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The song remains...

From sex scandals to bands with exploding meat, the Eurovision song festival has it all

DANYLO HAWALESHKA May 1 2006
THE BACK PAGES

The song remains...

From sex scandals to bands with exploding meat, the Eurovision song festival has it all

DANYLO HAWALESHKA May 1 2006

The song remains...

music

From sex scandals to bands with exploding meat, the Eurovision song festival has it all

DANYLO HAWALESHKA

Sex tapes only seem to help these days—or, at the very least, they don’t appear to hurt much, as Paris Hilton and Pamela Anderson well know. Circumstances appear to be no different for Severina Vuckovic, the Croatian siren who, despite her own online sexcapade, will next month represent her nation at the eagerly anticipated testament to kitsch known as the Eurovision Song Contest. In 2004, a videotape of the pillow-lipped Vuckovic found its way onto the Internet. In it, the Lara Croft look-alike engages in an enthusiastic romp with a successful, and married, businessman. Much scandal ensued, as did Vuckovic’s failed lawsuit against the website’s operator. Despite the embarrassment (or perhaps because of it), Vuckovic last month won the right to represent her fellow Croats at Eurovision. Immediately afterward, the noise heard across the Balkans wasn’t so much applause as it was a region collectively smacking its forehead in disbelief.

Europe, you see, takes Eurovision very seriously. Nationals of all stripes wring their hands over whom their country chooses to represent them. A lot is at stake. Careers can be forged: one of the competition’s heralded high notes came in 1974, when Abba won with their massive hit, Waterloo. Other luminaries include Celine Dion, who won in 1988 while representing Switzerland (a Swiss songwriter penned the tune). Other alumni include Julio Iglesias and Nana Mouskouri. Ukrainian Ruslana Lyzhychko, the 2004 champ and Orange Revolution activist, now holds a seat in Ukraine’s parliament.

While Eurovision garners its fair share of dismissive guffaws, the numbers tell a convincing story of unbridled popularity. The

first songfest, held in 1956 in Lugano, Switzerland, featured just seven countries. In contrast, for last year’s 50th anniversary celebration, held in Kiev, Ukraine, 39 nations competed, and more than 1,700 members of the media were accredited. During the finale, the TV audience picked its favourite singer or band, casting more than five million votes by phone and text messaging in the allotted 10 minutes. In Greece, 94 per cent of viewers tuned in to watch their beloved Helena Paparizou take the crown with her song My Number One. With Paparizou’s win, Eurovision moved to Athens; the May 20 finale is expected to draw in excess of 120 million viewers.

All that pan-European attention has some Finns worried. Representing their northern country of 5.2 million is the heavy metal band Lordi, whose five members dress like slasherfilm axe murderers who got together to form a ’roided-up Kiss tribute band. The group sounds like the illegitimate demon child of a cross between Twisted Sister and Metallica, and will perform their screeching anthem Hard Rock Hallelujah, sung in English, or something close to it. Lyrics include, “It’s the Arockalypse,” and, “On the day of Rockoning.” Members wear eight-foot retractable bat wings, and their live concerts feature plenty of flames and exploding chunks of red meat.

Religious elements within Finland worry that Lordi promotes Satanism. Other non-fans want the country’s president to yank the band from competition in favour of a Finnish folk singer. Lead vocalist Tomi Putaansuu, a.k.a. Lordi, says he can appreciate why Finns may be a little apprehensive about what message the band may send to the rest of Europe. “In Finland, we have no Eiffel Tower, few real famous artists, it is freezing cold and we suffer from low self-esteem,” Putaansuu says. “Finns nearly choked on their cereal when they realized we were the face Finland would be showing to the world.”

In Serbia and Montenegro, bickering officials botched the selection process entirely. Because Serbia and Montenegro are part of a loose political union, they are forced to share a single Eurovision entry. Last year, a boy band named No Name from Montenegro went to Kiev, where they annoyed Serbs by wrapping themselves in the Montenegrin flag. This year, No Name again won the right to go to Eurovision, beating out Serbian band the Flamingos in a vote described as tainted. As No Name took the stage in victory, they came under a barrage of empty bottles. Armed escorts had to ferry the band to safety. A little over a week later, Serbia and Montenegro announced they could not reach a mutual decision on who would represent them, and pulled out, reducing this year’s field to 37 Maybe somebody should have made a sex tape. M