Thursday night in Europe (and 3pm on the East Coast), the second semifinal will be contested and the final 10 qualifiers to the final of Eurovision 2012 will be determined. The show doesn't actually start until midnight in Baku due to the massive time difference between Azerbaijan and the majority of Europe, so everybody will look decidedly sleepy by the time it ends.
After the jump, some quick pre-thoughts and predictions on the second semifinal and the next 10 entries our catalog of Eurovision WTFs.
In flag speak, my ten qualifiers look like this:
That would be Serbia, The Netherlands, Portugal, Ukraine, Slovenia, Sweden, Turkey, Norway, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Lithuania. (I'm gonna find a way to incorporate those flags into everything I ever write from now on, I hope you realize).
It's a really a tough semifinal to predict, so I'm going to reserve myself the chance to change these picks after I see the performances. There's a bevy of bleary Balkan ballads to sort through today, and I'm not much for telling them apart, so Macedonia and Croatia could easily get through over Slovenia or Bosnia. I'd love for Lithuania to get through, and am therefore picking them solely based on heart-over-head and their running order advantage (they go last, which is usually a guarantee of success).
The Netherlands hasn't made it to a final since 2004, so they're hardly a wise pick here, but I think their (slightly) racist entry has a shot to break their drought.
Anyway, enough of the present. On to more past moments of WTF magic.
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ICELAND - 2006
After not doing much remarkable for their first few decades in the contest, Iceland has become a reliable qualifier, now having made the final for a fifth straight year. A rigorous selection process, energy on stage at all times, and strong English skills will do that for a country.
But not so long ago, Iceland was something of an outcast in the contest, a distant island looking in from the outside, stuck behind a language that no one understood and nearly a thousand miles from any other European country.
So what did Iceland do when it wasn't getting its way? Iceland trolled Eurovision. Iceland trolled Eurovision HARD.
Silvia Night is, to date, the closest Eurovision has come to being Borat-ed (though maybe Bruno-ed is more accurate since there's nothing really endearing about her).
Played by Icelandic comedienne Ágústa Eva Erlendsdóttir, Silvia Night did everything she could in her performance to be as ridiculous and arrogant as she possible. She had a slide shaped like a high heel, a phone to God that dropped out of an enormous candy cane, and her entire song was based on congratulating Europe for being so lucky to have her. She also said "let's meet next year in Iceland" (2006 was a big year for declaring victory, as you'll see a few entries later)
The boos before her song started in that video were caused by her shouting "Fuck you, fucking Greeks!" during a rehearsal (the contest was in Athens). She also berated media during all her interviews, and claimed that the Swedish contestant had only succeeded because she had sex with the head of the European Broadcasting Union in a car outside her hotel room.
Silvia missed the final, but not by all that much (finishing three spots out at 13th). And after she'd lost, Silvia proceeded to lose her shit, which sent the media in Greece all atwitter (well before Twitter).
It was a slap in the face for the competition, sure, but it also felt pretty good.
IRELAND - 2008
Before I get to the chosen Irish WTF from 2008, I should try to explain Jedward, the Irish representatives in 2011 and now again in 2012.
Twins John and Edward Grimes bounce around the Eurovision stage (and their entire lives) like troll dolls on speed. They are probably the most prominent entrants in Eurovision this decade by some margin, boasting over 600,000 followers on Twitter (for perspective that's more than ANY NHLer and twice as many as every NHLer besides Ovechkin). They got their start on X-Factor UK with some begrudging support from Simon Cowell, and have maintained a huge cult following ever since.
They have a sort of weird energy between them that some of their fans have dubbed "Jedcest," but they manage to be so thoroughly positive and excited all the time that it's sort of hard not to root for them despite all their creepiness.
Despite all of that, there's no way Jedward wins out as Ireland's WTF. Not when they hail from the country that sent a flatulent turkey puppet in 2008.
Much like the previously profiled Silvia Night, the decision to send Dustin the Turkey was largely based on bitterness at lack of recent Eurovision success. Ireland has won the contest more times than any other nation (7), but had come in last place for the first time in 2007 and was not happy about it. Having a puppet declare "Irlande Douze Points!" (what would be said in French by a host should Ireland receive the maximum 12 points from a country in the voting) was the mode of expression the Irish chose to express how they felt.
The next year the European Broadcast Union passed a rule against puppet participation.
ISRAEL - 1998
I've already mocked the inclusion of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia in Eurovision, so I am obliged to point out here that Israel is absolutely not in Europe at all. Whereas those three countries at least all touch a country that's definitely partially European, Israel's neighbors are Lebanon, Jordan, and Egypt. None of which are at all European. But Israel hasn't really ever gotten along so well with its next-door neighbors, so Europe invited the Israelis in for several regional competitions, not the least of which was an invitation to Eurovision in 1973.
In that spirit of inclusivity, Israel sent male-to-female transsexual singer Dana International as their representative in 1998, and she walked away with Israel's third victory. This clip starts with the extremely close finish to the 1998 voting that ended in Israel's victory, one of the closest in Eurovision history.
The win was perhaps the most news-getting in Eurovision history. Several conservative rabbis in Israel denounced her, but Dana International's win was predominantly seen as a huge vote (literally) of acceptance for transsexuals in Europe.
Dana International came back to Eurovision in 2011 and failed to so much as make the final. Her song was called "Ding Dong"...which is funny.
(Another note: 1998 was the last year in which countries were required to sing in one of their official languages. There has only been one non-English winner since).
ITALY - M.I.A. (2011)
My fluency in Eurovision dates from the present back to 2003, and I can speak pretty thoroughly about any contest dating back to about 1998. In all those 14 years, Italy has only performed once. Citing a lack of interest, Italy came in 4th place in 1997 then dropped out until finally returning 2011.
How can a country of over 60 million people skip one of the biggest competitions on the continent when so many other countries manage to field entries? There was even a year (2008) in which San Marino, a tiny village country of only 32,000 people that is completely surrounded by Italy, managed to send an entry but Italy did not.
Upon return in 2011, Italy was warmly welcomed back with a second place finish. There's nothing really WTF about this at all (except perhaps musicianship far outpacing what's necessary for Eurovision), but I have to give you something...
Bonus: KOSOVO - N/A
Kosovo first applied to compete in Eurovision in 2009, but its application to join the European Broadcasting Union was rejected since United Nations membership is a requirement for all members. Kosovo is still trying, knowing the fight for recognition can be won in many ways.
LATVIA - 2008
Was there really ever any doubt? The anthem that brought BSH and Eurovision together could never be ignored.
But since this buccaneering triumph, Latvia's fortunes have walked right off the plank. Latvia missed the final for the fourth straight time this year. We hope they learn from this continued and change their application rules to let a certain American Latviphile compete for them. That's really their only hope at this point, I reckon.
What has caused this drought for the once mighty Letts? Only Mr. God knows why...
Bonus: LEBANON - 2005
Lebanon, already an EBU member, was set to compete in the 2005 competition. They had a song and everything. But they were ultimately tripped up by the same hurdle that has kept so many other Muslim countries out of the competition--national laws against showing any Israeli content (even just a three-minute pop song) on television.
Bonus: LIECHTENSTEIN - N/A
Liechtenstein has been trying to get into Eurovision since the 1970s, but as a tiny country of only 37,000 they lacked one of the required elements for entry: a television network. In 2009 the first Liechtenstein network, 1FLTV, was created, but the country hasn't been able to get the resources together necessary to be ready for Eurovision yet. Wouldn't be surprising if that changed within the next couple years.
LITHUANIA - 2006
Confidence is a beautiful, beautiful thing. As is this performance, an absolute masterclass in the art of the Eurovision and one of my personal favorites of all time.
LT United were not ultimately the winners in 2006, but they did earn a shockingly high sixth-place finish (in a very strong year) that remains Lithuania's lone showing in the top 10.
Lithuania tried the whole guys in ties thing again in 2010 with the band Inculto. While the success wasn't comparable (they missed the final), the act is still pretty awesome.
When you don't know what to do next in Eurovision, try taking off your pants.
LUXEMBOURG - 1965
Luxembourg rolled through the first half of Eurovision's history as one of the most successful countries in the competition, racking up five victories between 1961 and 1983. But after a bad stretch of showings in the early 90s, Luxembourg decided to quit and hasn't come back. It's a shame, if for no other reason than that the goal should be to get every European country in always.
The most famous Luxembourg Eurovision entry was from 1965, when the confusingly named France Gall won with this catchy little ditty:
It is also the only Eurovision entry to ever get an Arcade Fire cover, which gives Luxembourg some serious indie cred.
MACEDONIA - 2004
Macedonia is clunkily referred to as "Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia" in Eurovision, due to the Macedonian naming dispute, a bizarrely heated row between Macedonia and Greece over who has the rights to the name "Macedonia." The five-word name is especially clunky when it has to be repeated in French during Eurovision, so instead of just"Macedonia" you wind up getting "Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia--L'Ex Republique Yougouslave de Macedoine." It's a mouthful.
The extra name baggage hasn't damped Macedonian enthusiasm for the contest, though their results did drop off precipitously once the format switched from one semifinal to two in 2008. After having made the final in all four previous tries (2004-7), Macedonia has now missed four straight times.
The most WTF Macedonian entry is probably Tose Proeski 2004. "I saw my I.D. / And it wasn't me / It was someone else's identity." I don't know. But I like it.
That part at the beginning where the two guys grab him from behind and twist him around? You just don't get that kind of choreography in America. Nor do you get a whole break in the choreography for backup dancers to yank enormous red ribbons out of the singer's chest.
MALTA - 2010
Malta probably takes Eurovision the most seriously of all the countries in Europe. It has been said several times in Maltese press that if they were to win Eurovision, whatever date that occurred on would likely become a national holiday. That right there is dedication.
But dedication doesn't always lead to good decision making.
In 2010, 18-year-old Thea Garrett sang a very uneventful ballad called "My Dream" for Malta. Nothing much happened in the performance until about 1:55 in when HOLY CRAP WHAT IS THAT THING I THINK IT'S GOING TO EAT HER.
Why? Why does it make any sense to have a horrifying birdman emerge from behind her with a minute left in the song? Thea never looks at the birdman, so we're left thinking that she doesn't see this near certain death coming. Thea and the bird did not make it out of the semifinal.
We know, however, that Thea escaped Eurovision with her life, because a few months later a Eurovision fan in Malta spotted her working at a McDonald's. For a lot of the artists from the small countries like Malta, there's just not enough of a population to make being a regional recording star a viable career. Even Chiara, a Maltese singer who has twice finished in the top three at Eurovision (including just barely losing to Israel in 1998 in the video of their performance in this post), has to work as a secretary in Malta to make a living, even though she is arguably the most successful singer in her entire country.
MOLDOVA - 2010
Though plenty of other songs have been more successful commercially, no Eurovision entry has won the internet quite like Moldova 2010.
The song barely scraped into the final (finishing 10th out of 17 in its semifinal), then finished a poor 22nd out of 25 in the final. It was a fun performance, for sure, but not something most Eurovision fans got especially excited over.
But a few weeks after Sunstroke Project left Oslo, their saxophonist Sergei Stepanov had somehow become a huge meme, forever knighted as Epic Sax Guy.
Now you can even watch 10-hour long videos of the Sax Guy being epic, something that allegedly over 19 million viewers on YouTube have given a shot.
Sunstroke Project even came out with a new song in his honor called "Epic Sax."
I just hope Violin Guy doesn't feel too left out.
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We're more than half-way home now, folks. You can comment on the second semifinal in this thread if you plan on watching it (there's a stream here).
Monaco through San Marino next time (with a lot of larger countries in between). Thanks for reading and watching.