The politics of Eurovision
My pick for the winner – and why Britain will get nuls points.
Eurovision is Europe in miniature – at the same time both maddeningly wonderful and brilliantly depressing, a Babel tower of colliding cultures and simmering rivalries.
But Eurovision is better than the politics of the New Europe: instead of over-expensed, starched suits carving up quotas in a darkened room, it's a camp-as-you-like kaleidoscope of sequins, bad dance routines, terrible lyrics and awfully joyous ditties about boys and girls holding hands and asking, "Hey, can't we all just get along?"
What's not to love? Nothing, that's what.
Of course, behind the scenes, the knives will be out. Despite the promise that juries will help eradicate the bloc voting that has marred previous contests, we all know that certain countries are bound to give douze points to their pals, regardless of the content.
Some countries could put a dead duck on a stick to a backing track of someone noisily farting the national anthem, and still get 12 points from their near neighbours and the diaspora who live across the border; others won't get a sniff of a point from old enemies no matter how hard they try.
Such is the gloriously unfair nature of the contest, I'm afraid, if you look back at voting patterns to try to work out who likes whom – but that's part of the joy of it, and part of the joy of being European, trying to navigate all these old conflicts.
An interesting question is whether new tensions are beginning to surface in this new age of Austerity Europe; and if they are, whether they will manifest themselves in this year's voting.
Dana, Dana, give me an answer, do
Will Iceland, for example, have forgiven the UK yet for using anti-terror legislation to demand its money back a couple of years ago? Will Portugal, Ireland and Greece show thanks to their eurozone benefactors, or anger at the conditions imposed on them by the likes of France and Germany? Will Azerbaijan give 12 points to Turkey? Ah well, some things are easier to predict than others in this game.
It was intriguing last year to see Europe turn, in its hour of crisis, to the big daddy, Germany. Were they simply looking to the larger nation to help steer them through troubled times? Was it that they wer sure that Germany would at least have a few spare euros to put on a good show?
I think it's more complicated than that. I may have hated every second of the demonic Deutsch Dick Van Dyke Lena and her mockney meanderings about buying new underwear, but that's just me. The song had been a hit across the rest of Europe by the time the contest had come around; it had a built-in fanbase.
This year, the favourites are France. Listening to the entry, it's hard for me (and many others) to see why: I find it an intensely unlikeable dirge from Amaury Vassili and "Sognu", lacking in warmth or personality, just a moany lament that leaves you entirely cold.
There's just something completely impersonal about it, which makes me wonder why it's managed to create such a buzz. Or is there something else going on? Perhaps, after Germany, Europe turns towards France for inspiration, for help in its times of crisis. And if that is the case, why not the Royaume Uni?
Why not, indeed? Well, I think there are two main factors. First, the fragmenting UK, with Scotland contemplating a more independent future, still refuses to be friends with Europe. That looks unlikely to change with David Cameron having to shore up the anti-European wedge of the Tory party on one side, despite being in coalition with the more Euro-enthusiastic Liberal Democrats.
Second, we've produced an awful lot of shit down the years. Katrina and the Waves, lifted on a buzz of Blair bliss in that honeymoon period before we started bombing too many people, also had the virtue of having a half-decent song.
It's easy to point to the awfulness of Jemini – and they really were appallingly bad – but they weren't alone. We've had nothing to cheer since then, and I can't see Blue turning the tide, either, despite their relative high profile. No, it'll be another year of dashed hopes for the UK – and rightly so.
Optimistic stormclouds . . .
Who will win, then? My personal favourite is Switzerland, for a song that offers an optimistic vision of stormclouds disappearing across Europe, the recessions receding, a future full of hope, and all of that.
But I don't think they'll quite make it over the finishing line – like my pick of last year, Tom Dice of Belgium, I just don't think they have the all-round appeal necessary to get the big votes.
Serbia has a chance, and a pretty decent effort that should hoover up a few votes in the all-important Balkans, but I don't know if it'll play well enough across the north of the continent.
Which leaves us with Jedward. If anything can cross cultural boundaries, it's a pair of There's Something About Mary-quiffed, rubbery twins bounding around with Labrador-chasing-a-tennis-ball enthusiasm, singing about make-up.
What could possibly go wrong? It's just the kick-start that Ireland needs as an era of gloom descends, and they'll get a few votes from fellow struggling eurozone nations for that, too. They have the perfect combination of the political, the tactical and the sheer Euro wackiness.
I hope so, anyway. Please, anybody but France.