Hello Dear Readers!
As you know, Dansk Melodi Grand Prix was this past weekend and for those if you who are longtime readers, you know my DMGP post starts my coverage for the new year. That post is forthcoming. But it just didn’t feel right to move forward without a post that’s been in the works for the past few months. Not because I had trouble writing it, but because I know, no matter how I phrase my argument, people will misunderstand what I am saying. So, in the name of clarity, I want to state this article’s main points here:
1. I love Rise Like a Phoenix. It was my favorite song from 2014. It’s precisely the type of music I go for. Not only that, I think it was the most complete song lyrically, musically, and in its presentation.
2. Homophobia and transphobia are real and are major issues worldwide.
3. Tom Neuwirth’s bearded-lady character, Conchita Wurst, was created to combat these issues.
4. While this mission is noble and to be commended, they are not reasons to vote for a song in a contest that prides itself on being apolitical and ideology-free.
With that in mind (and the reminder that this blog is predominantly based upon my opinion and understanding as I have experienced the world as a black, gay man), I present “Right Song, Wrong Reason.”
As Vienna prepares itself for the magnificent spectacle that is the ESC, I want to take a moment to reflect upon the reason for the Contest’s return to Austria. The indomitable Conchita Wurst presented an anthem of triumph in a James Bond-esque setting. Rise Like a Phoenix inspires hope within its listeners that, they too, can overcome heartache, setbacks, and adversity. However, would this song have won if it was performed by, say, a woman? Or a man? Or even, a non-bearded drag queen? I would predict not.
As I said, I love this song! The fact that it sounds like it fell out of a Bond movie is the primary reason for that. The composition is stunning; it builds in all the right places without ever overwhelming Wurst’s airy voice. Likewise, the staging was near perfect; if only the LED wings on the screen were a little higher so that they consistently looked like they were sprouting from Wurst’s back. But I digress. For what it’s worth, Wurst’s voice was on par. She does not have the strongest or the biggest voice, but the song was written in such a way to maximize her strengths. The lyrics are inspiring and are broad enough to not apply to just one kind of situation. Universally-applicable lyrics + Well-staged performance + Beautifully composed music = Strong ESC Entry.
Normally, I would be excited for my favorite song to win the ESC (first time since 2007!), but, the media around this song, before and after the Contest, made it quite apparent that this song won, not because of its superiority, but due to the symbolic nature of its performer.
Conchita Wurst is a bearded-lady character created by singer Tom Neuwirth to battle the rampant homophobia and transphobia that he witnessed in Austria and his travels. So, some context:
Homophobia = hating and discriminating against someone due to the fact that they are homosexual (this term is often used to also incorporate discrimination against people who identify as any other non-heterosexual orientation by those outside of the queer community).
Transphobia = hating and discriminating against someone because they do not identify as a gender that falls into the typical alignment with their birth sex (i.e., someone born male who does not identify as a man)
These issues are more complex than I am making them; for more information, the University of California, Davis has a great page that dives into these topics: http://lgbtqia.ucdavis.edu/lgbt-education/.
While Neuwirth does identify as a gay man, he does not (nor has he ever) identified as anything other than a man. Hence, Conchita Wurst is a drag queen, not a transwoman (unlike, the performing artist of the 1998 winning song Dana International, who is a transwoman). However, as Neuwirth has said, in and out of character, Conchita Wurst stands for acceptance for all peoples – not just those with which he identifies.
Conchita Wurst has been at the forefront of these issues within Austria. And, since her victory, across Europe and even in the Western World (I’ve encountered people here in the US who have heard of ESC simply because of Wurst’s win).
Anyone who follows the Contest, even distantly, would have encountered articles and stories about Wurst, highlighting what she represents and, eventually, deifying the draq queen for it. This deification piqued around Eurovision Week when the press realized how sweet and funny Conchita Wurst is. The verbage around Rise Life a Phoenix was not about the staging, or the music, or the lyrics (though, a few folks did offhandedly mention the Bond-esque sound of it), but about Conchita Wurst.
While I commend the efforts that Wurst is making to end discrimination, Eurovision is supposed to be a Contest free from politics. This should go both ways. Just because the cause is good does not mean it should influence the voting, just like bad politics should not affect the voting.
Why Make a Post About This?
So, why make a post about positive politics positively affecting the odds of my favorite song? Because I want the Contest to remain open everyone. The ESC was founded to unite all of Europe, regardless of their beliefs. The folks with the most to learn will be the first to stop watching if the Contest if becomes a platform for preaching. Think about the television show Glee. It became quite popular, used its platform to share lessons about acceptance, then descended into weekly preaching sessions, usually about lesbian/gay issues, and now has a fraction of the audience it once had. Preaching to the choir (that is, telling your supporters what they already know) is okay if you want to rally support, but to make change, you have to make sure you are using a platform that is open to everyone. It is bad enough that media is trying its hardest to pigeon-hole into a gay-man only event (which is something I have railed against previously on this blog), but the more we lift up folks with certain types of politics or messages – AND present them as nothing more than their messages (and not their songs) the more we alienate and push away those that we want to inform.
Yes, Rise Like a Phoenix was the best song at the 2015 Eurovision Song Contest. Unfortunately, it won because of what the character Conchita Wurst represents and not because of the fantastic song that she presented. Winning entries tend to start trends, hopefully, the trend for songs winning for their politics stops here.
As noted in the “Road to Denmark” series, I attended the ESC for the first time in person! For those who have not yet read my story, I first discovered the ESC when I was studying abroad in Denmark in 2007. The Helsinki edition was the perfect time to be introduced to “Europe’s Favorite TV Show.” The staging was impeccable, the hosts were brilliant, the acts were superb, and the victor, Molitva from Serbia, nothing short of absolutely amazing! I loved the semi-final, but the Grand Final is what got me hooked for life.
I swore that, if Denmark were ever to win, I would make the trip back to Dk in order to see the Contest firsthand. Well, 2013 happened, Only Teardrops took the Crystal Microphone to Copenhagen, and I found myself on a plane to Copenhagen.
Actually, I found myself on a boat to Copenhagen. I spent the preceding week in Oslo visiting my brother and his wife.
Anyway, what did I find when I went to Eurovision Village? My people! For the first time in my life, I not only found myself amongst people who knew what ESC was, but among fellow fans! Furthermore, I was able to show-off my knowledge (and promote the blog!) and school some neophytes on a brief history of the Contest to help them better understand all the underlying drama and storylines of this year’s Contest.
For once, I felt understood. I shared this common-bond with hundreds, thousands of others who had descended upon this converted shipyard, on this distant island, of the city of Copenhagen, in the north of Europe — all for the same reason. I have done many things in my life, attended sporting events in stadiums holding 50, 60, 70 – even 100 thousand people. I’ve performed in stadiums of that size as a part of a marching band. I’ve attended pop concerts, rock shows, and classical performances (including the New York Philharmonic). This was the first time, in a long time, that I felt connected to so many others – particularly strangers. It was something akin to when I first performed with my college marching band all those years ago. Only, without the butterflies in my stomach.
It was also a dream come true to see the performances so close and to see ESC history made! I saw two countries qualify for the first time ever (Montengero and San Marino – who I was representing with my scarf), I saw titans fall and underdogs succeed. I got to see some of my all-time favorite ESC acts live (Sweden, Austria, Armenia, and the Netherlands from this year will be added to my top entries list). I got to join hoards of singing fans in a giant, ESC chorus – before and during the show. It was like some kind of Eurovision wonderland. Those around me on Tuesday night, my first time in the arena, probably recall this big black guy jumping up and down – shouting excitedly. I nearly fainted from how fast I was breathing.
I met some awesome folks from South Africa, Britain (England & Scotland), Germany, Denmark (obviously!), Russia, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Sweden, and San Marino. ESC truly unites, not just Europe, but the world! This was a sentiment that I repeatedly ran into as folks discovered that I was an American. So, as a new friend told me, attending the ESC is addictive. I have found this to be true. I am currently working on my return to the Contest in 2015. I hope to meet some of you, dear readers, and see old friends again in Vienna next May!
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Hello Dear Readers!
Finally, after much struggle and anguish and many hours, I have finally resolved enough of my technical woes to finally be able to post my notes for y’all!
Reactions from the Jury Final
Last night was the jury final and I can safely say that only one country had a bad enough performance to hurt themselves. Though, Italy had, by far, the worse performance. It was pretty flat. This will definitely be Italy’s worse finish since returning. Even if Emma has a mind-blowing performance tonight, I see little reason to believe that she will score any higher than 15 based on the jury performance alone.
The UK also had some minor issues when a backing singer tried to end the song a few seconds early. I am sure that will not happen again tonight. Poland also seemed to suffer from some timing issues that affected the performance.
A few countries also helped their case. Azerbaijan, a song that was already jury fodder, will likely score very highly for the performance she gave last night. Likewise, Austria, Sweden, and Switzerland also gave exhilerating performances that are sure to go over well with the juries. I won’t go into more detail because they were minor improvements to their semi-final performances. Spain gave a good performance as well. Valentina Monetta from San Marino was the most improved from her semi-final performance and has secured that she will at least be spared the embarassment of a null points.
Well, I think (and really, really hope) that this will be the closest Contest in quite some time. The odds favorite is now Austria, with Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, and the UK right behind. After that, the odds begin to drop. After much back and forth and consultation with my new friends waiting in line for the shows, I truly think that Sweden will take the crown. Denmark’s song and staging is weak. The Netherlands will benefit from being so close to the end and so different from everything else, but at the end of the day, country has never placed higher than second at ESC and I do not think that will change this year. I do not think the juries will be as enamored with the UK entry as the fans are. Even though the Austrian entry is my favorite this year, I do not think it will be a winner. Aside from Conchita Wurst’s look, songs in this style – big, dramatic, ballads that sound like they should be on a James Bond soundtrack – do not have as much mass appeal as one would think. Especially, not compared to more traditional pop ballads such as the one Sweden has. Sweden has a simple staging that emphasizing the song; its subtly and power seperate it from the other entries, the juries traditionally like these kinds of songs, and the drama is just enough to captivate audiences without scaring them off. Undo has the perfect combination of factors to carry the trophy, and the Contest, back across the Øresund for the sixtieth edition in 2015
After Sweden, I think the remaining Top Ten will be:
- The Netherlands
As far as the Bottom Five, I would predict Italy, Belarus, Iceland, Slovenia, and Finland. These five lack a combination of adequate public appeal, public interest, and stagning.
Final Thoughts Ahead of the Grand Final
Let’s try to keep the politics out of ESC! This goes both ways. As far as Russia is concerned, booing Russia does not help anything and only encourages the true villains more. What happens when you boo the Tomaschevy Twins is that you are booing 17 girls who are Junior Eurovision champions – that’s all. The best way to handle the situation is to sit quietly; lack of reaction is much more impactful. Additionally, with Austria. What the character of Conchita Wurst represents is great, but that is no reason to vote. Give Austria points because Rise Like a Pheonix is an amazing song, not because you want the drag queen to win.
And with that, enjoy the show!! It promises to be fantastic! I will be keeping live notes the best I can from the ESC party that I am attending. See you this evening!
Wow! The second semi-final was stunning but definitely not as strong as the first semi-final. My reactions to last night’s show.
Romania, Greece, and Norway all moved through, as was to be expected. While I think Romania has only an average entry, Norway is only average, and Greece is complete rubbish. In fact, you could see the lead singer constantly motioning to the backing vocalists to sing louder throughout the entire song. The trampoline adds NOTHING.
Israel had a very strong performance – absolutely spectacular! It was definitely a major shock that the song didn’t move on to Saturday. I imagine that her jury performance was weak. It was also quite a shock to see Belarus make it through as well. This song was not very highly rated and the performance was a bit weak, not to mention there were not many of Belarus’ traditional supporters voting, only Georgia.
Macedonia has a great song, but the staying and performance were flat! The sexiness from the video, the uniqueness from the debut performance, the edge from both – completely missing. Macedonia missed a great opportunity. Likewise, Ireland also missed the boat. Casey’s singing was uncertain and lacked any kind of passion. Also, the dancers were unnecessary, or, at least, could have had better choreography. Ireland had a sure thing and let it slip through there hands.
For only the second time, Poland made it out of the semi-finals. Switzerland and Slovenia qualified for the Final for only the third time (it’s the fourth time for the Swiss, but they automatically qualified in 2006). Along with Poland, the Netherlands, Montenegro, and Sam Marino, this year’s final will have quite a few countries with little Saturday night experience.
Now that we have a running order for the final, I can say that I think much higher of the chances of the UK. It closes the show, follows a tame ballad in San Marino, and will be balanced against the much weaker Ukraine that will be opening the show. The Netherlands also has a legitimate shot at success from its draw position and following the manic, overdone performance of Denmark. My final predictions will be posted after I see the jury performances tonight!