x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

The weird and wonderful music and costumes at this year's Eurovision

We run through the weird and wonderful music and costumes that featured at this year's Eurovision contest in Baku.

Top, Jedward at the Eurovision contest. David Mdzinarishvili / Reuters
Above, Loreen, Sweden's winner. Sergey Ponomarev / AP Photo
Top, Jedward at the Eurovision contest. David Mdzinarishvili / Reuters Above, Loreen, Sweden's winner. Sergey Ponomarev / AP Photo

Despite being a kaleidoscope of rainbow-coloured kitsch and about as fromage-laden as a cheese hamper, the Eurovision Song Contest has rarely avoided controversy. In 1968, Spain's victory was alleged to have been largely a result of General Franco promising to buy foreign TV shows in exchange for votes. Since they entered the competition, Greece and Cyprus have become notorious for awarding each other - purely coincidentally, of course - the full 12 points, no matter how terrible their entries are.

But when Eldar & Nigar's Running Scared won for Azerbaijan last year, Baku 2012 was destined to become the most contentious in the competition's 57-year history.

International human rights groups arrived early in their condemnation of the country's record on freedom of speech, an issue clearly not aimed at the generally quite mind-numbing lyrics that are scattered liberally throughout most entries. This matter wasn't helped in the run-up to the event, when dissenters were reported to have been hastily removed from the streets. Then, on the other side of the coin, there were complaints from Iran, where various figures were suggesting Azerbaijan - a Muslim nation - should not be hosting such a competition. In light of security issues (or perhaps because of a genuine drought in decent song options), Armenia pulled out. What the music world lost, we'll never know.

Then there was Spain, which was competing this year, but whose contender was quoted as suggesting his countrymen were hoping for a loss since they couldn't afford to host it next year. It's fair to say most assumed Greece would be in a similar boat. Would anyone vote for them out of spite?

In Baku itself, visitors and residents would have barely known that Eurovision was coming, were it not for the fact that the name and this year's curious slogan "Light Your Fire" was plastered on every available bit of space. Taxis, buses, shops windows, sides of buildings - pretty much anything with a spare inch or two was covered in excitable Eurovision regalia months before the first guests arrived.

Just to underline Azerbaijan's clear pleasure at playing host and having the chance to show-off its city's new oil wealth-enhanced skyline to hundreds of millions across the globe, a venue was built in record time especially for the occasion. However, even the Baku Crystal Hall, the impressive 23,000-capacity concertina-shaped stadium on the edge of the Caspian Sea, came with controversies. Allegations arose that there had been forced evictions to make way for this sparkling palace to Eurovision.

In the end, the result proved to be the least controversial element of Baku 2012, with the runaway favourite, Sweden's Loreen, singing the Euro-trance anthemic Euphoria, racing to a considerable victory.

The heavy-fringed Loreen topped a classic Eurovision list of musical curiosities, a sounds-and-lights extravaganza that rarely broke away from the normal box ticks of "painfully cheesy", "excessive use of wind machine" and "weird".

Her closest rivals were the bizarre Buranova Babushkas, a six-strong unit of diminutive Russian grannies inviting the audience to a Party for Everyone, a party that appeared to be a Europop-laced shindig involving baking bread in a fake oven in the middle of the stage (don't ask) and then swaying from side to side while offering toothy grins. Then there was Lithuania's song - Love Is Blind - sung by a guy who came on with an eye mask (blind, hey?), before ripping it off and demonstrating his new-found vision with several cartwheels and a bit of air guitar. Turkey - a rather popular entry - involved a trio of caped dancers (there are always caped dancers) forming a makeshift boat with their outfits, while Malta's eye-wincingly pop-tastic effort appeared to have required the entire world's output of hair gel for one three-minute performance. The lead singer was spotted still wearing his one solitary glove at the after party later on.

A special mention should probably go to Ireland's identical twin jokesters Jedward, who made up for their complete lack of coordination or musical ability with a pair of impressive Elizabethan-style tin man suits. Their song, Waterline, saw a shower added to the centre of the stage, into which they jumped during the song's rousing climax - a move that surely risked some serious costume rust.

The UK hoped to bring home a victory having roped in the 73-year-old crooning legend Engelbert Humperdinck, a man who has been going almost as long as Eurovision itself. However, The Hump's Love Will Set You Free failed to capture the voters' hearts, possibly because it came first, or maybe simply because it was quite a forgettable song.

Having started at midnight in Baku for the western European audiences, it wasn't until way past three in the morning before the competition winners were announced and the Eurovision faithful could trudge back to their homes, hotels or the official after party in the appropriately named Euroclub.

As attention turns to Stockholm for next year (thankfully a far less controversial location), one question remained on the lips of anyone with a pair of ears. How could Albania, whose song seemed to largely consist of a woman shrieking in agony, come fifth?

aritman@thenational.ae