Sunday, May 13, 2018

Euro myopia

The annual masochistic cultural event is now past us. Eurovision, in its gory and glory, has announced the winner and sent the pleasure of hosting the event to Israel, my home.  To what degree the songs represented popular culture is debatable but it is clear that they reflect the culture of the collective tastes of the 42 committees that decide what the Eurovision public might like.  What can be learned from that?

The more things change, the more they stay the same….

This year’s event had some wonderful tributes to the past, intentional or unintentional.  We got to see soundalikes of Bruce Springfield, Shakira, Marvin Gaye, Jennifer Lopez, Iron Maiden and Justin Bieber. Imigation is the greatest form of flattery. In terms of style, three movie themes popped up: the Titanic, the Rocky Horror Picture Show, and a James Bond movie.  On the vaudeville side, jazz and a Russian variety act pleased the old-timers.  A singer that is young and sufficiently good looking does not have to have a good voice but being handicapped and good looking is not sufficient. Opera is classic but not cool while Balkan singing is cool but not classic. It was nice to see that a few more countries dared to sing in their own language and express their pride that way.  I am looking forward an Irish song in Gaelic one day.  Still, English is the king, no matter how foreign that language is. Curiously enough, the opera singer sang in Italian, a natural language for her.  As for the lyrics, they tended to fit three categories: love, nonsense or politics. Alas, nothing new there.

The state of the art
As represented by the spectrum of songs, today’s music is far from homogeneous. Ballads, hip hop, rock and rolls, R&B and rap are all acceptable as long as the costumers and pyrotechnics are there to entertain the audience visually.  Computer effects are almost de rigueur in terms of expectations.  In terms of the physical appearance of the singers, especially female, looks do count to a certain point.  Modern singers generally need to be attractive and show some, but not too much flesh.  Interestingly, Netta flaunted and exploited her lack of lankiness while other female singers bravely wore dresses that exposed their less than sexy legs. As for the males, Vikings are not expected to be dress like metrosexuals nor are heavy metal guitar players.  Alas, the double standard continues.

The looking glass

Israel gets to host Eurovision next year, which is an artistic, cultural and political achievement. Toy managed to connect with a vast number of people, the hallmark of a successful work. Not only that, Israel keeps on winning by sending exceptional, not typical, personalities to the contest.  The last Israeli first place singer was Dona International, not exactly a representative Israeli woman. Politically, votes for the Israeli song are often affected by international feelings toward Israel. Austria even awarded the song points, to the great disappointment, I imagine, of the BDS movement. The reward is the opportunity to prove yet again to the world that life in Israel is actually quite safe and normal in most senses and Tel Aviv is a great place to party. Culture and politics, ultimately, go hand and hand.

The pleasure and pain should be more intense next year even if the song may not be any better.

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