Eurovision 2015: A Selective Recap of My Come-to-Jesus Experience

Sometimes, I’m late to the pop culture party. There are only so many hours in the day, and sry, but I’m a human woman. I like to think that for those items worth consuming, I always get there eventually. (Except for The Simpsons. There’s too much, and just the idea of starting makes me want to cry.) Case in point: I can’t believe it took me 27 years to discover Eurovision. Robert, friend of the blog, forced me to watch it with him in a bar instead of attending a potentially-Tony-award-winning musical on Broadway. I have zero regrets: I will never miss Eurovision again. What is it, you ask? Oh, my dear American friend, let me educate you.

The Eurovision Song Contest is a music competition featuring most European countries (and Australia, who made their first appearance this year).  Each country submits a song, which is then performed live on TV and the public votes for their favorite performances. Countries cannot award points to their own submissions. Most are performed in English, and the event is campy as hell. Imagine the best of the Olympics, American Idol, and that international guy from your college dorm who was into “clubbing,” all in one. The contest has been going on for 60 years, and most Americans have never even heard of it. But this show is not fucking around. ABBA won Eurovision in 1974 with “Waterloo.” Celine Dion sang for Switzerland in 1988.

Enough background. Here are a few representative songs. I’ve included a mix of music videos, Semi-Final, and Final performances. (This is a potentially obscene amount of videos to watch, but like, what are you doing right now anyway? Work? Girl, please.)

Last year’s winner was Conchita Wurst from Austria with “Rise Like a Phoenix.” And yes, she is a beautiful drag queen with a beard. Because why wouldn’t she be? (Austria got zero points this year, even though they set a piano on fire. Oops!)

Spain’s entry is a perfect example of the batshit stuff you see year after year. Can you say “Barthelona”? The video is incredibly cheesy, but also takes itself very seriously. A shirtless man jogging in leather rags? A princess that turns into a tiger? Awkward green-screen plus a non-sequitur hawk? YES, YES, AND YES.

Lithuania is so cute! Also, they kissed for so long in the Finals that they missed an entire line of the song. Pandering.biz… (This is the Semi-Finals, where they really nailed it.)

I’ll quote our friend Robert verbatim describing Israel’s song, “Golden Boy” –

* Starts out and you’re like — do you think you’re Queen?

* Then you quickly realize that, no, it’s just a Bar Mitzvah video

Here’s the 2015 winner – Sweden! Remember when Beyonce danced with herself at the Superbowl? Remember wishing to yourself that she was a handsome but forgettable guy dancing with a chubby, cartoon twelve-year-old? Well, your dream came true. In the original video, the kid wore a dunce cap, so at least they fixed that. This is basically an Imagine Dragons song, but with shittier lyrics: “We are the heroes of our time, but we’re dancing with the demons in our minds.” Aren’t we all, Sweden, aren’t we all…

Russia came in second, which was very controversial at our bar in Hell’s Kitchen because of, you know, Putin and stuff. Everyone booed whenever the singer was awarded points. But I thought she was cute, and the song is the sort of power ballad that makes you roll your eyes but also warms your heart. I’ve included her Semi-Finals performance, because she had a shaky, deer-in-headlights vibe at the Finals.

Latvia’s song was just badass. I have nothing snarky to say.

Ditto Belgium. He’s like Lorde as a teenage boy.

Armenia was like, let’s make it sound sort of like the musical Chess, and also put every type of singer in it and hope that something sticks. Opera? Yeah, fer sher! Also, though the lyrics “don’t deny you and I” are ostensibly about a relationship, when played as a soundtrack to a music video with a slowly emptying family portrait they seem like a pretty pointed message about…genocide,…Obama.

If you just watched all those videos, congratulations! You now have Eurovision Fever. Now, go forth and spread the Good Word, but prepare yourself for a lot of blank looks.

–Alison

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated Conchita Wurst is a trans woman.

Mumford and DONE

Marcus Mumford is my ideal mate. Accent? Check. Vaguely-but-not-too-hipster attire? Check. Sturdy bod, comparable to lumberjack, or sorta fat Khal Drogo? Check. Capital-F Feelings that would make me roll my eyes IRL? Fucking check. Could do without the seventh grade-style dusting of a mustache and the Pentecostal parents, but hey, love is about knowing when to compromise.

tumblr_n3sghiQFhe1spsl8do7_500Be still, my heart.

I’m into the music, too. Mumford and Sons’ first two albums ranked among my top 100 played songs on iTunes for years. But the singles released while gearing up for their third album are…bland at best. While watching their recent performance on SNL, I kept thinking: “Who are you, and what have you done with my husband’s band? Marcus, if you are being held against your will, blink quickly three times.” If they had taken off Mission: Impossible-style masks to reveal that they were actually Coldplay, I wouldn’t have been that surprised.

The band previously released two folk-revivalist albums, the second being an extension of the first—same sound, bigger budget. The drive to experiment and evolve is a natural artistic instict, so it makes sense that Mumford and Sons would push their sound on their third outing. But their Americana twang is completely absent from the new tracks. All the songs sound the same. That was a critique lobbied against their folksier stuff, too, but here, I admit my bias. I could listen to a thousand songs of the old, sweeping Mumford and Sons, no matter how indistinguishable from each other those songs might be. I have a visceral response to the sound—it makes me both buoyant and teary at once. The new singles, on the other hand, sound like any old rock band. They’re energetic, but even Mumford’s growling vocals can’t to save them from being completely forgettable.

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Generally, I’m not anti-change. Like any art form, amazing work often comes when artists take risks. The Beatles are the world’s most obvious example of a band that pushed themselves and grew and evolved their sound record after record blah blah blah whatever. Beyoncé’s surprise self-titled album introduced us to Bey as complicated artiste. One of my favorite albums of 2014 was Taylor Swift’s 1989, which was a clear and smart break from her country roots. In an NPR interview she said that she spent hours online every day while writing the album, trying to figure out what her fans wanted from her. I’m not sure how she waded through comments like “u r a dum slut” (or so I imagine), to pull out the stellar album she did. But, cheers, girl.

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So, why is Mumford and Sons’ new sound just not working for me? Yes, it’s partially that they’ve departed from their established identity, at least for now. (And some advice, Marcus, my heart? Just a touch of banjo in the chorus of “The Wolf” could bridge the gap between the band we know and the new one you’re trying on.) Like so many artists before them, they’re attempting to be something different, and thus something greater, than they were before. But in the end, the music isn’t that good. It’s new for them, but that novelty isn’t enough. We already have a Chris Martin—no need for a knock-off. It leaves me wondering if, perhaps, they weren’t very good all along. That’s what’s breaking my heart most of all.

—Alison

Stream Me!

Let’s pretend, for a second, that HBO and Netflix are two of the more important relationships in my life.

I know, what a stretch!

Beginning next year, HBO will offer unbundled subscriptions to an unnamed streaming service (probably HBO GO, but HBO loves being mysterious, and so, has not specified).

This is, obviously, not an emergency. HBO will not take over the Internet, nor will Netflix go the way of Blockbuster and die a scary, excruciatingly drawn-out death, one strip-mall location at a time. As smarter folks than I have already observed, streaming services are “not a zero-sum game”—there is enough audience to go around. If anything, there’s a surplus of content—and literally not enough hours in the day or platforms in the world to accommodate it all.

HBO GO, Netflix and I spend a lot of time together. And, as my mom might say about my sister and me: I love them both equally, for very different reasons.

HBO GO is like a sophisticated, enigmatic older boyfriend. He thinks he’s smarter than me, but I’m weirdly into that. He’s vaguely pretentious; enjoys both Beyoncé *and* Olive Kitteridge; and eats at fancy restaurants where hamburgers cost $26, but taste amazing. He’s also kind of a dick sometimes.

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Then, there’s Netflix. Netflix is my roommate. She’s seen me stumble in at all hours, jonesing for twenty minutes of mindless entertainment, before passing out on the couch. She’s seen me gross and teary after a date gone horribly awry, and on those Friday nights when I hate people and all I want to do is drink quietly and watch Clueless. She’s hilarious and laid-back and knows me so well (Recommended For You: Profound Indie Comedies Featuring A Strong Female Lead And Many Delicious Baked Goods).

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Netflix recently made every season of Gilmore Girls available for streaming—and has announced that it will do the same with Friends. Basically giving me unlimited, on-demand access to all the warm fuzzies and gooey feelings in the land. Why even make in-person friends anymore?

These shows are my security blankets—easy to watch, often hilarious, and have comforted me during some genuinely upsetting moments. Friends and Gilmore Girls are both about building the relationships that matter, and learning from the people you love. Friends is not real life, sure—but the characters care about each other. Speaking as an often cynical, sometimes self-absorbed, always confused twentysomething, that’s not an easy, nor an unremarkable thing.

So, I’ve got my moods: Want to feel smart, but also laugh, but also feel vaguely depressed, and Introspective? The Comeback!

Want to be a little judgy, and get a little trashy, but not care because I’m among friends? The Queen of Versailles! (Documentaries always make you smarter, anyway).

HBO may be a high-maintenance date, and at times confounding (can we talk about The Leftovers? I mean, really—what was that?), but he is always reliable, and has a good heart. Netflix can be a touch cheesy, but is always down for a good time. There’s plenty of love for everyone in my web browser. Amazon and Hulu, included.

So long as my parents don’t change their passwords.

 

-Elise