For just the third time in Eurovision history, Norway had the honour of playing host. This was a nation only too willing to put a less than impressive track record to the side, and celebrate their year-old victory in style. As delegations from 39 countries descended on the city’s Telenor Area in late May, millions of fans geared themselves up to do the same.
There was a flurry of firsts accompanying the 55th contest. Not only was it the first contest of the new decade, but there were also several brand spanking changes in the voting system to be trialled. Expanding on the 2008/2009 system of choosing the winners using a combined vote (cast by juries and televoters), this year saw not only the final but both of the semis ordered this way, with 50% of the power to each party. In addition, viewers would be able to vote from the beginning of the first song until fifteen minutes after the last, which meant that, having most likely already decided which songs they liked best, televoters could support them both before and after witnessing the visual performances.
Another change (though a not entirely new one) was the selection of three hosts to keep the party going, rather than the traditional two. Haddy N’jie, Eric Solbakken and Nadia Hasnaoui were all much-loved Norwegian media personalities, and after the two semis were done and dusted, it was time for their big night – May 29th, 2010 – to begin.
The show opened with a brief performance by Alexander Rybak with his winner ‘Fairytale’, and then it was time for the first contender – and a hot one it was too. Azerbaijan had been an early favourite with the song ‘Drip Drop’, and there was no doubt as to how the country felt about that. They had put a lot of time and energy into the entry, creating countless remixes of the song, plugging it at numerous national finals throughout Europe, and recruiting Beyoncé’s choreographer to enhance their stage presentation. The singer, 17-year-old Safura, appeared onstage in a blue gown adorned with what looked like a string of Christmas tree lights, and certainly put in a strong performance with no signs of nerves. The audience went wild as she struck her final pose, but her draw in first place made many unsure of her chance at winning.
The legendary ‘curse of number two’ seemed to be alive and well once again, only not in the usual manner! Spain’s performance was populated by eccentric circus performers who at one point, gathered around Daniel Diges, and were swaying mournfully to the music when a new performer suddenly joined them. It took about thirty seconds for Telenor security (and everyone else watching) to realise that an audience member had crashed the performance – namely, ‘Jimmy Jump’ a serial pest from Spain who had interrupted several other major cultural events before setting his sights on Eurovision. Security guards stormed the stage and Jimmy was quick to make his escape, only to be arrested shortly thereafter. Daniel, a true professional, had carried on with barely the blink of an eye during this, but, in accordance with the contest rules, was granted another chance to sing after the remainder of the 25 finalists had had their turn. It didn’t appear to help nor hinder him, with Spain ending up mid-table, but many viewers believe Jimmy made the night!
The home nation was third with a strong ballad from 22-year-old opera student Didrik Solli-Tangen, which built into a soaring conclusion, complete with pyrotechnics. Naturally, it received a standing ovation from the crowd, but so too did another male soloist, who was accompanied onstage only by his instrument of choice. Tom Dice was to perform Belgium’s most highly rated entry in years, a mid-tempo ballad he had co-written called ‘Me And My Guitar’. True to his word, Tom stood on the platform of the stage catwalk with nothing but the microphone, his guitar, and a rather fetching waistcoat for company. The song was a beautifully stark contrast to the sometimes assaulting audiovisual spectacles rife in modern Eurovision. This led to the Belgians being in contention for the lead for a while in the voting, before they dropped down to a highly commendable 6th place. This was the country’s first top ten result and best placing since reached the silver position in 2003.
Belarus and Ireland had both selected powerful ballads, the former with a striking costume reveal thrown in, the latter performed by Niamh Kavanagh, the winner of the 1993 contest. But it was a foot-stomping fusion of modern and ethnic sounds from Greece that made the bigger impact. Giorgos Alkaios may not have been in the traditional mould of young and pretty soloists Greece usually sends (Helena Paparizou, Kalomira, Sakis Rouvas) but his song certainly was. ‘OPA!’ was the name and lifting the roof off the Telenor Arena was the game. Dressed in white and surrounded by his enthusiastic “friends” Giorgos got the crowd on their feet with every shout of the oh-so-Greek exclamation, and by the end of the performance it seemed a given that one of Eurovision’s most consistent countries would once again make the top ten. They did – but did not improve on their 7th place from 2009, only making 8th in the end.
The United Kingdom had high hopes for this year, having finally broken their top ten drought the previous with a little help from Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber. Their song this year had equally impressive credentials, with two thirds of 80s hitmakers Stock, Aitken and Waterman (Aitken was MIA) having co-written the pop tune. Unfortunately, it seemed the duo wanted to recapture their glory from that era, and so the result of their creative efforts ‘That Sounds Good To Me’ sounded extremely cliché and dated next to the rest of the entries. It was cheery and sung well by Basildon teenager Josh Dubovie,
but still accumulated the least amount of points from both the televoters and the international juries. The UK would have to go back to the drawing board once again to figure out how to shake their reputation as the new Norway!
As usual, the Turks and Romanians set the standard for the evening. Turkey’s MaNga were a hugely successful rock band who had taken home an award from the 2009 MTV Europe Music Awards. As is the norm these days, they had elected to sing in English despite usually singing in their native language. Their song ‘We Could Be The Same’ was tinged with Turkish sounds but bore better resemblance to Top 40 electro-rock than anything else. It was a very strong song with a memorable riff and well thought-out stage show, and the band sounded brilliant live. They would be one to beat, but the Romanian duo Paula Seling and Ovi were confident that they could manage it. They used a transparent double keyboard contraption to great effect throughout the dance track ‘Playing With Fire’ and looked certain to finish in the higher regions of the scoreboard, as Romania had done four times over eleven years of competing.
Germany, like Norway the year before, had come to the contest with a little extra baggage – in the form of some very poor results from recent years which could have been due to poor song choice or partisan voting. Whatever the case, they were a burden the country were desperate to shake off, and for once, both the bookies and the fans thought they could make it happen. Their singer Lena Meyer-Landrut had been your average teenager before she won the German Eurovision selection show, Unsër Star Für Oslo, with a song written by a Dane and an American. ‘Satellite’ was a very contemporary pop song with a thumping beat, and was constantly being likened to the music of Lily Allen and Kate Nash. Lena’s voice also resembled the latter’s, and became something of a gimmick, aiding her in charming her way through the performance. She wore a simple black dress and a presumably lucky necklace that she had not been seen without, but the lack of costume was more than compensated for by her quirky delivery and the excellence of the entry. Lyrics like “I bought new underwear, they’re blue, and I wore ‘em just the other day” ensured that ‘Satellite’ was a Eurosong like no other. But could Germany finally break their losing streak in such an imposing field of potential winners?
After Spain had performed again, and the flash mob interval act had finished, it was time to find out. Romania kicked off the voting and awarded the first douze points of the evening to Denmark, as did Ireland immediately after. As the process went on, the Danes, Belgium, Turkey and Germany flirted with first place. But by the halfway mark, Lena had a solid lead, though not one as impressive as her predecessor’s. The Telenor audience (despite being very multicultural) went wild every time top points were handed her way, thrilled at the prospect of a country that had only one once before – 17 years ago – securing the gold medal. And so it was that a stunned Lena made her way from the green room back to the stage, and reprised the 2010 winner draped in her national flag.
Eurovision fans knew that her triumph would certainly lead to one heck of a party in Germany for the 56th contest, thrown by a nation who had looked destined to be underdogs. Who will follow Lena’s lead? We’ll have to wait and and see – in less than a year’s time!