Camp and Cheese
It’s kitsch and over-the-top, but that’s precisely why so many tune into Eurovision each year. As the competition heads to Azerbaijan, Julia Zemiro will once again guide Australian audiences through the campest show on earth. By Serkan Ozturk.
The Eurovision song contest started in 1956 ostensibly as a way to test the limits of new live television broadcast technology. Arguably over the past few decades it has become more and more an event to test the limits of good taste; with white outfits, power ballads, shocking choreography, poorly executed dance moves, ill-advised lyrics and try-hard hairdos (we’re looking at you, Jedward!) all set to make a return in time for this year’s final being held in the Paris of the East – Baku.
SBS Television’s resident comic vamp, Julia Zemiro – having trekked from Germany to Azerbaijan’s capital in a campervan along with co-host Sam Pang following the steps of last year’s winner Ell and Nikki – tells SX this week that the camp factor of the much-loved and highly watched song contest was once, if you can believe it now, almost nonexistent.
“Then in the 60s it started being a little bit different and got more glamorous because big stars wanted to be part of it like Cliff Richards and Nana Mouskouri,” she says.
“Then in the 70s ... you didn’t have to be solo or a duet, it was abolished in 1971. Now you could have a group of up to six people performing.
“That’s why a lot of groups started getting involved and that’s when ABBA won. And ABBA wore some pretty outrageous costumes, and even Bjorn has said they used to wear outrageous costumes just to get noticed.”
With each passing year, Zemiro summarises that while performers are becoming more “savvy” and “Americanised” with their song choices the annual competition still has the potential to make viewers at home gasp in sheer bewilderment and shake their heads in confusion.
“There’s still wacky stuff but there’s less cheese every year,” she says.
“There are the unintentional ones [camp acts], then there’s the intentional ones and sometimes it’s hard to know the difference.
“I think you’ll find a lot of them can’t be winners, they were so bad.”
The Road to Eurovision with Julia Zemiro screens on Friday, May 25, and Satruday, May 26 on SBS ONE. The Eurovision Song Contest screens on Friday, May 25, 8.30pm (Semi Final 1); Saturday, May 26, 8.30pm (Semi Final 2); and Sunday, May 27, 7.30pm (Grand Final) on SBS ONE
JULIA’S PICKS FOR 2012
“I really think it’s going to be a Scandinavian country. It’s either going to be the amazing Sweden (Loreen) or the very spunky boy from Norway (Tooji). Or Denmark (Soluna Samay). She has a really catchy song. And Iceland (Gréta Salóme & Jónsi) is also very strong as well, with a big power ballad with two people and a violin and big sound. Those four countries I would be very surprised if they’re not in the top three.
In terms of cheese factor, the cheesiest thing has been the Russian babushkas (Buranovskiye Babushki)."
[Pictured]: Tooji will be representing Norway at Eurovision 2012.
JULIA'S CAMPEST EUROVISION PERFORMANCES
There was pop quartet ABBA, trans singer Dana International and faux-lesbian duo Tatu, but there’s been plenty of other kitsch performances at Eurovision. Here, Julia Zemiro recounts her top five.
Svetlana Loboda, Ukraine: ‘Be My Valentine’ (2009, Moscow)
“Some people have referred to her as the stripper in a hamsterwheel. In three minutes she throws everything that you can into those three minutes to be remembered. First, she’s got these three enormous hamster wheels on the stage. She’s in one of them pole dancing. She’s dressed like a porn star with thigh-high boots and quite the Botox work on her lips – they’re enormous. She’s got semi-naked, gorgeous oiled-up Centurion gladiators gyrating on all the hamster wheels. She’s got two wacky women doing stuff on stilts. She’s got ticks all round for camp, you just can’t stop ticking! She’s got them all. By the 2:30 minute mark she then all of a sudden appears playing the drums!”
Celine Dion, Switzerland: ‘Ne partez pas sans moi’ (1988, Dublin)
“It wasn’t particularly camp but because she is so amazing and huge I wanted to put something where the song is amazing. I love it because it’s French so I can sing to it. It’s just her on stage, nothing else apart from her amazing voice, her face is chubby; you can see what she’s going to become. But she’s wearing what looks like two different outfits, she’s wearing this weird tutu skirt. She’s got this long double-breasted, white tuxedo court and this funny little tutu and these cute little court shoes and a perm. It’s Celine before she became the Celine we all know and love.”
Alf Poier, Austria: ‘Weil Der Mensch Zählt’ (2003, Riga)
“When you watch it you just can’t tell if he is all there or not. He’s just not very good. It’s like watching a bad audition film. And then the music goes into this heavy metal thing and he does this freeform dance where he’s punching the air and you can see the two back-up singers are watching thinking, ‘Yep this kind of looks a bit weird’. And there’s two or three strange cardboard cut-outs of musicians around them. Either they had people drop out on them or felt like they had to have extra people on stage. There’s no choreography ... and you could feel the audience bemused. He’s got statues with animal heads around him holding instruments like they’re the band ... and he’s in a t-shirt and a weird hat back to front and he has no rhythm. That’s got to be a giveaway.”
Silvia Night, Iceland: ‘Congratulations’ (2006, Athens)
“She came out and looked like this drag queen and the song was all about saying, ‘I’ve come to Eurovision, I’ve come to save you, you need me’. It was wacky. The singing’s not that great then it kind of morphed into ok singing ... She never made the final and then just let rip at journalists about the reason she didn’t win was that she wasn’t a slut from Holland. The costume is out of control and fabulous. She comes down a slippery slide in the shape of a stiletto.”
Lordi, Finland: ‘Hard Rock Hallelujah’ (2006, Athens)
“It was such a surprise. They are the scariest things you would ever see at a Eurovision. Never before had you seen masks and such hard-rock crazy music. It was just the weirdest thing and the fact that they won was incredible. So whether they thought it was a good heavy metal song or not [they’ve won] because it was so utterly outrageous. It kind of had to win it was so camp and weird. The song was called ‘Hard Rock Hallelujah’ and then there was chatter afterwards that they are Christians ... For a hard rock Christian group to win Eurovision is pretty funny.”