On May 24, 1956 a song contest was started in Lugano, Switzerland that would eventually become a major entertainment event in Europe and even attract major interest around the world over the years. It was called the Eurovision Song Contest Grand Prix back then. Now the Eurovision Song Contest heads into 60 years of showcasing music and song and is bigger than ever.
THE START OF SOMETHING BIG
The Eurovision Song Contest (ESC) is the brainchild of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), a union of all the national broadcast associations from around Europe. It was in the early 1950’s. Europe was a divided war-torn continent struggling to rebuild itself and struggling to heal international relations that had only worsened due to the fighting of World War II that had ended in 1945.
In 1951, the Italian city of Sanremo started a music festival to help revitalize the city’s economy and the image of the city of Sanremo. The festival which was titled Festival della Canzone Italiana, or the Italian Song Festival, was held in January that year in the Sanremo Casino and was a hit.
The contest attracted the attention of the EBU and it inspired them of their own idea. They hoped for this Contest to unite the European nations through art and song. At a meeting of the EBU broadcasters in Monaco in 1955, the idea of a pan-European music festival was brought to the table. The Sanremo festival and its format served as the base for how this contest would be held. The following year on May 24, 1956, the first ever Eurovision Song Contest was held.
THE FIRST CONTEST
The very first Eurovision Song Contest was held at the Teatro Kursall in Lugano, Switzerland. The contest was only one hour and forty minutes long. The contest was broadcast both on television and radio since most people didn’t yet own a television set. Only solo performers were allowed to perform and songs were not to exceed three and a half minutes in length. There were fourteen songs performed by a total of twelve acts from seven different countries: Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Switzerland. Austria, Denmark and the UK planned to perform but missed the submission deadline.
All participating countries fielded two songs performed with only Luxembourg and Switzerland having the same singer sing both songs. An orchestra for the whole contest was fielded but each country would have their own conductor conducting. Voting was done by two jury members from each participating country in secret ballot. In the end, 32 year-old Swiss singer Lys Assia won the contest for her song ‘Refrain.’ Along with her prizes, Lys was to perform her winning song at the end of the contest.
The first Contest was however marred by controversy. First, the fact the winner was decided by secret ballot. Second was the fact that the two members of Luxembourg’s jury who were to vote didn’t make it to Lugano. Both members of the Swiss jury were allowed to give a second vote. In fact no one knows what the official results of the contest are to this day. The EBU knew they had to make changes for the next contest if it were to continue.
THE SECOND CONTEST SETS THE STAGE
As I mentioned, the Contest had to iron out some things if it wanted to go further. One thing that wasn’t ironed out back then was the host nation. It was planned in the future that each competing nation would have their chance at hosting. However the increasing number of countries would make that concept an impossibility. Germany who finished second at last year’s contest was allowed to host the 1957 contest in Frankfurt.
This time there were ten nations competing with all seven nations from the previous year returning and Austria, UK and Denmark meeting the deadline this time. As in the previous year, there was an orchestra which was to be conducted by a conductor from each country. This time there was to be only one performance per country. There was no time limit of songs and the contest was open to duets. Denmark would field the first-ever duet in the Contest’s history.
In response to the voting controversy from the previous year, this year would start a judging format that would still exist to this day. This time the juries stayed in their home country and watched the competition from television and they were not allowed to vote for their own country. One voting aspect for this Contest and the four following was the juries were all given a total of ten points to divide among the performers whom they felt worthy. Only two performers from last year’s contest–the Netherlands’ Corry Brokken and last year’s winner Lys Assia– returned. Brokken won the contest but the big news was of the kiss of the Danish duo who performed: it lasted 13 seconds.
However it’s not to say this contest experienced issues. There was the issue of the time length of the songs. The Italian song was 5:09 minutes in length and the UK entry wasn’t even two minutes. Further Eurovision contests would permit for a song of a maximum length of three minutes.
THE CONTEST GROWS OVER TIME
In 1958, the contest was held in Hilversum, Netherlands. This would be a Eurovision tradition as the nation of the Contest winner would host the following year’s contest: a tradition rarely broken. Lys Assia and Corry Brokken were back. For the record, past champions are allowed to perform again and there’s no limit to how many Eurovisions they can participate. The contest was won by a French singer but it was the song that finished third– Domenico Modugno’s Volare— that would win the world over. Already the first hit generated from the Contest.
The contest would grow over the next ten years from ten countries in 1958 to eighteen in 1966. Yugoslavia debuted in 1961 and would become the only nation of the former Eastern Bloc to participate in the Contest during the years of the Cold War. The Contest was known for being out of tune with the common tastes of the record-buying public. While the times were embracing rock ‘n roll and Beatlemania, most songs in the Contest were in fact big band-style songs and the winners up to 1964 were all ballads. The first non-ballad to win was Luxembourg performer France Gall’s ‘Poupee de Cire, Poupee de Son’ which sounded like the popular go-go music of the 1960’s. However there would be a major problem in 1969 when four songs shared the top score and thus four winners were declared. Five countries boycotted the following year and the EBU knew it had to revamp the scoring process in time for the 1970 Contest.
1971 allowed for groups up to six to perform.1973 saw the first non-European country to enter performers: Israel. It would not be the last but it would be the most consistent, appearing a total of 41 times and winning three times. 1974 saw the performance of ABBA and ‘Waterloo’ which would launch the band into stardom and would even considered by most to be the best Eurovision Song Contest ever. 1975 would see the one-to-twelve points scoring system that would stick ever since. Before the 1976 contest, there would be protests in Sweden over how commercial the contest became. Sweden withdrew that year as a result.
1980 would see Morocco enter for the first and only time. Over the years the Contest would grow in terms of nations being broadcast to although participating nations were the only ones allows to field juries for voting. The Contest would also see more numbers include dancing in their performances as dance had a key factor in the UK’s Bucks Fizz winning in 1981 for ‘Making You Mind Up.’ Also from that winning performance was the rip of the female singers’ skirts to reveal a miniskirt. That would lead to more onstage gimmicks and more sexually provocative performances over time. The Contest would even introduce the world to a Canadian diva competing for Switzerland in 1998 by the name of Celine Dion and even won with the song ‘Ne Partez Pas Sans Moi.’ The 80’s would also see the Contest’s first and only two-time winner with Ireland’s Johnny Logan: in 1980 with ‘What’s Another Year’ and in 1987 with ‘Hold Me Now.’
1990 would pave the way for the post-Cold war era of Europe and would also change the ESC as a result. 1990 was known for featuring a lot of politically-focused songs with the fall of Communism being a top song topic. The winner was ‘Insieme:1992,’ an Italian song about the upcoming European Union. The changes of Europe were first evident in 1993 when three nations of the former Yugoslavia entered the contest for the first time. However they would be the three winners of a pre-qualifying round of seven ‘newcoming’ nations to the ESC: all former members of the Eastern Bloc. That was another difficulty for the contest: dealing with new nations who wanted to participate. 1994 saw the seven lowest-placing countries from 1993 not invited the following year and allowing for seven debuting countries all from the former Eastern Bloc. 1996 tried to solve things by having an audio-only pre-qualifying contest to reduce the 29 submissions to a manageable 23 performers.
1997 saw the introduction of televoting but only five of the 25 participating countries used televoting to decide the winners. The number would grow to 22 out of 25 in 1998. 1998 would also have the first ever transsexual, Israel’s Dana International, to perform. She even won with her song ‘Diva.’ 1999 would see the departure of the orchestra and the arrival of pre-recorded music. However pre-recorded vocals were not allowed and are still not allowed.
The maximum number of countries was always a frustration with the EBU. Due to the break-up of the USSR, the fall of the iron curtain and Yugoslavia’s republics going their separate ways, more nations wanted to compete at the contest and that would lead the EBU to make rules to put a limit on having a manageable number of countries performing on the night. That would be seen unfair in many people’s eyes. Then 2004 saw the debut of a Semi-Final for the Contest. 2008 would see the current format of two semi-finals and a Grant Final for the Contest. 2015 would feature the debut of the first non-European invitee since Morocco in 1980: Australia.
This year the contest will have 42 competing nations including Australia returning. The contest will be held in the Globe Theatre of Stockholm, Sweden; host country of last year’s winner Mans Zelmerlow who won for ‘Heroes.’ 42 countries will perform. There were to be 43 but Romania was disallowed because of unpaid debts owing to the EBU. 36 of the countries will compete in the semi-finals. The host nation and the Big Five countries (UK, Spain, France, Italy and Germany) are to bypass the semis as they qualify for the final. However they are to perform in the semis as a ‘dress rehearsal’ and they are allowed to vote on the other semi finalists who are contending for Finals berths.
RULES, RULES, RULES
It never fails. When you have a performance contest, you have rules that go along with it. Here’s a brief guide to some of the rules of the Contest. And I’ll try to make it brief.
When the contest started, a performer could sing in whatever language they wanted. In 1966, it was declared performers can only perform in their native language. The restriction was lifted in 1973 but returned for 1977 as songs sung in English from Austria and Finland at the 1976 Contest delivered sexually-suggestive lyrics. The restriction was kept intact from 1977 to 1998. However regional dialects and even rare languages native to the country–like Switzerland’s 1989 entry which was sung in Romansh– were permitted. 1999 saw a return to singing in whatever language the performer chooses to perform. There have even been entries in past Contests which consisted completely of imaginary languages.
Since 1999, all but one winner have been sung either partially or completely in English. It’s very common for a performer to sing their song in the national song contest in the native language but sing their song in English at the Eurovision Contest. Thirty-nine of the 42 songs in the Contest this year will either be partially or completely sung in English. Only three songs will be sung completely in another language and an additional three songs will mix English lyrics with lyrics of another language. The one song with a regional language is Ukraine as Jamala’s ‘1944’ will be sung both in English and Crimean Tatar.
It’s pretty obvious most of the performers at the ESC are citizens of the country they represent. However it’s not set in stone. There have been many times certain countries would field a singer or songwriters from other countries. The best example is Luxembourg. In its 37 appearances from 1956 to 1993, only four singers were actual citizens of Luxembourg. In fact all five singers who won the ESC for Luxembourg were in fact citizens of other countries: four from France and one from Greece. And Monaco’s winning entry from 1971 consisted of the lead singer, backup singers, songwriter and conductor all French citizens. In fact lead singer Severine only ever set foot in Monaco only once just weeks before the Contest when she performed her song live before Prince Ranier.
It’s still happening in modern times. There have been three times when a Canadian singer sang for Switzerland including a then-20 year-old Celine Dion back in 1988. Azerbaijan always fields singers that are citizens of their country but hires Swedish songwriters to write winning songs. Ir’s paid off as Azerbaijan has had five Top 5 finishes including a win in 2011.
Although this is a European Contest, there have been countries outside of Europe who have participated. Israel is the most notable with 38 appearances and even winning three times. Morocco participated only once in 1980. Australia was invited last year and they were invited again this year.
Ever hear the saying “Never work with animals or children?” I’ve never known of a Eurovision act with a live animal involved but I’ve learned about children. There have been times when children performed as backup singers or even as a performer and the EBU didn’t have a problem with that. However the problem first started when 13 year-old Belgian singer Sandra Kim won the contest with ‘J’aime la Vie.’ The problem was she passed herself off as fifteen in the song. But it would be the 1989 Contest that would cause chagrin among the EBU as France’s entry was an 11 year-old girl and Israel’s entered duo consisted of a 12 year-old boy. The EBU made a rule for the following year that performers on stage must be 16 years of age in the Eurovision year, including dancers and backup singers. Performers under 16 would have to wait until 2003 for the Junior Eurovision Song Contest to begin to have their day in the sun.
There’s no specific guidelines for what topics the songs should be about. For those who’ve seen the contest, anything seems to go. There have been topics that are universal like love and peace, topics that are regional like war or triumph among past genocide, topics that are sexual in nature, topics that are political, topics that are humorous and even topics that are either ridiculous or sent in an eccentric manner. Anything goes, almost. The only time I’ve heard of a song disqualified for its content was back in 2009 when Georgia entered ‘We Don’t Wanna Put In.’ Many felt it referenced Russia’s Vladimir Putin especially since Georgia was part of the victorious Orange Revolution years earlier. The fact that the ESC was being held in Moscow that year made things that more complicated. There was one case in 2012 when the act for San Marino was to perform ‘The Facebook Song’ but couldn’t because it interfered with the Contest’s product placement rules. The song would be retitled ‘The Social Network Song.’
The Performance and Performers In A Nutshell:
There are some unbasic rules when it comes to submitting a country’s performer and/or performance. Some countries hold their own national song contest to determine the national entrant for the ESC that year and some have a board that picks the performer and the song. Most likely they are a citizen of the country but they don’t have to be. Past performers are allowed to return again, even if they’re a past winner, but Johnny Logan the only two-time winner as a performer.
Then there are the basic rules. The song must be no longer than three minutes in length. The limit of on-stage performers varies over the years but the current limit is six performers on stage at once, including dancers. Up until 1999, the song was to be orchestrated even if musicians were added along. Live music, even by artists performing on stage, has been banned since 2004. Vocals are all to be done live with no lip-syncing. The biggest thing however is that the song is to be completely original. No cover songs are allowed and no sampling of other records are allowed either, not even in rap entries. Recorded versions of the song are allowed to be released before the Contest or even the national contest but a release before September 1st of the year before the Contest would disqualify them. These eligibility rules have led to a number of entries in the past being disqualified.
Voting The Winner:
As the rules of the Contest are ever changing, so are the rules in declaring the winner. Starting with the topic of who decides the winner, the secret-ballot from the first Contest caused friction. Then from 1957 to 1962, it was ten member juries who viewed the Contest from their home country and called in their results. 1963 brought it to a twenty-member jury but was reduced back to ten from 1964 to 1970. Then from 1971 to 1973, there were juries of only two that were present at the actual contest to give points to the winners. In 1974, the format returned to juries staying at home to decide and call in the results. The number of jury members started at 11 but eventually rose to sixteen.
In 1996, it was noted how out of sync the ESC juries were with the record-buying public in terms of deciding winners. In 1997, televoting where viewers called in their favorites was introduced but used as an experiment given to five of the 25 countries at the Contest that year. In 1998, it was expanded to all countries except those that had weak telephone systems. 2001 and 2002 allowed the country’s respective broadcasting association to decide between televoting or a jury decision. The Contests from 2004 and 2008 were exclusively televoting. From 2009 to 2015, televoting and jury results were combined into a single score per country with the televoting result taking precedence if there was a tie. In 2015, it was the juries that took precedence.
Deciding the winners is harder to explain than the points system for the songs. From 1957 to 1961, juries were given a total of 10 points to divide among the performances they liked best. In 1962, juries gave 1 point for 3rd place, 2 for second or 3 for 1st. From 1964 to 1966, it was a point for 3rd, three points for 2nd and five points for third. 1967 marked the return of 10 points to divide however 1970 saw an introduction of tie-breaking rules after the four-way tie in 1969 which led to many countries respond by boycotting. From 1971 to 1973, the juries gave anywhere from 2 to 10 points per song. 1974 was a return to 10 points to divide.
However it was the 1975 Contest that would introduce a scoring format that has stuck since. Each country would rank their Top 10 but of course would not vote for their own country. The country they rank 10th would get one point, 9th would get two points, and so on until 8 points for 3rd place. The country they ranked second would be awarded 10 points and the country they ranked #1 would get 12 points. Since then, twelve points or douze points would be synonymous with Eurovision.
For This Year:
This year’s Contest will be held in the Ericsson Globe Arena in Stockholm, Sweden. They were awarded the Contest upon the win of Mans Zelmerlow for his song ‘Heroes.’ In a rare turn of events, Zelmerlow will co-host the Contest with Petra Mede. Not that often the reigning champion co-hosts. It seems right that Sweden hosts as they have one of the biggest Eurovision legacies with a total of six wins. Only Ireland has won more with seven.
The Contest will be broadcast to 50 countries and can be viewed on LiveStream through the website eurovision.tv. The USA will have live broadcast of the final for the first time ever: on Cable channel Logo-TV. Draws were held months ago to decide who competes in the two semi-finals. The officials allocated the draw for geographical means to keep ‘neighbor voting,’ which I will reflect on later, down to a minimum. Most countries will have citizens of their own country as performers but Switzerland will again have a Canadian as a performer: Vancouverite Rykka with ‘The Last Of Our Kind.’ Romania wasn’t the only country to experience friction before this year’s Contest. Germany had to replace its entry because it soon came to light their originally entered performer had been vocal in the past of extreme right-wing views.
There’s the interval acts too: performances taking place while viewers place their televotes. Zelmerlow will perform his winning song from last year ‘Heroes’ during the interval of the first Semifinal held on Tuesday the 10th, the interval act for the second Semi on Thursday will be a dance ensemble and the interval act for Saturday’s Final will be Justin Timberlake performing ‘Can’t Stop The Feeling’ from the movie Trolls. Interesting note is Timberlake co-wrote and co-produced the song with two Swedish songwriters: Shellback and Max Martin.
Also something new for this year’s Contest. You know how there’s always confusion with the 50/50 system of televoting and jury voting on which overrides in the case of ties. Well, introduces for the first time this year countries will deliver two sets of scores. Now both televoting and juries from each country will give their own separate one to twelve points. This should take away from the confusion and make the contest more even.
I’ll admit I like seeing the Contest. I was lucky to see it live on LiveStream in 2013 and 2014. I live in Canada and none of the networks will be showing the contest live. I will be too busy to watch any of the Contest live thanks to my work schedule and music rehearsal.
I can understand of the Contest’s greatness. It’s the world’s most watched non-sporting event with a wide array of performers of various countries performing their song to win over the rest of Europe. It’s excellent that it helped launch the careers of Celine Dion, ABBA, Bucks Fizz and Ruslana as well as a stepping stone for Julio Iglesias and Nana Mouskouri. It’s also been the stage for established acts like Toto Cutogno, Cliff Richard, Lulu and Engelbert Humperdinck. It has also unleashed some classic songs like ‘Poupee de Cire, Poupee de Son,’ ‘Waterloo,’ ‘Making Your Mind Up,’ ‘Volare,’ ‘Love Is Blue (l’Amour Est Bleu),’ ‘Save All Your Kisses For Me,’ and ‘Euphoria.’
However I won’t deny the drawbacks of the Contest. I will admit there are some idiotic performances that rely too much on getting their gimmick to propel them to the win. In fact I hope I don’t sound bigoted but I strongly believe the wins of Israel’s Dana International in 1998 and Austria’s Conchita Wurst in 2014 were because of the hype of both being transgender. I’ll admit there are some songs and performances too eccentric to be real. I will also admit that often the winners are out of sync with the current trends in music. Even with the inclusion of televoting starting in 1997, the winning songs still don’t sound that current. I can even remember while teenpop ruled the late 90’s, early-2000’s worldwide and even in Europe, 1999’s winner was a schlager song from Sweden , 2000’s was a folksy rock song from Denmark and 2001’s was a calypso number from Estonia. Speaking of televoting, I will admit that even though countries can’t vote for their own performers, that hasn’t stopped them from giving top votes to performers from neighboring countries. Yeah, ‘neighbor voting’ has definitely been an issue with the Contest lately and has even questioned the credibility of televoting. I will admit there have been times I felt the song that came in second place was often better than the winning song. I will admit the Contest can propel the winning song to hit status internationally but not always. I will also admit that sometimes the Contest can end up being the peak of a performer’s career in most cases. I really learned a lot from the 2013 BBC show ‘How To Win Eurovision’ that was a show that showed all the idiocy that happens with the ESC but still showed why it was still important for the UK to get back on top. For the record, the UK’s fifth and last win was in 1997, their 23rd and last Top 3 finish was in 2002 and had all three of their last-place finishes in this 21st century. Yes, their legacy of five wins and 15 second-places is definitely a thing of the past.
I will admit to the negative but I still believe it is an enjoyable show to see. I won’t deny some acts try to gimmick their way to the win. However there have been many times even in the era of televoting that the less-gimmicky songs like 2007’s ‘Molitva’ and 2010’s ‘Satellite’ have gone on to win. Even 2012’s ‘Euphoria,’ which some people compare to David Guetta’s ‘Titanium,’ could not only win but burn up the dance floors worldwide too. I myself welcome gimmicks but only as long as they’re not stupid, not too weird and not too distracting from the song itself or could even boost the song. Hey, 2006’s winner ‘Hard Rock Hallelujah’ had a gimmick that made the song. I still like seeing it on YouTube. Basically the Contest was to focus on the song. More often than not, it is the song that rises to the top. Even last year’s winner ‘Heroes’ was a song with a good message with a stage performance from Zelmerlow with an interactive backdrop that worked with his movements and help make for a stage show that helped him win. Actually the Contest is less eccentric than it was seven years ago. I guess those no-nonsense songs that won are sending a message.
The Eurovision Song Contest was originally created in 1956 to bridge gaps in Europe that was healing after World War II. 60 years later, Europe is more unified and there’s less international animosity than ever. I don’t know if the Contest actually achieved all that in its 60 years but it does make for one entertaining show!
Hi all. With the Golden Globes coming this Sunday night, it is the time where I make my predictions for the winners. For this, I not only predict the Winner but also the Most Likely Upsetter who could pull the biggest surprise. So without further ado:
Best Motion Picture, Drama
Most Likely Upsetter: The Revenant
Best Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy
Winner: The Martian
Most Likely Upsetter: The Big Short
Best Actor in a Motion Picture, Drama
Winner: Leonardo diCaprio, The Revenant
Most Likely Upsetter: Bryan Cranston, Trumbo
Best Actor in a Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy
Winner: Matt Damon, The Martian
Most Likely Upsetter: Christian Bale, The Big Short
Best Actress in a Motion Picture, Drama
Winner: Cate Blanchett, Carol
Most Likely Upsetter: Brie Larson, Room
Best Actress in a Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy
Winner: Amy Schumer, Trainwreck
Most Likely Upsetter: Jennifer Lawrence, Joy
Best Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture
Winner: Mark Rylance, Bridge Of Spies
Most Likely Upsetter: Idris Elba, Beasts Of No Nation
Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture
Winner: Alicia Vikander, Ex Machina
Most Likely Upsetter: Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight
Winner: Thomas McCarthy, Spotlight
Most Likely Upsetter: Ridley Scott, The Martian
Best Screenplay, Motion Picture
Winner: Tom McCarthy & Josh Singer, Spotlight
Most Likely Upsetter: Adam McKay, The Big Short
Best Foreign-Language Film
Winner: Son Of Saul (Hungary)
Most Likely Upsetter: The Brand New Testament (Belgium)
Best Animated Feature Film
Winner: Inside Out
Most Likely Upsetter: Anomalisa
Best Original Song, Motion Picture
Winner: “See You Again”, Furious 7
Most Likely Upsetter: “One Kind Of Love”, Love & Mercy
Best Original Score, Motion Picture
Winner: Carter Burwell, Carol
Most Likely Upsetter: Ennio Morricone, The Hateful Eight
Okay, so I decided not to give a Most Likely Upsetter prediction for the television categories. Hey what can I say? I’m better at predicting the movie awards. Plus with a lot of categories appearing radically different from last year, it makes it all the much harder. So here are my TV predictions for the winners:
Best TV Movie or Miniseries: American Horror Story Hotel
Best TV Series, Drama: Game of Thrones
Best TV Series, Comedy: Veep
Best Actor in a TV Series, Drama: Jon Hamm, Mad Men
Best Actor, TV Series Comedy: Jeffrey Tambor, Transparent
Best Actress in a TV Series, Drama: Viola Davis, How To Get Away With Murder
Best Actress in a TV Series, Comedy: Gina Rodriguez, Jane The Virgin
Best Actor in a Miniseries or TV Movie: Mark Rylance, Wolf Hall
Best Actress in a Miniseries or TV Movie: Queen Latifah, Bessie
Best Supporting Actor in a Series, Mini-Series or TV Movie: Damian Lewis, Wolf Hall
Best Supporting Actress in a Series, Miniseries, or TV Movie: Regina King, American Crime
And there you go. Those are my predictions for Sunday’s Golden Globe Awards. I don’t think I’ll completely be in sync with the Hollywood Foreign Press but anyways tune in to see the winners and the show.
I’m sure all of you know the news by now, especially Glee fans. Star Cory Monteith was found dead in a Vancouver hotel Saturday night. He was 31. I know because I live in Vancouver so that news hit fast. Toxicology results came immediate: it was an overdose of alcohol and heroin. It was a shock to many. Problem is this tragedy is way too common in the history of entertainment.
The arts and showbiz are known for great lives being cut short due to substances or their own personal demons. They go far back to such greats like composers Mozart and Schubert who never made it to their 40th birthday. They include poets like Edgar Allen Poe, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Dylan Thomas…the list is lengthy. They include artists like Vincent Van Gogh, Jackson Pollock and Frida Kahlo. Actually it was right after the release of the 2002 film Frida that I made the comment: “A tortured soul makes an artist.” Young showbiz deaths include singers like Sam Cooke, Mario Lanza, Marvin Gaye and Amy Winehouse. They include rappers like Tupac Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G. They also include actors like John Gilbert, Marilyn Monroe and River Phoenix.
Also unique about celebrities and artists is that quite often their young death can add to their mystique as an artist. Many people feel know of Jackson Pollock’s struggle with alcoholism and that it led to him to paint his feelings out. Many people are awestruck by the personal troubles of Kurt Cobain who sang out his troubles: troubles that eventually led to his suicide. Marilyn Monroe’s mystique of being the Hollywood beauty whose fame and fortune couldn’t save her from her personal struggles has added to her legend since her suicide. James Dean epitomized the popular 50’s belief ‘live fast, die young’ upon his death in a high-speed car crash. Even Tupac Shakur’s knowledge that he would die an early death because of his bad attitude but still went for it anyways also mesmerizes fans to this day. Sometimes an entertainer dying young of natural causes like Bob Marley from cancer can leave us in amazement about what they did in their short life. Early deaths linked to a particular profession create a mystique too. We know of the ’27 Club’ of rock musicians like Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison and Kurt Cobain who died at the age of 27. We also see how some of the greatest divas in history like Billie Holiday, Edith Piaf, Judy Garland and most recently Whitney Houston failed to reach their 50th birthday. Even early deaths of the biggest of the big like Elvis Presley at 42 and Michael Jackson at 50 capture our intrigue.
The most recent celebrity to be amongst entertainers and celebrities who died a young death was Cory Monteith. Cory was a young actor who had been in the business since he was 22. He was mostly cast in minor roles but received a big break in 2009 when he was cast in the lead role of Finn Hudson in the TV series Glee. The success of the musical TV series took off instantly with huge fanfare and hit records of song they performed on the show. There was even a Glee tour and a 3D concert movie. Things appeared to be going very well for Cory. He appeared to be handling fame well, was in a relationship with fellow cast member Lea Michele and appeared to have overcome a lightly-publicized substance problem within a month earlier this year.
Then the news hit in the evening of July 13, 2013. 31 year-old Cory Monteith was found dead in his room at the Fairmount Pacific Rim Hotel in Vancouver. An autopsy was completed in less than 48 hours. Cause of death was ruled to be a mix of heroin and alcohol. It was ruled to be an accident. Cory became yet another young celebrity who died an early death to drugs and alcohol.
The big question was did celebrity have to do with it? I’ll admit that on the day of his autopsy results released, I posted on my Facebook status:
On the subject of Cory Monteith’s toxicology results, you hear of celebrities past who died early deaths of drugs and various substances and you’d think the next generation will learn the lessons and avoid it, only to see them make the same dumb mistakes!
However if you read stories about him, you will hear that Cory had problems with alcohol and marijuana since he was 13. It should be too surprising knowing he was raised in Victoria when that happened. BC is known for its substance abuse problems. Since then he attended 16 different schools until dropping out at the age of 16. Cory continued to fuel his drug habit by stealing off of family and friends until his family staged an intervention when he was 19 and attended a rehab program that was successful in helping him recover. However his problems would come and go. One news source said his problem would actually disappear when he was in Hollywood but would recur when he was in BC. This may be true or not but one thing’s sure is that his death at the Vancouver Fairmont would make that statement look right.
I’ll admit I was erroneous in my Facebook update but it was nevertheless an easy assumption to make. When I was younger, it appeared that celebrities dying young deaths from drugs and alcohol would serve as a lesson to the younger stars that it’s not worth it. Boy was I naïve. The last ten years has shown us a lot of stories of young celebrities, especially the likes of Paris Hilton, Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan, who kept on getting themselves into substance problems again and again. I even remember a quote from actress Barbara Eden just after Lindsay Lohan’s DUI arrest in 2007. I don’t remember the exact words but it went something like: “I feel sorry for those young girls in Hollywood. You just can’t simply do some coke. You have to do a whole lot.” It left me with the impression that stardom is still something people feel is worth putting your life at risk for. Even with all these gossip blogs of other celebrities dealing with their substance issues you’re left with that impression. It’s because of all that in which Cory’s death from that lethal mix of heroin and alcohol led me to think it was showbiz again doing its thing. However I’m willing to agree that it has more to do with Vancouver as I’m very familiar with its drug abuse problems. I see it almost every day.
Whatever the situation, or however it happened, Cory was nevertheless a life cut short. Apart from his celebrity, he left behind a mother, father and a brother having to deal with this. His father had an additional dealing as he was not invited to Cory’s viewing. Lea Michele has to deal with her boyfriend gone. The official Twitter accounts of top Glee stars like Lea, Chris Colfer and Kevin McHale have not had a tweet since July 13th: the day of Cory’s death. Lea however has had an official statement wishing for privacy at this time. The future of Glee also remains in question.
Cory Monteith may have shocked all with his death coming at a time of fame and fortune. However a young death is a young death. One can’t help but be left wondering what could’ve been, celebrity or not. I remember a quote from Stevie Nicks when she talked about her cocaine addiction and how she said part of her wanted to die but part of her made her think if she died young, people would say: “That was stupid of her,” and it made her recover. Did that ever cross Cory’s mind?
WIKIPEDIA: Cory Monteith. Wikipedia.com. 2013. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cory_Monteith>
I was watching the latest React video on Youtube from the Fine Bros’ various React shows: Teens React To Hot Problems. Actually first I paused the video after ten seconds so I can hear Hot Problems for myself. As I was listening to the intro of that video which will soon hit 30 million views, I noticed that the number of dislikes was more than 90% of the likes. That had me wondering. Then I heard it for myself. It was so dreadful I had enough after two minutes. I could not blame the teens that were irritated with it. Then the song grew on me: I actually liked it because of how awful it was. I’m sure I’m not alone, but why does this happen?
I’ll admit there are times when our society is charmed by things that are downright awful. Possibly the reason why we have a term called ‘guilty pleasure’. I’m sure it has existed since the beginning of time. We should remember that there was such thing as B-movies when movies started coming out. Some of the best of the worst came either during the 30’s or the 50’s. It was movies people loved because of its awfulness. I’m sure B-movies continued in the 60’s but who remembers those?
Then came the 70’s. This was the decade when awful really started to take off. B-movies became ‘cult films’ with all sorts of blood, gore, exploitation and purposely-bad acting. There was also the raunchy Rocky Horror Picture Show: a musical where the house of Frankenstein meets the sexual revolution that made no real sense. TV also had its variety of bad taste to offer too. Remember the $1.98 Beauty Show and The Gong Show? Yeah, I especially remember the latter. Even now I love watching clips of old Gong Show acts on Youtube. It’s my guilty pleasure.
Awful had a bit of a lull in the 80’s or 90’s but there was the occasional hit that was loved for its awfulness, like the infantile man/boy Pee-Wee Herman or the sitcom Married With Children. Those who saw Married With Children would remember it for its awful episodes, awfully acted superstock-like characters and very off writing as much as it was for its raunchiness. Nevertheless it was all those factors why people loved it. On the opposite side, there was Saved By The Bell: a Disney Channel show that found its way on NBC in 1989. Its lame writings, characters and over-the-top cutesy scenarios were eaten up by young teens and preteens and help pave the way for many fluffy sugar-coated Disney Channel shows that have become phenomenons in the past 7 years.
However it seems like in the 21st Century, bad taste and awful have aimed to become either legendary or competitive, or both. It seems like in a multimedia world we live in that has so much to offer, one has to stand out above the rest. That even includes performances of bad and terrible. And it’s produced some legends too along the way. I don’t know the first 21st Century instance of bad being catchy but I assume it’s the 2003 movie The Room. It’s so bad it earned its own Rocky Horror like following. The difference being Rocky Horror was basically bad acting and bad writing done professionally. The Room is just completely amateurish from the acting to the writing to the stunts to the cinematography. I can’t see a single trace of professionalism in it. Nevertheless it was The Room’s pathetic awfulness that garnered its cult following.
2004 would see the temporary stardom of non-singer William Hung; the right no-talent at the right time. He arrived right while the nation was so fixated on American Idol shelling out the next big thing in pop music with contestants groomed and dressed to perfection and voices pitch perfect. Hung didn’t have the look at all and he sounded dreadful with his version of Ricky Martin’s She Bangs. But his horrid audition was catchy enough for him to garner a fan following including the release of a disc tiled Inspiration and numerous talk show appearances. Weird how a singer could become so famous for their awfulness and imperfections. Today William is out of music altogether and now works for the LA County Sherriff’s Department.
Then along came this thing called Youtube in 2005. Youtube went from being a channel that simply showed home movies to also changing the fame game. People could become famous for simply saying things like “Leave Britney alone,” or “Charlie bit my finger.” It was a place musicians can play their own music which would pave the way for the popularity of Chocolate Rain. It was also where a teenager could become hugely famous for a hyperactive 6 year-old character named Fred.
Youtube was also seen as a domain for professional skilled musicians to show their stuff and hopefully get their big break. It worked for launching the careers of recent teen phenoms like Justin Bieber and Cody Simpson. It also allowed a 13 year-old girl named Rebecca Black perform a song called Friday. Tailor-made by an amateur music producer with a $5000 promise to her parents it would make her a star, it was done with cheesy lyrics, Rebecca Black singing either monotoned, nasally or to auto-tune, and the producer rapping. The song was placed on Youtube back in February of 2011 and has received 31,000,000 hits so far and 810,000 ‘thumbs’: almost 80% are dislikes. It worked to propel Rebecca to fame but the kind of fame with a lot of ridicule. Yet its awfulness also started a huge following with a lot of satire videos to follow. A lot of people will admit the awfulness was catchy. Even Lady Gaga thinks Rebecca Black is a genius.
Now 2012 brings a new chapter to awful entertainment and yes, it’s courtesy of Youtube. Two California high school girls going by the name of Double Take recorded a song entitled Hot Problems about the problems girls that are labeled ‘hot’ go through and had the video placed on the OldBaileyProductions channel on April 15th. Since then the song has gone viral to the point it has already received 12,000,000 hits. The reactions are mostly negative as the song has received over 520,000 dislikes and not even 40,000 likes. It even has many people comparing the song to Friday in terms of its awfulness. It has cheesy lyrics and the singing of the two girls sound like they don’t have a hint of skill or unison. Yes, it too has had its own spoof videos too. Some are even calling it the ‘worst song ever’. Didn’t they say the same thing about Friday last year?
All parties involved in this have responded to the feedback from the song. OldBaileyProductions responded saying they have nothing to do with the song and that they created the video as a favor for a sibling of a friend. The two girls of Double Take, Drew Garrett and Lauren Willey, also responded to the feedback to their ‘masterpiece of maladroit’. They admit they were not good singers and that they were just simply ‘talk-singing’. They also said they made the video to simply have something funny for their friends and didn’t mean anything from it. Hey, at least they’re not desperate for fame the way Rebecca Black and her parents were. Also unlike Rebecca Black, they’re brushing all negative criticism aside. They are heading to college with career plans for real careers but they do admit that they’re ‘open’ to careers as songwriters. Also they admit they don’t consider themselves ‘hot’.
Nevertheless it’s a surprise how another awful song or awful act gets a following. I’m sure that in this Youtube world, there will be more to come. Who knows? Maybe next year we might have a new ‘worst song ever’. You gotta love this planet.
“’Hot Problems’ Dubbed Worst Song Of The Year.” ABC News.go.com. 2012. ABC News. 20 April 2012. <http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/entertainment/2012/04/hot-problems-dubbed-worst-song-of-the-year/>
Recent meltdown in the public eye forces him to question his “Winning” ways.
Do you know anyone who doesn’t have a clue about all the notoriety Charlie Sheen has gone through this past month? If you do, they must live under a rock. Hard to believe that 2011 is only three months old and we already have the celebrity meltdown of the year with Charlie Sheen, who’srecent famous phrase is ‘Winning.”. The funniest thing about it is that it was waiting to happen and we all knew it!
Charlie Sheen has grown up his whole life in the Hollywood scene even when not acting. He was born Carlos Estevez in 1965 to actor Martin Sheen, whose real name is Ramon Estevez. Through Martin, he experienced the life of showbiz and of the Hollywood high life. He’s also noticed the taste of the lows with his father’s marital problems and struggles with alcohol abuse. Like Martin, Charlie has had his own acting success in both movies and television. Also like Martin, Charlie has had both the big highs and big lows of Hollywood life. However while Martin’s troubles have happened in a more private manner, Charlie’s problems have been more public. Way more public!
The first sign that Charlie was a born troublemaker was when he was expelled from his high school before graduating for bad grades and poor attendance. At 19, he became a father through his high school girlfriend. 1990 was a milestone year for him as he had his first trip to a rehab clinic, for alcohol abuse, and accidentally shot then-fiancée Kelly Preston in the arm. During the 90’s, he dated two porn stars, had two more trips to rehab, was arrested twice for assaulting his girlfriends, and admitted at the trial of Hollywood madam Heidi Fleiss to sleeping with many of her prostitutes. In the 2000’s, his bachelor pad was already the legendary butt of jokes. He married Denise Richards but she soon divorced him for substance abuse and threats of violence. His 2008 marriage to Brooke Mueller followed which produced twin children. The marriage ended in November 2010, less than a year after he was arrested for domestic abuse.
Then came the biggest events leading to the meltdown. By March 1st, Sheen was living with pornographic actress Bree Olson. His two sons from Brooke Mueller were removed from his custody. Mueller herself has a restraining order against Sheen. Sheen however declares he will fight for the children with his famous phrase “Winning.” On March 7th, Warner Bros. and CBS decided to terminate Charlie Sheen from Two And A Half Men, the hit sitcom he has starred in for seven years. A week before, Sheen was banned from entering the Warner Bros. production lot. Since the firing, Sheen declared his firing ‘illegal’, has vocally criticized Two And A Half Men creator Chuck Lorre openly and has even filed a $100 million lawsuit against Lorre and Warner Bros. He also claims he was underpaid while he was already making $1.8 million per episode. Recent public feedback has a mostly negative impression of Charlie Sheen. Is he really ‘Winning’?
Isn’t it funny that in the past five years we have seen some of the most spectacular celebrity meltdowns? In 2006 there was Mel Gibson’s alcoholism bout most brought to light with a July DUI arrest that included an anti-Semitic outburst. 2007 brought about the jailing of Paris Hilton for driving while suspended, violent outbursts of Britney Spears while dealing with a heated custody battle, and the first substance-related arrests of many to come for Lindsay Lohan. Now it’s Charlie Sheen. Currently It’s unclear what his future, or the future of Two And A Half Men, hold. In the meantime, keep your eyes peeled to TMZ, Perez Hilton, E! Online or even Charlie’s own Twitter page for the latest. Right now I can only say one thing for Charlie: Losing!
WIKIPEDIA: Charlie Sheen. Wikipedia.com. 2011. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charlie_Sheen>
IMDB: Charlie Sheen: Biography. IMDB.com. 2011. Imdb.com Inc. <http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000221/bio>
Exactly a year ago, hardly anyone had heard of anyone named Pauly D, The Sitch, Snooki or JWoww. Now they’re household names thanks to a show on MTV called Jersey Shore. Yes, their names as well as expressions like Guido, Guidette and GTL are everywhere. To go with it, the stars of the show haver been enjoying their time of celebrity. The big question is how long will their celebrity last? Do they have what it takes to continue on?
The show started on MTV in December of 2009. It followed the lives of eight young people from New York staying along the Jersey Shore. Most were of Italian-American descent. The pilot garnered basic pilot attention but steadily grew week after week. It captured things like the stars’ dating, their images, their sex lives, their partying, their fist-pumping and their bad behavior. The popularity allowed for a season two to be made with them in Miami Beach. The third season marked a return to the Shore. Since then, the show has gone on to become the highest rated series on MTV, a quote book and a sticker book was published and a CD compilation was released. Even the bunch have become stars and household names and their public appearances garner a lot of attention, like Mike ‘The Situation’ Sorrentino was one of the stars competing on Dancing With The Stars, Nicole ‘Snooki’ Polizzi’s arrest in July 2010 garnered national attention, Snooki became a popular Halloween costume, and Snooki and Jenni ‘JWoww’ Farley wrote separate books.
It’s interesting how the popularity of reality television has changed television popularity for better or for worse. Ever since MTV debuted The Real World back in 1992, it introduced a new phenomenon of television: reality television. The docudrama broadcast youth culture from sexuality to prejudice to drug abuse. It caught the attention of many people in its first season. Many credit The Real World for introducing and shaping reality television as we know it. Some would be unhappy with the latter years’ focus on immature and irresponsible behavior. More reality shows came to MTV and its rating successes would cause an extinction of music videos, thus causing a second MTV channel to be created. The reality show also led to the start of reality shows being introduced to main network television. Before 2000, did we hold Survivor parties? Or were we interested in The Bachelor’s dating life? Did we look forward to seeing Paris Hilton’s latest attempt at nailing a job? Until five years ago, television scriptwriters appeared to be an endangered species. Actors with skill were now being overlooked in favor of notorious personalities. Although scripted television series’ did make a return to the public norm five years ago, reality TV changed television forever.
With the success of reality TV shows came the stardom of its players. The Real World made stars out of their players like Puck for his poor hygiene and violent behavior and Pedro Zamora for his struggle with AIDS and homophobia. Once reality television came to network TV, it allowed for more stars like Richard Hatch, the first Survivor winner, and Alex Michel, the first Bachelor. Even stars who were long out of the spotlight returned to the public eye through shows like The Surreal Life, Celebrity Boxing and I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here. It really surprised a lot of acting wannabes who learned their craft for a career only to be overtaken in the fame game by these personalities. Reality television stars remind us that fame is not something you work towards or earn. It’s something you grab if the general public is willing to give it to you. However up to the early 2000’s, most reality show stars would see their star go as instantly as it came.
Consistent fame via reality television would start coming when stars knew how to build on their TV fame. The first big result came upon the heels of The Simple Life, a show about the shenanigans of two spoiled stupid girls: hotel heiress Paris Hilton and friend Nicole Richie, daughter of musician Lionel Richie. The show focused on their antics while working on a farm and travelling throughout the US and their notorious antics made stars of them both. Even after the shows’ ends, they were able to keep their stars active as the paparazzi and tabloid writers documented and photographed their every move. Paris’ raunchy car wash commercial for a fast food restaurant and even their bouts with the law made for more popular copy than government affairs. The girls know how to work the tabloid brigade to their advantage in the fame game. That would continue with Kim Kardashian and the Kardashian sisters in the show Keeping Up With The Kardashians. Upon the success of the show, she posed nude for Playboy, appeared in FHM Magazine and has had model offers galore. She even launched her own tanning spray, fragrance and jewelry alongside her sisters. Then came Spencer Pratt and Heidi Montag of The Hills. Their romance, smug attitudes and sleaze became the water cooler talk of 2007. Heidi and Spencer knew how to work the tabloids to their advantage with their romance, religious conversions, marriage, phony divorce and notorious behavior including Heidi’s plastic surgery. They even wrote an unapologetic tongue-in-cheek book entitled How To Become Famous. They won’t deny thier love for publicity stunts. Even Spencer said: “There are only two people in the world that are bigger fame whores than us and that’s Brangelina.” Weird how in the past, after one’s star died off, they’d have to rely on their talent to keep themselves active. Not with this crop of stars.
Now comes the stars of Jersey Shore. What are their chances of longevity after the show tanks? And believe me, it eventually will. Snooki and JWoww have released books, JWoww had a temporary clothing line called Filthy Couture, The Situation appeared as a dancer on Dancing With The Stars and has endorsed many products, and Paul ‘Pauly D’ DelVecchio has even cut a rap record. All results minus The Sitch’s dancing have been dismal failures. It’s going to be hard for them to carry on their fame after the end of Jersey Shore. It’s going to be even harder for them to try something new and catchy that hasn’t been done before by Paris, the Kardashians or Speidi. Also none seem interested in making a tabloid sensation of themselves. Even their backstage spat at the 2010 MTV Video Music Awards that made the cover of Us Magazine didn’t raise enough eyebrows. They do a lot of the talk show and late night show rounds, all coming across as likeable. Only time will tell whether they have what it takes to keep their fame active.
Or maybe it could be that they’re not worried about their future fame. For starters, they may all come across as dim bulbs on Shore but they’re actually quite smart and more responsible than thought. Before Jersey Shore, the stars all had either working jobs or studying their career pursuits. Snooki graduated from high school and attended community college with the intent of becoming a veterinarian. The Sitch managed a fitness center and turned to modeling after losing his job. Pauly D worked as a DJ. JWoww is a master at computer programming and has her own graphic design company. And Vinny Guadagnino was studying political science at the State University of New York before he heard of the Jersey Shore auditions. So they’re not complete fails at life and may be able to carry themselves after the limelight fades away.
Fan or not, the Jersey Shore stars are hard to escape. They’ve become a new reality television phenomenon and have a long road ahead of them if they want to keep their fame alive. Whether they choose to continue on the road to fame or find a career alternative, only time will tell where they end up years from now.