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Holland Park Press

Own Song First

16 May 2011 Zie Nederlandse versie
by Arnold Jansen op de Haar

There was a time when countries showed each other some goodwill during the Eurovision Song Contest; when I, a seven-year-old, watched TV and was very much in love with Dana (All Kinds of Everything) from Ireland. Nowadays the song contest resembles a continuation of war by alternative means.

Every country has its tongue-in-cheek commentator. Moreover every country thinks this is unique to them, but other countries do irony as well.

The irony is directed towards other countries; their own entry receives – until the final score – enthusiastic commentary. So do the entries of neighbouring countries, provided they are smaller. In short, the motto is: putting your own song first.

There are still countries where the streets are deserted during the Eurovision Song Contest, in spite of the fact that their contestants appear with upturned wastepaper baskets on their heads (Moldova).

The text of Belarus, eliminated in the qualifying rounds, was even a bit disturbing.

I love Belarus, got it deep inside
I love Belarus, feel it in my mind

The Netherlands entered three boys who were once employed in the fish processing industry (shrimps and eels). They hail from the village of Volendam, famous for its wealth of popular singers. The Dutch call it the Eel Sound. It doesn’t sound very attractive. Of course, they don’t speak of a Whale Sound in Norway or Cod Pop in England.

The Dutch lead singer was wearing a somewhat oversized white double-breasted suit, like the ones that used to be worn by camera-loving male singers from Southern Europe.

The Eurovision Song Contest acts as a European thermometer. All is not well: Greece used to be represented by a beautiful lady dressed in nothing more than a shoelace – even before the cutbacks; this year there was Greek rap. Greek rap! There really is a crisis: Ireland entered two hopping paint brushes.

This year Germany was the host country, due to Lena, last year’s winner. After her success Lena recorded an ad for Opel: ‘Wir leben Autos.’ (We live and breathe cars.) Germany, Europe’s linchpin, aims to sell cars, so Lena represented them for a second time.

At the outset, most countries have high hopes of winning the Eurovision Song Contest. After the elimination of the Dutch entry, most Dutch papers felt wronged; they were after all our shrimp peelers. In any case, they are very famous in the Netherlands. No one mentioned the fact that one of the guitarists looked like a hired assassin. Even if I were a shrimp I would be frightened to death.

For years the UK has been making sure it doesn’t win because the UK already has a music industry, in contrast to this year’s winner Azerbaijan, a not insignificant difference.

After the preliminaries last Thursday my mother rang. They were still counting the votes. ‘What did you think of the Dutch entry?’ she asked. ‘Hmm...,’ I sighed. ‘I was much taken with the lady from Israel,’ my mother said. ‘She is a transsexual, mama,’ I said. ‘That is by the by,’ she said, ‘I think she was good.’

This time Dana International didn’t survive the preliminaries. Last Thursday she looked a bit down in the green room. In 1998 she managed to win; that was the spring in which my father died. My mother maintains it happened that very evening.

The Eurovision Song Contest exudes nostalgia. Suddenly you are a little boy again, watching TV in his pyjamas with crisps and coke; just invented, everything is new. Denmark’s entry sounded quite good yet very retro: like a Take That song.

The Eurovision Song Contest mirrors Europe’s plight. It used to be by turns conventional (Sir Cliff Richard, who locked himself into the toilet during the voting), innovative (ABBA) and camp (Dana International). Now it is being won by an out-of-tune singing duo from Azerbaijan. Running Scared is the title of the winning song. Yes, you would almost run scared of Europe.

© Arnold Jansen op de Haar
© Translation Holland Park Press

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