Suck on this, Eurovision!

by John Holbo on May 26, 2008

Eurovision isn’t really my bailiwick but you can learn history reading about this stuff. From Reuters UK:

“Other countries got support from their neighbours. Germany didn’t get any support at all from its neighbours.” …

“Russia won thanks to considerable help from its neighbours. The Russian song wasn’t bad but it wasn’t any better than the rest.”

Even though Germany shares borders with nine countries, it has a turbulent past – having invaded most of these nations.

I guess this is Russia’s reward for always being nice to its neighbors. Discuss.

Or watch some classic J-pop. This one is from the 3rd episode of “Pink Lady and Jeff”, a show that perhaps did not fail due to lingering resentment about that Pearl Harbor business. This is “Chameleon Army”, sung to the tune of “Rawhide”, give or take. (Note the changing colors of the outfits.) And “Monster”. Very Discozilla Chic. The ladies are still looking good. Here they are in 2004, remaking “Pepper Keibu”, which is – I think – Japanese for “Viva Las Vegas”. I couldn’t think of a good title for a Pink Lady post, so Belle suggested that one. How do you like it? (Honestly, until an hour ago we had never even heard of Pink Lady.)



P O'Neill 05.26.08 at 3:44 pm

Another thing I didn’t know till I actually read the Eurovision coverage — the Russian entry team got Timbaland to produce the song. So certainly geopolitics played a part, but they also knew what they wanted and went about getting it.


jim jay 05.26.08 at 3:52 pm

I think it’s much more to do with migration than politics personally.

Russia got top marks from all the places Russians have emigrated too – not just its neighbours but israel too.

I suspect that Germany’s neighbours are more likely to send people there than recieve. But possibly more than that German emigres are less likely to be “patriotic” in the same way that English emigres are probably unlikely to vote in the Eurovision for the “homeland”

I also think we have to remember that the quality of the song *does* matter and that it wasn’t that long ago that Ireland was winning it all the time.


Paul M. Watson 05.26.08 at 3:57 pm

If it was the quality of the song then there wouldn’t be a Eurovision… ;)


HP 05.26.08 at 4:13 pm

Never heard of Pink Lady? Actually, I remember when Pink Lady and Jeff premiered (I was about 16), because the network promoted it like crazy. But it seemed like such a preposterous, doomed idea for a TV show. And sure enough, it turned out to be a preposterous, doomed idea for a show.

Anyway, Pink Lady are nothing but a watered-down, discofied ripoff of The Peanuts. (Pink Lady : The Peanuts :: The Andrews Sisters : The Boswell Sisters) The Peanuts are best known to western audiences for their appearance in Mothra.


abb1 05.26.08 at 4:49 pm

They know who controls the spigot.


belle le triste 05.26.08 at 5:01 pm

Five Point Plan for the UK to Win* Eurovision (*where win = “maybe come a respectable fifth”)


Righteous Bubba 05.26.08 at 5:40 pm

Ukraine came in 2nd once with this. The contest was won by Serbia.

Two swell countries I guess.

As songcraft doesn’t appear to be involved with winning I advise artists from the UK to be luckier.


jacob 05.26.08 at 6:02 pm

About time for a Crooked Timber post on Eurovision, if you ask me.

Russia’s song was terrible–had I been voting, it would have been nul points–and the only explanation can be somewhere else. On the other hand, Greece (which came in 3rd) had a perfectly reasonable song, good even by Eurovision standards, so perhaps there’s something to quality.


President Gonzales of Germany 05.26.08 at 6:04 pm

Right. This also explains poor score of the entry from Poland, because Europe did not forget how Mussolinski and Hitler teamed up during WWII. Their fault!


Jacob Christensen 05.26.08 at 6:11 pm

The German entry was in fact written and produced by a Danish-Norwegian team. Both countries were occupied by the Germans during WW2.

You do the maths.

(Oh, and the Brits are such pathetic losers.)


Tea 05.26.08 at 6:12 pm

What jim jay said.

All the former Soviet Union states voted for Russia, Ukraine, Armenia, etc., and all the former Yugoslav republics voted in the same manner: Serbs living in Slovenia voted for Serbia, Croats living in Bosnia voted for Croatia, etc.

Surprised Spain voted for Romania?
Read this:


noen 05.26.08 at 6:50 pm

It seems to be more than just The Peanuts and Pink Ladies. The Japanese appear to me to have a thing for a pair of young gals standing on stage and waving their arms around. Maybe that’s not so true any more. Tarako Kewpie Dolls

“Cute” is universal I suppose.


Dave 05.26.08 at 6:52 pm

The danger with Eurovision [and I am entirely alert to the ironies in even writing that phrase] is that the patterns of voting evident might suggest not, as The Wogan opines, that people are not taking it seriously, but rather, and more troublingly [albeit probably only about a 1.5 on a 10-point scale], that people all across Europe might be taking it too seriously as a way of expressing nationalistic, or at least ‘bloc’ sympathies.

It’s probably several orders of magnitude less worrying/surprising than most other possible manifestations, but it is at least, I feel, disappointing, given the contest’s avowed [tacky, pointless, trivial] commitment to international harmony. [hah!] There was not really, in its heyday, anything remotely unpleasant about the Eurovision Song Contest. Now, alas, there is.


abb1 05.26.08 at 6:58 pm

A few years ago I read an article about a Danish woman who had a stroke that caused her to speak with German accent, and because of that she was ostracized by the local community. True story, apparently.


TrZ 05.26.08 at 7:05 pm

Germany does not have sizable numbers of ethnic Germans living in the neighboring countries (although used to have until the end of WWII), Russia has.


abb1 05.26.08 at 7:08 pm

Actually, I’m mixing up two stories here. This one:

A well-known case of foreign accent syndrome occurred in Norway in 1941 after a young woman, Astrid L., suffered a head injury from shrapnel during an air-raid. After apparently recovering from the injury she was left with what sounded like a strong German accent and was shunned by her fellow Norwegians.

…and this one:

Another case of foreign accent syndrome occurred to Linda Walker, a 60 year old woman from the Newcastle area. After a stroke, her normal Geordie accent was transformed and has been variously described as resembling a Jamaican, as well as a French Canadian, Italian and a Slovak accent.[7] She was interviewed by BBC News 24[8] and appeared on the Richard and Judy show in the UK in July 2006 to speak of her ordeal.


abb1 05.26.08 at 7:14 pm

Hey, this one is even funnier:

Another well known case is that of Judi Roberts, also known as Tiffany Noel, who was born and raised in Indiana, USA. In 1999, at the age of 57, she had a stroke. After recovering her voice, she spoke with an English accent, a mixture of cockney and West Country, despite never having been to Britain. [4][5] Apart from a British accent, she has begun using British vocabulary, such as “bloody”, and “loo”. Professor Ryalls attributes this to vocal tract posture, as British English has tenser vowels. [6]


not even an mba 05.26.08 at 7:21 pm

Just goes to show, never get involved in a band war with Russia.


belle le triste 05.26.08 at 7:34 pm

dave, wouldn’t “voting by bloc” and “voting nationalistically” by closer to opposites than extensions of the same issue? his grace the abbot of wogan gets very agitated that everyone in former yugoslavia seems to vote for one another, but given recent events it seems more like an encouraging development than a frightening one

the piece i linked to also makes a point — admittedly not terribly clearly — about the votes of guestworkers: the point i think being that, if you’re say, polish in the uk (a) eurovision is possibly the only big polish-related cultural event on tv except for maybe football, and (b) you’ll vote for the place you’re from not the place you’re working

this may not be a huge constituency but it’s possible it’s a bit more partisan than the home crowds (who are watching but nbot voting), and there’s unlikely to be much quid pro quo (not that i know anything about uk guestworkers in poland, maybe there’s lots of them)

it’s actually one of the few cultural-competitive events eastern europe has a chance of a better showing in than western europe: they put a lot more energy and work into it, self-evidently, esp. since ukraine’s ruslana (deservedly) won in 2004 with “wild dance”, in the run-up to “the orange revolution”


Nick 05.26.08 at 7:42 pm

Well Turkey gave a fair few votes to Armenia, and Armenia notably didn’t vote for Turkey, so presumably both the history-as-nightmare effect & the minority-voters effect were at work.
In more cheerful news, any number of backing vocalists had obviously mis-heard the event as the Eurovision thong contest . . .


Tea 05.26.08 at 7:47 pm

belle le triste,

It seems to me very likely that, when Slovenia gives 12 points to Serbia, this is not so much because Slovenes love Serbia, but rather that many Serbs living in Slovenia voted for Serbia.

I don’t have any proof for this hypothesis, of course. After all, it also makes sense to say that Slovenes voted for Serbia because they understand the lyrics, and Serbian music in general is quite popular among many Slovenes. But this approach doesn’t explain why Spain voted for Romania; the “immigrant hypothesis” does.


belle le triste 05.26.08 at 7:56 pm

it’s the clashing mix of cultural migration, cultural affinity (ie the so-called balkan bloc-vote) and variations in cultural confidence — eastern europe gaxing at the west and saying “this we can take from you” — that make it such as fascinating map of things on the move, i think

people even possibly also vote bcz they actually LIKE stuff, not caring where it’s from — find it funny and silly and energetic, like pop should be


stostosto 05.26.08 at 8:06 pm

Ah, thank you so much for posting this. I have been so mystified by the 12 points from Bulgaria to Germany, but now it’s all cleared up!

There was not really, in its heyday, anything remotely unpleasant about the Eurovision Song Contest. Now, alas, there is.



Jacob Christensen 05.26.08 at 8:12 pm

@abb1: I didn’t watch the show, only the final part of the vote. Did we manage to get the Germans to sing with a Danish accent?


Mikhail 05.26.08 at 8:15 pm

I’ll start by saying that Russian entry wasn’t great by any means. There were lots more eligible participants in my view. However, I don’t think that “block voting” or politics has that much influence on the voting results. Let me explain.

1) If you do vote politically, you’ll give the 3 top votes to your preferred countries, or maybe even 4 votes. But a quality song would easily get into the 6-7th spot of any country however political its vote may be. And so we get 6*43=258 points – without any country ever giving it a score higher than 6… So, if there was something worthy, it should be able to win easily!

2) The voting I think is primarily based on migration. Portugal and Spain both gave high numbers to Ukraine – construction workers. Israel to Russia – lots of emigrees. Germany to Turkey, etc. Basically, the top votes go with population %, the rest as people feel like. Another thing is – it’d be extremely interesting to see the actual numbers – how many people vote in each country, for example. I suspect not that many…

3) The UK coverage is exactly that – sore losers. One might wonder why the UK came dead last, but one thing is for sure – it has no friends in Europe. I guess, shouldn’t have been pushing away for so long…


abb1 05.26.08 at 8:29 pm

A few years ago when Portugal achieved some great success in some stupid football competition we couldn’t sleep for a couple of nights here – these idiots were driving all night waving Portuguese flags and honking, honking, honking… And they are not even Portuguese far as I can tell, they are second and third generation Swiss. The nationalism thing is truly amazing, I must say.


belle le triste 05.26.08 at 8:32 pm

the uk is coming dead last because we completely lack gumption and we’re not trying and we don’t know HOW to try, or want to be seen to be trying: we pretend we don’t care even if we actually secretly really do* — we never get someone with brit pop credibility (rock cred or chart cred or dance cred or old-skool pipe-and-slippers crooning cred) to enter, we always pick some pawky just-arrived semi-amateur — the last time we went with a seriously pre-established big name was i think cliff richard (who has cred problems all over, obviously, but also a very solid long-lasting history in the uk charts); ruslana was — by serious contrast — a prizewinning big deal IN the ukraine, who went on to win outside the ukraine

this is classic brit whining i think: johnny foreigner is cheating by actually putting in the legwork


belle le triste 05.26.08 at 8:35 pm

oops hanging asterisk wz to be to me saying “not me, i don’t care at all, no no ,it’s just all those OTHER brits who secretly care a lot”, as clearly proved by the fact that i’ve posted more than anyone else on this thread


Jared 05.26.08 at 8:36 pm

Yes, Japan seems to have better kitsch than Europe, but here’s some evidence that they’re losing it. Hard to tell if that’s worse than the child exploitation on display here.


~~~~ 05.26.08 at 8:43 pm

So, this Dima guy, is he gay? I saw only about 1 minute of his song but the act looked very gay to me. Last year we had a Serbian lesbian winning, maybe some people have hit upon the perfect strategy for this thing. There are three target groups you can aim for if you want to win: (1) the unserious vote, (2) the gay vote – the event’s really a kind of gay pride, according to an article I read it was estimated that 80% of the journalists present were gay, and (3) the Eastern European block vote. Group (1) is hard to get – though the Finnish hard rockers did it – because connaisseurs of kitsch generally prefer unintentional bad taste; any attempt to consciously woo them must fail. That leaves (2) and (3), Eurovision 2007 and 2008 show that if you can get these two, you win. Next year there will certainly be others trying the same thing. Get ready for the Azeri Elton John and the Ukrainian Village People.


belle le triste 05.26.08 at 8:55 pm

i think actual up-to-date gay icon stuff might work better than stuff even VERY VERY straight people know to think of nicely coded gay: ukraine already hit the “xena: warrior princess” vote dead on ruslana, which is not exactly cutting edge (unless yr a samuel delany fan) but at least goes over the heads of maintream stand-up


Helen 05.27.08 at 1:05 am

No political explanation necessary – the German entry was uncompromisingly, spectacularly bad. Even by Eurovision standards.


Helen 05.27.08 at 1:25 am

A commenter from the UK on the BBC discussion forum is exceedingly put out by the UK entry’s poor performance:

other countries are making a statement of dislike for the UK by not voting at all. The probability of only getting points from 2 countries based purely on the song must be low. I’ll be taking my hols in the UK fro now on, they’re not having another penny off me and I hope the BBC pull the plug on this hateful farce.

For heaven’s sake, man, it’s the Eurovision Song Contest! Get a grip!


john holbo 05.27.08 at 2:37 am

“never get involved in a band war with Russia.”

#18 wins the thread!


Bob B 05.27.08 at 3:54 am

As for the British being poor losers, in my neighbourly fashion, I was rooting from the start for Ireland’s illustrious entry: the Turkey:

This was indisputably an entirely original contribution, I felt, which put the whole contest into a profoundly meaningful perspective. Sadly, it got eliminated in the first round.


nick s 05.27.08 at 6:24 am

Russia’s song was terrible—had I been voting, it would have been nul points—and the only explanation can be somewhere else.

On musical values, it didn’t deserve to get out of its semi: San Marino and Andorra had better songs, but microstates don’t tend to have the pull of the Great Bear. (Though most of the western European entries in that semi were dire: I’ve no idea what was going on with Belgium.)

Sadly, it got eliminated in the first round.

And got booed, no less. There’s a thin line between embracing the tackiness, and taking the piss, and Dustin crossed it.


bernarda 05.27.08 at 8:36 am

The Russian singer was about average for Eurovision. The Greek and Turkish entries were horrible parodies of American pop.

I think I would go for the Portuguese singer or the Ukrainian singer, the singer and the song were quite good, but the disco arrangement was awful.


novakant 05.27.08 at 9:01 am

Who wants to win Eurovision, let alone brag about it? It’s really bad music, mediocre in the best cases. Are there really Irish people who go around proudly announcing that they have won five times? From my experience they’re rather embarrassed by this fact.


Jacob Christensen 05.27.08 at 9:08 am

@18 + 34: It has been done. Maybe next year’s ESC…


abb1 05.27.08 at 9:11 am

You people actually watch this stuff?


Nick 05.27.08 at 10:03 am

this is classic brit whining i think: johnny foreigner is cheating by actually putting in the legwork
Good grief – you don’t think the Russians had been practising beforehand do you?
Clearly the only way forward for Britain next year is to appeal to the majority of the Euro-electorate & hire Sacha Baron-Cohen to perform in-character . . .


Bob B 05.27.08 at 10:06 am

“You people actually watch this stuff?”

No, apart from Ireland’s entry, of course, but in this context that shouldn’t precluded meaningful comment concerning a continental issue of seminal significance.


ajay 05.27.08 at 12:44 pm

And all the world over each nation’s the same,
They’ve simply no notion of playing the game;
They argue with umpires, they cheer when they’ve won,
And they practice beforehand – which ruins the fun!


Thom Brooks 05.27.08 at 2:52 pm

All in all, this year’s Eurovision was by far the worst that I have ever seen in both music quality and bizarre voting. Yech.


Richard J 05.27.08 at 5:39 pm

Interesting thing for me was that while the Balkans generally happily voted for each other – Armenaian and Azerbijan gave each other no votes. Obviously Nagarno-Kharabakh (spelling from vague memory) still rankles.


Nadav Perez 05.27.08 at 6:47 pm

an interesting analysis of the eurovision scoring politics, from a networks point of view, can be found here(paywalled).

the main thesis there is that there were at the time (till the mid-90’s) three blocks of states: north european, west european and south european. each participant voted for the other members of the block first. as for the remaining points, northerners did not vote for southerneres and vice versa. so no surprise the westerners won all the time…
the addition of east europe changed the picture completly. anyone in for a new analysis?


Righteous Bubba 05.27.08 at 7:36 pm


abb1 05.27.08 at 9:03 pm

the addition of east europe changed the picture completly. anyone in for a new analysis?

I got this.


R. Pointer 05.28.08 at 5:41 am

As for the Greek entry, she was actually raised in New York. That fact might go to explaining why it sounded so pop-parody. Every time my greek girlfriend listens to it, I sing in response, “my perfect combination is mystery to me” and think to myself how bad this song is.


Nick Valvo 05.29.08 at 6:33 pm

I was surprised to hear that the French entry was Sebastien Tellier. He’s a pretty fantastic artist actually, although I haven’t heard his work since 2003 or so. I heard there was some controversy surrounding his occasional habit of writing in English.

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