As an observer and tax-paying individual in Cyprus, I have seen many Eurovision ‘attempts’ rise and fall over the decades and when I was thinking about writing this blog there was a dilemma that came to mind. Do I write it after the contest, in which case, if Cyprus loses (does not come first) I will be accused of an ‘I told you so’ ‘sour grapes’ bratness which in the Greek vernacular is called ‘gkrinia’. Alternatively, do I write and publish the blog a few hours or so before the competition and get accused of negativity by all those who are determined in their quest for first place even to the extent that any form of critique equals treachery. I say publish and be damned, my view is based on historical realities. Its one I have had for ages, it will not change, but before explaining it, I would like to clarify some things about this year’s Cyprus entry.
From the outset. I have not heard the song. I did however come across it by accident when doing a live radio show with the sound muted and in so many ways, it reeked of plagiarism image wise. The hair waving profusely, the simulated flames and synchronized dance moves. I expected Jigga to appear out of nowhere at some point to spit some annoying little nasal rap over an 8 bar break. However, plagiarism is such a common thing in mass produced pop music that you cannot expect anything else, its Eurovision after all.
As for the artist, I must confess I am not a big fan of Greek pop music, and Eleni Foureira’s roots as an Albanian Greek do not bother me one bit. I will leave those kinds of racist digs to the Neo-Nazis of The Golden Yawn party in Greece. Now how Foureira was chosen by Cyprus and why, does concern me, because that relates more to the matter at hand. Like all entries in The Eurovision Song Contest, people are chosen to represent at a national level by a state or public broadcaster, in our case, this is CyBC who have a complete monopoly on Eurovision. Aside from the World Cup and Olympics, it is probably their biggest earner financially.
So, I have not heard the song, and probably will not hear it. I plan to listen to Mi-Soul Radio on recommendation of the mighty Lindsay Wesker tonight with the studio door shut tight until the contest finishes. After which point if I hear car horns beeping loudly in my yard I will know Cyprus has won. If I do not, it will be all quiet until next year. You see Eurovision for many people in Cyprus is the pinnacle of their musical engagement and the rest of the year, they go back to their routines until the next song is dished out and hyped all over again by the state broadcaster. Which brings us to the essence ‘δεν ΞΕΧΝΩ – Ι do not forget’ – such a common worn out cliché term for the eternal Cyprus Problem. We have grown up with it – heard it-seen it-lived it thoroughly for so many decades.
I cannot engage with Eurovision because in the past, they, the state broadcaster, I will not say we, as we had nothing to do with their choices, have entered some embarrassing bloopers and any critique has always been muted in the mainstream media. In addition, if Cyprus wins, one of the reasons for that happening will be we have never won before. We are the underdog of underdogs – who more or less every year gave 12 points to Greece and got 12, usually in return. I used to love that moment when the late Terry Wogan would say, year in year out, ‘well there you go, they’ve done it again….’ The underdog syndrome has been so evident in international media coverage this week, and its really cringe worthy. Some people even think the extra coverage, the prospect of winning Eurovision will help the ‘Cyprus Problem’. Not sure how that works but if we had any sense we would have entered a tri-lingual song and caused a real stir locally and internationally, and promoted a much more positive image of Cyprus than a lot of the crypto-nationalistic drivel that represented us in the past – more of that in a bit.
It’s hard to accept that the state broadcaster, an entity that does not accept critique, has hosted a chat show with a Neo-Nazi like Notis Sfakanakis (and paid a heavy price for it as the singer was overtly racist and they were rightly fined for it) and yet you would never see me on the TV sharing some very basic thoughts on the Eurovision song contest. I guess that’s what people at CyBC call balanced broadcasting. So I feel a need, a desire, to state the case on an alternative way of seeing things.
Therefore people, I deem myself ready to go for this, here are my top 5 ‘δεν ΞΕΧΝΩ – Ι do not forget’ Eurovision bloopers from Cyprus. Click on the links if you dare!
- “Sti fotia” (Στη φωτιά) 1995 – Alex Panayi – a rather tribal pseudo operatic anthem like song which featured the patriotic line – ‘Είμαι ο Έλληνας που πολέμα’ – which translates as ‘I am the Greek who fights’. Patriotism was at its highest in 1995. The Government of then President Clerides had ordered S300 missiles from Russia, despite us taxpayers paying millions for these, they never came, the ended up in Crete but thats supposed to be a secret. The song finished 9th. I still find it hard to digest how the EBU, European-Broadcasting Union allowed such a blatantly political song to be viewed by millions of people around the world. In addition, as a taxpayer it made me ashamed to say I am Cypriot. I must stress here that back in 1995 everybody who paid electricity had a levy on his or her bill, which went to financing CyBC. This draconian method particularly hit people with families in the winter. It was rightly phased out, as it was completely unjust. So our electricity levy financed this nationalistic drivel.
- ‘Ela Ela (Come Baby) 2005 – Constantinos Christorofou. Christophorou entered the context 3 times, 2 solo and once with a boy band called One. There is so much wrong with this song musically – a weird 12 bar bridge in the middle of it makes you want to count to 16 – and his English, oh my lord his English. ‘I’ll make your heart go bang, bang’ ‘I’m the king of the night, Let me show you tonight who I am Ela, ela, ela, la…’ and very cliché rhyming ‘mysterious’ ‘delirious’’action’ ‘passion’ etc. I did try to bring much of this up at the time, in my weekly column at ‘The Cyprus Mail’ but I was censored from saying anything on TV and radio shows soon afterwards. Relief is, after 3 attempts, Kochos from Limassol probably will not enter for Cyprus again – well at least never again in English.
- ‘Genesis’ 1998 – Michalis Hajiyiannis. Not sure what this song is about really. It has obviously a biblical title but it seemed again to touch on nationalism, with an image of Cyprus rising like a Phoenix from destruction of the past leading to freedom. He also looked such a misfit, such an odd match. Here was the adolescent Cypriot teenager and he is singing a ballad song called ‘Genesis’ in Greek at Eurovision with a shiny black leather jacket and what looked like a full orchestra being conducted by Giorgos Theophanous. He on the night thought he was Andre Previn, doing all the moves a conductor does. There was also the backing singers with mismatching clothes and sizes. The wardrobe assistant at CyBC also got that one badly wrong. The entry just seemed so over dramatic that there was a real relief when the song finished.
- 2006-09 and 2014 – four years in a row Cyprus failed to qualify. A bit of an injustice was done in my opinion in to ‘Firefly’ to Christina Metaxa in 2009 which was not that bad. We also went from English, to French to Greek in 3 years (2006-08). 2014 is a notable year. Cyprus did not enter due to the financial crisis/haircut of 2013. There was no money in the state coffers. Ironic then that our current Minister for Economy and Commerce, Haris Georgiades has declared this week that he will open the same said state coffers if Cyprus wins in 2018. That is a hard one to stomach as a taxpayer. Has he visited the state hospital lately? Why doesn’t he take out the chequebook for that? People are dying due to incompetents and health cuts and a minister gives Eurovision more priority!
- “Tha ‘nai erotas” (Θα ‘ναι έρωτας) – 1999 Marlain. I had to put this in because it was the worst ever entry points wise – just 2!. Marlain, a nice affable singer/actress was convinced of a much higher place and tended to blame everyone else at the time. As a song, it starts as a ballad made for theatre, with again grandiose imagery in the lyrics and then about half way through it goes into a cheesy euro-house beat, which was an uneasy transition to make – imagine that on the dancefloor? Marlain’s platform shoes hindered the dance routine tragically as well, which is why she was only moving her arms. Still she was a member of Hi-5, the first Greek girl band, they did not last as long as The Spice Girls, but there you go…that’s the pop music game for you.
I am often accused of negativity on Eurovision, a contest I affectionately refer to as ‘Euroxtijon’ in the Gringlish vernacular as most of the songs on the contest are complete stinkers. Nevertheless, there is one or two I liked. I mentioned ‘Firefly’ already. That’s just my taste. However, the best entry for Cyprus points wise was ‘Stronger every minute’ by Lisa Andreas getting 170 points and finishing 5th in 2004. A simple ballad that simply worked. Nothing more than that. Lisa Andreas just mesmerized the audience. We never came close to that kind of points tally again, which does lead me to beg for a final question. If Cyprus has done consistently badly why have no heads rolled at CyBC? In any other context in the music industry, when so much is at stake, failure would result in a change of approach and management. This is not the case at the state broadcaster, which ticks over, no matter who is in government, the taxpayers pay, and the bureaucrats stay in their seats, despite a long list of absolute bloopers. I have only named a few, there are many more. In another domain, like football, managers change based on performance and goals set within specific time frames. Many of us have these in our work duties – and if do not meet them – there could be trouble. Why should there be one law for a state employee then and another law for us? Are they ever made to be accountable by any one?
No matter the result in 2018, it is time for some heads to roll and changes to be made. If Cyprus wins it will partly be due to this. We have never won, so even if the people making the decisions do get it finally right, for so many years, they have time after time, got it consistently wrong and that I find hard to forget…let alone forgive…because it is my taxes and yours that pay for their bloopers.