The “Gay Parade”: Eurovision

The month of May means different things to different people. For me, it would be incomplete without one certain institution.

The Eurovision Song Contest actually means a lot to me. For one, it’s the ultimate campfest. No one will doubt that I’m rather partial to such an occurrence. But top of my mind when I think about the spectacular, is how historically important it is. Most will unfairly disregard how much the annual event has contributed to promoting European unity and educated citizens about the very distinct corners of our continent. I would say it’s done this to a much greater extent than the EU ever could. From Portugal to Estonia and Azerbaijan to Slovenia, the Contest shines a 4 minute light on the participating nation – something not to be sniffed at from a London penthouse.

Could you truly imagine any other situation where a contest so openly (and happily) gay, would be the biggest thing happening in Baku, or the highest rated TV show in the Ukraine and Belarus? This has certainly ruffled a few features in the past, such as Tehran pulling its Azerbaijani diplomat in horror of the preceding “gay parade.” 

This year the contest is being held in Malmö following Sweden’s deserved win last year. Well into Eurovision Week (the first Semi-Final took place mere hours before this post), I thought now would be as good a time as ever to highlight why the contest shouldn’t be regarded as the trashcan of music. Of course, that’s part of it. But there are also a number of high-quality contemporary songs to be found through watching Europe’s most popular non-sporting event.

So how better to do that than flicking through my pick of this year’s crop?

The Netherlands: Anouk – ‘Birds’

Possibly my favourite song this year, it’s quite different from your average contestant. Restrained at the point of receding into itself, the tune hails from an album called ‘Sad Singalong Songs.’ Yet, when you listen to the lyrics, you notice that this is pure poetry. Anouk is a massive star in the Netherlands, and this has already been a hit over there. It’s also managed to make its way through to the Grand Final, the first time the country has managed this since 2004. I suspect that something special may arise this Saturday evening.

Norway: Margaret Berger – ‘I Feed You My Love’

The Nordic countries can always be relied on to provide a contemporary dance track for Eurovision. Loreen’s ‘Euphoria’ was the product of Sweden, and now ‘I Feed You My Love’ makes it’s way from the neighbour in the north. This is guaranteed to end the night on the top half of the leaderboard, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it creep into the top 5.

Denmark: Emmelie De Forest – ‘Only Teardrops’

This song would be at the top of radio playlists up and down the country if not for the Eurovision sticker. Alas, this is another tune which hails from its surroundings. Past winners such as Lena and Alexander Rybak led the way for young folky-pop to be popular at the event. ‘Only Teardrops’ is the bookies favourite going into Saturday’s final.

France: Amandine Bourgeois – ‘L’enfer et moi’

The French manage to be effortlessly classy whatever they do (screen grab of above video notwithstanding). They’ve even managed to send an artist whose last name could uproar a workers’ revolution. This is a true wildcard on the Eurovision front. It may sneak into the top ten like Italy’s similarly husky voiced 2012 entrant, but no way will it win. There’s no big moment with which to end the song. Regardless, it’s a top tune that will be finding a way on to my iPod. And that’s the aim really, isn’t it?

Kate Nash – ‘Rap for Rejection’

“I’m a stupid whore and a frigid bitch / Will you make up your mind and tell me which is which”. No, I Used To Live In Notting Hill hasn’t been off its meds again, but it has been listening to the new Kate Nash album, and in particular the intriguing track “Rap for Rejection.”

The Kate Nash reinvention takes place right before our eyes on this track, which mixes grunge beats over Nash’s quirky voice. But of course, the history of pop stars going a bit rap ain’t pretty – anyone remember Robbie Williams’ “Rudebox”? Pleasingly this is far from a commercial exploit towards the genre of the moment (which if you’ve heard the radio recently, you would know is a watered-down eurotrashy type ‘R&B’). Actually, the track is an explicit rejection of commercialisation. It’s a rejection of almost everything, hence the name.

“Female castration / Go live demonstration! / Domestic violence, racist, homophobic / No time for the whole list.” It’s importance is underlined by these lyrics. Why do you have to be a bra-burning lesbian to be a feminist? Are they the only ones who can oppose female genital mutilation in the Middle East; bride kidnapping in Kyrgyzstan; or modern-day sexual slavery across Europe?

The song sounds like one of those that define a certain moment in time. Think of the songs that came to the fore amidst the collapse of the Soviet Union: Vladimir Vysotskii’s “Navodchitsa”; Boris Grebenshchikov’s “25 to 10”; Akvarium’s “A Generation of Janitors and Night-Watchmen.” All of them influenced youth culture at the time. It went against the official standard of what ‘music’ was. “Rap for Rejection” does all of this. But it will never be remembered in this way. Firstly because its Kate Nash, and secondly because feminism is hardly on top form, something I’ll be exploring later this week.

The song yields from Nash’s 2013 LP Girl Talk, her first independent release that further moves towards riot grrl territory without totally giving up on the jaunty indie pop of “Foundations” and Made of Bricks. She is currently on a worldwide tour and plays in London on 11th May at The Barfly.

Sophie Hunger – ‘Souldier’

Swiss crossover artist Sophie Hunger premiered the video for her new track ‘Souldier’ last week. Produced by La Blogothèque and directed by Jeremiah, the clip begins on the streets of Notting Hill Gate, following on from her appearance in ‘LikeLikeLike’, which you can see here:

The video is notable for its not-too-rosy comparison of London with Paris – the setting for ‘LikeLikeLike’. The French capital is seen through perky summer-tinted glasses, whereas London must settle for a sincere, atmospheric and moody portrayal. Yet the clips respectively get the two cities spot on. London is far from being understood as breezy and free; the city is glum, grey and gloomy. But that doesn’t mean it’s a bad place to live – it just puts Londoners day-to-day life into perspective with those of our neighbours on the continent. Are we too anonymous and uptight for our own good?

Both of the tracks yield from Hunger’s 2012 set ‘The Danger of Light’, an eclectic mix of blues, folk and sophisticated pop. She plays in London on 29th May at The Garage Islington. I Used To Live In Notting Hill for one will be present.