Sunday, May 27, 2012

Eurovision 2012: Summary of the Grand Final

It's Saturday night in Baku, Azerbaijan, host of Eurovision 2012! Thanks to its far-flung location on Eurovision's generously sprawling European map, which also includes Israel ("My favorite European country," friend Ana says drily), we realize they must be starting at midnight local time. Hopefully the folks over there have had their siestas, but even if they haven't, the technicolored, cranked up to 11 pageant should keep people awake, at least until Estonia takes the stage.

If you've seen Semi-Finals 1 and 2, you have already seen most of the performances. A total of 36 acts, each representing one country, performed on those two nights, with 16 getting the axe and 20 advancing. So, everyone is a winner tonight! Except for the six countries that automatically advance to the final. One of those countries is Azerbaijan, rewarded, per Eurovision tradition, for having won the competition the previous year. The other five countries are called "The Big Five" because they have the biggest wallets. They have bought their way to the finals, and so we hate them with all the hate a hateful hating heart can hate.

The show opens with a huge fireworks display. It is estimated that for every firework that lights up the sky 25 Azeris starved to death. I'll be making up a lot of statistics like that in this report.

The singers of last year's winning entry take the stage and perform a truncated version of their "Running Scared." Song brings back warm fuzzy memories of 2011. It really is a good tune.

Our hosts introduce a time-lapse film of the construction of the Baku Crystal Hall, and we try to catch, at its beginning, a glimpse of the forcibly-evicted and unfairly compensated former residents being whisked off the property.

In our Zagreb kitchen our goal tonight is to pick the top 10 highest-placing countries, and also the overall winner.

The corpse of Engelbert Humperdinck takes the stage for the UK, representing the first "Big Five" Country. Your grandmother loves it, but there's no way it will make the top 10.

Hungary's pop rock entry is next, but after all we've seen in the semis there's little here to get our hearts racing.

Albania is next, and so, having been alerted by the previous performance in Semi-Final 1, we screw in our earplugs. Once again the singer howls, shrieks, bellows, and lets out one ear-piercing scream that shatters all our bottles of Karlovačko beer.

Between performances we view propagandistic bumper segments celebrating Azerbaijan and some of its cities, each segment given a title like, "Azerbaijan: Land of Horsemen," or the oddly-phrased "Baku: City of Drive." Copiously missing is "Azerbaijan: Land of Imprisoned Journalists." Actually, cute co-host Nargiz Birk-Petersen was once a journalist in Azerbaijan (thanks, Wikipedia), which perhaps explains why she now lives with her husband in Copenhagen.

Lithuania offers their fun performance, wherein a dull ballad transforms into a disco dance tune, complete with a one-handed cartwheel from the singer.

I could not remember Bosnia & Herzegovina's Semi-Final performance. Rather than look it up on YouTube, I decided it would be more fun to be surprised tonight. Well, I've forgotten it again.

The adorable Russian grandmothers are next, in what is the most shameless pandering of tonight's competition. I guiltily experience a moment of horror as one of the babushkas, or babushki to be more correct, stumbles toward the camera. "Run away! Run away!" Do I have a phobia of old people? Hey, there was this old guy wandering through the underground mall today near the Zagreb train station, and he was just howling to no one in particular. What was that all about? Damn, I'm turning into an old person myself. I'm depressed!

Iceland's much-too-serious entry isn't going to cheer me up, either. Please, put away your violin.

Cyprus rolls out ha-cha-cha-cha girl number one, and several toes are tapping in that Zagreb kitchen. No, it's not very good, but after ponderous Iceland I'll definitely take this. Every swing of her hips is a little bit of Prozac. I like it more than I did the first time around. We realize around this point that friend Zrinka has an impressive knowledge of the words to most of the Eurovision entries tonight.

France, the second "Big Awesome Five" country, performs, and the gay segment of the audience will likely enjoy the topless male gymnasts leaping around leggy diva Anggun. But there's nothing really special going on here. Zrinka is singing along to it, though, thanks to her French instructor who handed her the lyrics earlier this week.

Italy is "Big Mother/Big Fucker Five" country number three, and serves up a swinging tune warbled by quite the hottie. Wow. It's pretty good! Italy is a "Big Five" country I can support!

Estonia's Ken doll is up next with his boring ballad. How did this get through the Semi-Finals?

Norway offers the "Tooji," a species of mammal genetically-engineered a quarter-century ago to win Eurovision in 2012. He has the funky dance moves, whips his head around in dramatic time to the beat, and grins on command. Zrinka describes him as "scary." The song is toe-tappingly catchy.

Host Azerbaijan offers its automatically-advancing tune, "When the Music Dies." It's OK.

Romania's ha-cha-cha-cha performance from Mandinga opens with a moonwalker clutching a bagpipe that looks as if it were designed by Dr. Suess.

Denmark's sailor-hat and epaulets-wearing girl performs her "Should've Known Better," which continues to please us.

Greece's ha-cha-cha-cha girl performs her horrible "Aphrodisiac" tune, shaking her ya-yas, her ta-tas, and her na-nas.

Sweden's Loreen, who channels every Kate Bush performance ever (there's "Wuthering Heights"! There's "Running Up That Hill"!), offers her crowd-pleasing tune. By Eurovision standards, this is pretty great. For our betting pool tonight, I have picked Sweden to win the whole thing.

Turkey is next. I was unimpressed by Turkey in the semis, but Ana and Zrinka make a good case for this quirky young guy's likeability. It will probably land in the top 10, since Turkey always does well thanks to its strong, Euro-wide diaspora.

Two Big Five countries follow, Spain and Germany, and that's all I'm going to say about them.

Malta is next with the fancy footwork guy. This guy's moves during one part of the chorus totally makes the performance watchable. And he knows it, which is why he performs that footwork bit for the cameras in the wings just before he takes the stage. If you did this move in a club, every woman in the room would sleep with you.

FYR Macedonia offers its strong and competent performance. Singer Kaliopi's vocals are powerful and spot on, and the song's melody packs a punch. Kaliopi is 45 years old, and demonstrates that she is every bit the seasoned professional. A performance like hers makes ha-cha-cha-cha Greek girl's "Aphrodisiac" look really stupid.

Speaking of stupid, here come Ireland's identical-twins Jedward in their "Starlight Express" outfits! Performance ends with them being doused with water—that can't be good for their microphones. Is that even safe? Poor as the song is, I still think Ireland should send Jedward every year.

After that bit of silliness, Serbia's intense Željko Joksimović takes the stage. Somebody recently sent me an e-card that read, "When Led Zeppelin is playing you shut the fuck up." Well, when Željko Joksimović is singing you shut the fuck up. This guy has a really intense presence. "It's because he's Serbian," Ana explains. At song's finish, it's clear that Macedonia and Serbia fatally Balkan body-slammed Jedward between them.

Ukraine offers the last ha-cha-cha-cha girl, whose song, friend Ivan notes, sounds utterly stolen from David Guetta. Former prime minister turned political prisoner Yulia Tymoshenko is tapping her foot to this in her Kiev jail cell.

Moldova finishes with its folk-influenced pop tune, which includes a hora. Nice, but it's not going to be a top 10 finisher.

Regarding our betting pool, we ditch the idea of wagering money this time around. Thus, Ivan voted more "from his heart" than from his head. We try to predict which countries will be in the top 10, and which one country will win the whole thing.

Ana and I predict Sweden will take it all. Ivan's heart tells him Macedonia. Zrinka is fond of Romania.

People across Europe, and those other not-exactly European countries that participate in the contest ("the sun never sets on the Eurovision empire") phone in their votes. You cannot vote for your own country, and so countries often vote for their neighbors, which has become a subject of controversy in Eurovision circles where this practice is referred to as "bloc voting." Since Western countries seem to sulk about this the most, I wonder if the term "bloc voting" is really a thinly-veiled allusion to "The Eastern Bloc"?

Time for the results. Each of 42 countries reports its voting results via live video feed. "Hello, Eurovision! Vienna calling!" the Austrian announcer might say, and then the numbers come in. One country's entry receives 1 point, another 2, then 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7. Then it's "the big points," which go up 8, 10, and 12. This is why "[fill in the name of a country] douze points!" has become a catch phrase in Eurovision circles, sort of like the "perfect 10" used to be in gymnastics before that got retired.

First off, we see that bloc voting is alive and well in the Balkans. Croatia, Montenegro, and Slovenia offer their top 12 points to Serbia; Serbia gives theirs to Macedonia; Macedonia gives 10 to Serbia and 12 to Albania; Bosnia & Herzegovina gives 10 to Serbia and 12 to Macedonia.

It's also alive and well in many other countries that have enjoyed close cultural and historical ties. Cyprus and Greece trade their 12 points. Autocratic Belarus, which last year attempted to send a song celebrating good old "U.S.S.R. times" before Eurovision said "Non") gives their 12 points to Mother Russia. Ukraine, which lately seems to be traveling down the road to Belarus, gives 10 points to Russia and 12 to former Soviet republic Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan and Turkey trade 12 points; Armenia, their shared thorn in their sides, boycotted Eurovision this year. In what often elicits the biggest groan of the night, Moldova gives 12 points to Romania and Romania gives 12 back to Moldova. And, very sneakily, since everyone likes to roar about Balkan abuse of bloc voting, the UK slipped 10 points to the miserable Jedward from Ireland ("There you go, lads, don't go spending it all in one place"). Ireland was not similarly impressed with the Humperdinck, however.

Scandinavia is much better behaved this year than usual when it comes to that whole bloc voting thing. Sweden gives 10 points to Serbia and 12 to Cyprus. Norway gives 10 points to Serbia and 12 to, OK, Sweden, but Sweden's song is really strong this year—tons of countries are handing it 12 points. Most surprisingly to my friends and me, Denmark and Norway sink to the bottom of the standings; neither country receives any big point assists from their neighbors.

Most amusing moment in the voting: Finland's results are reported by metal band Lordi, whose lead singer is dressed in full monster make-up. He announces that 8 points are going to "The hotest babe in the competition. Actually, six of them. Russia!" Russia's strategy of sending adorable grandmothers has worked out very well. They stay at or near the top of the list throughout the night.

As the results keep coming in, the top 10 solidify more and more, and the clear front-runner puts more and more distance between itself and the rest of the pack. Soon it's very clear: Sweden's "Euphoria" is going to win the whole thing, with more than a hundred points stretching between it and the second-place babushki.


Serbia clenched third. If you turned all the 10's and 12's Serbia got from its Balkan neighbors into zeros, Serbia would have fallen by only one spot to fourth place (of course, it's a silly hypothetical, since who knows how those 10 and 12 points would have been redistributed, but it tells you how strongly Serbia's song performed across Europe).

Host Azerbaijan was inexplicably in fourth, Albania's ear-shattering scary woman entry came in fifth (and later prompted this piece of journalism—thanks JP), and the boring ballad sung by the Estonian Ken Doll took sixth, which is weird. Turkey took seventh. Germany came in eighth, which is also weird. The more deserving Italy took ninth, and Spain finished 10th.

In last place was Norway whose "Tooji" probably had the worst Eurovision experience by any measure. The UK, Hungary, Denmark, and France rounded out the bottom five.

So, yeah! I predicted the winner for Eurovision—though not as decisively as I had back in 2011 when I figured Azerbaijan had it pretty well locked up by the end of Semi-Final 1. I did very poorly in picking the top 10. Most of us in that Zagreb kitchen, myself included, picked only 5 out of 10. I thought Norway and Denmark would be in the top 10, but they wound up in the bottom five. I never would have guessed that Germany and Estonia would wind up in the top 10.

Once again, Eurovision proved predictable in some of the dreariest of ways. For example, somebody needs to tell Romania and Moldova to stop exchanging those 12 points—do you have to be so obvious? But in other ways there were plenty of surprises. It was actually a pretty good field of entries this year. No, really! I mean, for a Eurovision, this was a pretty fun spectacle.

One last footnote. Since the Croatian commentator was talking over all the results, I missed a significant moment. From Wikipedia: "Before submitting the results from the German jury, Anke Engelke gave a live statement on the human-rights issues in the hosting country, saying: 'Tonight nobody could vote for their own country. But it is good to be able to vote. And it is good to have a choice. Good luck on your journey, Azerbaijan. Europe is watching you.' She was the only commentator to address human rights during the event."

Now that everyone has left the building, I have invited back my friend from Georgia, Anri Jokhadze, who offered the best performance not to advance to the finals. This is what Eurovision is all about. Enjoy!

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