The 53rd Eurovision Song Contest Grand Prix took place at the Belgrade Arena in, erm, Belgrade, on May 24, 2008, following victory in last year's event for Serbia with one Marija Šerifović and her song Molitvá.

Well, the final took place on that date, because this year heralded a change in the voting rules. Although since about 1995 there's been a preliminary round for those who failed to get into the top half of the previous year's competition, with a record 43 entrants this year, including the first entry by the definitively in Asia Azerbaijan, they've had to stretch this to two rounds. From here on in, all countries not the host, or the Big Four (Britain, France, Spain, Germany, who give so much money to the EBU that it would wither and die without them) must pass through a qualifying round and come in the top ten of these. Furthermore, to try and clamp down on political voting, which was particularly bad in 2007, only the Big Four and the host nation can vote on these preliminary rounds. This did a fairly nice job of ensuring that there was a healthy mix of Eastern and Western Europeean nations represented; unfortunately, they then shat on it by allowing everyone to vote in the final, and there, political voting was as bad as ever. Not only did we have the former Yugoslavia all voting for each other, and all the former Soviet Union voting for Russia, but also, within the Soviet bloc there appears to have arisen a Caucasus sub-bloc consisting of Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan. This has to go. I propose either bringing back the national juries, whose decisions are weighted to half of each nation's points, or only allowing voting in the final round by those countries already in the final round. But I've been saying this for years now, and does Svante Stockselius ever listen? No. Well then. Now that Terry Wogan's threatened to quit due to political voting and Britain itself is asking whether it really wants to compete any more, he may take note (we do provide a huge amount of the EBU's funding). But on the other hand, this year we did enter a singing binman. Additional minor controversy came from the fact that one of the hosts wrote the lyrics to the Serbian entry, but this was not held to be against the EBU's rules.

For this year, they seem to have gone back to the "max six people on stage" rule. Conspicuously absent was the legion of fiddlers that compromised the Norwegian entry from last year.

The preliminary rounds contained very little of real note, apart from the Irish, who entered a glove puppet called Dustin the Turkey. This failed to qualify because it was too obviously a pisstake (and because the song was equal in naffness to Scooch). Other than that... no great loss. The theme for the contest overall was the "confluence of sound," due to Belgrade's position at the fork of the rivers Sava and Danube, as represented by slow-motion torrents of paint colliding with each other. I quite liked the little intermission vignettes, they involved talented Serbs doing their thang in order to generate something akin to the flag of the country that was up next, with a postcard in that country's language. But I digress.

General

Shouty hosts again, this time in the form of Jovana Janković and Željko Joksimović. As usual, every so often they also had some other irritating woman whose job it was to schmooze in the green room with the contestants. Most of whom, as usual, appeared to be nice and friendly with each other but probably resorted to foulsome abuse and V-signs when the cameras were off.

The opening of the proceedings dispensed with the traditional "Welcome, Europe!" call-out and instead cut straight to a remix of Marija Šerifović's winning song from last year, only this time with less panpipe-wielding and more pop-dance beats. It was a bit limp, I thought, compared with the CGI rework of Lordi that opened the previour year's festivities, but it did have backing people dressed half in a wedding dress and half in a tuxedo, if you can envisage that (and if you would want to!) After this, the hosts came out, luvvied it up some, and then it all began. As usual, I was watching and keeping scores, which were out of 20 on three categories, which I then averaged out to provide a total for each country. A score of 10/20 or above means I wouldn't be embarrassed to be listening to it. After a while, a few of my comrades started to appear and join me, however they had an annoying habit of shouting at the telly. As such, some of my notes on the later stages in the contest are mildly sketchy, so as I write this I'm also re-viewing it on the wonderful BBC iPlayer.

So, let's get going.

1. Romania.

Artist: Nico & Vlad
Song: Pe-o Margine de Lume
Comments: They couldn't have picked a less appropriate song to start with, because this was just dull as dishwater, and took itself too seriously. It tried to pich itself up later, but to little avail by inserting a few electronically-generated beats but nobody was convinced. Both Nico and Vlad had a pair o' lungs on them though. Next.
Rating: 7.3/20
Final Position: 20th, with 45 points.

2. United Kingdom.

Artist: Andy Abrahams
Song: Even If
Comments: Not bad for a singing binman. Well, it was better than Scooch but firstly, so is Lassa fever, and secondly, it sounded like it every other disco jobbie ever and was as such totally unremarkable. Pleasant enough, for certain, but in Eurovision that translates to "easily forgotten." Next. Terry Wogan thought it was good though, Britain's "best entry for years."
Rating: 10/20
Final Position: Equal last, with 14 points, but dead last on countback.

3. Albania.

Artist: Olta Boka
Song: Zemrën E Lamë Peng
Comments: An acoustic number with some warbly Albanian woman over the top. This was only notable for the fact that she was wearing a frankly enormous pair of trousers and had this flappy tail out the back of her jacket which wafted out when she standed strategically in front of the fan. I was not convinced though. Next.
Rating: 8/20
Final Position: 17th, with 55 points.

4. Germany.

Artist: No Angels
Song: Disappear
Comments: Terry Wogan claimed they were "tightly corsetted Germanic lovelies" but none of that was in evidence. This was a dull girl-group offering which I can't say convinced me. Given their large capes, I expected some Bucks Fizz-style skirt-yanking, but was sorely disappointed. And attempts at spicing it up with pyros were a bit half-hearted. Next.
Rating: 9.3/20
Final Position: Equal last, with 14 points.

5. Armenia.

Artist: Sirusho
Song: Qele, Qele
Comments: They may have benefitted undeservedly from the Caucasus sub-block that I mentioned earlier, but I quite liked this anyhow. A rather Middle Eastern sounding number, in which the singer tilted about a bit like Buster Keaton surrounded by three gyrating midgets. Oh yes. Especially when they started synchronisedly rolling round in circles. I could see myself attempting to dance to this. There was also a little burst of what Wogan called "the Mongolian nose flute."
Rating: 12/20
Final Position: 4th, with 199 points.

6. Bosnia & Herzegovina.

Artist: Laka
Song: Pokušaj
Comments: Totally batshit insane, and rightly so, since apparently the song's name means "Experiment." The woman dressed like a cross between Emilie Autumn and Kate Nash, although thankfully bereft of mockney accent or violin. Sat on a clothesline. While a man wearing jeans, a rugby shirt, and a questionable jacket sang something. Then they all started running around at random, singing the same thing in duet and at higher speed. It wasn't bad, but maybe a little too insane for the Eurovision. Also a bit short.
Rating: 11.6/20
Final Position: 10th, with 110 points.

7. Israel.

Artist: Boaz
Song: The Fire In Your Eyes
Comments: Alas, a dull song, even though Wogan liked it. They tried to cash in on Israel's ESC history by doing a foreshortened version of the A-Ba-Ni-Bi stage creep, but once again, I was not convinced. Incidentally, it was writted by one Sharon Cohen (formerly Yaron), better known as Dana International, who won for Israel back in 1998.
Rating: 9/20
Final Position: 9th, with 124 points.

8. Finland.

Artist: Teräsbetoni
Song: Missä miehet ratsastaa
Comments: I think the reason that this cross between Manowar and Korpiklaani bombed so spectacularly was it was a mere two years after Lordi, also a Finnish metal band, although not as good as this one (whose name means "heavily reinforced concrete" apparently), won the whole thing. Which is a pity as it had tight leather, massive pyros, and some chappie at the back pointlessly banging a drum. Oh yes. Place THIS into your brain, people. METAL, you miserable, flaccid, stool-pigeons. (Sorry, I got a bit carried away there.) Incidentally, the song's title translates as "Where Men Ride" and the song itself had more molten mozzarella than a pizza factory. This is, of course, a good thing, for reasons that will be explained later, though the song was not Teräsbetoni's best offering. A little bit poppish, but then, there is a three-minute limit on the song. In fact, maybe next year we Brits should enter Bolt Thrower. Brummies growling about Warhammer 40k is what the Eurovision needs more of...
Rating: 15/20
Final Position: 22nd, with 35 points.

9. Croatia.

Artist: Kraljevi Ulice and 75 cents
Song: Romanca
Comments: Thankfully not a relation of Curtis L. Jackson, the shite gangsta rapper, this was actually rather cool. It certainly lived up to expectations following the Finnish entry! It featured a grumpy old man in a hat flailing the bladder about something with this nice 6/8-time folksy melody sung by someone in a more fashionable hat who convinced the grumpy one to join with him. Then, just for fun, a very flexible woman in a flappy blood-red dress started wafting round the stage. I wish I knew what the point of this song was, but alas, I speak not Serbo-Croat, so that's by the by. I understood the "la la la" bits, which have been sorely lacking from recent Eurovision. Such a pity it only came 21st, it was better than a lot of this year's stuff.
Rating: 13/20
Final Position: 21st, with 44 points.

10. Poland.

Artist: Isis Gee
Song: For Life
Comments: The most alarming thing about Isis Gee was her massive set of choppers. They were not only radioactively white, but her smile was so wide you could see her gums as well. She also had a really serious tan. But the song was yet another warbly number and there was no real stage show. Bore-ring.
Rating: 8.6/20
Final Position: Equal last, with 14 points.

11. Iceland.

Artist: Euroband
Song: This is my life
Comments: Standard issue dance number. This probably wouldn't have been out of place in a club in a Spanish holiday resort aimed at Northern European tourists, but alas, about fifteen years too late I fear. A lack of imagination in the stage show lowered this one's score. Also I knocked a few points off it to annoy some of my fellow Eurovision viewers who were inveterate ravers. Naughty I know, but...
Rating: 11.6/20
Final Position: 14th, with 64 points.

12. Turkey.

Artist: Mor ve Ötesi
Song: Deli
Comments: Inoffensive and rather boring indie pop rock mediocrity. Good, if you fap yourself silly over Pete Doherty or The Arctic Monkeys. They needed to learn that throwing pyros about does not automatically a worthwhile song make. If you don't, you will join me in a resounding chorus of, "NEXT!"
Rating: 8.6/20
Final Position: 7th, with 138 points.

13. Portugal.

Artist: Vania Fernandez
Song: Senhora do Mar
Comments: It's not over till this lady sings. She certainly could belt out a tune. Though the tune in question wasn't the best slow number we had in the contest, it was still passable. The backing singers in togas were unusual though.
Rating: 10.3/20
Final Position: 13th, with 69 points.

14. Latvia.

Artist: Pirates of the Sea
Song: Wolves of the Sea
Comments: Pirates. Nuff said. Though I couldn't see Keira Knightley wearing a horizontal stripy bikini. Or Elaine Marley, for that matter.
Rating: 13/20
Final Position: 11th equal, with 83 points.

15. Sweden.

Artist: Charlotte Perelli
Song: Hero
Comments: Another ABBA soundalike from Sweden. The only thing noteworthy about this was that previously the singer had entered for Sweden in 1999 and won - though back then she was called Charlotte Nilssen. She appeared to be wearing a glittery shower curtain that had come off worse in a fight with a shredder. Or maybe a foreshortened ghillie suit. Also, she seemed an awful lot thinner than her last outing - almost cadaverously so, even. Worst of all though, was her make up. It was applied trowelwise just above her eyes so they looked, quite frankly, terrifyingly manic. Not even lasers could save it, I'm afraid.
Rating: 8/20
Final Position: 18th, with 47 points.

16. Denmark.

Artist: Simon Mathew
Song: All Night Long
Comments: Indie pop number delivered by a bloke in braces and a flat cap. Nice and catchy and not too unpleasant. As such, distinctly forgettable. Mid-table mediocrity was probably the best place for it.
Rating: 9/20
Final Position: 15th, with 60 points.

17. Georgia.

Artist: Diana Gurtskaya
Song: Peace Will Come
Comments: As for Diana's hairdo and sunglasses... Jesus H. Tap-dancing Christ! Points for having the balls to go round wearing that. But the song was like a third-rate clone of the Black Eyed Peas number "Where Is The Love" which, in turn, was an annoying and hand-wringing slab of saccharine "awareness-raising." That being said, there was one thing that surely will become a defining Eurovision moment here on in... near the end, we were ominously aware of a giant bedsheet flowing over Diana and her cohort and, when they emerged, they were all in totally different costumes. That was the only thing that saved this entry from total forgettableness.
Rating: 11/20
Final Position: 11th equal, with 83 points.

18. Ukraine.

Artist: Ani Lorak
Song: Shady Lady
Comments: You can count on those mad Ukrainians to come up with something totally off the wall for their Eurovision entry. Whether it was Ruslana Lyzhichko, Warrior Princess who won in 2005, or whether it was the transvestite dressed as a giant condom in 2007, their stuff is usually worth the wait. And so it was this year. Ani Lorak gyrated against, behind, and on top of, a giant glass box with large numbers of Ukrainian himbos. writhing around inside to the beat. Then, during the instrumental break, Ani appeared backlit in the box while the himbos cartwheeled synchronously around it. There was also a distinctive double-head-jerk after each vocal line in the verses that Wogan thinks might catch on. Still, one of the better entries, certainly. In fact, I'd put it up there with the Finns.
Rating: 15/20
Final Position: 2nd, with 230 points.

19. France.

Artist: Sébastien Tellier
Song: Divine
Comments: Gasp! It's in English! Surely that's grounds for complaint, going on strike, or even revolution, if not the fact that Sébastien had a great big bushy beard, as did his (female) backing singers, or the fact that he appeared in a golf cart with a fishbowl on his head. The song was, though, despite being in English, something that Johnny Hallyday probably would have sung, had that worthy not been off tax-dodging. I still think that Les Fatals Picards from last year were better. Less giant beards and off-key crooning and more running around in Gaultier suits.
Rating: 10/20
Final Position: 19th, with 47 points.

20. Azerbaijan.

Artist: Elnur & Samir
Song: Day After Day
Comments: Ahem. Are you sure you're in Europe, Azerbaijan? Because I'm not. It's on the south side of the Caucasus, which is Asia. I know, I'm being pedantic, since both Israel and Turkey are in Asia and they both enter regularly. This is because eligibility is determined by whether they pay money to the European Broadcasting Union, which has no geographical constraints, so theoretically the Americans could enter a song if they wanted (gods forbid!!!) But I digress. The song featured one of the pair, with a pair of white-clad dancers in angel wings, singing at a pitch so high that I'm sure he must have been smooth between the legs, while the other one sat on a throne being pawed at by a pair of girlies wearing some tight black leather numbers, and passing him big golden looking goblets of blood-red wine. The song was vaguely Oriental in its general sound, though other than that reminded me a bit of Savage Garden. All in all, not a bad first entry for the Azeris. Lots of hamming it up for good measure and silliness. They're certainly getting into the spirit of things!
Rating: 11.3/20
Final Position: 8th, with 132 points.

21. Greece.

Artist: Kalomira
Song: Secret Combination
Comments: Kalomira entered aloft on the shoulders of three himbos, but the song was a fairly mediocre commercial R&B jobbie. She even put on a cod American accent. The show was thus stolen by one of her jiggling backing dancers, who stopped jiggling long enough to cartwheel and backflip around the stage for a bit. This brought an otherwise unconvincing song into the realms of interest slightly. As did the dress-ripping and the belly dancing. And then the synchronised gymnastics at the end of it. In a way, this one started off a bit limp but then got better rather.
Rating: 10.6/20
Final Position: 3rd, 218 points.

22. Spain.

Artist: Rodolfo Chikilicuatre
Song: Baila el Chiki Chiki
Comments: GODS PLEASE NO. Pervy-looking blokes blokes with pompadours and a plastic toy guitar that makes beeping noises singing a novelty song about "dancing the Chiki Chiki" sends all right thinking people into Kill Mode. Especially when there's prescribed dance steps to it. This is as bad as that annoying fucking Soulja Boy song, almost, it's only saved from total direness by not taking itself seriously, unlike a certain YouTube celebrity mentioned just now - although it does name-drop both the Lambada and the Macarena. And this from the country that used to be represented at Eurovision by Julio Iglesias. How the mighty have fallen. Wogan put it best when he said that "Even Franco's secret service couldn't help this one." I don't know about that, but he deserves to fall into the clutches of same after this performance. Some testicular electrodes might do him good.
Rating: 4/20
Final Position: 16th, 55 points.

23. Serbia.

Artist: Jelena Tomašević feat. Bora Dugić
Song: Oro
Comments: "Oro" or "hora" is a traditional Serbian folk dance and this was a suitably folksy ballad to go with it, written, apparently, by one Željko Joksimović - yes, the same one hosting the contest. Massive audience cheers greeted Jelena's home turf advantage, but for me, the defining moment was the "numa numa" bit - but not in the same way as that fat bloke from American Idol. Not a bad song actually, and well performed. But despite it being the favourite beforehand... no back to back wins for the host nation.
Rating: 10.3/20
Final Position: 16th, 55 points.

24. Russia.

Artist: Dima Bilan
Song: Believe
Comments: Not one of the better songs, but very slickly written and performed. If the name Dima Bilan seems familiar, that's because he entered for Russia before in 2006 and came second. He seems to be trying to get a foothold in the West at the moment, as evidenced by his hiring of high-priced American producer Jim Beanz for writing duties on this song. It wasn't that good a song, though I did like the portable ice rink, on which someone skated round and round him as he sang. Incidentally, he wasn't wearing any shoes so there may well have been an accident resulting in the loss of a certain pair of big toes had the skater slipped. Dima himself also had a sort of rats' tail mullet that seems rather popular in the Eastern bloc right now - Dmitry Koldun for Belorus - also a sex symbol over there - had one last year, and personally, this term a large number of Russians are staying in my halls of residence and several from amongst their number have mullets. Mullets or no, though, it must be said that the only reason Dima won this year was, resoundingly, due to political voting. A look at the voting grid on Wikipedia shows that Russia recieved douze points from Belorus, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Ukraine, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia. The more cynical part of me feels that this is because if they don't receive the twelve from same, those former worthies will not be getting any oil for the foreseeable future.
Rating: 10.6/20
Final Position: Winner, 272 points.

25. Norway.

Artist: Maria Haukaas Storeng
Song: Hold On Be Strong
Comments: This is the way the Eurovision ends... not with a bang, but with a whimper. Or at least a rather uninspired ballad that sounds like every other Eurovision ballad out there. Yawn. In many ways it parallelled the opening entry from Romania. And that's all I can bring myself to say about it. Other than that, it punched above its weight because of Scandinavian political voting. As usual.
Rating: 8.6/20
Final Position: 5th, 182 points.

And that's about it really.

The Outcome

Before the interval act, the LA Lakers basketball player Vlad Divać was wheeled on for a bit, then a "weddings and funerals" band played. I cannot say that I was convinced by this performance. Riverdance it was not, though they sawed and piped away some traditional Balkan songs while everyone voted for their neighbours.

The results came in, and it transpired that the EBU's attempt at curbing political voting by having two preliminary rounds in which countries and their neighbours were split up was all for naught. Since all 43 countries could vote in the final even though they weren't necessarily in it, political voting was just as bad as ever.

If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times - only those countries that are in the final should be able to vote. However, the reality of the situation is that the EBU - and the national broadcasters - want all that filthy televoting lucre, so I doubt anything will be done about it, as without the televotes, there's no commercial sense in the national TV companies broadcasting the Eurovision. What I suggest, therefore, is something akin to a compromise situation. We bring back juries - as has already happened for the preliminary rounds - and have two parallel scores given out. Each country awards one to eight, ten, and twelve points based on the televote, but also one to eight, ten, and twelve points based on the jury, so in effect, the jury, which would be made up of a panel of media types from within the national broadcasters, would give half the points and the public the rest. It would certainly be better than the current "who's got the most relatives in Copenhagen" situation, that's for certain!

So there we have it then. Moscow next year, folks.


Sources:
www.eurovision.tv
The Diggiloo Thrush, at www.diggiloo.net
This is Sweden Calling: Everything You've Ever Wanted To Know About the Eurovision Song Contest but were Laughing Too Hard to Ask, Des Mangan, 2003

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