The List

The 7 Worst Songs of Eurovision 2012

The lowlights of Europe's annual tribute to trashy Europop.

Azerbaijan, which has recently jailed human rights protesters, cracked down on dissidents, and ignored politically motivated murders, might not seem like the most likely place for Eurovision's 2012 Song Contest. Unfortunately, the storm of criticism for the government in Baku isn't quite loud enough to drown out the music itself. From Russian babushkas imploring the audience to "come on and boom-boom" to mohawked male Irish twins in tin-man jumpsuits whose music was once declared an "act of war," here's a round-up of seven contestants who shouldn't have made the trip. And people wonder why America is still the king of cultural exports.

Russia: Buranovskiye Babushki - "Party For Everybody"

Parties aren't just for Miley Cyrus and the USA anymore. The Buranovskiye Babushkis are grandmothers, all originally from the village of Buranovo in the Udmurt Republic. There were eight of them, but only six are allowed to appear at Eurovision. The grannies wrote the song themselves in their native tongue, Udmurt. This isn't the babushkas' first time at Eurovision; in 2010 they performed "Dlinnaja-Dlinnaja Beresta I Kak Sdelat Iz Nee Aishon" ("Very long birch bark and how to turn it into a turban"), finishing third. If they win this year, the grandmothers say they'll use their new cash monies to build a church in their village.

Ireland: Jedward - "Waterline"

On a trip to Dublin last year, President Barack Obama was subjected to a concert by Jedward, which Fox News declared an "act of war." The 21-year old Irish twins are best known for their puffs of bleached hair, and their biggest hit until now was a mash-up of Queen and Vanilla Ice (we can only assume that hum in the background is Freddie Mercury spinning in his grave). Eurovision isn't their first time in the spotlight; they've also been on X Factor and Celebrity Big Brother, where they made friends with Tara Reid (who later starred in one of their music videos). In Baku, their biggest problem has been that the sequins on their costumes keep falling off and jamming the shower that douses them during the song's finale.  

Montenegro: Rambo Amadeus - "Euro Neuro"

Mos Def, Lupe Fiasco, Talib Kwali -- meet Rambo. He's Montenegro's most socially conscientious rapper, and yes, his stage name is a reference to both John Rambo and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. He's worried about the "post-industrial informatics revolution going on" right now, and yet lays down rhymes like "only one rule/always stay cool/like a swimming pool." At Eurovision, he shares the stage with a giant Trojan horse, which Rambo claims is actually a donkey. As Rambo himself says, "I am good with words. And by the way, I am also good with music so I can go to places which are beyond any description."

San Marino: Valentina Monetta - "The Social Network Song (Uh, Uh, Oh, Oh)"

As if the IPO debacle wasn't enough embarrassment for Facebook this week, CEO Mark Zuckerberg also has to deal with a middle-aged aspiring pop star from a tiny country inside Italy waxing lyrical about the casual sex she procured on his site. The original title was the Facebook Song (Uh, Uh, Oh, Oh), but it had to be changed to meet the Eurovision rule prohibiting commercial messages. The song begins innocently enough, talking about "logging in with friends," but quickly progresses to "Do you wanna be more than just a friend?" and "Do you wanna play cybersex again?"

Latvia: Anmary - "Beautiful Song"

A songstress from Latvia, Anmary changed her name from Linda just for the contest. But a singer by any other name is still as vapid -- here's a sample of her incisive (and insipid) lyrics:

"And the day when Sir Mick Jagger phones me
Tell him please that I am very busy
Writing songs with Paul McCartney
"So sorry, Mick, I'll call you back, one day I'll call you back."

It's doubtful Mr. Jagger is waiting by the phone.

Slovakia: Max Jason Mai - "Don't Close Your Eyes"

Max Jason Mai is a 23-year old rock musician sporting a six pack, a hair-metal mane, and a modicum of musical talent. A departure from the soft pop that is the usual Eurovision fare, Max made a name for himself by transforming the other competing songs into a medley of hard rock versions. But he's not all about head-banging: In an interview with ESC Daily, Max explained that he also likes "yoga, love, and nature." Opening up about his softer side, Max told the magazine he "reveres all living beings, that's why he's vegetarian and he doesn't wear clothes made from leather, as he wouldn't want to be a handbag either."

Iceland: Greta Salome and Jonsi - "Never Forget"

Originally titled "Mundu eftir mér," "Never Forget" is the English translation of the song, which was written in Icelandic. Jonsi -- not related to the Jonsi of Sigur Ros -- recently starred in the Icelandic version of Grease, a huge blockbuster for the island, and his partner Greta plays in the Iceland Symphony Orchestra. But although some popular hits have made it across Iceland's frosty borders to broader audiences, don't expect to see this song make anyone's favorite playlist.

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The List

5 World Events That Could Swing the U.S. Election

Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are slugging it out over the economy, but the world may have a trick or two up its sleeve.

The prevailing political wisdom is that the economy -- not foreign policy -- will determine who becomes the next president of the United States. When voters were asked in a Washington Post-ABC News poll this week what the single most important issue was for them in choosing a president, 52 percent said jobs and the economy (and they're evenly split on whether Barack Obama or Mitt Romney would do a better job on the latter). To put that figure in perspective, the second most-cited issue was "Health care/repealing Obamacare" at a mere 7 percent, while foreign-policy issues such as terrorism and the war in Afghanistan each mustered a measly 1 percent of responses. In January, the Pew Research Center concluded that the American public is more concerned with domestic policy than at any point in the past 15 years.

But every politician lives in fear of that 3 a.m. phone call that can upend the best-laid campaign plans. Here are five global events that could send the U.S. election careening along a very different path than the one it's traveling down today.

A SHOWDOWN WITH IRAN

World powers are currently wrapping up a second round of contentious nuclear talks with Tehran and the European Union is preparing to roll out an oil embargo on Iran in July. But if this diplomatic tack fails to wring meaningful concessions from Iran, there's an outside chance that Israel -- or, in a less likely scenario, the United States and its allies -- will conclude before November that military action is the only way to halt Iran's nuclear advances (some have even suggested that it's in the interests of Israeli leaders to strike Iran's nuclear facilities in the run-up to the U.S. election). Americans see Iran as the country that represents the greatest threat to the United States, and a recent Pew poll found that 63 percent of Americans are willing to go to war if necessary to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons -- a measure that Romney has promoted more aggressively than Obama, though both candidates have said that all options are on the table.

Some market analysts estimate that a military conflict with Iran could push gas prices in the United States to between $5 and $6 per gallon, alienating voters and jeopardizing the country's fitful economic recovery. And there's a reason why the National Journal's Charlie Cook has dubbed Iran the "wild card" this campaign season: The last five times gas prices have spiked during a U.S. presidential campaign, the incumbent party has lost the election. As the New York Times put it in January, the standoff with Iran presents Obama "with choices that could harm either the economic recovery or his image as a firm leader."

A EUROPEAN NOSEDIVE

The prospect of a Greek anti-austerity party winning new elections in June has sparked widespread fear that Greece will default on its debt and exit the eurozone, which could spread contagion in southern Europe and plunge the global economy back into recession. But there's a debate about the extent to which the European debt crisis will influence the U.S. election.

If a Greek exit precipitates the collapse of the eurozone, Brookings Institution scholar William Galston argues in the New Republic, it will be disastrous for Europe and the United States. But he adds that U.S. GDP growth would probably slow and the unemployment rate would likely stagnate even if the European monetary union remains intact after Greece's departure. "These developments would make it harder for Obama to argue that we're heading in the right direction, and ... I suspect that economic growth at these depressed levels would mean victory for Mitt Romney," he writes. Or, as the Washington Post's Ezra Klein noted earlier this year, Obama's reelection "will be largely decided by the state of the economy. And the state of the economy will largely be decided by events in Europe. And Europe's not looking so good."

But others argue that Greece won't drop out of the eurozone before November, if it does so at all, or that the American financial system isn't particularly vulnerable to a Greek exit.

A CHINESE ECONOMIC SLOWDOWN

China's slowing economic growth -- which dropped to a nearly three-year low of 8.1 percent in the first quarter of 2012 -- has prompted Chinese leaders to pledge new measures to stimulate domestic demand and commentators to warn of an impending economic crisis in the country. This week, the World Bank cut its growth forecast for China and cautioned that a recession in Europe could take a heavy toll on the Middle Kingdom, which in turn could stifle growth in other East Asian nations.

But when Beijing sneezes, does Washington catch a cold? China's sluggish growth poses a "substantial risk" to the United States as the general election approaches, Campbell Harvey, a professor at Duke University, told CNN on Wednesday. "You don't need a lot to knock us out of recovery."

A DOMESTIC TERRORIST ATTACK

The United States has not suffered a major terrorist attack during Obama's presidency, and the administration has foiled several plots -- most recently an attempt by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula to bomb a U.S.-bound plane. The president has taken out several high-profile terrorists through drone strikes and touted the killing of Osama bin Laden as one of his signal achievements -- much to Mitt Romney's chagrin. But an attack on American soil could instantly shatter the armor Obama has built up on national security, reverse the public's declining concern about terrorism, and transform the campaign. And such a scenario isn't out of the question. Two of the most high-profile attacks in recent years -- the Christmas Day bombing attempt in 2009 and the Times Square bombing attempt in 2010 -- were thwarted by luck as much as anything else, with the perpetrators failing to detonate their explosives (and, in the case of the Times Square bomber, a street vendor spotting a smoking SUV).

As the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake recently pointed out, foreign policy has proven pivotal in only one of the last five presidential elections: the 2004 contest, which was the first race after the worst terrorist attack on American soil in U.S. history. And we all know how that one turned out.

THE UNKNOWN UNKNOWN

There's a reason we call the "October surprise" what we do -- sometimes (though admittedly not often) we simply don't know what will tilt the results of a race until Election Day is upon us. The term "October surprise" dates to 1972, when National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger declared less than two weeks before the presidential election that peace was "at hand" in Vietnam -- comments that were credited with helping President Richard Nixon resoundingly defeat George McGovern (though in truth, Nixon didn't need much help). During the 1980 election, Ronald Reagan's campaign worried that President Jimmy Carter would strike an eleventh-hour deal to free American hostages in Iran (instead, they were released shortly after Reagan was sworn in as president). In 2004, John Kerry blamed his loss to George W. Bush on a video released by Osama bin Laden just days before the vote ("We were rising in the polls up until the last day when the tape appeared," the Massachusetts senator lamented).

In others words, we have a ways to go until November, and anything from security in Afghanistan to violence in Syria to elections in Venezuela (ominously scheduled for October) could emerge as a potential game-changer. When the 2008 presidential election got underway, everyone assumed that foreign policy -- specifically the war in Iraq -- would be the dominant issue in the campaign. And then the global financial crisis hit, propelling the economy to the top of the agenda. It's too early to rule out the reverse happening in 2012.

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