One week after the Big event I think I’m about ready to have my opinion written in stone – well, put in writing anyway. I started this blog little over a year ago which means this is the first review I publish right after the Contest took place and I have to say I’ve seen it a couple of times already, just to make sure my view on things is aligned with the reviews of previous Contests – some of which I know by heart already. Good thing I did, the excitement of last Saturday kind of blurred my vision a little! But here it goes!
First off: I will not include any comments or thoughts on the much discussed and heavily debated situation in Azerbaijan – I have not been there, I feel my knowledge of the circumstances is far too insufficiant to make a contribution so I simply won’t. This doesn’t mean that I’m turning a blind eye, I’m just here to review the musical aspect of the Event (ie. the broadcast itself). It doesn’t mean that I don’t care either, I’ll just save it for another forum. I didn’t allude to the situation in Ukraine (a lot) in my 2005 review either by the way.
As far as the organisation goes (again, as part of the television audience) I must admit I was impressed. It was to be expected that Ictimai would pull out all the stops (and oil manat at their disposal) to put Baku in the spotlight and boy did they. The fireworks opening the show in Baku harbour were magnificent and promised a fantastic show. The opening act, which reconciled traditional and modern, was simply brilliant with the horde of male dancers in a kind of battle choreography as the highlight. Too bad it led up to a mini playback show starring last year’s winners Ell & Nikki. Playback? Really? Though with Nikki’s few capabilities I understand Ictimai didn’t want to take any chances. The stage was put to full use during the intro and what looked like an upgrade of the 1993 stage suddenly appeared very modern and high tech with those LED screens providing a fantastic ambiance – they looked like framed pieces of broken glass and I loved it, much better than last year’s low effort in Düsseldorf with only one (admittedly gigantic) screen for the backdrop. I was a bit disappointed however with the introduction movies (postcards) which featured the same things over and over again it seems (The Flame Towers, The Flame Fountain, The Maiden Tower). I suppose there are lots of other highlights in Baku and Azerbaijan and even though they looked great I feel a certain lack of creativity on a content level. The way the flags were introduced on the other hand was magnificent and only emphasised what an architectural piece of work The Crystal Hall really is. Presenters Eldar Gasimov, Leyla Aliyeva & Narguiz Birk-Petersen did a great job in my eyes. Ell was simply too cute, Leyla was last year’s Anke and Narguiz a Greek goddess reincarnated. A bit weird perhaps to have a lawyer host the event but I suppose she could come in handy at some point? Hm, and I wasn’t going to do remarks… Thank heavens they left the obligatory ‘help, I have to speak French’ jokes in the semis.
On a musical level I feel this was a great edition. Lots of good singers, lots of lovely songs – some of which even sounded as though they came right out of the charts and that’s what a certain Martha Stewart would call “a good thing”. For too long we’ve had to put up with a majority of songs that were either stuck in the past or considered Eurovision as some kind of circus. Well, it can be at times but I still see this as the ultimate platform for an artist to show him/herself to a very large audience in all corners of Europe (and beyond). As per usual the weaker songs luckily got stuck in the semis and as per usual I think there were two exceptions that should have made it through to Saturday:
The One That Got Away in Semi 1: Finland – När jag blundar
My favorite before the Contest and I always knew/feared Pernilla Karlsson was in danger of being stuck in the semis. The song might not be that groundbreaking but it didn’t need to be: this lullaby is beautiful all by itself and those poetic lyrics just melt my heart every single time. Pernilla is a beginning artist (a bit of a strange tactic there by Finnish broadcaster YLE) and it showed a bit: she was clearly nervous at the start with some shaky vocals but recovered well towards the second half of the song and the same could be said about the camerawork and stage setting – as soon as the wide shots kicked in and the backdrop started to explode it quickly became goosebump material. Not too fond of the colorcoding though, I think a more icy/fairytale atmosphere would have been more suitable. Shoulda woulda coulda… A tad too goody-two-shoes to shake Europe I fear.
The One That Got Away in Semi 2: Netherlands – You & Me
I fully realise this might not be everyone’s cup of tea but I find this so endearing! The clumsiness of the NF performance was traded for a performance that was nicely balanced (or as balanced it can get with those feathers) and suited the concept very well. The blue touches everywhere (including the dress) matched Joan Franka‘s piercing blue eyes very well and even though the feathers were far out I can’t even imagine the entire thing without them. The song itself is nice and simple, very Amy MacDonald and just warms my heart every time I hear it. Granted, Joan was off to a shaky start but got it together going into the chorus and if the Netherlands had had some friends in this semi things could have turned out differently. Still, kuddos to Joan for staying her sweet little self.
On to the final then were there are only a couple of songs I simply had to flunk. Right at the back of the pack is the one song I prayed wouldn’t win. Not that I dislike the Buranovskiye Babushki, how can anyone really – especially the little one, but as a song this simply went nowhere. It’s The Spice Girls for third age with probably a comparable marketing machine behind them but two catchy lines and a pumping beat do not make a song. Victory would have been doom for the Contest and I’m ever so happy they only landed silver, at a considerable distance from the eventual winner. Another top 10 song didn’t do it at all for me thanks to a third rate talent show feel: even though I liked Can Bonomo in person I really did not care for Turkey’s attempt at all – too much fussing about in the composition and on stage for my liking. Much like Lithuania actually, where I liked the pumped performance Donny Montell gave us but that song was far too flat to cut it. And right next to him we find Greece’s Eleftheria Eleftheriou, shaking and baking her way through her in the meanwhile standard bouzouki pop song while handing over the majority of the vocals to the backing (cheat!!). And what was with that awful tacky backdrop?! Another one suffering from an uninspired song was Kurt Calleja from Malta, sounding as if he fell asleep right there on stage (along witgh us). A bit too much fussing around the stage here as well, although I have to admit it came across more hip and trendy than all of Malta’s attempts in the past decade put together. And finally the busy chaos provided by Ukraine’s Gaitana didn’t cut it for me either: too loud, too all over the place for its and her own good.
In the middle field we stumble across Jedward, supported by backing vocals who absorb the twins’ weak vocals even more than last year. That garden center feature (spot on, mister Norton) looked more ridiculous than entertaining by the way. I should hope their promise (ie. threat) to return every year until they win comes to a halt right here. Romania’s Mandinga luckily didn’t suffer technical issues in the final but their light summery effort (in Spanish, bizarrely enough) was never going to threaten the top 10 was it? Much like France’s Anggun really, with that weird three-songs-for-one of hers. It’s as if she tried to concoct something tailormade for Eurovision and got lost along the way. The act was all over the place really and it was too obvious which purpose those bare chested gymnasts served. Loved the windmachine effect on the dress though. Two other Big 5-ers didn’t convince me either. Spain finally managed to convince a big name to take part and Pastora Soler really delivered but was unlucky enough to get stuck with a typical cheesy ballad that made her come across as some Celine Dion impersonator – pity. The UK had a big name in store for us as well but sadly Engelbert Humperdinck only ignited an aha-erlebnis with the older part of the Eurovision audience scale. The first part of his song came across very well (one of my Eurovision partners in crime called it quite Quinten Tarantino-esque and i see what she means) but as soon as the dancers started, the timpanos kicked in and the fireworks appeared it all went a stretch too far. With such an impressive music scene the UK surely must be able to deliver something more contemporary now (by which I do not mean to spit on The Hump at all, he delivered what was said on the tin). Norway on the other hand had something quite up-to-date up their sleeve, electronic beats and ethnic influences included, but Tooji‘s lack of experience shone through in his vocals and on stage confidence. And I would have dropped those explicit rings really. Plus the camerawork didn’t translate the energy at all I feel. Quite comparable to Denmark actually, though on another level. There was too much going on here which destroyed the atmosphere of the song: the outfits, the disconnection between the different members, the bad playbacking on the instruments, the outfits, the backdrop, the outfits… Soluna Samay really should’ve known better. And we’re continuing on the ‘too busy’ level with Moldova. I like the quirky song and Pasha Parfeny sure comes across very well on screen (could have done without the blacksmith attire though) but what was with that choreography? Quirky as well, I admit, and the ladies sure gave it their all but it all distracts from rather than adds to the song. Then I’d rather have the sheer simplicity that was Bosnia-Herzegovina. The song isn’t all that exciting but Maya Sar sang it beautifully and made it bigger than it actually was. Don’t think the oldfashioned dress and the demure backdrop did anything for the song though. And finally, landing right outside the top ten, is Serbia. Trotting out a successful recipe with Zjelko Joksimovic and his unmistakable sound (in song and voice) and helped by a great draw they managed to reach third place but for me this is too ‘been there done that’ to grab me anymore and even though the song came across very well the soundtrack feeling (with some more people playbacking on instruments) felt a bit out of place. Great, but not for my top ten.
Let’s take a look at the ones that did make it, here are the points of the Dimivision jury:
1 point: Germany – Standing still
When I watched the German final I wasn’t at all overwhelmed I have to say but young Roman Lob clearly grew in his role of Eurovision ambassador and delivered a nice performance of this kinda Britpop song. The presentation was a bit demure but suited the song very well and with the focus on Roman it became even more clear just how hypnotizing those big brown eyes of his really are. Vocally very convincing and again a nice contemporary effort by our neighbours, launching them (much like in real life) into my top ten for the third year in a row!
2 points: FYR Macedonia – Crni i belo
Kaliopi is one of the most experienced performers in this edition and you can feel it in every single note she sings. Always spot on, grabbing the audience with her raw but convincing sound in this somewhat conventional song – she’s a diva. I don’t know if Europe had the patience to sit out the entire song but for me it all comes together in those last 30 seconds when she returns to the acoustic part and this mini rock opera delivers what it promises at the start. Love the addition of lower backing vocals and I think the end pose is slightly hilarious but cute at the same time. I expected this to end up a bit higher but in this field it was perhaps a bit too black and white…
3 points: Estonia – Kuula
Ow Ott, you’re a great vocalist (and a bit of a cutie pie) but do you really think your lovely lullaby needed a Mariah Carey touch? Mind you, I do think it got the attention of viewers who would have taken a toilet break a bit too soon for their own good if you hadn’t (as the studio version takes a bit of time to take off) but I do wonder if a bit less would have been a bit more. But still, hats off to you, sir. And thanks for keeping it in Estonian which really gives it an extra dimension.
4 points: Iceland – Never forget
My personal winner of semi 1 but in the greater scheme of things on Saturday it felt as I feared it would: a tad too bombastic for its own good – even though it was the set-up from the get go it could have done with a bit of tweaking when it comes to the Big Clichés. But. I love the harmonies, I love the dark mood throughout the performance, I love the fact that it’s not that static, the backings are phenomenal, Jonsi‘s vocals are brilliant (and he’s nothing short of HOT HOT HOT) and Greta‘s enthusiasm is so endearing! Another great entry from the tiny island really. Pity it wasn’t in Icelandic though as I felt it only lifted the mystical mood. But well crafted.
5 points: Hungary – The sound of our hearts
Synthpop at its best, as if it ran away from a B-side on an early Depeche Mode single. Compact Disco has a clear vision and it works like a charm in this song, which could perhaps do with verses that are a bit more memorable but has got such a hypnotizing chorus it sweeps me off my feet. I feared the performance would be too static but they used the stage extremely well, the backing vocals lifted the second part of the song and the pyros were used in a very effective way. And I was pleasantly surprised by the strong lead vocals – Csaba Walkó clearly needs an audience to fully deliver. Love this.
6 points: Azerbaijan – When the music dies
One of the songs I considered as a possible dark horse for the title and I’m happy to be on the mark. Not only is this a very nifty crafted ballad, it doesn’t drown in unnecessary clichés but stands very much on its own, but Sabina Babayeva delivers vocally which was the main condition for this to work. Much like Toni Braxton in her golden days she goes for the low ànd high notes with ease and she’s got Diva written all over her – as we clearly witnessed during the voting. I do wonder if the trick with the dress wasn’t a tad too much and in combination with Alim Qasimov, doing his vocal tricks in the back, I feel there was a bit too much distraction for this to really get out the full potential. But all in all very slick and very cleverly done.
7 points: Cyprus – La La Love
One of the songs I disregarded beforehand as I felt it was a bit on the light side and I had yet to hear it live. The light side turned out to be trashy (the good kind) and the live performance turned out to be nothing of a worry. Ivi Adamou possesses a peculiar sound, a crossover between metallic and hoarse, but was spot on and with the ammount of movement she had to cope with I’m amazed she could still breathe after her performance. I loved the choreography which was very cheeky (great dancers by the way) and Ivi’s sultry and seductive looks are to die for. Not too sure about that table of books, a bit weird really, and beige/nude is not really my color but I adore the fluffiness of it all and this might very well turn out to be my summer hit for 2012. Ow, and the male backing fracking rules. A fantastic performance all in all.
8 points: Albania – Suus
Again a song I disregarded before the Contest but I take back any negative thing I have ever said or written about Rona Nishliu and her out-of-the-box song – this was nothing short of breathtaking. Vocally perhaps not entirely on the mark in the high notes but miss Nishliu sure can find her way around the notes and visually this was one of the strongest concepts in the field (and perhaps ever) with those very effective lighting effects. It all feels very Björk actually and I have a lot of respect for the integrity of this entry – shivers down my spine, goosebumps all over. Even the slight sobbing in the end doesn’t bother me. A-ma-zing.
10 points: Italy – L’amore è femmina
I really thought this was a contender for the title but as soon as I saw that backdrop I knew it wasn’t going to happen – far too harsh for a lovely retro pop song like this. Those first ‘boom boom boom’s didn’t light my fire either but perhaps I’m too fixated on the brilliant studio version. Nina Zilli is a great performer really with clearly a lot of experience and she rocked this song. The only problem I see with this is the mixing of languages: I was convinced that a mix of English and Italian made it sound fresh but on the night I realised it was more confusing than anything else. I think an all Italian version would have sounded more complete. But pure pop pleasure anyhow.
12 points: Sweden – Euphoria
I didn’t necessarily care a lot for this before the Contest I have to say: I could see the potential and I liked the abstract performance but it did sound a bit like a David Guetta reject and I wondered how the backings would sound live. The live performance on the night was spot on though and it came together really well – from the strobe effect at the start to the slow-mo effect at the finish. Great backings, effective lighting (with a bit more visible expression on Loreen‘s face) and fantastic vocals – it works like a charm. Funny to see her sit in front of the snow instead of right in it after the incident on the night of the jury final (where she accidentally swallowed a bit of snow and had to cough mid sentence). A very modern entry in a nifty package and exactly the breath of fresh air Eurovision needed. Let’s hope the example will inspire song writers and artists all over Europe. LOVE the reprise by the way!!
An excellent result for an excellent edition if you ask me and I was ever so happy to see my favorite win (hasn’t happened in a while) and get 3 out of the top 5 right. This will probably mean 2013 will turn out to be a disaster! Best enjoy this one while I can…
And now for the all time top 25 – Sweden winning catapults them into the top 5 and scores them their first win since 1974 in my book. Italy’s the only other top 10 country to score points, bar Germany which protects its 6th position. The rest of the battle takes place down below with Cyprus re-entering at the cost of Serbia. Albania and Azerbaijan manage to double their scores (out of sight) while some of the traditional countries really need to step up their game. May Loreen inspire them all.
1 France 226 (1960 – 1977 – 1991)
2 Netherlands 193 (1970 – 1971 – 1993)
3 Finland 180 (1962 – 1979 – 1985 – 1988 – 1989 – 2006 – 2007)
4 Belgium 170 (1968 – 1983 – 1986 – 1990 – 2003)
5 Sweden 163 (1974 – 2012)
6 Germany 161 (1959 – 1975)
7 Italy 159 (1958 – 1964 – 1978 – 1992)
8 Norway 158 (1966 – 1982 – 2000)
9 Portugal 157 (1972 – 1998)
10 United Kingdom 132 (1961 – 1965)
11 Spain 130 (1973)
12 Ireland 126 (1969 – 1980 – 1984 – 1996)
13 Israel 118 (1976)
14 Turkey 105
15 Denmark 90 (1957 – 1963 – 2001)
16 Switzerland 90
17 Greece 87 (1981)
18 Bosnia-Herzegovina 66
19 Iceland 63 (1987)
20 Russia 59 (1994)
21 Austria 59
22 Slovenia 58
23 Croatia 49
24 Cyprus 44
25 Estonia 43