Friday, 10 May 2019

Though my throat is on fire, my eyes will be liars

Russia
Sergey Lazarev
Scream

For people who started to enjoy the contest in the 80s, the quintessential Eurovision winner is probably Sweden's definately heterosexual "Herreys" with their 1984 thriller "Diggi loo Diggi ley".  What a song. "Lightning and Thunder, Magic and Wonder" they sang, white trousers round their nipples, cheesy choreography and a cheesy backing track that sounded like it had been lifted direct from an 80s cartoon series whilst a clever green screen projection video of the boys in a cube played behind them. It was brilliant.

Yes- here we are in awkward superpower Russia, the home of the Russian grannies! It's easy to forget, but were it not for Loreen in 2012, "Six Susan Boyles" would have won the whole contest with their baffled baking pensioner disco act. They do this, you see. They either throw suitcases of laundered money at it, or hot boys, or cute Grannies - anything to both soften their image and give them a chance of proving that even in this silly song contest they can dominate whilst being unbelievably hostile to the EU and everything it stands for.  More often then not - the cheeky bastards - they really take the piss and hurl in a peace anthem.

In 2013 they sent this brilliant, mesmerising, emotionally manipulative slice of balladry with singer Dina Garipova singing things like "what if we chose to bury our guns?" just as the Russian airforce was conducting a mock nuclear strike against Sweden. In 2014 the Tolmachevy Sisters were sent out to sing things like "sending out a message up above, telling all the world to show some love" just as Putin was prepping up an intensive movement of troops and equipment into separatist controlled parts of eastern Ukraine. In 2015 we got an all time classic in the form of the amazing amazing amazing Polina Gagarina belting out lines like "we believe in a dream, praying for peace and healing" just as NATO reported that Russia was deploying nuclear-capable weapons in Crimea.

And then in 2016, having been booed by the crowd for a few years, they cleverly sent definitely heterosexual Sergey "Sir gay" Lazerov with his thriller "You're the only one". "Thunder and Lightning, it's getting exciting" he sang, nothing round his nipples, cheesy choreography and a cheesy backing track that sounded like it had been lifted direct from an 90s cartoon series whilst a clever green screen projection video of the boy in a cube played behind him. It was a masterstroke move in the propaganda wars. But then it lost to Ukraine.

The burning question in 2017 year was therefore whether they would even take part in a contest in Kyiv, and after much speculation eventually they announced that they were entering a woman called Julia Samoylova singing a.... peace anthem. Samoylova had used a wheelchair since childhood and scooped runner up in season 3 of Russia's X Factor, her Molitva audition for which is probably the most manipulative piece of television I've seen since Cheryl Cole put Katie Weasel through to the lives instead of Gamu. One-nil to Russia.

It then emerged that Samoylova had previously performed in Crimea and so her entry to Ukraine would "break Ukrainian law". So Ukraine then banned her as a security risk, the EBU offered to beam her in via satellite, Ukraine said no, they wrote a letter to the Ukrainian government condemning the decision, and boom! Ukraine looked like the aggressor! The meanies! Julia Samoylova! A security risk! The Ukrainians and their so called "Celebrate Diversity" contest are horrible! ALL HAIL MOTHER RUSSIA.

The trouble is, by then they'd announced that Julia would get to perform in 2018 - and in Lisbon they have her one of the worst mid tempo inspirationals I've ever heard and plonked her on a plastic mountain, with several camera shots bafflingly hiding the wheelchair. It's not at all clear whether this was just poor planning, whether Putin was playing a long game or whether they were just proving a point. But whatever it was, it didn't make the final and Ukraine did. Let's call that one-all.

What happens next is strange even by Eurovision standards. The Ukrainian national final was all sorted, until right at the last minute a woman called Tayanna mysteriously dropped out. She gets replaced with a filler - a woman called Anna Korsun (stage name Maruv), who comes from a Russian-speaking province of south-eastern Ukraine who'd had an underwhelming hit across Eastern Europe in 2018.

So far so what. Next, it emerges that she had long been acquainted with... Sergey Lazarev, who was her mentor in the “Voice of Ukraine”. Then it emerges that the rights to her entry "Siren Song” belonged to the Russian label Warner Music Russia. She was also scheduled to appear in her first solo concert in St Petersburg in April. Cue Ukrainian social media outrage and calls for her to withdraw.

All that would have been fine if it wasn't for the fact that her song turned out to be a sexy, sweaty, woompy banger of a thing with a standout performance that would have needed to be late on in the running order to get past the watershed. In an attempt to catch her out, Jamala (who'd beaten Russia for the Ukraine back in 2017) was on the judging panel on the night and even pointed at her and asked her direct - "Crimea - Russia or Ukraine?".

A visibly shaken Maruv looking like a prisoner in a dilemma says "Ukraine" and duly wins the national final - but by the time the credits were rolling, she's being treated to a truck of shit from Russian fans on VK (the Russian version of Facebook, not the alcopop) and Warner Music Russia have had a call from the Kremlin. Two days later she pulls out citing "contractual issues", and two days after that Ukraine pull out of this year's Eurovsion altogether.

And then guess who pops up as this year's Russian entry? Yep, that's right. It's Sergey "sir Gay" Lazarev, with a song written by Eurovision "Dream team" Dimitris Kontopoulos and Philipp Kirkorov, and hugely expensive staging from the legendary director Fokas Evangelinos. Let's call this... 2-1.

I love the song. I really really love it. It's ridiculously Game of Thronesey and preposterously dramatic and has all sorts of silly lyrics like "acid rain from your finger prints". Also Sergey is great. He adopted his dog Daisy from an animal shelter in 2012, which is cool because my daughter is called Daisy. Daisy inspired him to create a small business called Poodle-Strudel and since 2015, the company has created healthy treats such as cakes and pastries for cats and dogs. A new flagship store was opened in Moscow in 2017. It's a dream I hold for my own daughter.

Sergey has also been actively involved in various charity events and welfare projects. He's cooperated with the "Line of Life Foundation" helping children with dangerous diseases that require high-tech medical care. His charity concerts in Moscow have raised money for expensive heart surgeries to be performed on many children. And this brilliant song of his from 2017 called "Lucky Stranger" bangs, harder even than this Crazy Frog deep house remix from the year before.

The roubles were worth it as well. "What the" Fokas has parcelled up a hall of mirrors from the Moscow fair and on stage “each mirror represents a different point of view of ourselves. When we are in the process of making a difficult decision — frightening ones that can make us ‘scream’. In the beginning we only see one option. But as we move forward we see different alternatives. In order to reach our goal and leave the past behind we have to ‘break through’.”

I mean don't know about that, I'm deeply uncomfortable with the politics of it all, and the inevitable violent homophobia that will face much of the fandom if he wins and brings the contest home will be hugely problematic. If Russia is top of the scoreboard, did it beat the EU? Or does its unquenchionable obsession with winning the Eurovision really mean that the EU has already won?

Who knows. It's a song contest, and I absolutely love the song. And I know it's an excuse, and weak, and naive - but there's still a bit of me that believes that countries' desire to win and host the thing inevitably means that the EBU's barely disguised EU values of tolerance and diversity and celebration in the end seep into the woodwork wherever it lands.

So good luck, Sergey. Cus when I look around at the faces, I can see the stars in the sky. We will sing, we will shine. When you hear voices call, you won't be lonely anymore, oh-oh-ohh, a million voices.
Sing it out, Singi it out, Sing it out, Sing it out, Sing it out, A million voices. Sing it out, Sing it out,
Sing it out, Sing it out, Sing it out. A million voices. Douze points.