The lights! The pizazz! The lady beards! Eurovision came and went in the blink of a strobe flare over the weekend, and with it, enough schmaltzy one-liners, tacky costumes and guilty pleasures to keep us juiced for another 12 months.
As Australians at home settled into pre-dawn drinking games and red eyed gaiety, I—unable to secure last minute tickets in relatively nearby Vienna—joined the crowd at Berlin’s Kreuzberg Freiluftkino, an open-air cinema in the leafy bowels of the Berlin Marienplatz, in a neighbourhood which, just a fortnight ago, was rammed with annual communistic May Day protests and 24-hour, neighbourhood-wide street revelry.
Tonight, a very different kind of party; the Marienplatz: thronged with Eurovisionaries and Eurovirgins from all corners of the globe. While Australians might have become diehard fetishists for live Euro song, dance and mockery in recent years, Eurovision remains, as it has been since its inception, ironically unpopular right across Europe, not least of all Berlin, which—barring its cabal of diehard expats who consider the event pure serotonin—generally regard it as a slush of mawkish embarrassment. The full house at the Kino suggested a tide of fresh local interest – so crammed, it was, that we were denied entry, saved only by our mate Wal, who aided our passage with fake pink wristbands smuggled through the side fence.
Beered up, vodka at the ready, we eased in for a big night. Adjacent the big screen, local drag queens Inge Borg and Gisela Sommer, replete in silvered mullets and hobo-erotique threads, lazed by a lounge settee atop purposefully-erected stage, jibing bitchy mockery through microphones at each contestant and the cheesy flounderings of the Austrian hosts.
It was a soft kick off: ballads, mostly forgettable. Israel proved the first to cut through the sap with their dude-blend of trad-soaked Hebrew dance-rap. Serbian disco diva Bojana Stamenov tore the roof off the place with “Beauty Never Lies.” The crowd dug that, but fell into apoplexy from the ballad soup to follow. Did no one receive the memo? Our demands were clear: camp theatrics! Gratuitous pyromania! Falsetto Dracula-men belting out dub-step opera! They sure as hell don’t make ‘em like Romania’s Cesar anymore.
As each drippy emotive tune washed into the next, I wondered if it was Europe’s dicey political mood of late that had penetrated and thwarted the contest’s customary joviality. France’s stage set appeared so bleak—a scene of noir destruction—that it dawned with the eve itself, that we were in for a very middle of the road, perhaps sombre, event. Disappointingly, of the few promising highlights, Finnish act Pertti Kurikan Nimipäivät, hadn’t made it through to the final cut.
There were a few moments of good cheese: the Austrian piano fire, and bass player who looked like Bjorn Ulvaeus; a mid-song costume yank from a Spanish beefcake; Belgium’s ‘Dude-Lorde’, a spinning oddity. That aside, it seemed that this year there wouldn’t be much to be joyfully embarrassed about.
With the arrival of the number 12 slot, all eyes turned to Guy Sebastian. Written in three days, his funky ditty “Tonight’s Alright” proved an admittedly impressive, and catchy, effort.
Earlier in the day I’d phoned my old pal Dutchy, aka Chris Holland, reserve judge to the official Australian Eurovision panel next to Amanda Pelman, Richard Wilkins, Danielle Spencer, Jake Stone & Ash London (equivalent of the 12th man on a cricket side). I was jonesing for some hot tips from the compound.
“At 8.30 this morning it was all champagne,” he said. “Dreams are being lived in here.” I queried about the voting process. “Well, everyone rocked up to each session, so my votes weren’t used,” he said. This is not to doubt his influence: I know Dutchy’s encyclopaedic Eurovisionary knowledge firsthand – the man is a maven, and does not stay silent when important opinions are needed. The rest of the panel even granted that he was their authoritative doyen in the shadows.
“Something smelt off: a pointed ruse—the Eurovision powers that be were plonking together a symbolic bridge of kinship between the European massive and the castigated Kremlin.”
I was curious about the voting mechanics. “We (Australia) are 1.25% of the entire Eurovision vote,” he said. “Half of that comes from audience SMS’s; the other half from us.” I prodded him on who was likely to get up. “I’m sworn to secrecy,” he said, though he indicated that Sebastian was a throbbing chance. “It’s scary knowing we can just rock up and actually be good. The UK are likely to get their noses out of joint.”
Though Sebastian’s outfit looked somewhat parochial, reminiscent of some past Olympic Games crew uniform, it was a solid Euro-debut for the Oz Idol luminary. Still, after enduring the preceding run of sloppy ballads, I couldn’t shake a primal urge to have instead watched as the stage went dark and dry ice shot forth from the rafters and the codpiece slaughterhouse inferno of Barbarion’s “Rock Downunder” proceeded to lay waste to the Vienna Stadhalle and all in attendance. It would have had me, our increasingly boozed contingent of expats, and all hard rock loving Berliners in attendance, slapping endless bull dances across the deckchair rows.
In the line for the bar, two middle aged Brits, wearing in their hair springy Union Jack antennae, ruminated on the event with a local Berliner. “That uvva fella was rubbish, whonny?” said one, possibly referring to Sebastian. Specifics are hazy after this, and then it was voting time. We cheered for Lee Lin Chin, and the somewhat jittery Nigella Lawson, watching as more and more votes piled in dubiously for Russia’s Polina Gagarina. Something smelt off: a pointed ruse—the Eurovision powers that be were plonking together a symbolic bridge of kinship between the European massive and the castigated Kremlin. But not even anti-booing technology could protect Gagarina from anti-Russian sentiment in the Vienna crowd, blowback from Moscow’s public distaste at the victory of their bearded jewel, Conchita Wurst in 2014.
In the end, abtacular frontrunner and Swedish TV hero, Mans Zelmerlow took out the top honors. No one seemed surprised, or terribly enthused. A cabal of wasted Irish, rinsed on gargle, began to wave flags in the back rows, murdering a rendition of ABBA’s “Dancing Queen”. Though their contestant didn’t make it to the finals, it had been a good day for the Irish—a domestic vote for gay rights succeeded just hours earlier with a resounding national ‘yes’, a boon for LGBT supporters worldwide, and neatly timed for Eurovision weekend.
Conversely, with local Deutschlanders, and hosts and neighbours, Austria left stranded at the bottom of the rung with ‘0’ votes, coupled with a general feeling that the night had been a rather lacklustre one, we all poured out of the Freiluftkino into the chilly Berlin night wanting. Wanting sexy sax. Wanting the madness.
May the mood shift towards more of the good stuff in 2016.