Sunday, May 15, 2011

Mr. Lava Reports - Summary of I SO TOTALLY CALLED EUROVISION 2011!!!!!!

The official Eurovision site roars: tonight is “The Grand Final!” of Eurovision Song Contest Düsseldorf 2011!!!! In addition to learning which song will win, we will also learn the identity of the next country to host Eurovision, since the competition moves to the winner’s home turf the following year.

38 countries fought for a chance to be in tonight’s final, with 20 surviving this week’s battles. Five other countries lamely automatically advanced—the so-called “Big Five,” (France, Italy, Spain, the UK, and Germany; though Germany would have been afforded this courtesy anyway, since they won last year, and last year’s winner also earns that privilege).

The BIG FIVE are not big because of their talent (please), or their track record at winning Eurovisions (pretty terrible), or even the sizes of their dicks (teensy dicks), but rather because of their large potential television audiences and the dollars they in turn invest into the contest. I explained all this in a blog entry that Blogger deleted due to a catastrophic IT error on their end earlier this week; they say one day that entry might get restored.

If you’ve seen the semi-finals you're in for some deja-vu. The choreography and camera angles and costumes and, of course, the songs themselves are all the same—with the exception of those five cut-to-the-front-of-the-line SUPER DUPER FIVE qualifiers. Fuckers.

The audience, led by some unseen male cheerleader, sings the Eurovision theme. There are no lyrics, so we hear a spirited roar of "Da-da-das."

Here we go!

Tradition dictates that last year’s winning song opens the competition. Cleverly, host Stefan Raab launches into a performance of Lena’s 2010 winning-tune “Satellite"—reinterpreted as a high-energy big-band number. Stefan may be a comedian, but he has musical talent as well (check out his amusing “Wadde Hadde Dudde Da” from several years ago to see what I mean). Co-hosts Anke and Judith prove to be capable doo-woppers. And then Lena herself joins in! It's brilliant.

“Lena! Lena!” the crowd chants! Lena will be back on stage later, as a real competitor for Germany once more.

The streaming webcast suffers from a noticeable split-second delay between audio and picture.

A 90 second time-compressed film showing the transformation of Düsseldorf's arena from football stadium to Eurovision venue follows. Then the voting process is explained: it's a 50/50 split between the popular televote from the great unwashed (like on all those "Idol" shows) and each country’s mysterious Star Chamber jury of supposed music experts.

Let's go let's go let's go!

As in the semis, every artist is introduced by a short clip showing a random "everyday" person from the representative country experiencing some aspect of Germany. We learn, for example, that in Germany, Moldovans are employed as window-washers, and that Romanians deface walls with graffiti.

Finland's too-sweetly earnest “let’s save the environment” songster takes the stage. As occurred during his semi-final performance, when the giant planet earth rises behind him on a massive video screen, the crowd roars their approval. “EARTH!!!!!” they cry, weeping ecstatically.

Dino Merlin got saddled with the dreaded opening slot in Thursday’s semi-final, but luckily was remembered all the way to the end of the show. So here he is again—tackling the number two spot. He's the oldest performer in the contest, which generates instant sympathy for him. But he earns his respect, too. He is a terrific showman.

On Thursday, the audience clapped enthusiastically along to his tune, which was a nice sentiment, but the arena's acoustics led to a delay which threatened to throw off Dino’s timing. The Eurovision web site announces that the problem has been solved; instead of wearing the usual one "in-ear" playback earpiece, he will wear two—in the same ear. No, sillies!—one in each ear, to drown out the over-enthusiastic but less-musically gifted audience. This proves a good call; as he starts to play, the audience clapping delay becomes a noticeable problem once more, but he marches through. It’s a fine performance. This crazy old coot has something going on.

During the next country intro clip, the audio-visual synchronization issues are resolved. Now we’re rockin’!

Denmark takes the stage with their “surprise hair” lead singer, whose locks are combed straight up in the air Jedward-style (more on Jedward later) and frozen in place by at least two cans of hairspray. Song sounds perfectly polished. Lyrics are about saving the world. Here's an interesting fact about this song: it’s crap.

There is not a single BIG HUGE MEGA FIVE country among the first ten, meaning loyal Eurovision viewers will have to endure at least 40 minutes of performances they’ve seen before.

Lithuania is next of those, with their Andrew Lloyd Webberish song, complete with the singer’s sign-language interpretive gestures. No kidding; when she breaks out the sign-language, approving applause erupts from the audience—presumably from all the deaf people who were, until that moment, contemplating a refund for their ill-advised investment.

Hungary is up next with its disco torch song, “What About My Dreams?” Well, what about them? Singer is a needy woman for sure. Enthusiastic crowd starts clapping along, off-time. I hope she's wearing two in-ear pieces like Dino. Song is big and gay. And damn catchy! Energy level in the arena rises.

And then comes Jedward! Wait-wait-wait Eurovision. SLOW DOWN. Are we going to use up all our high-energy performances before the halfway point? We face a potential premature ejaculation.

As Jedward, those skinny identical twins from Ireland with their own "surprise hair," spring and bounce about the stage, we begin to realize, oddly enough, that they are actually…pretty talented? Jedward begin to acquire an underdog appeal, further augmented by the appearance of the next act.

That would be traditional pretty-boy Eric Saade, here to sing his miserable—yet Eurovision-perfect—song "Popular." He wails about his desire to become popular and tells us that his body "wants you, girl." We breathe a sigh of relief when we realize that this will be the last time we will ever have to see this performance again. Oh no—unless he wins! *Shudder.*

Estonia is up next with their cutesy/strange dollhouse-come-to-life performance. It’s a weird song, but shouldn’t we appreciate an unorthodox effort? Singer Getter Jaani is cool enough in my book to do whatever she likes. But will Europe agree?

I am surprised that Greece survived the semi-finals. Here they are again. A grunting, snorting rapper stomps out on stage. Then he is joined by a handsome but dour big-voiced singer. They are “Loucas Yiorkas featuring Stereo Mike.” I am going to take a wild guess and assume that “Stereo Mike” is the rapper. What a ponderous piece of shit. Is this some sort of modern art lament over Greece’s collapsed economy?

This is followed by the other “they really shouldn't be here” country, which is Russia, who offer a baby-faced version of James Dean. The singer's name is "Alexey," a point driven home with the subtlety of a falling anvil when the background dancers turn around revealing letters attached to their backs which spell out “ALEX.” Should I be excited? Apparently we have a Russian star in our midst! Note: all the Moscow journalists who heroically pointed out how terrible Russia’s entry is are now dead.

At last, something new: a BIG HUGE FUCKING FIVE country! France is tipped by some to win, says the Wall Street Journal. I said “no way” when I read that article on Friday night—after having consumed several Harp lagers, which made me even more opinionated and belligerent. The WSJ reports that it's great that he's singing opera, and that he sings in the Corsican language. I say opera sucks, and (besides the Corsicans) who in Europe gives a fuck that he sings in the Corsican language?

And who does this guy’s hair? It looks as disheveled as mine! Except that I’m not performing in front of 100 million people right now!

Another so-called BIG MASSIVE SUPER DUPER FIVE COUNTRY!!!!—Italy—is next. Their tune is sophisticated because it’s jazzy. It sounds like a thousand other sophisticated, jazzy tunes you’ve heard from several dozen well-groomed jazzy-pop dudes. In other words, Italy, like France, has tried too hard, and will not win Eurovision this year. I don’t think they’ll even crack the top 10.

Let’s go backstage and meet the performers! Dino Merlin stumbles through an interview with Judith, revealing his obviously limited English, and explains that, as a returning performer to Eurovision, everything is “in rewind.” We love the guy even more. The happy feeling Dino's interview leaves us with is then trampled when we learn that A Friend in London’s lead singer is wearing half a shirt.

Switzerland’s “oh that was nice, I guess” song is next. The Twitter feed scrolling alongside the streaming video is revealing: a couple of people exclaim she has forgotten the words to the song! I don’t think many people noticed. If you are the Swiss delegation and you are reading this right now, let me assure you: you didn’t lose because you forgot the lyrics.

And now, it's Blue, representing the LET US SAY "HALLELUJAH" TO ANOTHER BIG! FIVE! COUNTRY! known as the United Kingdom. Ten years ago this man group was the even more boring version of Westlife and 5ive. Fortunately, this is the most up-tempo song Blue has ever performed. But—whoa—major pitch problems right before the chorus! We cringe.

What’s funny about Blue’s performance is that English speakers often laugh at other countries' campy Eurovision performances, but if you dubbed Dutch on top of what we just saw we would be witnessing exactly the same kind of silliness.

Oh no, it's time for Moldova's Zdob şi Zdub, whose manic performance is to Eurovision what Robin Williams is to comedy. I'm too exhausted to say any more.

And then it's Germany's Lena!!!!! We brace ourselves for a big roar from host country Germany! And there it is!

Cleverly, for the intro clip, they use Anke, Stefan, Judith, and Eurovision's behind-the-scenes crew as the representatives for Germany.

Lena takes the stage. The song is slinky, with appropriately slinky choreography. This song is too cool to win. But we make a startling observation. Tons of sexy singers have flaunted their long, long legs during the competition, but Lena is the first performer who actually acts sexy. She flashes come-hither glances into the camera, captured in extreme close up. We readjust ourselves. Ohhhhhh, Lena.

Romania is up next. It is foarte boring!

As a whole, the show is making impressive time. We are 80 minutes deep, and 16 out of 25 performances have taken place. Every Eurovision song clocks in at nearly exactly three minutes, there are no commercial breaks, and there is a minimum of host interruptions.

Leggy Austria is up next. Song is a gospel pop ballad thing, which might sound boring when I put it that way, but it’s actually pretty impressive thanks to the abundant vocal talents of singer Nadine Beiler.

Azerbaijan, my pick to win the competition, perform another rendition of the world’s greatest high school slow dance song.

I'm running I'm scared tonight!
I'm running I'm scared of life!
I'm running I'm scared of breathing!
Coz I adore you!

There is no greater paean to true love in Eurovision 2011 than this song. I'm tearing up at the memory of it. But their voices sound ragged! Will that cost Azerbaijan?

In a semi-final recap I said that Georgia's lead singer was as talented as her band’s song was terrible. Similarly, Slovenia’s singer is as hot as her song is boring. “There’s no reason I should cry-eee-yaiiii!” the Slovenian woman wails. "O yeah, I’m never gonna let CHEW! No one will ever treat CHEW right!"

More backstage interviews, this time with cute Eric Saade, who says he has to pee—awwwww, he’s just like us, for we, too, pee! Then, we learn that the whole competition is staged, because they have already manufactured the official DVDs for Eurovsion 2011—for sale right now on the website!

Iceland return! So cute and full of smile! Maybe they win? You never know! ;-)

The last HUGE ASS FUCKING FIVE country takes the stage: Spain. Their lead singer has the biggest eyes of anyone in the competition—you can see her blink from the back of the arena. She also has the biggest mouth. That’s a compliment! In true stereotypical Spanish fashion we are served a happy fiesta of a song, performed with that mile-wide smile. Well all right—I guess that was fun, thanks!

Ukraine returns with the sand animation woman. There is also a singer singing something in front of her!

Serbia is up with their 1960s "Laugh In" performance that needs only Goldie Hawn in go-go boots to be complete. “Sock it to me!”

Time for the last act of the night. It’s Georgia’s nu nu metal group. It’s terrible, but only because the whole nu metal genre is. But for what it is, the performance goes very well. Until—whoa!!!!! Singer chick goes way off time during the microphone distortion part. A literal poor note to end on.

So that means there have been three overt mistakes in this competition (as far as I can tell): UK’s Blue guy going way pitchy before the first chorus, Switzerland reportedly forgetting the words, and this. Live TV, folks!

Time to recap the performances. They show snippets of all 25 songs. For Switzerland’s they choose to extract the “Nanananananananaanananana” part, maybe because the singer had forgotten her..well, forgettable... lyrics?

To pass the time before voting results are revealed, they show, as host Stefan Raab says, “Music that you don’t have to vote for." It's a live music performance from a German guy! The world collectively rises from their chairs and heads for the bathroom.

But then Hamburg singer Jan Delay takes the stage. Most journalists at this point would just make a comment about the funny German man running around in a plaid suit, blue tie, and fedora. But you’ve landed in more experienced hands. Jan has had a huge number of hit singles in Germany, some of which are catchy in any language. He opens with “Oh Jonny,” a raucous 2009 song (the video for which is a fun homage to The Blues Brothers). Then he rips through the even-better “Klar," delivered with more energy than the already excellent original. Jan Delay rocks! He makes passing the time before the results a pleasure.

Hosts Anke, Stefan, and Judith, who also hosted the semi-finals, seem to have found their groove at last. Stefan carries Anke over his shoulder up some steps on the stage. Facing the backdrop behind the stage, he roars “Tear down this wall!” (for you younger readers, that's a cutesy Berlin Wall-reference). The wall behind the stage divides into two and dramatically parts, revealing the pod-like rooms containing the excited Eurovision competitors behind it.

And with that, it's time to tabulate the votes. 43 nations voted (each of the nations that sent delegations to the competition). Each of the voting countries is represented by somebody who pops up on a video feed and reveals how that country's votes were distributed. A country cannot vote for itself. One country gets 1 point, another 2, then it goes 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and then the big points: 8, 10, and 12 . So 12 points is the maximum. It’s alternative voting—and it makes sense! Well, not everyone agrees, but I approve!

“Feel Your Heart Beat!” is the official slogan of the competition, and seriously, the tabulation of the votes gets the heart racing. I want to take a moment to say that everyone who fought their way here through the semi-finals should go home feeling like a winner. Which obviously does not include "The Big Five."

One by one the countries reveal their votes, each set of results changing the rank order of competitors. One country pulls ahead, then another. In text I can only summarize the larger picture:

Many Western European countries are sore about Eastern European, Balkan, and Caucasus counties “bloc voting” for their neighbors. So, during this round of voting, we see the affirmation:

1) Slovenia gives 10 points to Serbia and their maximum of 12 to Bosnia and Herzegovina.
2) Serbia gives 10 points to Slovenia and 12 to Bosnia and Herzegovina.
3) Bosnia and Herzegovina gives 12 points to Slovenia.
4) Croatia gives 8 points to Bosnia and Herzegovina and 12 points to Slovenia.

Former Yugoslavia hasn’t been this unified since Tito! Brotherhood and unity! Also:

5) Cyprus gives 12 points to Greece.
6) Turkey gives 12 points to Azerbaijan.
7) Romania gives 12 points to Moldova, and…
8) …Moldova says “right back atcha, Romania."

Yeah, the Balkans, Eastern Europe, and the Caucasus totally bloc vote! Fuckers!

Except, the open-minded notice other things:

1) Norway gives 10 points to Sweden and 12 points to Finland (It's worth noting that Norway’s votes were cheered, while several of the above were booed).
2) Germany gives 12 points to German-speaking neighbor Austria.
3) San Marino gives 12 points to Italy, the country that surrounds them.
4) The UK gives 12 points to Ireland.
5) Portugal gives 12 points to Spain.

Some voting points of interest:

1) As the results come in, Ireland rises up to third place at one point. I remember when Ireland cynically sent--I'm not kidding--a puppet one year and failed to make it to the finals. Jedward are nearly as nuts as that, but the response this time around has been much more positive. Real people trump puppets, I suppose.
2) Ukraine offers 8 points for Russia, but 12 for Georgia (a country Russia partially occupies). Former Ukrainian president Viktor Yushchenko made a big deal about sticking by Georgia during the Russian/Georgian conflict a few years ago.
3) Armenia gives 10 points to neighbor Georgia and 12 to Georgia-supporting Ukraine.
4) Belarus doesn’t offer their 8, 10, or 12 points to Russia, maybe a reflection of recent tensions between the two traditional allies? We wonder if the Belarusians even got to watch an uncensored version of the competition? Over there they probably think Belarus made it to the finals and won. Belarus gives their 10 points to Ukraine and 12 to Georgia.
5) Oh, and Albania gives 12 points to their neighbor and drug trafficking partner across the Adriatic, Italy.

The Eurovision glory that once was Russia's now fades.


1) When Poland pops up to announce their country's voting results, the presenter tries to be funny by taking deliberate, interminable pauses between the scores. The joke flops and rightly outrages the audience; even host Anke looks steamed.
2) Jedward’s performance scores several top marks, including 12 points from Denmark, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.
3) Bulgaria’s 10 points to Greece and 12 for the UK make me think, “Bulgaria is a country I might not visit soon.”
4) Israel's results announcer touchingly pays lip-service to "our greatest Diva," Dana International.
5) Azerbaijan’s vote presenter, singer Safura, is va-va-VOOM!

By the time 21 of the 43 countries have voted, it is a horserace between Azerbaijan and Sweden, with Sweden looking the strongest. But Norway, Denmark, and Finland have now all voted, and so the bloc voting potential is exhausted for Sweden. Azerbaijan, on the other hand, has Turkey’s inevitable 12 points to look forward to.

The 22nd country to vote is Turkey, and—surprise!—Azerbaijan gets 12 points.

Azerbaijan also receives 12 points from Russia and Malta. San Marino gives 10 points to Azerbaijan and 12 to Italy—which of course does not help Sweden.

The Azerbaijani lead grows, and singers Ell and Nikki get increasingly excited and teary-eyed. Sometimes Azerbaijan gets only 8 points, but then the 10 and 12 points are awarded to distantly-lagging countries, which does not affect the top standings. Sometimes, close competitor Sweden gets 12 points, but in the same round Azerbaijan claims another 8 or 10, minimizing the impact. And at some foggy point—it’s not certain when while the events are unfolding; it will have to be all picked apart later—but at some point it becomes clear that Azerbaijan has accumulated an insurmountable lead. When only two countries’ votes are left it is absolutely clear even to the most mathematically-challenged that Azerbaijan has won.

Interestingly, Italy springs forward near the end (I was very wrong when I predicted they wouldn’t make the top 10, though the revisionist historian in me now calls it a pity vote in acknowledgement of their sulky 13-year absence). The consequence of Italy's surge is that Sweden’s “Popular” becomes less so, landing in third. Sand animation woman (with a singer) from Ukraine settles into fourth, Denmark’s “surprise hair” rock band is in fifth, sly old Dino is sixth for Bosnia and Herzegovina, Greece is in seventh for some incomprehensible reason, and the Jedwards are in eighth—a fine finish for Ireland. Georgia’s nu nu metal efforts lands in ninth. Defending champions Germany take tenth.

Estonia winds up next to last—poor Getter. And Switzerland’s pleasantly boring tune takes the dreaded bottom of the barrel position. The Swiss singer is cute; I’ll give her a shoulder to cry on. Just as long as she promises not to sing. "Nanananananananaannaananananaanananananananananaanananananana!"


So Azerbaijan won it all.

Judith led the ecstatic Ell and Nikki (Elbar and Nigar in their less-Anglicized forms) from the waiting room to the stage to sing their song once more. John Williams’s Olympic music played during their walk, linking the good-will spirit behind the Olympic games to the shared idealism of Eurovision. As the two pretty singers performed their song one more time, we realized they were hoarse, no doubt from screaming with joy for the last forty or so minutes. Funny; those voices, run-ragged by the adrenaline of the previous hour, made their performance even more touching.

The best song won! I'm tearing up again! Forgive me!

I’m really just a hack over here, writing strings of jokey observations about the competition. The real story comes from my friend Liana, who runs the excellent IANYAN Magazine, which focuses on Armenian affairs. She noted, as the closing credits scrolled past, that tweets had already begun surfacing from Armenians calling for a boycott of Eurovision 2012.

Azerbaijan and Armenia are locked in a “frozen conflict.” When the USSR collapsed, new borders were drawn, and various people wound up on opposite sides of those borders. An ethnic-Armenian group in Azerbaijan secured a territory, now known as the Nagorno Karabakh Republic (NKR). They occupy it to this day. The NKR has its own government buildings, embassies, currency, and post offices. Its border is heavily mined, and people are shot and killed around it every year. The conflict is "frozen" now, but something must give eventually.

Armenians, who have failed to gain acknowledgement from Turkey for a Turkish-perpetrated genocide against Armenians that the vast majority of historians (and a pre-Presidential Barack Obama) agree occurred, and who are also embroiled in the aforementioned dispute with Azerbaijan, are, naturally, unhappy.

But why end a Eurovision article with gloom? Most commentators, including Armenian ones, are admitting that Azerbaijan’s song was the worthy winner. A boycott is likely the worst Armenia will do (though I'm sure Eurovision's security detail must be worriedly contemplating the terrorism potential in 2012). As for Azerbaijan, any military action to take back the NKR would be poorly timed just before hosting Eurovision.

If Armenia does not boycott Eurovision 2012, Azerbaijan will have to figure out what to do regarding issuing travel visas to Armenians. Currently, Armenians are barred entry to Azerbaijan.

Yes, the next year could be very interesting indeed.

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