31 May 2012

And now for a relaxing program!

Welcome, lads and lasses, to Baku 2012.

I hope that all of you watched the main event; if it somehow slipped past you, know this: Eurovision this year broke new ground. Exciting host nation, brilliantly talented performers, songs that are destined to become classics. It was a true demonstration of the talent that overflows from these many great nations.

Of course, I'm lying. None of those things happened. It was the usual commotion of big hair, dramatic fans, and displaced gays. Lyrics were poorly translated. Dance moves were poorly coordinated. England was... poor. You all know the drill.

And that's why we love it.

After failing to get last year's viewing and recap off the ground, I was determined to make this year something special. I therefore organised a small gathering of my favourite local smartarses, and to drive the theme of the evening home, I had them all bring a Secret Shame food. (The performers aren't proud, why should we be?) I therefore introduce to you my...

Special Guest Bloggers
Colleen: Lawyer, girlfriend, and person in her own right (TM Stop Podcasting Yourself), her repeated accusations that this is 'the gayest shit [she's] ever seen' somehow became both less AND more true with each passing performance. She is a puzzle, wrapped in an enigma, full of boxed mac'n'cheese.

Karen: Flattie extraordinaire, The Bitch Of This House, and single-handedly responsible for visiting the curse of these delicious little fuckers upon me.

Alison: Highfalutin' chef she may be, but she still knocked it out of the park with pizza rolls. Also, every time she went to refill her wine glass it turned out to still be half-full. Whether that's a good or bad sign is largely open to interpretation.

Megan: She arrived in full cycling gear, ready to speed away from whatever vile nonsense the breakaway republics decided to spew at us tonight. She also brought wine to help make staying easier.

Caitlin: The lone other Eurovision veteran amongst my ragtag group, she came bearing a cheese Danish and her vast knowledge of the region, which she used to fill in some blanks about, for instance, adjectives. Turns out it's 'Azeri', not 'Azerbaijani' as I would have assumed and wasted a lot of time typing. Thanks, Caitlin! She had to work so showed up a bit late, but it wouldn't have been Eurovision without her.

Amy: The Silent Assassin was also late because she came straight from the airport, which shows a level of devotion that is only more remarkable when you remember that she had no fucking idea what Eurovision was. Her trust in me is frankly disconcerting.

All right kids, it's time to break some shit down. Click-clack front and back: we're off to Baku.


Opening performance
Karen: 'It's the Russian Michael Flatley!'
Elena: 'Michael Flatski!'

Presenting... the presenters!
Karen: 'He is the gayest thing I've ever seen. I can hear his hair.'

United KingdomEnglebert Humperdink is... you guys, he's old as shit, I'm not even going to try to beat around the bush here. We found out later from Caitlin that he's older than 22 of the countries that participated in Eurovision this year. And this performance showed every one of his 486 years.

Megan: 'He is... really disappointing.'
Karen: 'I'm changing my band's name to Humperdink.' (As I recall, Eddie Izzard had something to say about that....)

Hungary: Here's a tip: all the lasers in the world can't hide the fact that you couldn't find a single recognised key to sing in. Or that your keyboardist is Friendly John From IT.

Colleen: 'Do you think people laugh at him in Hungary?'
Megan: 'I think this is the '90s.'

Albania: I had high hopes for my people this year. Given that Ireland had put Jedward forward, I knew that one of my nations-of-origin would be reducing me to cringing sobs; I was praying that the Albies would come through with something not-awful. And as has already been announced, I will be booking my ticket to Tiranë the second I know they're hosting, so I have a big vested interest in their success.

Let's just say that I won't be going there anytime soon.

Alison: 'She's like Björk and Barbra Streisand crossed.'
Karen: 'Björbra Streisand!'

Colleen: 'Is that your cousin, Elena?'
Elena: 'I wouldn't admit it.'

Lithuania: An early entrant in the I Learned My Song Phonetically Division, young Donny Montell has the smooth moves and sincere emotion of one of your lesser mid-morning television hosts. He was born to segué awkwardly from very serious discussions of bullying in schools to promo spots for small appliances.

Colleen: 'Did they front-load all the ballads?'
Elena: 'Well, a ballad won last year, so....'
Alison: 'Oh, I have a bad feeling about this.'

Megan: 'Crazy Lithuanians. Crazy, crazy Lithuanians.'

Interstitial: One of the curses of having a small, little-known country host Eurovision is that the interstitials tend to.. how can I say this politely... okay, so Azerbaijan has some beautiful countryside, and Baku has some very interesting buildings. And over the course of the night, we got to see all of them. Many times. From lots of different angles.

This interstitial was the second to feature the local horses and horsemen, who are, to be fair, very well-known and well-respected in equine circles. Where serious men gather to talk seriously about horse breeds from obscure corners of the Caucasus, Azeri stock will feature prominently. Trust. But when you broaden your audience to, say, 125 million worldwide, many of whom couldn't give a rat's arse about matters equestrian, you might not want to highlight them twice within four segments, you know? People might start to... notice.

Elena: 'Oh, it's the horses again!'
Megan: 'They are literally a one-trick pony.'

Boznia and Herzegovina: Maya Sar is going to win the shoulder pad award if it kills her. Or anyone else who stands to close to her. She's the first of tonight's singers to also play an instrument, though given that it keeps playing after she stands up, I think it's safe to say that there may be some trickery going on.

Karen: 'Oh my god, it's Tori Amos.'
Elena: 'And not Tori Amos then, Tori Amos now.'

Colleen: 'Oh, she's getting up! Oh shit!'
Karen: 'You gotta get up to get down, Colleen.'

Colleen: 'She has a huge grill.'
Karen: 'I think I saw her in the horse interlude.'

Russia: Ah, now. The Babushki were the story of this year's competition: tiny grandmothers from the official Frozen Middle Of Nowhere, some of whom had never even been outside their village, were flown to the other side of the continent to participate in a singing competition that prides itself on shiny, laser-lit excess. Everyone was waiting to see this, and you guys? They did not disappoint. They were so fucking delightful it was almost painful to watch. I've saved this link under 'Things To Watch When Tony Abbott/Mitt Romney/Any Stupid Jerk, Ever Says Or Does Something That Makes Me Want To Kick Puppies'. (As you might imagine, it's a big folder.)

Karen: 'Loosely translated, it's "please, give me some toilet paper, and a loaf of bread...".'

Megan: 'It's a party for everybody!'
Karen: 'I'm not sure I want to be a part of that.'
Alison: 'No, it's for everybody.'

Karen: 'It's six Sophia Petrillos!'

Iceland: So here's where I admit to some embarassing mistakes. I thought that this Icelandic Jónsi was the same Icelandic Jónsi who's in Sigur Rós. I also thought that he had performed at Eurovision many years ago, where he became one of the recipients of the dreaded Nul Points bitchslaps. Turns out I was conflating three different fjord-hoppers there: the Eurovision Jónsi and the Sigur Rós Jónsi are two different Jónsis; the Sigur Rós Jónsi has never performed at Eurovision (though according to his Wikipedia précis, '[h]e is also blind in his right eye and is openly gay', so that's something); the Eurovision Jónsi has performed at Eurovision before, in 2004 (without tonight's pal Gréta Salomé), but was not the Nul Pointer; the Nul Pointer was Daníel Ágúst, in 1989, who later went on to become the lead singer of GusGus.

And the fact that I spent that much time unravelling those threads and inserting accents everywhere should indicate exactly how riveting the performance was.

Elena: 'Well, that was dull.'
Megan: 'Yeah! Russian grandmas all the way!"

Megan: 'I don't think that showing a pool counts as 'Land of Water'.

Cyprus: This is the first serious choreography of the evening, though as often happens, the back-up dancers have the unwanted effect of making the singer look a bit unco. Also, epileptics beware: the lights are very excited.

Karen: 'I've noticed a theme: there are lots of black suits and white dresses. No one's in, like, red.'
Alison: 'Except the Babushki, who were wearing carpets.'

Colleen: 'Wow, everybody gets their hair blown, huh?'
Karen: 'That's part of the agreement: "You get five minutes of stage time and your hair blown. A second hair blow costs extra."'

France: Wary of Cyprus's missteps, Anggun is backed up not by dancers but some strapping male gymnasts. It was also noted that the gymnasts might not be the only ones strapping, if you get me.

Alison: 'Oh, it's the guy with the unit.'

Colleen: 'This is amazing.'
Megan: 'Is that... hair? What is that?'

[crotch shot of Anggun]
Alison: 'Oh wow... now I'm not sure either.'
Elena: 'Yeah, I feel like she was trying to prove a point and not doing a good job of it.'

Italy: Nina Zilli bore a striking, if entirely manufactured, resemblance in look and sound to Amy Winehouse. Only the fact that she was not singing from a gutter with a spike in her arm reassured us that we weren't watching a Tupac-style regeneration.

Elena: 'Uh-oh.'
Megan: 'Is that a kazoo?'

Karen: 'Hey, she's not dead after all!'

Estonia: This was an entirely competent performance by an entirely competent singer of what I expect was an entirely competent ballad; I'll confirm that once I've finished my Estonian In 12 Easy Lessons package. For now I can only tell you that whoever or whatever Kuula is, he/she/it stirs some deep feelings in young Ott Lepland.

Karen: 'Oh my god, it's Chris O'Donnell!'

Norway: More gymnasts! In... kilts? Okay, fine, whatever. You're named Tooji, we can't expect you to play by our rules.

Megan: 'It's the Justin Bieber of Norway!'
Colleen: 'Oh, you're a big homo.'

Elena: 'Who's that 112-year-old guy dancing with him?'
Alison: 'One of the girls didn't make it and they sent him in.'
Elena: '"No one will notice!"'
Karen: '"They'll be distracted by that guy's gay!"'

Interstitial: Interview with everyone's favourite disintegrating pile of rubble, Englebert Humperdink.

Elena: 'He looks like his trousers!'
Colleen: 'He looks like a vampire!'

Azerbaijan: So you know how there's always talk about countries throwing the competition because they can't afford to host it the following year? Yeah.... I'm not sayin', Azerbaijan, I'm just sayin'.

Karen: 'Oh, that top lip was a bad idea.'

Elena: 'Who's that yogi sitting in the corner?'
Karen: 'He's holding her cocaine.' (And as we later found out... well, we'll get there.)

Karen: 'Oh... that red is not a good colour to put on a white dress in That Area... quick, more flags!'

Megan: 'Upon reflection, Celine Dion seems like she was born out of this.' (Again: not wrong, and fuck me if she isn't the spit of Robert Smith in that introductory bit. Gah.)

Romania: Mandinga's putting in a strong multilingual effort here, but it's hard to pay attention to the words when the visuals are so outstanding. Moonwalking with a child's bagpipes? Yes please!

Elena: 'I told you we were going to see weirder shit than the Russians.'

Karen: 'So far, this band seems to be the tightest.'
Megan: '...They're not moving around and those aren't real instruments.'

Denmark: This is one of two songs from the night that I could call to mind without having to re-watch it first. (The other, suckily enough, was the winner.) The production was ridiculous, but fuck it: I like this one. I could totally hear it as a Veronicas song, and that's not a bad thing - though I assume the Veronicas would know that it's the Sahara.

Karen: 'Oh here we go: Sheila E!'
Colleen: 'She needs a sports bra.'

Alison: 'Oh, she's the captain.'
Megan: 'Did they get to choose their clothes or were they assigned them?'

Karen: 'What worries me most is that the sounds I'm hearing? Are not coming from those instruments.'

Elena: 'Hey, it's Baku again!'
Megan: 'I actually don't feel like I need to go there anymore.'

Greece: In an interesting twist, this number doesn't so much feel sung by someone who doesn't understand the words as choreographed by someone who doesn't understand the words. On the other hand, the chorus does include the lyric, 'You make me dance like a maniac', so maybe it's just meta.

Megan: 'They're very enthusiastic.'
Elena: 'Yeah, Greece always is.'

[Caitlin and Amy rocked up about now and we all settled in for the home stretch. Pizza rolls were discovered anew.]

Sweden: Caitlin and I had both been spoiled on the winner, but neither of us had heard the song or watched the performance. I did know that it had already been a number-one hit in several countries, and all I can think is that their national consumption of ecstasy far exceeds the average. Re-watching the performance, you can clearly hear where she's singing over and not syncing up with her own vocal track; you can also see that she was choreographed by a t'ai chi master with a bone to pick.

Caitlin and I kept the spoilage to ourselves, and it was interesting to note how rapidly and vehemently everyone took against this song. They all wrote it off immediately, though Amy did later tell me it had sounded familiar and that she'd worked out that she'd heard it on Gaydar Radio (to which she'd been listening to prep for the event). I can't say that I have come to like it any better after multiple listenings, but I reckon I can hear now what other people would hear in it. I suspect there are some very good trance and house remixes of it too, but I'm fucked if I'm going to look for them. I have my limits.

Colleen: 'Oh yeah. They're dirty little bitches.'
Alison: 'Wow, where did that come from?'
Caitlin: 'Deep-seated feelings about Sweden, apparently.'

Elena: 'Whoa, what the hell?'
Karen: 'She needed extra fan for this.'
Colleen: 'Why is she squatting?'

Caitlin: 'Oh, I was just about to complain that she didn't have Prop People. I much prefer my Eurovision with Prop People.'
Megan: 'My life will never be the same after tonight.'

Turkey: A crowd favourite: we were 50/50 Russia/Turkey after this. The song... I've watched this performance seven or eight times by now, and I still can't call it to mind; but come on, they turned their capes into a boat! Who the hell needs vocals when you can do that?

Karen: 'Oh, I'm liking this already - it has all the things I'm looking for.'
Caitlin: 'I don't think the lead singer is wearing enough guyliner.'

Amy: 'I can't believe this happened this year.'
Elena: 'This happened 24 hours ago.'

Karen: 'They're on the open ocean!'
Caitlin: 'They are buckling swash.'

Karen: 'Is this frosting or butter?'
Caitlin: 'Any party where that's being asked is a good party.'

Spain: Dull dull dull. They weren't helped by having to follow the Turkish powerhouse (powerboat?), and she's got a great voice, but it just wasn't a big enough performance for Eurovision. Even when she hits the power note and the back-up singers are revealed, it just lacks. Put her in a small, dark club, wreath her in smoke, and give her a hat-wearing guy on an acoustic guitar and you'll have a fucking moment, but this wasn't it.

Colleen: 'Spain is boring me.'
Caitlin: 'She is scary.'
Colleen: 'And boring.'

Karen: 'Look at our boat! Is on fire!'

Germany: This little fucker caused rage throughout the room. I don't know what it is exactly, but something about him made every single one of us want to hold him down and punch him until our arms got sore... at which point we'd ask him to open his mouth and sing again so we could get the energy to punch him some more. We hated him.

Elena: 'He's feeling some shit.'
Karen: 'Yeah, he has his period.'
Colleen: 'Get that man a tampon.'

Megan: 'Look at that back-up band: they are ready to jam.'

Karen: 'How many hours did he spend in the mirror going, "Hat? No hat? Guys, hat? What do you... is it slouchy enough? Is it too slouchy? What do you... guys?"'

Colleen: 'So far, the theme of Eurovision has been pain.'

Colleen: 'Um, their building's on fire.'

Malta: Kurt Calleja does the handshake-and-blow-up thing with his DJ, so you know he's one cool motherfucker. Which is lucky, because without that he could have easily been mistaken for a mild-mannered singer in a cover band who's just a smidge too old to be doing this kind of song.

Elena: 'It's Devo!'
Caitlin: 'The guitarist over there? He's my boy. The one in the Buddy Holly glasses. He's ready to have a good time.'

Amy: 'I am amazed right now.'

F.Y.R. Macedonia: Naming yourself after the muse of poetry is always going to be a risky move. It's also a big-ass warning shot fired across humanity's collective bow. Proceed with caution, I beg you.

Elena: 'I have a bad feeling about this one, guys.'

Elena: 'Is he just standing with his hands in his pockets?'
Caitlin: 'It's not his turn yet.'

Ireland: Oh man. Jedward. So embarrassing that even the Eurovision website has hidden their video under another name. (And to really make the point, it's Kalliopi.)

It's not their success at Eurovision that's baffling. In many ways, they are the epitome of Eurovision, at least at the pop/dance end of the spectrum: big costumes, goofy dance moves, simple lyrics, catchy tunes. And to prove how effective the costumes and dance moves are, after watching the video several times, I only just now actually heard any of the lyrics - and that's because I'm looking at what I'm typing, not at the video. It's like you can watch Jedward or listen to Jedward but you can't do both. It's the Jedward Uncertainty Principle.

What is baffling is that they have a career in the real world. They are a deeply beloved Irish boy band, and both of their albums have gone double-platinum there. Interestingly, a number of us commented that felt like children's television - comparisons to Teletubbies abounded - and I just read on their Wikipedia page that they have had a couple of children's shows and will be making another. But while that makes sense, I also learned that they have an estimated combined net worth of £4.5 million - £, not $ - and that one of their singles was '"Under Pressure (Ice Ice Baby)" (a mash-up of "Under Pressure" by Queen and "Ice Ice Baby" by Vanilla Ice)'. How one could conceivably 'mash up' two songs that are so similar that the performer of the latter got sued for stealing the former, I really have no idea. If any of you brave souls wants to listen to it and report in the comments, you can find it here.

Megan: 'If you're their mother, are you proud of them or slightly ashamed?'
Amy: 'I think it was probably cute when they were 10, and now it's just like, 'what the fuck do I do?'

Alison: 'Oh, it's the Jedward money shot!'
Megan: 'I could die tomorrow and be happy.'

Serbia: Whither after Jedward? Only downhill into the stern (but sturdy!) arms of Serbia. We're back into the world of Feelings, and for some reason, a bodhrán. I don't know, you guys. Jedward broke me.

Karen: 'AHHH! IT'S KENNY G!'

Ukraine: Fortunately, Gaitana steps up with some kind of... Polynesian number? I mean, why not. Once again, we're not totally convinced that the gender being portrayed on stage is the one the singer was born to, but fuck it, she seems like she'd have good booze. We'll be her guests regardless of what's happening under her frock.

Megan: 'She is the Kylie Minogue of Ukraine.'

Colleen: 'Those are some strange crotches on those screens.'
Megan: 'Oh look, they're skirts. That explains the crotches.'
Amy: 'No, it doesn't explain everything.'

Karen: 'That is the exact dance they do in the Wii commercial.'

Moldova: Pasha Parfeny finishes things off with a flourish, taking out the coveted Triple Crown of Phonetic English, Nonsense Lyrics ('this trumpet makes you mine, girl'?), and Terrifying Choreography By Which Even The Singer Looks A Bit Disconcerted. At one point a dancer falls around each of Pasha's feet in an arc like he's suddenly become a rocking horse. What the fuck am I meant to make of that?! I must have been numb by this point, because there is no way I would normally have let a number this overwhelmingly weird go past without lots of comment and possibly some screaming. It just goes to show, order does matter.

Karen: 'It's Colin Farrell!'
Colleen: 'It is Colin Farrell, but also with a weird crotch issue.'

Karen: 'The one in the pink is really good. Don't take your eyes off her.'

Elena: 'Did he just look down and present himself to the audience?'
Colleen: 'What, like his penis?'

Tabulating the Votes
'EUROPE, STOP VOTING NOW!' shriek the daft hosts in unison. We giggle madly and discuss the various political ramifications of such a command, and I demand a t-shirt. But we aren't left to giggle for long....

'And now for a relaxing program!' claims a she-host, deftly moving us along. This brings the house down, especially once we realise that this means an extended video tour through Azerbaijan that is simply a compilation of all of the clips we've already watched four or five hundred times tonight in the interstitials.

Alison: '"And now for a relaxing program: more of the same!"'
Karen: '"And here are the buildings! You love them!'"
Caitlin: 'Three Flame Towers, four horsemen, check....'
Karen: 'Maybe there'll be a trivia round at the end!'

We then go wandering through the 'Green Room', more accurately described as a series of pod-like private booths on the floor where the performers and their entourages sit. Some suitably dodgy exchanges occur, most notably when the host asks hometown girl Sabina Babayeva how she's going and the singer replies,'Iiiiiiiiii feeeeeeeel gooooooooooooooood!' Seriously, Karen was not wrong when she said the yogi was holding.

Colleen: 'I've seen a lot of teeth tonight.'

Karen: 'I feel like you'd approach Jedward like you'd approach Macauly Culkin: kind of scared, but also feeling bad for him, and you'd understand... just don't overdose in my house.'

Amy: 'Who sent the memo to all of Eurovision saying, "Awkward shoulder pads. Do it."?'
Karen: 'Interestingly, Azerbaijan is the world's leading manufacturer of shoulder pads.'

Reporting the votes
According to the Wikipedia page for Baku 2012, when organising the order of vote reporting, 'an algorithm was used to add as much excitement as possible'. From this we can deduce that Eurovision has not only broken national boundaries, but also maths.

My lounge room quickly works out that Sweden is going to win, and cursing ensues. I don't feel the same Hulk-smash rage toward her that I felt toward Germany's Lena in 2010 (or Germany's Roman Lob tonight, for that matter), but I don't think she was the best of the night by any stretch. We skip to the end of the voting to see the final result, then wrap things up by showing the Babushki's performance to Caitlin and Amy, who missed it the first time around.

To my great delight, the Babushki clip - along with Turkey and Jedward - was shown to a number of people at a barbecue at Colleen's house the next day; Colleen, Karen and Amy all spoke glowingly about the wonder that is Eurovision, and plans are already underway for an extravaganza next year. We're converting the world, one dumbass dance number at a time.



  1. Oh how we missed you, Yosh. Between you and Terry Woden there was definitely something missing from Eurovision this year! I have to say, between the euphoric highs and Jedwardian lows, Baku did not disappoint! And as for the babushki, well, i think I have a new favourite pop sensation...

  2. I laughed until I cried, and then some, what is Eurotrash without your vision? x Schmoo