Eurovision 2011: Now that the dust has settled... Congratulations Azerbaijan!
Ell & Nikki from Azerbaijan with Running Scared, the winning song of Eurovision 2011
Apologies that this reaction to last weekend's result has taken so long to post, the real world has been occupying a very large wodge of my life in the past two weeks but it has all settled down now. Anyway, as you can see by the picture on the left showing the blackboard in our hall which greeted our guests on Saturday evening, there was no jaunt to the Contest itself for Boom Bang a blog this year. Instead, we installed ourselves on the sofa at home with some chums and watched it all unfold on our telly screens. It was a far more enjoyable line-up than made it to the big Saturday night in Oslo last year and there really were 10-12 songs which could feasibly have clinched the trophy if the wind was blowing in a different direction.
I shall put my hand up and admit that the moment I heard Running Scared for the first time back in March my immediate reaction was 'brilliant intro, but it gets boring very quickly', however, the clever sould responsible for Ell & Nikki's staging helped lift both the song and disguise Nikki's rather weak vocal capabilities into something rather special. That halo of pyros which became a gentle firefall really was rather special and came at just the right moment. It also goes to show that this was destined to be a close-run year. The winning score of 221 from the 42 other voting countries is six points fewer than Katrina and the Waves scored 14 years ago when there were only 24 other nations eligible to vote for the UK. It would seem that runaway winners a'la Rybak will be few and far between as the years go on.
But enough number crunching, Eurovision is off to Baku for 2012.
The hosting of the world's biggest pop music competition has already made the headlines in the more serious sections of our broadsheets. Out of the 178 nations ranked in the 2010 Press Freedom Index, the Azeris are placed 152nd, the second-lowest placed Eurovision nation (Belarus is two places behind), whereas 2007 hosts Finland are seen, alongside Iceland and others, as the best place on the planet to speak your mind in the media without fear of reprisal (the UK is ranked 19th). As the celebrations of Azerbaijan's win continued, old issues of bloggers being imprisoned for expressing their political views emerged and it doesn't help that Azerbaijan's government is taking all the credit for the result in Germany on May 14 - not the nation's music industry. Mind you, Running Scared was composed by a Swedish/British team.
Still, if you can't sway the IOC voters to give Baku the Olympic Games, then staging Eurovision is a pretty effective way to get a large proportion of the planet casting its gaze your way, which is the sole reason for Azerbaijan trying incredibly hard to win since its debut in 2008 as it's certainly not about promoting their donestic songwriting capabilities. In a sense, this year's result is already Mission Accomplished so it will be interesting to see how determined the Azeris are to win again from 2013 onwards - or even if there is still an entry from Azerbaijan Eurovision by 2020. Once you've proved a point you've been desperate to prove - why go to a monumental effort to prove it again?
At the moment, Baku does not have an arena which comes close to the capacity of the venues of the past four Contests but there is talk they will purpose build such a facility to be complete for the start of rehearsal week in May next year. The proposed dates for the 2012 event are revolve around the last weekend of the month, so they will have 54 weeks at their disposal, rather than the 50 the Germans had, to get everything ready.
It's all still a long way off yet, so let's wait and see what happens.
The boys from Blue. Some thought the performance was poor. I really liked it. Still do.
And so on to our own team's performance. There was a lot of interesting talk of hoo-doos involving Royal Weddings, Bucks Fizz draw positions and the number of people in the group which pointed to a UK victory but in the end the only ones that mattered was that the lads finished 11th in '11 and that I Can rhymes with the final two syllables of the name of the winning nation.
There is, I think, nothing for Blue, the BBC or the UK to feel ashamed of this year. This was a beefy, credible song which, as far as my ears are concerned, came across well on the big night and impressed viewers I was sat with who hadn't thought much of I Can's chances after hearing the studio version of the song. Blue happened to enter Eurovision in a very strong year. With exactly 100 points in 11th place, they were only 35 behind Denmark (who came fifth) and it was rare for a nation's votes to flash up without there being at least something for the British entry. It sounds as though I am scrambling for crumbs - but the positions Blue are now taking up in the iTunes charts of the various competing nations proves that they will get a pan-European hit out of this and that, regardless of the position on the scoreboard, entering Eurovision is back to being a way to sell records again which may be the biggest carrot to dangle in front of an umm-ing and aah-ing UK act.
Aah - and let us not forget this moment when the forward thinking folk of Bulgaria and Italy helped put Britain ever so briefly into pole position. The Bulgarian 12 was the ultimate in false dawns. I really did think "Bulgaria? They've got no reason to give us the top mark other then the song is good - it looks like we're in for a good night..!" And compared to last year, it was a good night. We've had better but I now think that Eurovision in the UK is in a position where a reliable act won't be quite so nervy about taking on the challenge of the Contest. I really hope that after the competition closed on Saturday evening, someone from the Xenomania production team composed a missive to the BBC stating they wouldn't mind being involved with the UK's preparations for next year. We can but hope.
It's in his quiff. That's where it is.
And fair play to Jedward, while I'm at it. Didn't like the song, can't pretend I like them as performers but the exuberance of youth packed in with the brilliant Man From Uncle-style background graphics resulted in a performance that thoroughly deserved its Top 10 placing and I'm surprised it didn't wind up higher. There is still a part of me that sees the Irish team at Eurovision in the same way I see Manchester United in the Premiership (ie, I don't *really* want to see them win because they've won it far too many times already) but fair play to the lads. At least we now don't have to put up with the unbearably smug face of a victorious Louis Walsh.
If there's one result I was pleased to see, it was Sweden finishing third with Eric Saade, their best finish since they won in 1999. From the moment the song was chosen, some really mealy-mouthed, unpleasant, snide vitriol was pumped through blogs and message boards across the fan community about how Eric would never make it out of the semi-finals, how everybody would hate his song and how his first rehearsal (which came straight off the back of an early morning flight) had sealed his fate. I'm sure he must have been aware of some of it and I think he acted with a dignity you don't always get in someone of his age. He must have wanted to make a certain gesture to his many detractors as those votes rolled in and I wouldn't really have blamed him if he did.
Sock it to 'em, Eric...
Which brings me on to something which has spoiled the 2011 season for me somewhat.
I think it is brilliant the way Eurovision's organisers allow fans in to view rehearsals and blog about it. Often it's insightful and gives you a taster of what's to come without spoiling too much. But sometimes what is written hurriedly into a blog and passed off as 'journalism' makes my blood boil.
I've been working in journalism for over a decade now and came to the job 18 months after graduating from uni and getting a lot of knockbacks along the way. To earn yourself that job title you have to undergo at least 12 months of intense training where you basically spend your entire time either in the office or out and about covering meetings, incidents, court cases, inquests, etc. Then you're studying for exams, learning shorthand and having to pass 100wpm to make the grade. Only when you've passed everything to the standard approved by the NCTJ (in the UK that is) can you feasibly call yourself a journalist.
Without wishing to sound cruel, sitting in a glorified internet cafe for two weeks and writing how much you dislike Eric Saade's song and performance into an online blog template does not *really* give you the right to call yourself a journo. My mum once put out a chip pan fire with a damp tea towel, she didn't say to anyone afterwards that she was a fully qualified firefighter, although perhaps she would have done if that blaze had been in the kitchen at the Eurovision press centre.
It's a reporter's job to present as many facts from as many different parties involved as possible to enable the audience to make up their own mind. Putting personal opinion into an online blog and pressing 'save' is not journalism, it's not reporting. It's blogging. I think there is a lot of confusion growing between the two disciplines - not just at Eurovision - and there will come a time when a blogger merrily slagging somebody off because they think they're being really clever for their online mates will come a cropper as they haven't got the appropriate knowledge of defamation and slander laws. I must quickly add that I saw nothing written during Eurovision week which would land anyone in the courts but considering how much the fan community likes to have its Hated Person/Act of each Contest, it might be worth them getting hold of the latest copy of McNae's Essential Law for Journalists before they head off for Azerbaijan and unleash the venom in the press centre.
Apologies for getting a bit snarky there - but this year the self-importance of some blogging really did get my back up.
Best comeback. Ever.
There were more highlights than lowlights this year, though. I loved Italy's song from the moment I heard it (really regret not backing it e/w when it was 200-1) and what a fantastic comeback to take silver on your return to the competition after such a long gap. Hopefully, it will encourage both Italy and San Marino to keep on trying. And it was great to see Switzerland back in the Saturday night final - where it certainly didn't deserve to finish last.
I had this top three. I'm well rubbish.
There are loads more bits and bobs floating about me 'ead about Eurovision 2011 - but we have at least six months before national final season begins so there's plenty of time to share the rest. This year's show was a vast improvement on last year's rather timid offering and I'm fairly sure the wealthy nation of Azerbaijan will do its utmost to present the most ambitiously staged Eurovision there has ever been.
And then send the tape by courier to the IOC with the attached message: 'See. We can do it.'