Comme Ci, Comme Ça

eurovisionstamp.jpgMay 10th, 2007
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Dear Mum,

It’s the 51st annual Eurovision Song Contest on Saturday, from Helsinki. Woo Hoo!

Very few participating countries take the Contest seriously, the UK being one of them. In spite of this, the Contest has grown and grown in popularity over the years, and is now broadcast worldwide to an estimated 600 million viewers!

It takes a particular type of song to win this toughest of contests. The song needs to be a catchy Euro-ditty with an aurally-friendly hook in the chorus, which will work in any language. There have been exceptions of course, but by and large, that’s what wins.

In fact, last year’s winner, sung by the heavy rock band Lordi from Finland, is a huge exception to the formula I just outlined, and proof of just how seriously everyone in Europe doesn’t take it!

I always thought that Spain, who haven’t won since the 60’s, missed a golden opportunity in 2002 with the Spanish girl-trio Las Ketchup. Love it or hate it, their debut worldwide hit Aserejé (released as The Ketchup Song in the UK) had all the right credentials for a Eurovision winner. The structure of the song is perfect for this Contest, working on the ‘don’t bore us, get to the chorus’ principle. Just two short verses and five catchy, nonsense choruses (supposedly a phonetic representation of how The Sugarhill Gang’s, Rapper’s Delight sounds to a Spanish ear!). It would have romped home in first place… maybe! What do I know!

So many countries now take part that there is a semi-final two days before the main contest. Which as bad luck would have it, is tonight (Thursday). There are 42 countries entered this year, from which only 24 will reach the final. The rest will go home in tears, their peculiar dream shattered.

Four countries qualify automatically – the UK, Germany, France and Spain, on the grounds that they have the largest television audiences and are the biggest financial contributors to the European Broadcasting Union, who run the contest. This rule was introduced after Germany failed to qualify in 1996 and went into a huff about it. It all sounds grossly unfair to me, and if I cared at all, I’d be hugely embarrassed that the UK was party to such an arrangement.

The top 10 finishers from the previous year (not including the Big Four) also qualify automatically. The rest have to fight it out in the semi-final. Exciting stuff, eh!

I’ve often wondered how Israel managed to get in on the act, not being part of Europe. I always assumed that it was because no-one would come out to play with them in their own part of the world, and we let them join our singing circle.

The answer lies in the fact that eligibility for the Contest is not governed by geographical location, but rather by the boundaries of the European Broadcasting Area. This means that countries such as Jordan and Lebanon in the Middle East, and Algeria, Egypt, Libya and Tunisia in Northern Africa are all eligible to take part, though have so far wisely chosen not to do so. Morocco took part just once, in 1980.

Lebanon was going to take part in 2005, but was forced to withdraw after it announced that it would refuse to broadcast the Israeli entry. What did they expect?

And in 1978, Jordan transmitted pictures of flowers while the Israeli entry was performing, abruptly ending its broadcast of the Contest when it became obvious that Israel was going to win. They actually announced that the winner was Belgium, who had come second.

So as a means of building political bridges, the Contest hasn’t exactly been a huge success. In fact, politics comes into the voting quite a lot. Many countries award points based on their political relationship to other countries, rather than on the merits of the songs themselves. Greece and Cyprus are prime examples of this, who can be guaranteed to give each other 12 points every year. It’s very predictable and very funny.

So what of Cyprus? How have they fared over the years?

Since their first appearance in 1981, the best they’ve achieved is 5th, the worst is last. Most of their songs have been sung in Greek, a few recently in English after the language rules were relaxed. They’ve never entered a song in Turkish, even though it’s one of the two official languages of Cyprus.

But Cyprus is trying a new tactic this year. They have a cunning plan! They intend to take full advantage of the change in the language rules. This year, the Cypriot entry will be sung entirely in  –  wait for it  –  French!

Comme Ci Comme Ça is the title of this year’s entry! Sung by Evridiki. And if you click on the link and go to Every Dicky’s web site, you can hear it automatically playing in the background. Although why you would want to put yourself through such self-inflicted torture is something only you can answer. There’s even a karaoke version there if you’ve really lost it.

I’m sick of hearing it. It’s very comme ci, comme ça, and stands little chance of winning. But as I said  –  what do I know! Stranger things have happened. I wish them the best of luck.

Je ne sais vraiment pas pourquoi ils ont eu l’étrange idée de chanter dans une langue qui n’a rien à voir avec Chypre, historiquement parlant ou pour d’autres raisons. Ca sera très intéressant de voir comment le reste de l’Europe y réagit.

No it won’t. Who gives a je-ne-sais-quoi!

I imagine you stopped reading cette lettre after the first sentence…


ps I see that temperatures have plummeted in the UK this week. And just after I mentioned that May can be a very unpredictable month weather-wise. Sorry! Those warm, sunny April days must be but a distant memory!

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I think this must be the most boring, uninteresting letter I’ve ever written! I can’t begin to imagine what got me started.

What do you reckon George?

'Sorry, buddy - miles away! Still tryin' to figure that remote control'


©MPB 10/May/2007
…and if you think there’s even the slightest chance that I have any idea where I found all those photos, then you’re seriously deranged!


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