Friday, May 25, 2012

Eurovision 2012: Summary of Semi-Final 2

Time for Eurovision Semi-Final 2! Sprinkle me with glitter and punch me in the face!

For those unfamiliar with Eurovision, I refer you to my recap of Semi-Final 1. For those without the will to click, here's a brief summary of what's going on tonight. A bunch of countries submit one song each to the contest, people across Europe vote for their favorite song, and the 10 most popular songs in tonight's field of 18 advance to Saturday's final. You cannot vote for your own country and you can only vote in the semi-final in which your country participates. And six countries skip the semi-finals completely and automatically advance to the finals. Confused? That's because the rules are stupid.

The hosts banter awkwardly in heavily-accented English. They explain the whole "Big Five" thing, where five countries get to skip the semis and go straight to the finals essentially because they are rich. This is really irritating and not fair. Fuck the Big Five. The sixth automatic advancer is last year's Eurovision-winning country, Azerbaijan. Because Azerbaijan won last year, that country has the honor of hosting this year's contest in the capital city of Baku, "The Sunny City," or "The Sport's City" [sic], or "The City of Jazz" depending on which propagandistic bumper segment shown during the telecast you wish to believe. Copiously missing is "Baku: The Center of Repressive Governance," but since it has so much to offer it's understandable that some of its charms have been omitted.

My friends and I (Ana, Ivan, Jelena, and Sisko) are seated in a Croatian kitchen, and we have bet five kune each on the results. We are also joined virtually by Ksenija in Ljubljana, who texts me her choices.

Here we go! Serbia's Željko Joksimović offers a strong performance. At one point the Kenny G-ish saxophonist strolls behind the singer, miming that he is playing despite the fact that we hear only strings. Many Balkan countries are performing tonight, which means they all have neighbors who might vote for them. Six votes "YES."

FYR Macedonia follows with a powerful and tasteful performance of its own. Once again we all vote "YES." We begin to worry that tonight's competition might actually be good, i.e., boring.

So thank goodness the Netherlands send out a woman wearing an American Indian headdress. We are uncertain what language she is performing in, until it slowly dawns on us that it is English. Europe has long had a tasteful fascination with Native Americans. Three "NO" votes, three "YES" votes.

During the "Come visit Azerbaijan—if you dare!" propaganda bumper segment we learn that Azerbaijan has a "Palace of Sheki Khan," and I start thinking "Sheki Khan let me rock you that's all I wanna do/Wanna love you wanna hold you wanna squeeze you too."

I try that joke out on my Croatian friends, but they don't seem to get it, maybe because not a lot of people remember Chaka Khan, but more probably because it just wasn't all that funny. Pretty interesting, huh?

Malta sends out a smiling, dancing robot man. He is a Gattaca-like model of Eurovision perfection. The song is OK, but then he does this astonishing fancy footwork thing, and we howl with joy. "Let's see that again!" we cry, weeping and clapping ecstatically. Later, during the recap, the producers wisely select this part of the performance as the highlight. All of us vote "YES."

Belarus will never advance in a Eurovision song contest because the "Last Dictatorship in Europe" (so bad a place to live that it makes Azerbaijan look good) has no friends. This bland rock band gives it their all. It is sad to think that later tonight these earnest young men will board a bus and take the long journey back to Minsk. There will be many misadventures along the way. Tears will be shed, laughter shared, and some friendships will turn into…something more. The bus will break down several times. Tires will be changed and new engine parts salvaged from various junk piles in Georgia and Russia. Never underestimate Belarusian ingenuity. Finally, in the middle of the night many months later, that beaten-up bus will arrive in Minsk, come to a stop, and then, with a mighty shudder, fall completely apart. President Lukashenko will greet each of the band members with a firm handshake. His other hand, held behind his back, will clutch a revolver. Four of us vote "NO" and two vote "YES."

Portugal offers the first of three songs tonight that will enjoy the distinction of receiving a unanimous six "NO" votes from us.

At last, we have a ha-cha-cha-cha woman, courtesy of Ukraine. "Be my guest!" she bellows while electronic dance beats pound behind her. A scary crowd of zombie Sims dance behind her on a giant video screen. It's really something. Four "YES" votes; two "NO."

Sofi Marinova, a well-known "chalga" singer in her native Bulgaria, performs "Love Unlimited," but despite the English title she sings in Bulgarian. This reflects a nice aspect of tonight's competition: there are lots of people singing in their native tongues. I don't remember hearing so many different languages in previous contests.

As Ana explains to me in that Zagreb kitchen, if you're sending a song to represent your country, and your native language is not English, it seems silly to sing in English. By the same token, if you come from the Netherlands and sing in English while wearing an American Indian headdress, you are colossally stupid.

Two Balkan countries, the ones I have been living in in recent months, are up next. We are not enthusiastic. Slovenia offers a Very Serious and Dramatic performance that is rewarded with a unanimous six "NO" votes from our panel. Croatia follows with a dull ballad that also garners six "NO" votes. Croatian and Slovenian nationalism is dead.

Sweden's Loreen is up next. She channels Kate Bush. Song has thumping beats and is very catchy. Hers is a real performance. It's the most interesting song of the night. This could even win it all. Six "YES" votes.

The most amazing performance of the night comes from Georgia. Anri Jokhadze begins by singing operatically while dressed as a monk. The robes come off, the leggy dancing girls appear, and Anri runs manically all over the stage, singing, dancing, and at one point pounding a piano. This guy should get his own TV show. Fuck that—this guy should get his own TV channel. Four votes "YES," two votes "NO."

It's a tough act for Turkey to follow. To complicate that country's chances even further, their song is shit. A skinny guy in a shiny black jacket tries his best to land the tween girl/gay male vote, but after Georgia's whirlwind performance the song's dullness and the singer's own lack of talent are palpable. Men dressed as bats jump around behind him. But as surely as they committed genocide against the Armenian people, tons of Turks througout Europe will vote for him anyway. Three votes "YES" and three votes "NO" from our Zagreb/Ljubljana panel of experts.

Estonia is next with a dull performance by Ken doll Ott Lepland. Four votes "NO" and two votes "YES."

Slovakia offer a hair metal band, and most of us assume that as there are no other hair metal bands in the competition they will get enough votes tonight to reach the finals. Best part of the song is the impressive opening shriek. Five votes "YES" and one vote "NO," from Ksenija, texting from Ljubljana.

Norway evidently kidnapped last year's "popular" Swedish singer Eric Saade and cloned him in order to create something called a "Tooji." The Tooji, Wikipedia notes, is "a Norwegian singer, model and television host." Song is big and dumb and gay and…really catchy! Four votes "YES" and two votes "NO."

Our last Balkan country, Bosnia & Herzegovina, performs. I have no memory of this song, but according to my notes our panel gave it three votes "YES" and three votes "NO."

Lithuania is last. Singer Donny Montell sings that "love is blind" while wearing a blindfold. But why is he wearing a blindfold? Oh, wait, I get it! Song is a dull ballad. Fuck, we have to end on this note? No! Because halfway through, Donny tears off the blindfold and does an improbable gymastics move as the tune transforms into a raucaus, banging dance song. Now everybody loves Donny Montell! We're clapping and shrieking and jumping up and down. Well, three of us anyway, who vote "YES," while the other three vote "NO."

Time for Europe to vote. For the first time ever I vote in a Eurovision song contest. I realize I am not a Croatian citizen and that the Eurovision police may track me down and lock me up for this transgression. I've already ditched the cell phone. But it was worth it. Clicking "send" was more exciting for me than casting my first vote in a U.S. presidential election. I cast my vote for Georgia, since I don't think the other entries I enjoyed tonight will need much help to get through.

When we return from a commercial break, we find that all the Eurovision winners of the last five years are belting out a manic and out of tune cover of ABBA's "Waterloo."

Random aside: according to the official Eurovision website, "Wireless microphones are not allowed in the premises of the Eurovision Song Contest."

Time for results!

Serbia - Yes! A worthy performance, no doubt further aided by bloc voting.

FYR Madeconia - Yes! Another safe, sort of dull, but perfectly competent entry.

Netherlands - No! Indian headdress—ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME NETHERLANDS?!?!?!

Malta - Hell yes! Fancy footwork dude is too cool to fail.

Belarus - Hell no! They're on that bus to the Minsk Death Camp as you read this.

Portugal - No! Since Spain is an automatically-advancing BIG FUCKING FIVE COUNTRY, and thus was ineligible to vote in tonight's semi-final, Portugal got no help from its neighbor.

Ukraine - Yes! The only ha-cha-cha-cha performance of the night gets through.

Bulgaria - No! Not a lot of chalga fans outside of Bulgaria.

Slovenia - No! Why on earth would we ever want to sit through that again?

Croatia - No! Slovenia and Croatia were both bad, but Croatia was the worst of the two.

Sweden - Hell yes! This could win the whole thing.

Georgia - No! Robbed! Definitely the best performance of the last two nights not to advance. And so went my 3.75 kuna vote.

Turkey - Yes! The Turkish voting bloc throughout Europe is a formidable thing. Think about that next time you order a kebab in Paris.

Estonia - Yes? Really? Yes! But-but-but...Fuckin' hell!

Slovakia - No. Hair metal is denied in Eurovision 2012. Only Ksenija in Ljubljana made the right call here.

Norway - Hell yes! Denmark (who performed on Tuesday), Sweden, and Norway all have strong entries. Look for all three to finish in the top ten on Saturday.

Bosnia & Herzegovina - Yes! It's good that this got voted through, since I have no memory of it. Now I can look forward to seeing/forgetting it again on Saturday.

Lithuania - Hell yes! We want to see that performance again.

The winners of tonight's betting pool: Sisko and Ksenija, who both picked 8 out of 10. The results are below:

And so Semi-Final 2 comes to an end. I'm really hung-over. Not sure how I'll make it through Saturday night's grand finale. "Eurovision! It Will Kill You!"

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