike and George Galloway as Mayor.

In fact they love it so much that not only have they been involved in countless vote rigging scandals (what is that Kissinger quote about student politics) they also blew a whopping £600 million hosting in 2012, despite the fact that it failed to pull off the intended legitimisation of the country – largely because everyone knows that the place is still a rotten dictatorship, chock full of human rights abuses and a gap between rich and poor wider than the Caspian Sea.

The good news is that they’re not really trying this year, which means we can pretty much rule out navigating the health and safety nightmare of the Crystal Hall in 2023 while the local police shoot dogs on the street.

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The quarter-arsed press release says that it’s been “quite a year” for the artist Nadir Rustamli, as his Eurovision participation was confirmed just 3 weeks after winning The Voice of Azerbaijan, where he stormed to victory with more than 40% of the audience’s votes in the grand final.

The song that got him there was a cover of Azerbaijan’s 2011 winning song Running Scared with Eldar Gazimov, one half of Ell & Nikki who also won by a suspiciously large landslide off the back of a pretty piss poor performance.

Perhaps more importantly, Nadir in 2019 came second in something I’ve never heard of until today – a contest called “Youthvision” which seems to be some sort of low rent rip off of Eurovision but based in Baku where apparently you can get points for murdering Alicia Keys.

It says here that the contest – whose slogan was “Always Be Young!” – aims is to create the “necessary conditions for the realisation of cultural potential of creative and talented students” but it sounds more like a Freshers’ week Karaoke night to me, only without the VKs to make it all more palatable.

Anyway this is all standard issue stuff – Nadir took piano lessons for 7 years, studied in music school and, while at university, joined a band in which he performed lead vocals and served as the group’s artistic director, “getting to indulge his creative side even further”.

The song itself is roughly as interesting as the bio – it’s a VERY DRAMATIC bit of trailer music with some badly pronounced words on top about a break up and a bit of balaban to make it sound Azerbi, when it has in reality been written by the same Swede that wrote Fuego.

Go sharpen your teeth na na na

downloadAustria
LUM!X feat. Pia Maria
Halo

Just look at the absolute state of this Austrian entry from 2005. The country that brought us Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, Franz Schubert and Falco decided to enter a six-piece folk group in tracksuits doing a Latin song about “a girl from Cuba” infused with yodelling.

The chorus “exhorts everyone to dance like the girl would”, but the only dancing the sole woman in the group actually does is this bit where she rubs her backside up against a trombonist. Then after they failed to qualify with this aural abscess, their broadcaster pulled out in 2006 and had the brass neck to argue that “talent … is no longer the determining factor in contest success”.

You see, when it comes to Eurovision Austria are useless. Absolutely useless. But then came Conchita Wurst.

To be honest, Eurovision 2014 was like we’d fucking time travelled. We were in a weird and wonderful world where everything was different. There I was in a disused ship yard in Copenhagen thinking maybe outside the Polar icecaps had melted. Maybe there’s fucking robots knocking about, and Davina McCall’s the new pope. Maybe you can download rice.

In truth few people foresaw Conchita Wurst’s “Rise Like a Phoenix” doing as well as it did in 2014 until mid way through Conchita’s performance at the Thursday night semi, when she rose (you know, like a Phoenix) from being a press-bait novelty act to a sure fire favourite.

But favourite and then winner she became, a once-in-ageneration Dana International moment with a message of tolerance that even caused ultra-conservative Belarussian televoters to rank it 4th despite a petition arguing it would unleash a “hotbed of sodomy” on their children.

Since then I’m afraid we’ve been back to normal. 2017’s entry was so bad that to cheer it up someone called “ESC Chloe” on youtube went to the trouble of editing the preview video so that every time their artist sung the word “hey”, a foul mouthed Gordon Ramsey insult appeared – all under the subtitle of “You fucking Donkey”.

In 2018 a forgettable man with a forgettable name sang a forgettable song in a forgettable way, and then in 2019 we got a forgettable woman singing a forgettable song in a forgettable way, although her name was less forgettable, and more unpronounceable.

2020 we don’t talk about, and last year we got an artist called Vincent “Kinder” Bueno doing a mashed up X Factor musicals and big band week number that was much better in its nightcore version to be honest.

This year? Oh by christ. Maybe I’m out of touch (or maybe it’s the children who are wrong) but the press release says that Austrian-Italian musician LUM!X, real name Luca Michlmayr, has become one of the “hottest names in the global electronic music scene”. Who?

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Apparently in 2017, he teamed up with Italian hitmaker Gabry Ponte, best known as a member of electro icons Eiffel 65 off of I’m blue, da ba dee da ba di, Da ba dee da ba di, da ba dee da ba di, Da ba dee da ba di, da ba dee da ba di, Da ba dee da ba di, da ba dee da ba di, I’m blue, da ba dee da ba di, Da ba dee da ba di, da ba dee da ba di, Da ba dee da ba di, da ba dee da ba di, Da ba dee da ba di, da ba dee da ba di, and the result was “viral smash” hit “Monster”, a “chart-topper” (it got to no.55 in Switzerland) that has clocked up well over 200 million streams on Spotify alone.

Now for the contest he’s teamed up with a singer called Pia Maria for this song “Halo”. I instinctively love it because it runs at a whopping 152 beats per minute, but in truth the logic and reasoning part of my brain knows that any song with the lyrics “We can be CEO, Yeah you already know, Yeah we can be the boss, Fly higher than the Gods” is probably rubbish.

It’s all a far cry from the Trackshittaz. You heard me.

They never liked the things that I would like

EuroAustralia.svgAustralia
Sheldon Riley
Not The Same

Terrible alphabet news here. Sadly, the Pyreneesian principality of A for Andorra isn’t taking part again this year, which is a shame because this was an absolute banger. As was this, although I do feel like she was aiming the title at me.

There’s loads of great facts about Andorra too – women live longer than men, it has an army of 12 people, the eldest able-bodied man in every family is required by law to keep a loaded rifle, and as a co-principality it’s ruled by two princes! Princes who adore you! Just go ahead, now.

Anyway. Do you remember that time when Susan off of Neighbours started to believe that she was 16 years old again and she accidentally wandered into a ’70s party and then when her memories started coming back one of the first ones was of her husband Karl snogging his secretary?

Or that time when Toadfish got married to Dee and then he took her for a drive and he lost control of their car and drove off a cliff into the sea and he was fine but her body was never found and then he got married again and a gas bottle exploded during the reception and the marquee got destroyed and his bride Sonya ended up with a fractured skull and no memory of the wedding?

Or that time when Pinkie Tuscadero crashed Fonzie’s bike and I lost all my money to those card sharps and my dad Tom Bosley had to win it all back? Oh hold on. That was Happy Days. So to speak.

Yes, that all means that we’ve reached A for Australia.

Back in 2014 for reasons that no-one now remembers, the aussies were allowed into that big converted shipyard in Copenhagen on an island (put the Eurovision fans on an Island, they said) to do the interval act, and the fans thought it was “fair dinkum” – a mid-tempo empowerment belter loaded up with Eurovision values called “Sea of Flags” coupled with a self-deprecating skit about Kangaroos and stuff.

It was more (white, western) European than most of the entries these days, so whilst it may be over 10,000 miles from the EBU’s Geneva bunker, having let the Aussies compete proper on a Brexit Barista Euro Visa back in 2015, then Executive Supervisor Jon Ola Sand gave in to twenty years of lobbying and fixed it for the antipodeans to compete every year.

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They had a good start – Guy Sebastian came in fifth with his mid-tempo mainstream brass riff funk in 2015, and then Dami Im almost won in 2016 but helpfully ended up sandwiched between Russia’s entry and Ukraine singing about Stalin’s deportation of the Crimean Tatars in 1944. Sadly it’s all been downhill for the aussies since – last year for example they somehow selected a song that sounded Sia having painful knee surgery while a bunch of people bashed pots and pans slightly out of time around her bed, and to be honest this year’s not a lot better.

There’s a decent story to it all – telling as it does the tale of a child aged 6 diagnosed with Asperger’s, growing up in council housing, moving from home to home and questioning his sexuality in a deeply religious family.

Fair dinkum and all that – not every entry can (or should) be as uptempo and fun as Dancing Lasha Tumbai or the Russian Grannies – but the problem with Sheldon’s effort here is that his song doesn’t seem to have a discernible melody, his performance is more miserable than emotional and the whole thing ends up a genuine ordeal to sit through – which is not ideal on a balmy evening in late May when there’s a bunch of talking dogs doing magic tricks out of their arse to a waxwork record producer on the other side.

I can‘t turn my head off

downloadArmenia
Rosa Linn
Snap

Great news gang! A for Armenia is back in it following last year’s period of martial law as a result of the ongoing Nagorno-Karabakh conflict with Azerbaijan.

I’ve a particular penchant for Armenia, because in 2008 it was responsible for sending one of my all time favourite entries – a woman called “Sirushu”, a top pop star singing the brilliant end-of-an-era ethnopop banger “Qele Qele” (let’s go! let’s go!) which has also ended up as the name of this blog.

Also, chess is compulsory there in schools, they have the world’s longest cable car ride, you can’t by law play guitars, pianos or drums at night and best of all, they all LOVE the underrated fruit of apricot. Boom Boom, Chaka Chaka and all that.

Their entry this year is top drawer – a space-pop song with brilliant choreo and other-wordly beats complemented by lyrics that talk about going to far away places to be who you truly are, and how the winds can take you to an ideal state of being. When you reach that peace of mind, don’t let it go for anything in the world – anyone can reach this ideal, anyone can strive to go to that place and be free of mind and spirit, and so on.

The problem is that that was their winning entry to the Junior Eurovision, whereas their effort into the “adult” contest is some kind of Diet Lilt Lumineers song from a season finale of a show that then gets cancelled about being on the verge of giving it all up, but in the end realising that you can face those difficulties with a bit more self love.

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It’s all very Gen Z, and genuinely difficult to sing along to it without replacing the lyrics with those of One, two, buckle my shoe (Three, four, knock at the door) although I’ve just looked up the rest of the lyrics to that and they include “a big fat hen”, “dig and delve”, “maids a-courting”, “maids in the kitchen”, “maids in waiting” and “nineteen, twenty, my plate’s empty” which is surely some sort of Wikipedia edit piss-take.

In the press release Rosa says “The odds seemed like they were against me – an unknown girl from a small town in Armenia. But the power of manifestation is real when it is combined with hard work, persistence, and just putting oneself out there”. “Manifestation” may well be partly responsible, but I’d wager it’s more about the fact that our Rosa almost won the Armenian pre-selection in 2013 with a song combining whistling and dubstep, which would have been infinitely preferable to this Radio 2 C-list dross.

I do not know how I got there

EuroAlbania.svgAlbania
Ronela Hajati
Sekret

Here we go again then.

It might not seem like a whole twelve months since you were sat shitfaced and full of frazzles watching Flo Rida pitch up to do the rap during the San Marinese song in the 2021 Eurovision Song Contest, but it has been (and you didn’t imagine it, that actually happened).

Yes – stow that hand luggage, fasten those seatbelts, put your brain into airplane mode and brace brace – because it’s time for my annual unremittingly miserable Wizz Air flight across the barren wasteland of European pop that is all 40 songs in the 66th Grand-Prix Eurovision de la Chanson Européenne.

Several times a day right up until the final on May 14th, I’ll be taking my previews – cliché ridden streams of consciousness consisting of lonely, unpleasant observations, barely rewritten press releases and painfully poor jokes from previous years’ blogs – and uploading them here onto the internet for your pleasure, signalled on social media via the identification of an unrepresentative and offensive quote to take out of my own context for clickbait tweets. You know, like the real media.

This, fact fans, will be the third time that Italy will host the contest (having previously hosted the 1965 edition in Naples and the spectacularly amusing 1991 edition in Rome), as well as the first European Broadcasting Union event to be held in the country since the last god awful edition of Jeux Sans Frontières in 1999. Forty countries are in it this year – Armenia and Montenegro are back after a year off, Belarus was kicked out of the EBU last year and after a couple of weeks of arsing about, eventually the EBU decided that the inclusion of a Russian entry in this year’s contest would “bring the competition into disrepute”.

So we start as ever alphabetically in Albania.

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For most brits Eurovision starts with an “ironic” and vaguely xenophobic feature in Saturday’s papers on the day of the final in May, but for people like me (who self-identify as having the Eurovision as a “hobby”), the “irony” and vague xenophobia can be a year-round, 24/7 experience. It’s a kind of perfect escapism, where you can spend half an hour or so every day cosplaying feeling a bit sorry for other countries as a kind of temporary relief from the unfurling metahorror of watching the UK get more and more brazen about becoming a failed state.

You can watch watch turgid old finals from Harrogate on the Youtube, you can listen to Eurovision radio on full blast in the open plan office where you don’t work any more (“all over Europe, ESC ra-di-o”), you can watch spin offs like the minipops Junior version (sinister) Eurovision young dancers (baffling) or Eurovision choir of the year (harrowing), and thanks to the wonders of the world wide web, you can even watch other countries go through the tedious rigmaroles of picking their breathtakingly terrible songs.

Take Christmas ‘round the Dickinsons. Whilst you may be watching Call the Midwife and Mrs Brown’s Boys, I am usually slouched over around a laptop with a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc retweeting people whose Christmas has been ruined because their mum forgot to buy “pigs in blankets” whilst watching the grand final of “Festivali i Këngës”, Albania’s very own “Eurovision Your Decision”- which tends to consists of a desperate mixture of Albanian hopefuls and Albanian hasbeens singing dreadful songs with no chorus in minor keys accompanied by a massive orchestra in a big hall somewhere in Tirana.

The show is quite an ordeal, to be honest – a three day, fifteen hour festival of shite that serves up staggering front runners like this thing featuring a pensioner banging on about his divorce, all padded out with baffling light entertainment sections like this where a close up magician does a seven minute routine without any actual tricks, or where an old man (accompanied by a woman he ignores in an unnecessarily short skirt) interviews a man dressed as 80s era terrorist who does a rap. For ten fucking minutes.

Emerging as this year’s winner was Ronela Hajati, a singer, songwriter and dancer who’s been knocking about the Albanian hit parade since 2006 when someone over programmed the drum machine and made her and her mate from youth club come flat last in Albania’s Star Academy. She then spent a good ten years trying to win talent contests to no avail, until she finally broke through in 2013 with “A do si kjo” – a song that contains the powerful lyric “you wanna bum bum like J-Lo” – and the rest is history.

Usually we get an unnecessarily overwrought ballad or a man having a mid-life crisis with a garage full of guitars, but this year everyone got especially excited because we ended up instead with a not especially remarkable bit of ethnopop – a kind of shouty version of Major Lazer and DJ Snake’s Lean On with flutes to make you feel like you’ve ordered a bowl of Ferges in Tirana.

It might just scrape into the final given a) the size of the diaspora (more Albanians live outside of Albania than in it, fact fans) and b) the fact that it’s upbeat in a sea of ballads, but to be honest I doubt it. I’m sad because I’d love to go to Tirana but it won’t be Tirana 2022, which means that without the refurb cash from Moroccanoil, the Enver Hoxha pyramid will just sit there being used as a latrine for another whole year.