Mark Espiner : Lena won’t change the world

Congratulations, Germany. You’ve won Eurovision - or the gay olympics as someone at the Guardian comically called the annual Song Contest. 

Mark Espiner
Mark Espiner
Mark EspinerFoto: Thilo Rückeis

After all the hype, Lena (like Madonna she only needs one name now) fought off Turkey’s robot, Belarusia’s butterfly wings and Armenia’s apricots and wowed most of Europe with a little black dress and a simple, irritating earworm. Only Israel, Belarus, Moldavia, Georgia, Armenia and a living room in the middle of Berlin, it seems, didn’t fall for her charms. I was in that small room, with a handful of Germans. 

As we watched and waited for Lena’s turn I started to get worried. Would this nice bunch I was with suddenly turn into flashmobbing Lenamaniacs like the rest of the country and then attack me with arguments about how great she was for “being herself”? Thankfully, these ones hadn’t caught the Lena bug and had the same reaction as I had: Satellite wasn’t as out of this world as everyone seemed to think - and her English sounded weird. 

I won’t go on about her accent again. I’ve written about that already in Der Spiegel. Although I will say that after that piece was published I almost had to go into hiding. My minor criticisms of St Lena provoked comments that almost bordered on death threats. Can I thank all the German English teachers who came to my defence by agreeing that Lena’s English (or should that be Lenglish?) could influence a generation of schoolkids to say “die” instead of “day”?

There is a more important question at stake, though, than her accent.

What Lena’s success has stimulated is the idea that Germany is leading Europe with a new vision of how things can be done at this contest. Germany’s strategy to have a good, catchy pop song and not some heartfelt power ballad and to abandon the glitz and glamour of glittery costumes and choreography has been hailed by some - including the BBC- as dragging Eurovision into the 21st century and even giving it musical credibility. 

Surely, though, this misses the point of what Eurovision is. With Lena’s low-key style - no dance routine, no dazzling lights, and no use of that hair-blowing wind machine - Germany is in danger of taking all the fun out of the show. People in the UK host Eurovision parties  to celebrate the ridiculousnesses, the bad taste, the extravagance and sometimes just the silliness of it all. Germany’s new professional, competitive attitude represented by Lena and the TV show that chose her, could turn the whole of the Eurovision Song Contest into, well, a contest rather than the carnival that it has been.

The joy of watching countries crazily expressing themselves in all their diversity with their own language could be lost for ever. And instead everyone will try to produce their own Lenas with songs written by Americans, sung in slangy English and performed by the marketing products of second-rate TV talent shows. 

I’m not saying all this just because Britain came last. Although that has, I must admit, given me cause to reflect. Leaving aside the minor fact that Britain’s song was utterly terrible, why did Josh come bottom and Lena out on top? Why is Britain so hated? Thank you Georgia, Azerbaijan, Albania and Ireland for your meagre votes, but where was the rest of Europe’s support? What have we done so wrong? Perhaps it has at last happened that our reluctance to fully join Europe and put Euros in our wallets has come to punish us. Or maybe it’s the behaviour of the British on holiday abroad that has done it. 

Forgetting the shame and embarrassment of my country only winning 10 (10!) points. Forgetting that Germany has yet again beaten Britain hollow. Even forgetting the new professional standards that you are seeking to set for Eurovision, I still have to wonder why Germany has become so obsessed with Lena. 

Yes, she’s young. Yes, she’s fresh. She’s innocent, but she’s tattooed; she’s spontaneous and witty, but ditzy and chaotic. She’s...well, she’s just not typically German, is she? You love her because she isn’t what the rest of Europe thinks you are.

But before you embrace her to death or make her your new kanzlerin, remember that she’s only a 19-year-old one-hit wonder. She won’t change the world no matter what underwear she has on, what colour it is, when she bought it or, indeed, how regularly she paints her toenails.

You can email Mark on mark@espiner.com and follow him on twitter @DeutschMarkUK

In German

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