Kieran of Crooked Timber is a sad, obsessive man. Where would we be without him? He has created a statistical analysis of geo-political favoritism in the Eurovision song contest, complete with confusing but convincing pictures.
However, Kieran's premise is flawed:
...Eurovision songs are (to a first approximation) uniformly worthless, [so] we can assume that votes express a simple preference for one nation over another, uncomplicated by any aesthetic considerations.
Eurovision songs aren't uniformly worthless; instead, mediocrity is the order of the day. There is usually something to enjoy at Eurosong: last year I thought the Belgian entry was quite good (it made number 2) as well as one song from one of the Baltic countries. I'd need to look that last one up. And there are some spectacularly crappy ones each year, like the dreadfully unfunny spoof inflicted on us by the Austrians, or the English entry which was only saved from getting negative points by the bassline at the start.
But most songs are like last year's Dutch entry: bland, mediocre, destined to end one step below the left column in the final tally (considering the Dutch' track record in the years before, that's a pretty good score). I remember that by the time the contest was on, I had rather learned to like the Dutch entry; I thought the tune was more memorable than many of the others' and that the production value was better. But even then, I suspected that this was the result of having been brainwashed by it on the radio in the preceeding weeks. A year on, I'll be damned if I can remember how it went.
Last year was the first time in a decade I watched it. I got together with some of my buddies (Danny, Sidsel and Jeroen, I think. Possibly my brother as well) to watch the ghastly spectacle unfold. The blonde Eastern European starlets, the cheesy touristy shots of the host country, the cooked-up controversy, the key changes, everything. How did I survive? The answer is very simple.
Lots of it.
If you want to survive Eurosong without mind-scarring, make sure that you're at least into your second drink before the first song starts, and keep up the pace. I know that that's not good for the brain either but you will need the soft blanket of hazy good-cheer to protect yourself from the three-hour bombardment of saccharine mediocrity that is the contest. Naturally, there's a drinking game to help you keep up the pace, but it has far too many rules. You need only one event to guide your drinking: the Key Change.
Key changes are a tried and tested device for giving a song a bit of extra "lift" and make it seem catchy. It's particularly useful when a song is so badly written that it can't go for three whole minutes without running out of steam. The hallmark of a good Eurovision Song Contest entry is that the key is shifted up by a full tone or more (not a semitone. Semitones are scary and Goffic) around the 2:20 mark. The hallmark of a great Eurosong entry is that the key is shifted up twice in the three minutes allowed for each song. In fact, during that other song that I liked last year, I told my buddies "you know, this song is so good I won't even mind a key change." The Key Change occured immediately afterwards. So I said "see? I'm not bothered by it at all? The only thing that can ruin it now is another key change!" The second Key Change occured immediately afterwards, and I decided not to tempt fate by suggesting that there was still time for a third. If there had been a third, the song would surely have won.
Drink two fingers' worth of booze for each time the key is shifted up and you'll be too plastered to remember your own name before the judging even starts. So you can, indeed you will, forget those other complicated rules in the official drinking game.
The judging is pretty dreary and repetitive to watch although possibly not compared to the songs. It becomes fun if you've kept a ranking of your own, especially if you've fought with your buddies over it. Keeping track of who gives points to who is also a good idea - and you can print out Kieran's graphs and pretend that they represent your analysis of the year's vote. You will be the life of the party!
One other great aspect of the judging is that you get to see the performers waiting for the outcome, penned up like sheep and drinking rather faster than you are. They will pick their noses on camera, talk to their families at home on their cell phones and generally look like cattle waiting to be slaughtered, which is exactly what they are at this point. Last year's winner, a Turkish singer whose name fortunately escapes me, was interviewed during the final moments (it was a fairly close race with the Belgians) and revealed herself to have all the wit and composure of a plucked chicken. It was much more entertaining than hearing her sing.
POSTSCRIPT: I see that those perfidious Brits are still trying to tie last year's execrable performance by Gemini to the war in Iraq, and are already using the Abu Ghraib torture scandal as a pre-emptive excuse for a new humiliation. Knock it off, lads! Never was the Eurosong Jury process as fair and objective as when it returned no points at all to Gemini.
POSTSCRIPT no. 2: A few days ago I mentioned hearing and liking the Estonian entry, without knowing that it was in fact an entry for the contest. Turns out it hasn't made it past the semi-finals that were held for the first time this year. Bummer.