The world is still trying to decide what the most remarkable thing about Serhat’s participation for San Marino in the 2016 Eurovision Song Contest was.
Was it the willingness with which the microstate now appears to be openly selling its entry to the highest bidder? The sheer lack of self-awareness on the part of Serhat and his team? The singer’s inability to hold a tune or command a stage with any degree of competence? The decision to listen to internet fan feedback and replace the original version of the song with one of the many disco remixes, resulting in what our line-up check described as “a creepy uncle whispering lasciviously into his niece’s ear over a retro lounge backing track”? The fact that the revamped “I Didn’t Know” finished above Iceland in its semi-final, for heaven’s sake?
Or was it just this?
In any case, amid all the bizarreness and controversy surrounding San Marino’s three minutes of Eurovision airtime this year, one man who went home happy from Stockholm was Olcayto Ahmet Tuğsuz. He may not have made it to the grand final in the end, but the co-composer of “I Didn’t Know” could satisfy himself with the knowledge that his song scored a healthy 68 points – exactly 68 more than the last time he took part in the contest.
Tuğsuz’s relationship with ESC actually began reasonably well. His song “Hani?“, performed by Neco, didn’t exactly rip up any trees in the 1982 competition, but 15th place (out of 18, granted) was a fairly standard Turkish result of the era; it would take until the new millennium for the country to start asserting its status as one of the superpowers of the competition.
It was in 1987 that things went horribly wrong. “Şarkım sevgi üstüne” was the name of the ditty he penned for popular local performer Seyyal Taner, who hooked up with the Lokomotif group for the occasion. They won the Turkish preselection with ease. The voting format was that a jury of 16 experts would each award one point to their favourite; even in a ten-song field, Seyyal and Grup Lokomotif picked up no fewer than 14 points. Looking at the national final performance, you can kind of see why – while some of the dance steps are a bit over the top, the group seem happy and relaxed in outfits that wouldn’t have been out of place on a 1980s Top Of The Pops. Similarly, a bit of overacting for the camera aside, the usual tourism-obsessed Turkish preview video gave no real indication of what was to come.
And then they got to Eurovision.
If you aren’t already familiar with the live performance, click the video link at the end of this post and enjoy the madness. An all-white fashion extravaganza with hair and tassels flying everywhere, the various members of Grup Lokomotif battle Seyyal for microphone supremacy despite not possessing any obvious star potential or vocal ability, and there’s an overarching manic intensity to the performance that makes it look as if they’re all being forced to sing at gunpoint.
Conductor Garo Mafyan had, Seyyal later claimed, taken the orchestra through the song far too quickly – fourteen seconds too quickly, in fact – hence the group’s exaggerated expressions and actions while trying to keep up with their prerehearsed steps. Be that as it may, there’s no excuse for a dance routine where you run out of stage so just end up walking on the spot for several seconds instead.
The worst thing is that “Şarkım sevgi üstüne” really isn’t a terrible song. It’s just that every decision taken along the way – arrangement, choreography, fashion – seemed almost designed to distract from whatever merits it may have had as a composition.
The Turkish delegation travelled to the 1987 contest with high hopes. They left Brussels without a single point to their name – but in the process, they gave us one of the legendary performances of Eurovision.
As you’ll see, host Viktor Lazlo introduces the entry with the words: “Seyyal Taner, singer and actress, was born a star.” We’ll let you decide…