Pop and politics in Baku ahead of the ESC finale

Deutsche Welle Arts and Culture, Germany
May 25, 2012 Friday 4:20 PM EST

Pop and politics in Baku ahead of the ESC finale

Some can sing, some can dance, and some can do neither – but it’s all
fair game at the Eurovision contest. There are 26 candidates remaining
after the semi-finals in the competition to determine Europe’s best
song.

One thing is already clear: This year, Europe isn’t in the mood for
weird rhythms, heavy metal or party hip-hop tracks. Austria, Slovakia
and Montenegro have been voted out before the finale on Saturday. It’s
also not a good year for rock at the Eurovision Song Contest. The
Swiss duo Sinplus with their tune “Unbreakable” were about the only
ones doing indie rock, and they went home on Wednesday.

Ralph Siegel, the man who composed an ESC entry for the 20th time and
furnished the song for San Marino in the contest, was forced to say
goodbye on Tuesday.

But it should make at least a few people glad to hear that Dutch
singer Joan Franka with her country song “You and Me” got the boot
during the second semi-final. Her rather ridiculous feather headdress
was accompanied by vocals that could have easily won her the title
“Worst ESC Singer.”

Techno and soul riding high The Italians are doing something different
once again. Emboldened by their second place win last year with a jazz
musician, they have delivered another song that is anything but
typical ESC schlock. With “L’Amore e Femmina,” Nina Zilli sounds
suspiciously like Amy Winehouse at a few junctures, but the track
brings in some Memphis soul brass and 60s guitars. It has retro charm,
and betting agencies see it going far in the contest.

But if you believe the bookies, one thing is already clear in 2012:
Sweden, the country that delivered Abba and the most popular
Eurovision song of all time, “Waterloo,” will take first prize again
this year. Loreen, the 28-year-old singer with Moroccan roots and a
wild mane, has delivered an infectious tune, “Euphoria,” located
somewhere between the modern and the mystic. It’s euro-trance-techno
with a hymn-like melody that could get plenty of clubbers’ hands in
the air.

For Roman Lob, Germany’s representative, the bookies see a finish just
above the middle of the pack. But the finale is always good for a few
surprises. Fans vs. jury?

The Eurovision winner will be decided partly by audiences voting via
telephone or text message and partly by a professional jury of
musicians and music experts. Conventional wisdom has it that the
public always votes for the garish and glitzy while the jury selects
musical quality. But whether that’s true remains a secret. The results
are added before going public.

One of the critics’ darlings is 25-year-old Kosovo-Albanian Rona
Nishliu from Pristina. With the lament “Suus,” Nishliu delivered an
impressive vocal performance during the first semi-final. She is
likely the best singer in the entire competition, but the song is not
danceable, and the melody isn’t likely to get stuck in people’s ears.
With dreadlocks draped like snakes around her neck and a gown
resembling a lit-up blue curtain, she stands out from the mass of pop
sing-and-dance routines.

But if it’s singing and dancing you’re after, the Buranovskiye
Babushki from Russia may be just the thing. They won over everyone
from the audience to the press as they performed their folksy “Party
for Everybody” in traditional dress – complete with an onstage cookie
baking routine. Maybe it was a result of Turkey’s geographical
proximity to Azerbaijan, or maybe the audience had just had enough of
post-Yugoslavian ballads and 120 beats per minute euro-dance music by
the end of the second semi-final. Whatever the reason, Turkish singer
Can Bonomo and his song “Love Me Back” unleashed nearly as much
enthusiasm from the audience as the Russian grannies had done during
the first semi-final. The pop song with traditional flair made people
in the press office get up and dance a conga line.

Below the surface Though the Azerbaijani government is presenting
itself as open and welcoming, the ESC has not remained free of
political implications. There has been no noticeable censorship in
terms of press reporting, but once the artists involved take a stance
on politics, the authorities step in. Swedish singer Loreen met with
human rights activists, which prompted an immediate complaint on
behalf of the government with the European Broadcasting Union (EBU)
that the artists should keep their distance from politics. The EBU
hosts Eurovision and has taken a similarly cautious stance. When
Loreen was asked at a press conference about meeting with activists,
the moderator passed on the question, saying the good mood shouldn’t
be diminished with topics like that. The state’s custodians seem to be
present everywhere, even if in small ways. In the Euroclub, the ESC’s
official party location, no music from Armenia is allowed. And there
are rumors that the short films to be played during the show, produced
by Cologne company Brainpool, were replaced a few hours before the
semi-finals with pro-government Russian productions.

The immense police presence coupled with a number of blockades have
contributed to a feeling of uneasiness. The government seems nervous,
and one can only hope that the finale on Saturday night does not lead
to violence between protestors and police.
Author: Matthias Klaus / gsw
Editor: Rick Fulker

From: Baghdasarian

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