THE Scandinavians are passionate about Eurovision. They also love to get one up on their neighbours in the annual cheese-fest of song.
The rule is that the winning country hosts the following year’s event and, as revellers were leaving last year’s venue in the southern Swedish city of Malmö they were greeted by a huge billboard erected by the cocky Danes (so sure that their girl was going to win) welcoming them to the 2014 contest 14 kilometers away in the Danish capital, Copenhagen.
And so, 12 months later, the circus has finally come to town in a vast old shipbuilding hangar just across the water from Denmark’s most famous inhabitant, The Little Mermaid. Eurovision Island, as it’s been dubbed by the locals, resembles a barren, post-apocalyptic industrial wasteland. Hardly the salubrious venue that your die-hard, feather boa-festooned, flag waving, Gucci loafer-wearing Eurovision fan might expect, but inside the cavernous shell one of the most hi-tech and elaborate stages ever built is ready to welcome artists from 37 nations.
So who amongst this year’s glittering throng of eager young singers, dancers, trapeze artists and trampoline gymnasts (I kid you not) is worth looking out for?
Without doubt, the entrant amassing more media coverage than almost all the rest put together is Austria’s bearded lady Conchita Wurst (roughly translated as Conception Sausage). Conchy, aka Tom, was rejected from Austria’s X Factor a few years back for sounding too feminine, so he went home to rethink his options and created the character of Conchita. The following year he returned to the show as his alter-ego, was adored by the masses and went all the way to the finals.
Belting out a Bond theme-styled ballad that would give Shirley Bassey a run for her money, La Wurst sings of how her struggle for acceptance and tolerance has enabled her to Rise Like A Phoenix. As a mascot for embracing diversity, they don’t come much bigger, glitzier and more glamorous than this.
However, controversy surrounds remarks allegedly made about Conchita by current bookies’ favourite Aram MP3 from Armenia. The comedian-cum-singer, who is looking for his country’s first win with dubstep-tinged song Not Alone, is said to have made homophobic comments about our hirsute heroine, causing outage and consternation in the fan fraternity. At a recent concert in Amsterdam featuring most of this year’s participants Mr MP3 was booed from the stage by a baying horde of angry and outraged devotees.
UK viewers may recognise the distinctive tones of Spain’s entrant because it’s none other than Ruth Lorenzo from X Factor. It’s hard to believe that its nearly six years since she sang Purple Rain to Simon, Louis and Cheryl as her “save me” song, but that track has become her signature tune and it’s therefore no surprise that precipitation features heavily in her Euro entry. Dancing In the Rain is a vibrant and passionate tour-de-force which affords Ruth the opportunity to use the full range of her impressive vocal talents. Her voice and confidence have matured well and she’s made many new friends as she promoted her song all over Europe, including the aforementioned Amsterdam Eurovision in Concert and London’s Eurovision Party. Ruth and Conchita are now firm BFFs, or rather, DFFs (Diva Friends Forever).
One of this year’s most interesting songs is the Hungarian entry, Running, sung by American/Hungarian András Kallay-Saunders. At first hearing you’re met with a stylish, up-tempo dance number, not too dissimilar to many of the other competing songs, but listen to the lyrics and a much darker, and sinister theme is revealed. The song is about domestic violence against children. The promotional video features a storyline about a young girl running from a violent and aggressive father figure. Strong stuff, and a powerful message for those who want to try and find some meaning from a contest better known for celebrating the high camp and outré.
“Who’s singing for us this year?” is a question I’ve been getting asked a lot during the past few months. Well, having established that geriatric hit-makers from yesteryear weren’t hitting the mark (Engelbert Humperdinck and Bonnie Tyler sang our last two songs) the BBC decided to peruse its catalogue of fresh, unsigned talent and came up with 27-year-old singer/songwriter Molly Smitten-Downes from Leicestershire.
Molly co-wrote the song, Children of The Universe, with Swede Anders Hansson and it has a definite anthemic feel about it. The last time we sent a “hands in the air, sway together in unison” type affair to Eurovision we won it, but that was 17 years ago when Katrina and The Waves took the honours in Dublin with Love Shine A Light, so surely we’re due a win for the old Royaume-Uni?
My final pick of the bunch, and my personal favourite, is the statuesque ice maiden Sanna Nielsen, representing five-times winner Sweden. While there are similarities to Miley Cyrus’s mega-hit from last year, Wrecking Ball, watching rehearsals of the lone figure standing on a massive stage singing one of the most powerful and heartfelt ballads of recent years, Undo, I felt the hair on the back of my neck stand up. Sanna is currently second favourite in the betting and there would be something wonderfully appropriate if we were to emerge from the venue at the end of the contest to be met with a billboard welcoming everyone back to Sweden, hosts of the 2015 contest.
So tonight, why not invite your mates round, pop on a feather boa or two, whip up a pot of Hungarian goulash, make a German Black Forest Gateau, open some Russian vodka or that bottle of Austrian Peach Schnapps from the back of the cupboard, break out some Swiss chocolate and be ready to raise a wee dram or two to Molly – just in case she goes and wins it.
• The final of this year’s Eurovision Song Contest will be broadcast live on BBC1 tonight, from 8pm