Keepin’ it real: Can Lena’s calculated chaos win Eurovision?

Hannover teenager Lena Meyer-Landrut's unpolished charm has made her Germany's most hopeful Eurovision prospect in years. But can she actually win Europe's legendary song contest? The Local talked to the experts to assess her chances.

Keepin' it real: Can Lena's calculated chaos win Eurovision?
Photo: DPA

Whoever the lucky person may be, we learn in the first 30 seconds of “Satellite” – Germany’s entry to Saturday’s Eurovision Song Contest – that singer Lena has recently purchased new, blue underpants and wore them the other day to please the object of her affection.

It’s a startling declaration contained among a sea of banalities in which Lena tells her paramour that “I went everywhere for you; I even did my hair for you,” and later that “I even painted my toenails for you” – a lyric deemed so good it is repeated in the last verse.

This moderately catchy, British-styled pop tune is considered Germany’s strongest bid in years to lift its woeful Eurovision record and snatch only its second title after Nicole’s “A Little Peace” in 1982.

In a competition that has come to be dominated by newer, eastern countries who favour super-glamourised, American-style performers, Lena Meyer-Landrut looks like what she is: a teenager plucked from the streets of Hannover who’s done most of her singing in the shower. And that, according to keen watchers, is her strength.

Untrained, unprofessional, and conspicuously adolescent, Lena, who turned 19 last weekend, is unpretentious, if nothing else. A phenomenon in Germany since winning “Our Star for Oslo” in March, Lena debuted with three singles in the top five of the music charts after being taking under the wing of German TV personality Stefan Raab.

No one thinks Lena will be the most polished of the 25 performances to hit the stage in the Norwegian capital Saturday night, but her down-to-Earth approach and widely lauded “authenticity” – her strange London-tinged accent notwithstanding – will be advantages, observers say.

Based on Google searches – an indicator of public interest that accurately predicted Norway as last year’s winner – Lena is in first place with a clear lead over the other bookies’ favourites such as Azerbaijan’s Safura and Georgia’s Sofia Nizharadze.

“She’s not the best singer or dancer, but she has a fresh and attractive style,” said German journalist and academic Irving Wolther, who is reporting on the contest from Oslo. “They’ve tried everything to prevent her becoming like every other performer. They haven’t told her to look at the camera a certain way, or learn a whole bunch of complicated, choreographed moves.

“Normally that might be a disadvantage but there are so many trained voices and performers in the contest, it might be a good strategy to perform in a less traditional way. This is about catching the audience’s attention.”

She is, in short, the antithesis of some of the other favourites – notably 17-year-old Safura from Azerbaijan, which has spent a fortune hiring a slick production team including American singer Beyonce’s choreographer.

“There are many women performing who are teenagers, but Lena’s the only one who looks and acts like a teenager,” said Karen Fricker, a theatre lecturer at Royal Holloway, University of London and co-founder of the Eurovision Research Network.

“The poor girl from Malta was made up to look like Liza Minnelli and the young woman from the Netherlands looks like she’s in her 40s.”

Compared with the “overstyled and overstaged” performances of countries such as Georgia and Azerbaijan, Lena had an appealing “kind of awkward physicality” that her handlers have carefully retained, Fricker said.

“You get the feeling (Georgia and Azerbaijan) have studied the past winners and copied what’s been successful. But Lena is much less contrived than that and there’s something refreshing about that.

“The big question is, ‘Is it Eurovision?’ I haven’t seen a country go so simple. It’ll be fascinating to see what happens.”

The notoriously political voting – in which countries tend to form regional blocs – has usually worked in favour of Scandinavia, the Balkans and the former Soviet Union. It’s worked thoroughly against Germany, which doesn’t have any particular neighbours it can rely on for votes.

But Barry Viniker, managing director of the Eurovision news website, said political voting shouldn’t be an issue for Germany this year.

“Of course people will vote for Germany,” he said. “They’ll vote for a good song. The problem for Germany in the past has been that their songs haven’t tended to be very strong.”

After Russia won – most commentators say unfairly – in 2008 with the support of former Soviet countries, the rules were changed to temper the influence of bloc voting by introducing a jury that will decide the winner alongside the voting television audience, in a 50-50 split.

Satellite had a good chance to win over both the viewers and the jury, in Viniker’s estimation.

“It’s a modern, contemporary song. It stands out because it’s not a typical love song but it’s not political either,” he said.

“And she’s really got a fantastic smile when she looks into the camera, it grabs you right away. I really think she’s got a good chance.”

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