Turks beat back
Russia and Belgium to win; Baltics and Britain bomb.
By Michael Tarm
RIGA (CITY PAPER) Scandal and silliness marred the 2003 Eurovision Song
Contest, as it usually does, though Latvia emerged through it all with by far the best, or at least the farthest reaching publicity in its existence as a state.
Turkey won the live, three-hour competition in Riga—watched by as many as 300 million people in Europe and beyond—edging out the Belgians and the heavily favored, notoriety-seeking Russians.
Estonia and Latvia, successive winners of the pan-European glitzfest in 2001 and 2002, came in a dismal 21st and 24th, putting an abrupt end to last year’s talk of a Baltic
Eurovision dynasty. (See Back
to the Baltics.)
Latvia won the right to host Eurovision, the largest and most costly international event ever staged in Latvia, after its entrant won the contest in Tallinn last year.
Latvia had hoped to dispel months of skepticism, and prejudice, that it didn’t have what it took to organize such a logistically complicated extravaganza.
No less than The New York Times said it succeeded in doing just that.
“Latvia did a bang-up job as host,” it wrote. “The nation’s top artistic talent designed the staging and lighting for the contest, and the result was slick and spectacular.”
But the BBC’s perennial Contest cynic, Martin Richardson, was less charitable.
“The Latvian hosts (Marija Naumova and Renars Kaupers) performed their limited lines with all the acting ability of a Victorian dresser,” he said. “The kitsch level was ramped up to the maximum ... The majority of the acts were of a
sub-S Club level of cheesy pop.”
The broadcast also featured touristy film clips about Latvia interspersed between the 26 performances, segments Latvians hope will increase tourism interest. There were also brief cameo appearances by Elton John and even by astronauts on the International Space Station, who sent their greetings via a live video link.
The nailbiting voting process went down to the wire, with Turkey leaping from third to first when Slovenia, the last country to announce its televotes, handed the Turks 10 points. Just three votes separated Turkey from the third place Russians.
It was the Brits and Russians who drew the most
Britain, a traditional Eurovision powerhouse, came in a humiliating last place, with its
Jemini duo garnering no votes at all in the continent-wide televoting. It was the worst showing ever by the country that gave the world
The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.
Even the many Britons who profess to despise the world’s biggest song contest as a celebration of pop-music mediocrity and who normally declare not to care a hoot cringed. “Britain Sulks After
Eurovision Flop,” said one British newspaper headline, going on to suggest Britain’s leading role in the Iraq war cost it votes across Europe;
“Eurovision Group Brought Down by Baghdad Bounce,” read a Times of London headline the day after.
“Britain was utterly humiliated by a poor song badly performed in a kitsch talent contest,” wrote the stately London-based newspaper.
The whipping of Russia’s teenage duo
Tatu into third was also seen as a monumental embarrassment for the Russians, already established as a leading pop act in Europe. Russian faces were all the redder since the bad-girl teens, famed for being (or pretending to be) lesbians, bragged they would clobber all comers at
The two 18-year-olds, Julia Volkova and Lena Katina, stole the pre-show limelight by complaining about the stage lighting and even by refusing to sing at all in one rehearsal.
They dazzled the swarm of journalists who trailed them everywhere they went in Riga by hinting that they could make out on stage or even rip off their clothes on live television.
In the end, they did neither.
While Brits and Russians sank into post-show depression, Turks rejoiced at their first ever
Eurovision win—a triumph delivered by the sultry Sertab Erener, who employed a modern tune backed by Eastern strings—as well as deft belly dancing.
“She Conquered Europe!” said a headline in the leading Turkish daily
Milliyet about Erener, who was showered with flowers and feted by no less than the Turkish president and prime minister upon her return home.
Many Turks hailed the result, in all seriousness, as a possible turning point in their nation’s bid for acceptance as a de facto European state, going so far as to say the victory would boost the so far shaky Turkish drive to join the
“This victory is a cornerstone that will set the atmosphere for our entry into the EU, which we deserve,” said State Minister Kursat Tuzmen. “By winning
Eurovision, Turkey has earned a lot of sympathy from the European people.”
Despite the jokes told at its expense every year, many Europeans take
Eurovision very much to heart, delighting when their country does well and falling into despair, even open hostility, when it crashes out.
Embittered Russian state television went so far this year as to lodge a formal protest, saying the event may have been rigged.
It said Tatu had received “improbably low points” from several countries in which the teenage duo already had topped pop charts, especially Ireland and Britain; both gave
Tatu no points at all. Because of logistical problems, Ireland switched to a jury vote at the last minute, discarding the televoting results. Russian TV officials said those votes alone would likely have thrown the
Eurovision crown Tatu’s way.
Russian TV spokesman Igor Burenkov further argued that the
Song Contest was somehow fixed in favor of countries aspiring to join the EU. “All those who have won in recent years are countries entering the EU: Estonia, Latvia and, this time, Turkey,” he said.
Ireland, no doubt fearing a backlash from either Russia or Turkey, or both, steadfastly refused to release the televoting figures that were set aside, tallies that might show the outcome would have been different.
(Russia later lost its appeal.)
The Russians, however hot, were models of restraint compared to the Maltese.
Its Eurovision delegation reportedly broke into a full-blown yelling match on the flight home from Riga, with finger pointing all the way around for Lynn Chircop’s second-to-last place finish.
One source said the Maltese song writer and a producer almost came to blows.
In tried and true fashion, some losers
in Latvia blamed alleged technical failures for their demise.
Russians said the chosen camera angles on
Tatu were erratic and ill-planned, undermining their duo’s presentation.
And Britain’s disgraced Jemini told assembled journalists upon their arrival back in London that they couldn’t hear themselves sing because speaker monitors on the stage in Riga weren’t on.
“Maybe it was sabotage. If anyone else could have gone up and done it without the monitors, then good luck to them,” said 20-year-old Chris Cromby, one half of what the British press dubbed the
Euro-flops. He insisted the switched off speakers accounted for their crooning so badly out of tune.
But within days, the two-some, smiles stuck back on their faces, seemed determined to prove the old adage that in every cloud there is a silver lining.
They told the BBC they hoped the flood of attention their
Eurovision debacle received would end up lifting sales of their albums.
In a further bid to profit from abject failure, they said they were also seriously considering changing the name of the group from
Jemini to Zero Points.
—CITY PAPER-The Baltic States
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