Tue, May 27, 2003 - Page 16 News List

Scraping the bottom of the European culture barrel

For some, the Eurovision song contest is a haven from US pop, for others it is the epitome of Eurotrash


The Eurovision Song Contest, which has provided nearly half a century of evidence that globalization comes to a screeching halt when it approaches the borders of Euro pop, is over again for a year.

Twenty-six nations, including most of NATO, large swaths of the former Warsaw Pact, as well as Israel, sent their top pop stars to the 48th annual Eurovision contest, to perform previously unpublished songs. The contest was first broadcast in 1956 and is the longest continuously running program in Europe. It is shown in 42 countries worldwide, with an estimated 150 million viewers.

Though America created the vocabulary for pop music, Euro pop has long since pidginized the genre, making it all its own. This year's winner was a prime example.

Every Way That I Can was an exotic belly-dancing tune sung in English by Sertab Erener, an

established Turkish star whose biggest prior boast was having once sung a duet with Ricky Martin.

The band Urban Trad of Belgium placed second with a song whose lyrics were in a made-up, Tolkeinesque language, presumably dodging the wrath of both the Flemish and Walloon communities. Russia placed third with its hottest current commodity, the pouty, pubescent minxes of t.A.T.u., who were up to their old tricks in Riga. During their news conference, the pop duo declared they had no plans to explore Riga's cultural offerings because they would be too busy having sex.

Eurovision, originally conceived as a means of unifying a war-torn Europe, was arguably the most visible symbol of European unity before the EU. In keeping with political trends, the former Eastern bloc countries were invited to join the contest shortly after the breakup of the Soviet Union.

In recent Eurovision contests, some Western European countries have skidded -- this year, Britain placed a jaw-dropping last place, with zero points.

Juries happily gave points to Austria (an apparent cretin with toy animals on stage), Ukraine (featuring a contortionist in a turquoise leotard), and even Poland (a man with bright red hair who looked like a hormonally challenged Lulu). On all these they lavished points, but to the UK, not a bean.

Jemini, the UK hopeful, didn't do themselves any favors. Gemma Abbey sang the first verse of Cry Baby off key, and spent the rest of the performance like a rabbit in headlights. Chris Cromby exhorted the crowd ("C'mon, Latvia!") to little effect. It was a feeble showing from a supposedly great pop nation -- so, Gemma and Chris limped back to Liverpool, forever branded the first UK act to get the Euro-raspberry.

After several years in which Eurovision has become worryingly slick and classy, this year's contest boasted some real, old-fashioned tat. Mandou from Greece looked like an older Christina Aguilera squeezed into a fetish dress. Germany's Lou had been at the henna; she sang "Let's get happy, let's get gay," and it looked as if her backing dancers had taken her advice to heart.

When it came to the voting, most of the national representatives appeared to be standing on traffic islands. The same black halter-neck dress must have been couriered around Europe: they were all wearing it, apart from a woman from Iceland, draped in what looked like luncheon meat. Key style icons, for both singers and juries, were Cher, Britney and Darius.

Meanwhile, former Eastern bloc countries have invested copious funds and unsmirking enthusiasm in the contest. The last three winners -- Estonia, Latvia and now Turkey -- are all vying for membership in the EU. Aware that all eyes were on Latvia, the Latvian government spent the equivalent of US$11 million to put on the show, an enormous sum for a nation of 2.3 million

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