Thursday, May 19, 2005
British TV news is taking an increasing interest in the forthcoming French referendum on the EU constitution.
What few people in Britain realise is that most of Europe has another vote on its mind. Yes, tonight was the semi-final of the Eurovision Song Contest, an elimination round in which the British have no interest (other than morbid curiosity) because the UK song has pre-qualified for Saturday's final.
Back in March, I posted on this contest and the baleful influence it has on British perceptions of Europe. British Euroscepticism was reinforced this week with the news that a team of mathematicians at Oxford University has produced a detailed analysis showing that Eurovision's voting is biased - a statement of the bleedin' obvious that did not require months of cluster analysis.
It is just as well that only the little-watched BBC3 has covered tonight's events in Kiev. There are now 39 countries in the contest (there would have been 40 but the Lebanon pulled out). To cope with this situation, for the first time this year there is a semi-final in which 25 of the 39 countries countries compete for ten places in Saturday's final.
Because the BBC (along with the state broadcasters of the other big West European countries) helps to underwrite the huge cost of the contest, the UK entry gets one of the 14 automatic places in the final, no matter how dreadful it is (and it is). Other countries that did well last time also pre-qualify.
I was able to watch Belgian TV coverage of tonight's semi-final, so had to make do without Terry Wogan. The Belgian song did not win a place in the final - it was the turn of the French-speakers to supply the Belgian entry, so tonight the Flemish half of Belgium will be celebrating their country's failure.
Unlike in the final (where the voting takes up half the show - the best half), the voting system in the semi-final was opaque and the results took only a couple of minutes to reveal. Ten envelopes were opened and the winning countries announced, with little clue as to how the decision was arrived at or what marks each country received.
In Eurovision, musical criticism is beside the point (but fun nonetheless). What is noticeable is that an increasing proportion of the countries is resorting to skimpily-clad glamorous women to perform the songs. The logical conclusion of this process will be an all-nude song contest. It wouldn't have happened in Cliff Richard's day.
The two most bizarre entries to succeed in tonight's semi-finals are undoubtedly Moldova and Norway. Moldova is fielding a strange band offering a naff variety of folk-rock performed in badly knitted costumes, featuring someone's grandma banging a large drum. Norway, meanwhile, has produced its answer to the Darkness, complete with a lead singer in spandex and hairy chest, the first time anyone has attempted heavy metal in Eurovision.
Eurovision is rubbish, which is why you'll be watching BBC1 this Saturday at 8pm. If you are not resident in Europe, there is no escape, since the BBC is kindly providing a live webcast.