Day 322 — Another day in paradise

When I use that line, I usually mean it sarcastically, but not today. Another stunningly gorgeous day and even had a rain shower in the afternoon that freshened the air. Temps in the 70s. We went to Mariette’s parent’s house for Pentecost Eve (Pingstafton) and helped them celebrate their 55th wedding anniversary with a wonderful meal topped off with my favorite pie in the world, rhubarb. Mariette’s mother’s view of a celebration is when you come to her house and she cooks the meal and spoils Bianca with pork chops and raisin buns. Her parents have really, really enjoyed having us around more than just in summer and say it has been one of the happiest times of their lives. Ours, too.

Following dinner, which Swedes often eat at noon, it was time to hit the beach for some work on the tan/Vitamin D levels, followed by fika outside on the lawn, more chatting (I can actually follow some of what they are talking about now, which is an enormous change from my first two visits to Sweden when I could not distinguish any individual words, only long strings of syllables.

This evening Mariette and I biked to Tylösand for a view of the early evening and an ice cream.

We happened upon the end of some sort of party/event for a chain of fitness centers here in Sweden. That’s what all these fit young women are about in the next photos.

The water is getting considerably warmer from the long sunny days as even Mariette will attest.

We got home about 9 just in time for the start of an event that I found really fascinating for a number of reasons, the Eurovision Song Contest. Watching this opened these American eyes to the tremendous diversity that exists in Europe when it comes to popular music not to mention the country where the contest was held this year, Azerbaijan.

The country lies east of Turkey and borders the Caspian Sea on the east and lies just north of Iran. It is a Muslim country with a lot of natural gas and oil and, from the program last night, a big PR department. Human rights organizations classify Azerbaijan as “not free” but one would not know that from last night’s show.

The way the song contest works is that each of the 42 nations holds something similar to the Melodiefestival here in Sweden that I posted about in March. The winners then all gather in the host country for a week of semi finals and then the grand finale. A panel of judges in each of the 42 countries votes for their top 10 songs with points awarded accordingly. Viewers in each country can vote by phone or text message and their votes count 50% of that country’s overall votes. 10th place gets 1 point, 9th place gets 2 points, etc., with third, second and first places receiving 8, 10 and 12 points respectively. After each country votes, a winner is determined. Fairly straightforward but it was amazing to see how it all rolled forward without a single hitch over 3 1/2 hours across several time zones.

This year’s show came from Azerbaijan’s capital city Baku at their crystal palace which held about 20,000 people. They built the place in 7 months and it is a very impressive building. The lighting effects inside and out were extremely impressive. Before each country’s entrant came on there was an outside shot of the palace that was lit to include the colors of each country’s flag. Before Sweden came on the palace was blue and yellow, before Greece, blue and white and so on.

Two of the three hosts. The third was a guy who was part of a duo that sang last year’s winning song, which is why Azerbaijan was the host country this year. That does not bode well for next year’s host country because they will be pressed to match the job that Azerbaijan did this year. More on that later.

Each song is limited to around 3 minutes. One performer comes on, does their song and a couple minutes later, the next group comes on and so it goes through all 26 of the contest’s songs for the year, bang, bang, bang. At the end of the performances everybody watching starts voting, which period is fairly short, like maybe half an hour and the program carried on with other performers from the host nation and other clips to show Azerbaijan in its best light. Then, the voting results are announced, country by country via live hookup. The points go up a tote board and they roll from one country to the next with a judge in each country announcing that country’s votes. Each country is now allowed to vote for its own entrant, otherwise the most populous countries would win nearly every year. The Big 5, Germany, France, Italy, Spain and the UK automatically get an entry into  the finals anyway.

Let’s get down to business then.

After an opening number and greetings and introductions from the hosts–the default language was English, thankfully, though there was a lot of sprinkling of French, German and Azerbaijani throughout–it was on with the first country’s entrant.

And right here at the outset I got a strong whiff that maybe parts of Europe are not so into this Eurovision Song Contest. The country that opened the show was the United Kingdom, the land that reinvented popular music in the 60s. The land that gave us the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Led Zepplin, Jethro Tull, Traffic and other great bands too numerous to mention. I think the UK is too cool for school when it comes to song contests because their entry into Eurovision 2012 was none other than the legendary Englebert Humperdink. Legendary mostly because of his name and immediately forgotten after the last note of his weak, poorly sung ballad. My God, twenty-five more like this and I will be on suicide watch at the local mental hospital. Fortunately that disaster was wiped away with a little one minute or so promo showing the highlights of the Azerbaijan, “Land of Beauty,” or “Land of Culture” or “Baku, City of Lights” (wonder how Paris felt about that one), or “Land of Energy” or “City of Cuisine” and on and on. The people producing the show on stage need some time to set up for the next act and they must work like lightning in between acts because some of the performances were extremely elaborate and they rattled off one after the other. It went: song, cut to shot of next group, cut away to a gorgeously filmed and produced (really high quality) aspect of Azerbaijan, the landscape, the history, the spectacular architecture of Baku, you name it, the Azerbaijan Board of Tourism covered it, next song, and repeat. Midway there were a couple of short breaks where the hosts went to the green room where contestants sat after their performance. (The green room seemed to be about the size of the Staples Center in Los Angeles, just to give an idea of the scope of the production.) I have to be honest, the production of this show made the Oscars look like a high school play. I’m not kidding. Except the hosts at the Oscars will go on and on about what a fabulous job the production crew is doing, Here, the show was moving too damn fast for any gratuitous blah, blah.

A shot from one of the clips promoting Azerbaijan’s rich cultural heritage. The country lies right on the Silk Road, so their is no denying its historical and, today, strategic, importance especially lying as it does just north of ground zero for America’s next incursion into the Middle East if Pakistan doesn’t beat Iran to the punch.

Another performance only slightly less forgettable than the Hump’s was this fellow singing, you guessed it, “Love is Blind.” I forget which country he represented but it gives an idea of the diversity of popular music across Europe. Not as much, however, as this next group.

This, dear reader, is the entry from Mother Russia. Actually, it should read Grandmother Russia because this is a group of Russian grandmothers, ranging in ages up to 85, singing a song that contained a bit of business of taking some biscuits out of an oven and holding them up for the audience. Talk about diversity in European pop music. I loved these old grannies and so did the rest of Europe. They finished, believe it or not, second in the entire contest. I was halfway hoping they would win the whole thing. Unbelievable.

Many of the performances were elaborate with dancers, lighting effects, flames shooting all over the place, even fireworks, and within 90 seconds of one song ending another was beginning. The lighting and pyrotechnicians were more impressive than most of the songs and everything came off without a hitch. Frankly, it was unbelievable how they did it.

These two guys from Ireland ended their song by standing in a fountain that drenched them and destroyed their goofy hairdos. As I say, many of the productions numbers were elaborate.

This bombshell from Italy was one of Mariette’s favorites. Good voice, sang a kind of jazzy pop song.

These guys from Malta I thought had a chance to win. Pretty good song and good performance. But what do I know about Europe’s musical tastes.

This was the entrant from Sweden, named Loreen. In contrast to some of the overblown productions she was barefoot alone, dramatically lit and did a song that was my favorite performance of the evening.

Beautiful girl, good voice, catchy tune, unique performance, what’s not to like. The rest of Europe agreed because she was a runaway winner of the whole contest. She was even the favorite of the home crowd because when each nation voted, the first seven votes given to any country were put up on the screen and if Sweden did not appear in the list a roar went up from the crowd, meaning that Sweden would likely be receiving 8, 10 or 12 points as one of the top three vote getters in that country.

When the voting began, they cut away to one of the panel judges in each country who announced that country’s votes. This process went off lickety-split through 42 countries without a single hitch. If you have ever watched the news on CNN when they are going overseas to a correspondent somewhere you always notice annoying several second lag between the time one person’s question in the home studio is received and answered by the reporter overseas. They could learn something from the guys here because there was no lag whatsoever.

After the 12 point recipient was announced they cut away to that winner for a shot of them blowing kisses (usually) to the camera, but Sweden won so many 12 pointers that she was mostly appearing breathless.

This is the third host taking the votes from Finland. The guy reporting is from a group called Lordi, a black metal band that dressed in monster makeup and won the contest a few years ago.

As you can see here, Sweden had a 72 point lead on the Russian grannies and ended up winning the contest by 100 points, which was considerable. Equally startling is that the UK got any points at all and finished higher even than Norway.

Israel was the last country voting and they awarded their 12 points to Sweden, meaning this is the moment that Loreen was announced as the winner, which happened to coincide with the moment my camera batteries ran out. Perfect timing.

Way earlier I alluded to the fact of Loreen winning may not bode well for Sweden next year. Because of her win, Sweden will host the contest next year and I am wondering how they will manage to match the superb technical job that Azerbaijan did in producing this  year’s show. Shortly after the broadcast from Baku ended, Swedish television had a technical glitch that delayed them getting to interview the winner. Ooops. Then there was the news broadcast a couple weeks ago when the reporter’s teleprompter went dead and he was literally facing the camera with nothing to say. It was sort of a “hammena, hammena, hammena” moment reminiscent of Ralph Kramden on the Honeymooners when he was flummoxed. Well, they have a year to get their act together but it will be a tough one to follow. Azerbaijan did a really great job and I am sure garnered a lot of good PR for their country.

The fact that Loreen is a feminist and activist and raised the government’s hackles this week by drawing attention to the darker side of the country I am sure makes her victory a little bitter for the government here, but what the audience saw was sparkling buildings, pristine landscapes and happy people.

If anyone is interested in seeing the winning song, click here:

Tomorrow, we will cover something a little closer to home.





6 thoughts on “Day 322 — Another day in paradise

  1. I’m proud of Loreen, especially since she met with some human rights activists in Azerbaijan before the contest. This was not popular with the childish, arrogant and corrupt dictatorship of Azerbaijan.

    • Yes, she was clearly the best and with her actions in the country before the contest she clearly has a soul. I wish her all the best and hope her career takes off. It should.

  2. Great coverage of each act! It was a lot of fun to watch, I have to admit! I too half wanted the Babushkis to win!! So adorable. I loved that Lordi represented the voting for Finland, what a controversial win they were! We were surprised to have enjoyed so many of the songs, even if some were not great. I don’t really understand why the “big five” get straight into the finals, especially embarrassing for the UK with that terrible entry. All I know is that the Crystal Hall was spectacular!

    • Yeah, it was pretty fun. Better than we expected from watching short bits of the semi-finals. I think that without the Big 5 the contest might collapse and that is why the get a free pass. They must be as big as the rest of Europe combined so it wouldn’t be much of a contest without them is my guess.

  3. Have to say Dan, this is your best blog yet on the adaptation of the Swedish culture. This is a classic example of how “American Idol” is so screwed up. Thanks for the posting on real’ Entertainment” (though I have some disagreements with the political ideology of Sweden).

    • Thanks, Mike. And, yes, I have to admit that I don’t fully understand the political ideology of the place. I wish I did but I haven’t fully grokked it yet.

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