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  Britain, being an island, has always been wary of continental Europe. It is reluctant to embrace the crazy ways of life they have over there, such as their funny money and their constitution and driving on the right and having a nap in the afternoon. The Eurovision Song Contest is an annual chance for Brits to carry out that disassociation through music -- to sit back and laugh as a parade of pathetically rubbish singers aim to win the respect of their fellow Europeans for themselves and their country by singing "the best" song in all of Europe.

Europe takes the nearly five decades old Eurovision Song Contest seriously. But while many countries on the continent enter acts that are already hugely successful at home, the United Kingdom entry is handed out to a B-List star as a chance for a leg-up ... unless that act is last year's Jemini, who became the first UK act to achieve the infamous "nul points".

If anything, there's almost a fear of winning, because from a British point of view you have to be spectacularly crap to win the Eurovision. You have to appeal to millions of "music" "lovers" in countries where they still worship people like Johnny Hallyday, and no British act wants to be tarred with that brush. (Not to mention that the country that wins has to host the competition the following year, and foot the expensive bill.)

So for a Brit the Eurovision is just a night of mockery at a merry-go-round of camp. The approach is highlighted no better than by the television coverage -- down the years the BBC's host Terry Wogan has developed his own style of wry commentary, mixing disbelief with confusion. "I'm not quite sure what's going on," he said this year, "but then I never am."

He's not alone. Eurovision is as crap as it gets.

The 49th Eurovision Song Contest
from Istanbul, Turkey on Saturday, May 15, 2004.



After last year's winner, Sertab Erener, shown at left, performs her song -- it's on with the show. Our hosts, Korhan Obay (male, dressed like a Hammer vampire) and Melton Cumbul (female, insanely grinning), have arrived on stage by helicopter, and eventually begin introducing the first act. Brace yourself.



Ramon -- "Para Llenarme De Ti" ("To Be Filled By You")
Predictable flamenco pop -- frenetic acoustic guitar and matador dance routines. Could only have been more Spanish if there were sangria and paella involved. Stand-out lyric: "Not knowing her full moons belonged to someone else."




Tie Break -- "Du Bist" ("You Are")
Fresh-faced all male three-piece, singing in German, with a fashion sense cribbed from N-Sync and dance moves from Boy Band 101. Lots of hair product. Stand-out lyric: "You are the wind beneath my wings." No shit.
Knut Anders Sørum -- "High"
The most exciting thing about this song was Knut's silver suit -- and even that didn't shine as much as was presumably hoped. Stand-out lyric: "I wanna heal every wound in you."



Jonatan Cerrada -- "A Chaque Pas" ("Each Step")
A bald woman on stilts stumbles around while Jonatan croons to backing singers who look like they're auditioning for the Annie Lennox video for "Walking on Broken Glass." Stand-out lyric: "Blow very hard so that resentment may fly from our hearts."



Zeljkp Joksimoviae -- "Lane Moje" ("My Sweetheart")
Serbia-Montenegro attempts sophistication, having musicians with traditional instruments -- some kind of flute, one of those little guitars, a fiddle -- walk on *individually* as the Enya-esque rhythm section builds up. It's Serbia-Montenegro's first entry, and the brief probably involved demonstrating the young country's capability to mix heritage with modernity, or something. Stand-out lyric: No, not really. Something about "my fawn."



Julie & Ludwig -- "On Again ... Off Again"
Julie's bouncy europop sensibility complements Ludwig's operatic tendencies in this show tune duet. Sadly, there are no hints that Julie & Ludwig's relationship is anything more than professional. Stand out lyric: "Like the rhythm of rain."


  The Netherlands
Re-Union -- "Without You"
Two blokes, with floppy haircuts, on stools. One has a guitar. Butch gangster backing singers. The very spirit of Dutch culture: cafes, confused sexuality. Stand-out lyric: Nope. Big, big smiles, though.



Max -- "Can't Wait Until Tonight"
Bit different, this one. Sophisticated -- well, for Eurovision -- jazzy based tune sung by balding man with pathetic goatee, with a full acoustic backing band. Max goes for the high notes near the song's end, getting up off his stool. But he misses them and quickly sits back down again. Stand-out lyric: "True love won't be afraid of no-one."


Anjeza Shahini -- "The Image of You"
Albania's debut entry is a typical europop affair, fronted by a dumpy girl in a cheap dress. Absolutely average. Stand-out lyric: "Slave of my love, slave of my emotion."



Ruslana -- "Diki Tantsi" ("Wild Dances")
Now you're talking. The Xena: Warrior Princes Convention drops by, with a soundtrack full of battle-pipes and tribal drums. Ruslana stomps around with a clan of warriors, mixing what sound like war chants with lyrics sung in almost impenetrable English. She is wild. Stand-out lyric: "Go go go wild dancers!"


Ivan Mikulic -- "Dajes Mi Krila" ("You Are the Only One")
Terry Wogan tells me this was top of the Croatian charts for several weeks, and I guess only the Croatian people know why. Stand-out lyric: Nah.



Deen -- "In the Disco"
Peroxide blond chump prances around in pink vest with a gaggle of bland backing girls to the night's biggest slice of disco-euro-pop yet. Gay gay gay. Stand-out lyric: "I'm lying, I'm late, I'm losing my weight, because I want to dance all night."




With twelve down, twelve to go, our hosts try to give us a glimpse of the parties around Europe...

* Live and direct to Hamburg, Germany, where there are 20,000 people "absolutely freaking out", according to the German presenter. The biggest open-air


party in Europe, he says.

* Live and direct to a square in Istanbul, where ... no-one has told the woman presenting that she is on air. So we see her look down, shuffle a little bit, and maybe pick -- at least rub -- her nose. Can she hear us? Can she? No.

* Live and direct to Las Palmas, in the Canary Isles. Or rather not -- the feed is broken.

Melton apologizes, smiles, blushes and continues to burst out of her bright yellow dress. One out of three ain't bad. The show must go on.

"The choice is difficult," she says to Korhan.

"Yeeeesss, and it is about to become more difficult."

No kidding. I'm about to stick an ice-pick in my skull.



Xandee -- "1 Life"
Another slice of Europop, notable only for a Mr. T backing singer with a large Mohican. Stand-out lyric: "We're not the same, but so much alike / You are my brother, my sister tonight." This doesn't do much for Belgium's reputation as a country full of mustachioed sex deviates...



Julie Savicheva -- "Believe Me"
Julie is Russian aristocracy, in her jeweled black dress, to her dancers, half-naked, in loud body paint and fluorescent camouflage trousers. They are the monstrous common people, and she clambers all over them as she delivers her tune. Stand-out lyric: "Believe me, I just don't care..." No, us neither.



FYR Macedonia
Tose Proseki -- "Angel Si Ti" ("Life Is")
Tose's jumpsuit looks inspired in equal parts by traditional Macedonian dress, Elvis Presley circa 1972 and David Copperfield -- the dancers pull meters and meters of red ribbon out of it at one point. Is that supposed to be blood? Are they pulling "life" from him? The lyrical content offers no clues. Stand-out lyric: "Life is a book, you've got to read it / Life is a story, you've got to tell it."



Sakis Rouvas -- "Shake It"
Bombastic. Apparently pre-competition co-favourites with the Ukraine entry, but Sakis' eurotrash outfit -- torn jeans, white sports-casual jacket -- has nothing on Ruslana's battle garb. Stand-out lyric: "Shake shake shake shake it, mi amor."




Jonsi -- "Heaven"
A slow, mournful ballad -- (almost welcome) relief from the drum machines of previous entries. Stand-out lyric: "I can't think straight"
Chris Doran
-- "If the World Stops Turning"
Dreary dreary dreary ballad by a nice-looking feller. Crap in an average, unexciting way. Stand-out lyric: "If my world stopped turning, and God should take it all..." -- the only song in the final to refer to a deity.



Blue Cafe -- "Love Song"
The brass section bop and blow like its a ska song, the guitarist is wearing spangly tights, and the lead singer's dress has a rapidly plunging neckline. And then, just when you've got it figured out, somebody shouts "Un, Dos, Tres, Cuatro!" and they do a couple of verses in Spanish. That must be to highlight the famous centuries-old cultural and political alliance between the two countries, right? No, me neither. Stand-out lyric: "Sweet song, love song, sweet song, wanna give you this song."



James Fox -- "Hold On To Our Love"
One for the flag-wavers. Nice enough, but nowhere near mental enough. Will probably get *some* marks, though, so an improvement on last year. Stand-out lyric: "Some things in life we should treasure / When you find love never let it go..."



Lisa Andreas -- "Stronger Every Minute"
The slowest, sparsest song yet. There's a touch of Mariah Carey in there, but more of Celine Dion. As painful and wretched as both. Lisa is sixteen, and actually lives in England. She's no doubt a karaoke legend in her town. Stand-out lyric: No, I've forgotten it.



Athena -- "For Real"
Fact: Athena only own three albums between them. Fact: They are all by No Doubt. "For Real" is an unashamed ska-pop-rock tune, with Doc Martens and red tartan pants and a bassist in a daft hat. Were the whole thing not such a clutchbag of cliches I'd consider the Peace symbols on the singer's jacket to be a political statement of profound international significance. Stand-out lyric: The song ends, the crowd goes wild, and the lead singer yells, "Peace, Love, and Respect!!"




Sanda Ladosi -- "I Admit"
I admit that I didn't watch any of Sanda Ladosi's performance. I was out of the room at the time, penning a suicide note after watching all of this crap.
Lena Philipsson -- "Det Gor Ont" ("It Hurts")
They're right. She *does* look a bit like Helena Christiansen, with chunkier thighs. And she knows how to use that mic stand. But the chorus is depressingly deflated. Stand-out lyric: "It hurts!"



And the Winner is...

That's it. All 24 finalists have performed. Now, Europe must decide on a winner.

While only 24 countries performed in the final, all 36 "countries" "in" Europe are allowed to vote. (Andorra and Monaco are regarded as countries, and Israel is permitted European-ness for the contest.) Each country awards points to the ten entrants at the top of their poll. The maximum points award is 12, then 10, then 8 and 7, 6, 5 and so on down to 1.

The collecting of votes is long and tedious. Non-entity after non-entity praise the host country in their language, the host's language and broken English. What's more, some parts of the vote are utterly predictable. Eurovision has a history of biased voting, but this year it's particularly bad.

The Balkan countries stick together, as do the Russian satellite states. Monaco give full marks to France, Andorra full marks to Spain. Greece, Malta and Cyprus tend to favor each other, though it's not as certain, and the same goes for the Scandinavian states. By the end, it is done without shame -- "And the twelve points go to, our neighbours!" -- and there are even boos from the crowd inside in Istanbul.

It quickly settles down to a four horse race between Serbia-Montenegro, Ukraine, Greece and Turkey. There are digs at Turkey's failure to qualify for the European soccer championship this summer, Greece takes the opportunity to plug the Olympic games (leading Wogan to smirk "You'll be ready, we'll be there") and the Polish delegate clutches a big plastic flashing heart. But the monotony renders it very difficult not to channel-hop or get up to make tea.



But then, there is cheering in the green room and a throng of people hugging. A bar at the bottom of the screen informs me that the Ukraine has won -- Ukraine, Ruslana, Ruslana, those crazy Xena people have won!

She eventually brings her clan back on stage to accept the award from the Turkish prime minister.


As she holds it aloft, her arm trembles -- that glass thing looks heavy -- spoiling her hard image a bit. Last-year's-winner Sertab Erener comes on wearing a dress like the one Sarah Jessica Parker has on


in the Sex and the City credits, and promptly gets one of her high-heel shoes stuck in a metal grille in the floor. She gives Ruslana a big hug and then disappears so there can be a reprise of the winning song.

Boom boom boom, go go go wild dancers. Wave your flag. Roll credits. See you in the Ukraine next year, you crazy, crazy people.