When the music dies
And so another Eurovision Song Contest comes to an end and P.E.D. (Post Eurovision Depression) sets in throughout the Eurovision fan community. Unfortunately the over-run of the show, the logistics of getting back to the hotel from the venue and doing a full re-pack after I discovered I only had a 20kgms baggage allowance, meant that I never got to react on the spot to this year’s contest. Also I wanted to see how the shows came across on television, before finalising my thoughts. So here is my final report on the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest.
I must admit that at this stage, I like the semi-finals a lot more than the final show. The ratio of music is better, the postcards are fresher and there are ten winners in each show. This year was made even better by the fact that the pre-amble to the first song was mercifully short and for me at least, the intervals were much better than in the final. I predicted 9 out of 10 qualifiers in the first semi, letting my heart rule my head by making a last minute substitution of Austria for Hungary, which was in my initial list. Austria’s result in the emi-final (a distant last place) was the only real shocker for me and looking back on it on screen it does come acrosds as rather “In your face” for a family audience.
I only managed 8 out of 10 in the second semi, but as no one in our extended company did better, I ended up winning the “napkin of death” on a tie-break. Again I’m afraid that I allowed my heart to rule my head, choosing Portugal and if there’s any song that I think undeservedly missed on getting to the big night, it was the haunting Portuguese entry. Alas, my ultimate dream of having two weeks of Eurovision in Lisbon will have to wait another year.
I liked the use of the “Golden Ticket” to highlight the last of the ten qualifiers but I would probably have chosen Hungary and Malta as the tenth, as it was quite obvious that Ireland and Turkey would qualify, ever before they were drawn.
In contrast to the semis, yet again I found the final a bit of an anti-climax. By that stage I had heard the songs a lot more, the postcards were all too familiar and a little repetitious (although nowhere near as bad as Athens, Belgrade or Moscow) and the voting was interminable as we knew the winner after sex countries had voted. In my opinion the show was too long and in needs to be brought back to three hours and after the fantastic interval acts in the semis, Emin’s flying circus was a bit of a let-down.
It didn’t help that once again the Irish OGAE tickets were behind the stage, for the third year in a row and that the scoreboard was invisible to us, meaning I had a quick dash back to the Press Centre, for the last half hour of the show.
The atmosphere that came across on camera was also a lot calmer than in previous years and that is not a bad thing in my opinion. Whether it was the later local start time, the lower number of flag waving foreign fans or the predictability of the voting, this year’s contest seemed to be a bit more subdued.
I’m not going to pretend that I like the winner, but then I haven’t liked the winning entry for the last two years, so I’ve long since learnt to detach the result from the overall Eurovision experience and not allowed it to cloud my opinion of the event. Sweden’s entry generally drew a very different reaction from people, depending on their age and musical background. For those of us on the mature side of 35 and who were all too familiar with the euphoric dance music that pumped out of clubs in Ibiza, in the years around the turn of the century, Loreen’s song had an air of underwhelming deja-vu. For those that were unfamiliar with the genre, either through age, or never having been exposed to it, “Eurphoria” appeared to be something new and fresh for Eurovision.
However the result speaks for itself, the winning margin was huge, no song has ever won as many “douze points” and “Euphoria” looks like being a pan-European hit (with the honourable exception of Italy), even exceeding Alexander Rybak’s “Fairytale” from 2009. The one interesting thing to see will be the split result, as the Swedish performance in the Jury final was very poor, so did the jury rate the song based on that or the much better performance in the previous evening’s semi-final. If it turns out to be the latter, then France and the U.K. (which were also poor in the Jury final) have every right to feel more than a little miffed.
I was on the same return flight as Jedward and the RTÉ delegation and it’s fair to say that no one really saw the disappointing result coming. In fact having initially thought that we were in for a worse result that 2011, as I watched the jury final, that Jedward could do better than he 8th place they achieved in Dusseldorf, but it was not to be. I still believe that “Waterline” is a much weaker song than “Lipstick” but the later draw should have helped us a lot more.
There’s no question that Jedward did not attract anything like the same publicity as they had done in 2011 and like everyone else, ended up playing a distant second fiddle to the hype of the Russian grannies. Reporters from our two main newspapers seemed to struggle to get access to the Jedward team and I don’t believe that Linda Martin’s presence as a former Eurovision winner was used as well as it could have been, to generate interest in the Irish entry.
Jedward have confirmed that they will not enter the contest next year which leaves the door wide open for everyone who would like to represent Ireland in Sweden. Jedward’s legacy of engaging a new generation of Irish Eurovision fans should not be under-estimated and I think we should give thanks to the boys for the increasing the interest in the contest in Ireland, with the subsequent impact on television ratings (again, the highest of the year) and general discussion on the contest.
The Swedish music market is very open to Eurovision and it could prove a valuable European launch-pad for a new Irish entrant. Already the names of former Eurosong finalists like Nikki Kavanagh, Leanne Moore and Donna McCaul have been mentioned, but it is an open secret that if Imelda May decided to throw her hat into the ring, then RTÉ would be more than willing to take her up on the offer.
However disappointing the result was to Irish fans, things seem to be going from bad to worse for our neighbours in the U.K., despite being one of the Top 5 favourites with bookmakers. With only one Top 10 finish in the last ten years, the U.K. is going through its worst ever run in the competition. Despite drawing on the talents of experienced performers, Engelbert Humperdinck followed Blue the previous year in killing the chances of his song in a poor performance in the Jury Final. There have to be questions asked as to whether the U.K. entrants are being told of the importance of the Jury Final and whether big names are being brought in to help ratings, irrespective of their suitability for the contest. I say that with a degree of hindsight as I would have supported the selection of Blue and Engelbert.
Baku is my twelfth foreign city that I have visited specifically for the contest (not counting Dublin, where I lived during the 1990s contests) and the whole trip is right up there with Belgrade and Moscow as my favourite Eurovision experience. As well as being an interesting a beautiful city, the people truly made the fortnight memorable for all the right reasons. After the dullness and lack of variety in Dusseldorf and the overly expensive prettiness of Oslo, Baku really charge my Eurovision batteries. No city made the same effort to brand itself as he Eurovision host or went out of its way so much to accommodate visitors.
Yes not everything was perfect, the Welcome Party (such as it was) was a severe let-down, two Days without coffee in the Press Area was a struggle and it appeared that taxi drivers had been beamed in from Mars, just before the event, but it wasn’t an expensive city y any means, the weather was fantastic and special mention must be made of the fantastic Euroclub, for its location, its facilities, ease to access (none of the overcrowding of Oslo or the general tedium and nastiness that ruined the second week in Dusseldorf). Of all the cities that I’ve been to for Eurovision, Baku would rate beside Belgrade as somewhere I would like to return to, away from the contest.
One very minor downer for me was the attempt by the media in certain countries to politicise the event, and I would lay the main blame on the BBC, Sweden’s SVT and the German media in general. The Eurovision Song Contest has to thread a very fine line in international relations, as it is one of the few competitions where every country competes on an equal basis (Big 5 rule, expected). Therefore if a country is allowed to enter the EBU and consequently compete in and stage the contest, then that right should be respected. Furthermore if a country is willing to pour the money and effort into hosting the contest as Azerbaijan did, then they should be admired and not hectored or lectured in any way. The comments made by the German spokesperson that “Europe is watching you” were to my mind unacceptable and doubly so, coming from a country that has seen fit to interfere in the democratic process in its Eurozone neighbours, in the last year and beyond. If journalists are concerned about freedom of speech in other countries they have the means to raise this throughout the year rather than trying to use the contest as an opportunity to sling (often ill-informed) mud.
So Sweden gets the chance to host next year’s contest and it will be interesting to see the approach that they take. The EBU hinted at their press conference that it would like to see the scale of the event being reduced and for there to be more concentration on the television show. The recent trajectory of “bigger is better” Eurovision would suggest that the event will be staged in Stockholm, most likely at the under-construction Friends Arena in the Solna municipality with its 50,000 plus capacity.
However if the intention to stabilise the contest at a more modest size, then the 15,000 capacity Malmo Arena may end up hosting he contest. Malmo also wins on the fact that SVT likes to rotate major events and the fact that Stockholm is co-hosting the World Ice Hockey Championships at the same time as Eurovision.
I’ve personally decided to take a break from next year’s contest, assuming that it is more likely to be staged in Stockholm, as I have no desire to spend a fortnight in a city that I have already visited for Eurovision (and several subsequent trips) but I might just be persuaded to go to Malmo.
CHANGES I’D LIKE TO SEE
In general I found very little wrong with this year’s contest, either as a television viewer or as a visitor to the event. Anything the visiting media wanted, we generally got and the show was very entertaining.
The only part of the show that I found completely underwhelming was the voting. It wasn’t just the usual complain about neighbourly and predictable voting, which are being increasingly irritating, but the fact that we had a runaway winner meant that the voting sequence which was once a highlight of the contest, has now become a chore. For me the contest needs to be brought back to three hours and the voting sequence should be shortened.
There are two ways that I would suggest that this could be done; firstly by only allowing the finalists to vote individually (calling out 6 to 12 points) and then combine the losing semi-finalists into one “super-jury” at the end where they have the power to change the result, having the weighting of 18 countries.
Another option would be to combine countries so that they voted together in groups of three or four (a combined vote of U.K., Ireland and Malta, for example). This would shorten the voting sequence and lessen the impact of predictable votes. I’d also like to see an end to international SMS voting. The current rules allow you to vote in another country’s televote, if you know the number to use and have access to online resources which allow overseas texting. The current rules allow this, but it certainly isn’t in the spirit of “fair play”.
I would also like to see a ban (and proper censure) of all political comments, during the voting.
For me the rehearsal schedule is too long. Yes certain countries do need two full rehearsals, but others don’t. For example this year, Belgium, Finland, Norway, Denmark, Lithuania and many others changed very little from first to final dress rehearsal. Countries should be allowed to choose to have one or two individual rehearsals and pay for the privilege of a second rehearsal (as well as the additional hotel nights).
As well as the voting and the rehearsals, a third change I would like to see is the running order. This year (as in previous years) we get a run of ballads or up-tempo songs which doesn’t help anyone. I think countries should be allowed to swap their position in the running order with another country, if it suits both.
Finally, I would like to see the “wildcards” in the semis given to the countries that have gone the longest without qualifying and in the final, the “wildcard” should go to the country that has gone the longest without finishing in the Top 10.
My deepest tanks to Elaine and Andrew on the sterling work they have done for the blog, it has made the time so much more pleasurable for me and for those that read the blog. I would also like to thank everyone who has made comments either here or on our Facebook page or YouTube channel and finally to the people of Baku and Azerbaijan, who should be proud of the wonderful event that they have staged and the welcome that they have provided for their guests.