Azerbaijan, the tiny nation that could, definitely punches above its weight at Eurovision. To celebrate its 20th anniversary of its independence from the Soviet Union—and the birth of its strong Eurovision tradition—Wiwi and Vebooboo have dug into our archives and found our favorite Azerbaijan-related posts. Just click on the links below to relive all the magic!
Our love of Azeri Eurovision contestants kicked off in 2009 when Aysel Teymourzadeh showed us precisely why Azerbaijan is known as the “Land of Fire.” Her sizzling duet “Always” had us cheering for her and partner Arash Labaf all the way to their third-place finish in Moscow. Afterwards, sweet Aysel said that Eurovision had changed her life. We’re hoping it was for the better. Surely some of the change stems from placing third in Wiwi’s inaugural hunt for Eurovision’s Next Top Model.
The following year Azerbaijan put its money on 17-year old Safura, a former contestant on Azeri Idol. And when we say money, we mean money. The government reportedly invested around two million euros in her p.r. campaign. That’s on top of the money they spent on her glossy music video, which was choreographed by Beyonce’s choreographer and directed by Stigmata director Rupert Wainwright. (Don’t miss this video of Safura nearly drowning in toilet paper during the filming of said music video). Safura’s team were so impressed with their effort that they even released a preview of her preview video.
Her song “Drip Drop” told the story of a woman done wrong by her man, and her struggle to accept his mistakes and the fact he “smells like lipstick again.” Despite being the bookies’ favorite along with eventual winner Lena, Safura’s first rehearsal was a bore. Her act on the big night was stronger, but she ultimately finished in a disappointing fifth place. No matter. She released a new single called “March On” a few months later.
Safura had been selected internally by the state broadcaster. But in 2011 it was all about the national selection. Azerbaijan staged an endless cycle of quarter-finals and semi-finals that featured several appalling artists, including a Scottish one, performing covers of Eurovision classics. In the end, the broadcaster declared the contest a tie, and selected pre-pubescent Eldar Qasimov and the unfortunately named Nigar Camal to perform a duet. They quickly changed their names to Ell & Nikki. Their official video was less glossy than Safura’s, and a whole lot funnier, too. Eldar—the man-boy to Nikki’s man-eater—looked slightly uncomfortable and she seemed more into her canine companion than him.
Ahead of the contest, Wiwi predicted that the duo had what it takes to win Eurovision. On the night of May 14 they stormed to victory, and Nikki was absolutely adorable as she grabbed the crystal microphone-shaped trophy. Then came the encore of “Running Scared,” live on stage in the Esprit Arena, which Wiwi and Vebooboo filmed from the audience. Criticism followed. In the hours after the contest, fans voiced concerns that gay men and women wouldn’t be accepted at Eurovision 2012 because it would be held in a Muslim country. Ell & Nikki tried to quell their fears at the press conference, which Wiwi and Vebooboo also filmed. In subsequent days, the Azeri ambassador in London wrote a letter to the Times of London saying Eurovision fans should not worry and that “all” are welcome.
To send their message of love, Ell & Nikki soon appeared on stamps and signed a deal to become the face of an Azeri mobile phone operator. A trip to Belarus demonstrated their lip-syncing skills, which was pretty amusing. But there’s no humor in the ongoing fears from Armenia: the state broadcaster there still worries they their delegation will be injured and harassed if they attend the contest in Baku. Back in Azerbaijan, construction of the 25,000-seat Crystal Hall continues.