The 57th Eurovision Song Contest Grand Prix was held from May 22, 2012 to May 26, 2012 at the newly built and still paint-smelling Crystal Hall in Baku, Azerbaijan. This was because Azerbaijan undeservingly won it the previous year in Germany with a dirge-like song by one Ell/Nikki called "Running Scared."

Which aptly describes what opposition activists in Azerbaijan have been up to over the past few weeks.

You see, Azerbaijan is in the spotlight as a result of hosting Eurovision, and well they should be as they're a single-party kleptocracy run by one Ilham Aliyev who inherited (sort of) his presidential position from his father, Heydar Aliyev, who was a big noise in the local Communist Party in the Soviet era. Within days of their winning in 2011, their appalling record on LGBT rights was cited in the press. Considering that Eurovision has a huge amount of gay fans whose safety could not be guaranteed were they to attend in person, this was clearly a concern. Another group of people whose safety could not be guaranteed was the delegation from Armenia who pulled out in March 2012 because of this and were subsequently hit with a fine from the EBU. It should be noted here that ever since the Nagorno-Karabakh war in 1994, it has been state policy in Azerbaijan that all Armenians are bastards and every so often the two nations have "border actions" in the aforementioned province of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Controversy continued as Azerbaijan prepared to host. Human Rights Watch alleged, with some justification, that the authorities in Baku illegally evicted locals, expropriating them with neither judicial oversight nor suitable compensation or offers of re-housing, to make way for the Crystal Hall, the world's largest flagpole, and three brightly-lit skyscrapers. Critical journalists and bloggers and opposition activists were subjected to a severe clampdown, imprisoned without trial or on spurious charges, to avoid their carping spoiling Azerbaijan's image when all the foreigners came over. And in a shocking but totally predictable display of pusillanimity, when the fact that the country is effectively run by a cabal of evil sons of bitches with blood on their boots, the West rolled over because Azerbaijan has access to the large Caspian Sea oil reserves and as such we have to be nice to them.

In Eurovision terms, this all made the (very slickly put on and extremely expensive-looking) 2012 Eurovision all seem very sinister, like a big advert for the Aliyev dynasty - which indeed it was. It should be noted, though, that this is not the first time Eurovision has been held in an autocratic régime, as in 1969 it was held in Spain under Franco. The hosts were Eldar of Ell/Nikki, with an annoying voice, a lawyer called Nargiz whose surname I can't really remember who kept stalking through the green room and terrifying the contestants, and Leyla Aliyeva. Who is the daughter of Ilham Aliyev, the president-for-life, and PR woman for the régime. Her husband also provided the interval act with a huge troupe of traditional musicians, which was excellent until Aliyev's gitfaced son in law emerged and started singing off key a bad dance pop song. The studio audience loved it though, but then again anyone who wasn't clapping hard enough was probably identified as requiring re-education. Bear in mind, please, that in 2009 a number of people who voted for Armenia (whose entry was censored in the Azeri live broadcast) were subsequently arrested and interrogated as potential security threats...

The "postcards" before each entry also smacked of being rather propagandist as well. Previously, they've featured people from the host nation doing something but which had also a link into the nation that was about to perform but these... didn't. They basically were pithy short films about Azerbaijan and how wonderful it all was. Unfortunately they ran out of things and started slightly repeating themselves. They also had one bit where they showed off "Garabagh horses." "Garabagh" is the Azeri form of Karabakh, as in Nagorno-Karabakh, which is a bit naughty really as Nagorno-Karabakh is a de facto independent province and de jure part of Armenia. Whoops.

One more word about the hosts - all three of them were deeply annoying. Though this is normal.

The theme this year was, "Light your fire" and there was a big orange flame in all the bumpers and idents. This is apparently a riff on Azerbaijan's ancient name, the "land of fire."

So, that's enough about the controversy. On with the show. We had three panel members and were rating things out of 30 according to the following scale:

  • Over 25 - Definitely worth buying.
  • 20 to 25 - Worth buying, if it's reduced.
  • 15 to 20 - Meh.
  • 10 to 15 - Pirate it if you really have to listen to it.
  • Under 10 - So bad it's not even worth copyright infringement. Shun it.

1. United Kingdom.

Artist: Engelbert Humperdinck.
Song: "Love will Set you Free"
Comments: Very pleasant. Actually rather good, if you like aged crooners. I'm sure that he caused many middle-aged women across Europe to crack a moistie but despite a massive cheer in the hall as he came out and performed, it didn't go down well. Probably because he was on first, which is always a disadvantage, and wasn't a big ol' shouty number with pyros and semi-nude wammickers and really wild things. So the Hump got slightly lost in the melée. Oh well. At least it was actually something comparatively different.
Our Panel Says: 20/30
Final Position: 25th, 12 points.

2. Hungary.

Artist: Compact Disco.
Song: "Sound of Our Hearts"
Comments: Completely average.
Our Panel Says: 11/30
Final Position: 24th, 19 points.

3. Albania.

Artist: Rona Nishliu.
Song: "Suus"
Comments: Oh gods. This was certainly a spectacle. Rona Nishliu was a rather alarming Albanian woman with a hairdo that looked like it was trying to strangle her. She then proceeded to bellow into a microphone for three minutes solidly. After she'd then proceeded to break my beer glass and ruin my trousers with her spirited performance, we tried to award points. Top marks for effort but then taken away for having a song whose lyrics are basically, "AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAa. AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAa. AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAaaaaaaaaaaaAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!"
Our Panel Says: 12/30
Final Position: 5th, 146 points.

4. Lithuania.

Artist: Donny Montell.
Song: "Love is Blind"
Comments: A pretty boy singing a pretty song. There were a lot of those this year. I can't remeber why I or anyone else gave this the points they did. Next.
Our Panel Says: 10/30
Final Position: 14th, 70 points.

5. Bosnia & Herzegovina.

Artist: MayaSar.
Song: "Korake ti Znam"
Comments: Woman with huge shoulder pads ploinking away on a piano. Another dull entry.
Our Panel Says: 9/30
Final Position: 18th, 55 points.

6. Russia.

Artist: Buranovskiye Babushki.
Song: "Party for Everybody"
Comments: Clearly Russia did not want to host next year, as their entry was a sextet of grannies from the Ural mountains who belted out this rather silly number. Accompanied by on-stage baking in a little brick oven that rotated for no apparent reason. It certainly tickled the funnybones of the audience who were up and jumping and all sorts mainly because this is the sort of manic nonsense for which the Eurovision is best known. Apparently the babushki were doing it to raise money to rebuild their town church which Stalin knocked down, also. We liked it as well just for the WTF factor. Unfortunately the plan to not host next year almost failed... they came second with this.
Our Panel Says: 19/30
Final Position: 2nd, 259 points.

7. Iceland.

Artist: Gréta Salóme and Jónsi.
Song: "Never Forget"
Comments: I quite liked this one actually. It was kinda reminiscent of Leaves' Eyes in that it had a woman in a floaty dress singing against lots of violins and some electric guitars. It was one of the few serious songs that made me sit up and take note, to be fair. I quite liked it even if it was very Scandinavian. Also, Gréta Salóme was rather tasty. Well she was. However, it completely bombed which was a big surprise, to be fair, as most of the other entrants this year were bellowing women or bishie pretty boys.
Our Panel Says: 21/30
Final Position: 20th, 46 points.

8. Cyprus.

Artist: Ivi Adamou.
Song: "La La Love"
Comments: Eurodance with singer. Rather good actually. Well, I assume we must have liked it given how we rated it, but I can't remember a single bit of it. Sorry.
Our Panel Says: 17/30
Final Position: 16th, 65 points.

9. France.

Artist: Anggun.
Song: "Echo (You and I)"
Comments: This was rather spiffy actually. Anggun sang in French, and in a bronze corset, while the French Olympic gymnastic squad, or part thereof, boinged and flipped and wheeled around behind her. And there was breakdancing. This is unusual for the French, as it's the third year since I've been doing these writeups that they didn't enter some lassie doing an impression of Édith Piaf. Surely this is grounds for going on strike. It should have done better than it did.
Our Panel Says: 17/30
Final Position: 22nd, 21 points.

10. Italy.

Artist: Nina Zilli.
Song: "L'amore e femmina"
Comments: Amy Winehouse tribute act. Right down to the nasal voice and giant beehive hairdo. Let's just hope that she doesn't take up the nose candy also. We didn't like it. Oh, for the days when Italy entered a disturbingly young looking gal singing "Non ho l'etá... per amarti..." But the Eurovoters liked it. Then again, none of us were great fans of Amy Winehouse anyhow.
Our Panel Says: 10/30
Final Position: 9th, 101 points.

11. Estonia.

Artist: Ott Lepland.
Song: "Kuula"
Comments: Bishie pretty boy singing some godawful dirge in Estonian. KILL IT WITH FIRE.
Our Panel Says: 6/30
Final Position: 6th, 120 (undeserved) points.

12. Norway.

Artist: Tooji.
Song: "Stay"
Comments: The only interesting bit of this song was when Tooji hoved into view wearing a monk's robe. The rest of it was slightly dubstep-infused pop dance. So it was another bishie pretty boy, this time backed up by an annoying wubwubwub noise. Not even a man doing backflips could save it.
Our Panel Says: 10/30
Final Position: Last, 7 points.

13. Azerbaijan.

Artist: Sabina Babayeva.
Song: "When the Music Dies"
Comments:Woman singing off key over piano in a dress that really needed more feathers. This would have sunk without trace had it not been for the fact that she was the daughter of one of Ilham Aliyev's pals. Which made it all a bit sinister really. How many of the studio audience were going mad because the first to stop whooping would be identified as requiring re-education, hm? We didn't like this at all. But I did mention that Azerbaijan has the Caspian sea oil reserves so we have to be nice to them, hm? However, since I am not an Azeri citizen I can confidently say this: Mr Aliyev, this song stinks like rotting gardenias on dirty protest, and so does your régime.
Our Panel Says: 7/30
Final Position: 4th, 150 points.

14. Romania.

Artist: Mandinga.
Song: "Zaleilah"
Comments:A cheerful, upbeat little Latin-style number that did quite a job of breaking up the endless swathes of pretty boys and bellowing women that made up the lion's share of this year's event. Had quite an amusing stage show as well. If not for Eurovision, this would have never seen the light of day.
Our Panel Says: 18/30
Final Position: 12th, 71 points.

15. Denmark.

Artist: Soluna Samay.
Song: "Should have Known Better"
Comments:...than to wear a naval officer's cap and silly epaulettes on stage and enter with this boring, turgid song. The Euroviewers clearly abhorred it also.
Our Panel Says: 9/30
Final Position: 23rd, 21 points.

16. Greece.

Artist: Eleftheria Eleftheriou.
Song: "Aphrodisiac"
Comments:Briefly during the voting, this number, which featured traditional Greek dancing (yay), well-built wammickers (Ho Yay), and an exceptionally short skirt adorning the posterior (almost) of the chanteuse responsible for it (we were all hoping for a wardrobe malfunction here), was at the top of the tree. No doubt at that precise moment, the Greek finance minister was clenching. However, then people started voting for other people and he breathed a well earned sigh of relief. Good song though.
Our Panel Says: 20/30
Final Position: 17th, 64 points.

17. Sweden.

Artist: Loreen.
Song: "Euphoria"
Comments:This was really, really, genuinely good. Not Eurovision-good, actually good. Loreen, who had lots of hair and huge choppers and more than a bit of Kate Bush about her, is someone I might actually pay to go and see. The song had real sit up and take note value, although wasn't as earwormy as Lena Meyer Landrut who won for Germany in 2010, but did have a wind machine, lots of hair, and towards the end some bloke off-camera picking her up. It was quite impressively choreographed and a worthy victor.
Our Panel Says: 24/30
Final Position: Winner, 372 points.

18. Turkey.

Artist: Can Bonomo.
Song: "Love Me Back"
Comments:The bloke couldn't sing and his performance, while spirited, was marred by a forgettable song. But this entry still was memorable because of the MANBOAT. Oh yes. Because Eurovision needs more wammickers making model triremes with their cloaks. FEAR THE MANBOAT.
Our Panel Says: 14/30
Final Position: 7th, 112 points.

19. Spain.

Artist: Pastora Soler.
Song: "Quédate Conmigo"
Comments:Bellowing woman. Meh. The only noteworthy thing about this was that Spanish TV bosses told her not to win under any circumstances because they can't afford to host it. Not bloody likely in any event, I must say.
Our Panel Says: 7/30
Final Position: 10th, 97 points.

20. Germany.

Artist: Roman Lob.
Song: "Standing Still"
Comments:Another pretty boy, this time with a stupid beanie hat. His name sounds like a move from one of those low-rent beat em up games where all the contestants are scantily-clad women and they damage each others' clothing. The song title is descriptive of the song in general. Bring back Dita Von Teese. Their rather high placing is kinda suggestive of holding one's hand out while saying "Gissa bailout." No thanks.
Our Panel Says: 10/30
Final Position: 8th, 110 points.

21. Malta.

Artist: Kurt Calleja.
Song: "This is the Night"
Comments:More pretty boy mediocrity. Next.
Our Panel Says: 11/30
Final Position: 21st, 41 points.

22. Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

Artist: Kaliopi.
Song: "Crno i Belo"
Comments:This rather metal infused number deserved to do better than it did. There was some actual instrument playing here. Violins. Electric guitars. And someone who sang with a voice that was sit-up-and-take-note but not just plain bellowing. Unfortunately, nobody speaks Macedonian outside of Macedonia so nobody had a clue as to what she was on about. Now while we Eurovision maniacs have the Diggiloo Thrush to aid us with translations, the average televoter does not. So, a good song marred by a strategic brainfart.
Our Panel Says: 18/30
Final Position: 13th, 71 points.

23. Ireland.

Artist: Jedward.
Song: "Waterline"
Comments:Ireland for the second time entered the terrible quiffed twins, confident in their Father Ted Gambit here. This time, Jedward were wearing gold plate mail and doing cartwheels and jumping in a portable on stage fountain. The song was more restrained than their effort from last year (which isn't saying much, I know) and less raw. Someone may actually have given them singing lessons. Boo. Hiss. But seriously, they weren't as delightfully ragged as they were in 2011 and as such... yeah, it was missing something. Then again, this is good news for RTÉ who were almost bankrupted in the 1990s by having to host Eurovision four times in five years.
Our Panel Says: 18/30
Final Position: 19th, 46 points.

24. Serbia.

Artist: Zeljko Joksimóvic.
Song: "Nije Ljubav Stvar"
Comments:More boring pretty boy scheisse. Zeljko Joksimóvic hosted it a few years back and wrote various entries for Serbia in other years. That's all I can say about it. How this did so well I have no idea.
Our Panel Says: 10/30
Final Position: 3rd, 214 points.

25. Ukraine.

Artist: Gaitana.
Song: "Be My Guest"
Comments:Finally! Some props! Moving screens that wabbled across the stage! Young offenders (allegedly) with trumpets playing them in an exaggerated manner! I keep saying this, but there must be something about the Carpathian mountains that makes people a bit weird because Ukraine and Moldova almost always enter something really weird. This was fairly tame by their standards though and was this woman bellowing into a microphone so it wasn't on the same level as the condom-clad trannie from 2007, Sergei Stepanov and his pelvic-thrusting saxophone playing from 2010, or Ruslana Lyzhichko, Warrior Princess from 2004. Still, fairly amusing.
Our Panel Says: 16/30
Final Position: 15th, 65 points.

26. Moldova.

Artist: Pasha Parfeny.
Song: "Lautar"
Comments:He sang, slightly off key, a slightly Latinified number while women dressed in what appeared to be giant lampshades scuttled (there is no other word for what they were doing here) round behind him. Vaguely entertaining but not up to Moldova's usual level of psychosis and I think people figured it. Whatever happened to the unicycling trumpet woman from last year.
Our Panel Says: 17/30
Final Position: 11th, 81 points.

And that was it. The voting was, as ever, disgustingly neighbourly. Sweden emerged as an early leader and slightly maintained it. At one point Greece was in the lead and I dare say that a bit of poo came out in Athens but thankfully that was averted.

Half time show was good with awesome traditional Azeri musicians until the son in law of the President, a chinstrap-bearded boyband reject streak o' piss came out and sang off key. The half time show from one of the semis was far better and included traditional Azeri musicians together with the five winners of the last five contests all singing their songs then doing a big rendition of "Waterloo" which Lena Meyer Landrut (Germany, 2010) and Alexander Rybak (Norway, 2009, who is still very, very, punchable) got into far too much and at which Dima Bilan (Russia, 2008) seemed to have been at the vodka somewhat. I proceeded to embarrass myself while watching this because I found myself singing boisterously along - and revealed accidentally to my housemate that I know all the words to "Molitvá" by Marija Serifóvic (Serbia, 2007) despite not speaking a word of Serbian. (Hmmm. I didn't rate that when I first heard it. It really, really grows on you.)

Continued this year was the annoying tradition of having the announcers for each country's points leave a silence between the number and the recipient as pregnant as the mother of octuplets two weeks before her due date. Also of crawling up the host nation's hindquarters. Wonderful show, and all that happy horseshit. At least Paul de Leeuw wasn't in attendance to flirt with the hosts. Eedjit.

So, Sweden won with a huge score only previously bested by Alexander Rybak, who I still want to punch. Engelbert Humperdinck slunk off in defeat, tail between his legs. As usual, there were rumblings in the British press about whether we should not bother next year. Which would be a crying shame, to be fair.

It's also a bit of a shame, but I think Eurovision has "grown the beard." Everyone's all taking it seriously now. Whatever happened to all the "La La La" songs and Ukrainian trannies in giant condoms and Greek wammickers with giant staplers, pelvic-thrusting saxophonists, songs with lyrics like "We spent many years on our backs eating bananas" like what Bosnia entered one year. What about the creep-fests like that bloke we entered in 2006 who looked like Ian Huntley and that rather young looking Italian girl from the 1960s who entered, nay, won, with a song that went "Non ho l'etá, per amarti..." and all that. Now everyone seems to be entering serious stuff usually involving bishie pretty boys or bellowing women. It was like that last year but this year even more so. There's no ridiculous silliness any more and thus less to snark at.

Still, Sweden next year, as Loreen netted them their first win since the Abba-clone song "Take Me To Your Heaven" by Charlotte Nilssen. Since it's somewhere where I won't get beaten and deported for speaking my mind about things, I might see if I can save up some money for a trip out there. Just to see what it's like from actually inside the arena.

The Diggiloo Thrush, at
Human Rights Watch
This is Sweden Calling: Everything You've Ever Wanted To Know About the Eurovision Song Contest but were Laughing Too Hard to Ask, Des Mangan, 2003

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