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Last Updated: Thursday, 6 May, 2004, 16:30 GMT 17:30 UK
New Europe? New Eurovision!

Magazine Notebook
By Patrick O'Connell

We've heard the big bang that was EU enlargement. We've seen the political photocall, and the leaders of each country lined up; there they were, the men in suits.

Now, thank goodness, we await men in Lycra and women in stockings. At the Eurovision Song Contest, politics isn't centre stage. Not at all. It's back stage, it's in the wings, and it's in the audience too.

Sertab Erener: Last year's popular winner
For some 50 years this annual festival of song has delighted and appalled in equal measure. Thirty years ago, it sent Abba international. Last year, it sent the UK home with a big fat zero.

But this year makes history before the first note is sung. There throughout it all, like the beat beat beat of the tom-tom, is a political rhythm as hypnotic as merengue.

It's just possible that out there in the world at large, beyond the frontiers of our continent and outside the doors of an enlarged EU, there are people who have not heard of Eurovision. They might live in small jungle dwellings. They might shun all western culture. They might be American.

If you are European, Eurovision is like the North Sea. It's always been there. If this is you, skip ahead a few lines, your head up high or in your hands depending on your taste.


Winning formula

Eurovision was set up to let music unite a continent. As years have gone by it's also divided whole populations along the lines of taste. Countries put forward an act that is voted on by the other nations. The TV voting takes place in two languages and at the end Europe has a musical winner.

Jemini, Eurovision losers
Unlucky: Last year's nul points stars, Jemini
Forget TV talent search shows like American Idol, Pop Idol or whatever you call it, Eurovision was there first.

But the hunt for a winning formula has led wannabe singers into disaster. A whole musical language grew up sometime in the distant past, full of words that might just sound the same in every language. Boom bang a bang. Ding dong a dong. We all have our favourites.

Early ventures into singing in a foreign language like English proved difficult. Who can forget the lyric in one euro love song: "Oh your breasts are like swallows a nestling"?


Out of favour

In some countries, like Italy, the contest has grown so out of favour that they will not enter.

In Spain, this year's entry is Ramon, a dashing young man who came second in Operacion Triunfo III (Spanish Pop Idol) before he was chosen to represent his nation.

Turkey will want to show the rest of us its technical know-how and put on a show with style to impress her European neighbour
One newspaper, Noticias de Navarra, warns that Operacion Triunfo might fade away amid low ratings.

The dramatic contrast across the continent sees other countries where there is a fervour for the contest.

Denmark is famous for staging one of the biggest events ever. In Lithuania this year, 70 songs were submitted, and a committee selected 54 songs to go through to the six semi-finals.

That's dedication for you.


Massed ranks

Eurovision 2004 is big enough to get its first ever semi final. Next Wednesday in Turkey, four new countries, Albania, Andorra, Belarus and Serbia and Montenegro swell the ranks.

The rules of the contest are so complicated, all that can be said is that a semi final is needed to whittle down the overall numbers. Fourteen are already in the final on Saturday 15 May, and 10 more will win a place.

Lisa Andreas
Lisa Andreas from Kent, who is representing Cyprus
Hosting the competition is of great importance to Turkey. After 24 tries, Sertab won for her country last year. Left out of the recent enlargement celebrations, it now gets to put on a show with even more members than the little EU.

Turkey will want to show the rest of us its technical know-how and put on a show with style to impress her European neighbours. Many of them will be watching to see what happens with Cyprus.

Just as the French entry was born in Belgium, so too there is more than a political difference over Cyprus. The 16-year-old who represents the island is British.

At a recent press conference in Istanbul, she told journalists: "politics shouldn't be involved in the Eurovision Song Contest .. but it does [sic]."

"This is an exciting time for Cyprus, because of the situation between the Greek and Turkish Cypriot people, so it will be great if I can help just a little bit to bring people together."

How many points will Cyprus get from Greece and Turkey? How many more points will the British hopeful James Fox win than last year? (Many, we hope.) Will blocks of countries vote along similar lines, as is often seen?

This is all just a part of the allure, and a clue perhaps to why Eurovision, this old lady of song, keeps on belting them out.


There's a wealth of Eurovision entertainment on the BBC this year




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