The Eurovision Song Contest enjoys a healthy popularity and it is more kitsch than ever. Last year there were more than eight million votes (either by phone call or SMS) and the contest is followed by large audiences, even in non-participant countries like India, Korea and New Zealand. Drag queens, monsters, boy bands and the usual melodic singers compete for being the big stars for one year (or day).This year is no exception.
Verka Serdyuchka, the Ukrainian participant is a controversial drag queen who has raised a great deal of protest in her own country. Angry Ukrainian nationalists held demonstrations across the country against Verka, who was chosen as Ukraine’s entry by an overwhelming majority. The nationalists claim that Serdyuchka is a grotesque stereotype of a stupid Ukrainian villager.
No less controversial is the song by Israel’s candidate. The group is Teapacks and the song is Push the Button. It refers to “crazy rulers” and says that “he’s gonna blow us up to biddy, biddy kingdom come”. Did someone mention Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad? The band denies it, but some weeks ago Eurovision spokesman Kjell Ekholm hinted that the song could be banned. Any publicity is good to pull out some votes.
After last year's nightmare, Finland decided to choose a more conventional performer in the form of Idols-tailored singer Hanna Pakarinen. She will be the entry for the host country and her song has some strong rock guitars, but the melody is cheesy as only a Eurovision song can be. As host country, Hanna Pakarinen already qualifies to the finals and she will sing the fifth performance of the night.
But Finland does not only face the challenge of delivering a good musical performance. The Finnish Broadcasting Company (YLE) is in charge of organizing the event, which will be held at Finland’s largest ice hockey hall the Hartwall Areena in Pasila, just a few kilometers from the city center – although YLE wants to name the hall the 'Helsinki Areena' for the event to avoid extra and free advertising. More than forty people in YLE have worked for months in the production of the event that has a budget of around 13 million euros. In spite of all the efforts, there have been some critiques already towards YLE’s work. The promised webcast of the contest draw failed and recently Estonia protested because of the lack of information from YLE about the technical aspects of the stage, the lighting and the sound.
The theme for this year’s contest will be “True Fantasy”, which “will embrace Finland and Finnishness in terms of the polarities associated with the country: light vs. darkness, northern fells vs. islands in the south, our strong bond to nature vs. fast technological development, taciturnity against inner strength and creative madness, as showcased by Lordi in an original way,” defines YLE’s Executive Producer Heikki Seppälä.Old national rivalries and friendships will arise again. Cyprus will give 12 points to Greece and Greece will do the same with Cyprus. One more time place your bets! And if you cannot stand the contest, put your earplugs in for the next few weeks.