The unique flavour of every contest is not, contrary to popular belief, determined by the 26 different songs. The character of each year’s Contest comes from the host. It’s about the warmth that the presenter or presenters display on stage, balancing the voting sequence, introducing the acts and occasionally calling upon the traditional Eurovision humour for success.
Malmö was a superb Contest. Sweden struck the perfect balance between drawing on the traditions of the Contest and joining together elements from the 21st Century. As in the Contests of old, the redoubtable Petra Mede hosted solo and wowed the continent. Ably juggling the voting sequence, interacting with the acts and dealing with promiscuous Eric Saade she’s probably the best host of the century. They also made the intervals and introductions something to watch. ‘Swedish Smorgasbord’ was a true highlight in the Grand Final and actually made the interval something not to miss rather than your last chance for the loo before howling at the Ex-Soviets all voting for another.
Loreen also rightly took pride of place with her marvellous medley of ‘My Heart Is Refusing Me’, ‘We Got The Power’ and of course the incredible ‘Euphoria’. Darin and Agnes as Swedish Pop Voices dazzled with their medley of hits, Sarah Dawn Finer wowed in duel role as Lynda Woodruff and herself, Carola getting flung off stage had me in stitches, and of course, who can forget the Olympics style opening to the Grand Final with the B’s from ABBA and Avicii?
The Germans in hosting Dusseldorf struck the right tone too, though didn’t quite deliver as polished a hosting as the Swedes. The jazz version of ‘Satellite’ was admittedly amazles, and the hosts, especially Anke were hilarious to watch and showed genuine warmth, but they were robbed of making too much of Lena by her competing again. Had she not competed, and instead offered Taken By A Stranger in a winner’s medley, they might have given the Swedes a run for their money. In fact that was probably the only real blunder of the German hosting. Having Lena compete again robbed them of a success story to centre the contest around, like the Swedes had with Loreen.
Azerbaijan, in contrast, singularly failed to deliver. ‘Running Scared’ was superbly staged in 2011, and would have lent itself to a dramatic opening to the Baku Grand Final. Combined with appearances from former Azerbaijani Eurovision contestants, Baku could have reminded us all of the wonderful songs they’ve delivered in the Contest. Sadly Ell & Nikki lip-synced in a really limp reprise of ‘Running Scared’, there were no signs of former contestants and instead we had the stupid President’s son-in-law delivering a diabolical rip-off of Dima Bilan.
Worse, as with all things Azerbaijan outsourced the Semi-Final acts, roping in the winners from the Contests since 2007 for a bland and boring medley of the winning songs of the last few years. Even more bizarrely they then let Ell & Nikki loose on ‘Waterloo’. The traditional The Natig Rhythm Group was a pleasant cultural twist in the First Semi-Final, but they didn’t warrant an entire interval entertainment. Considering the leviathan Azerbaijani selection process surely they could have recruited someone from that to sing for the other half.
The real problem at the heart of Baku was that it was just one big propaganda campaign for Azerbaijan, as their entries are every year. The postcards are a particular eyesore. They completely misunderstood the message of Eurovision. It’s about unity and shared entertainment, not about who wins the Contest and how best they show off their country. True a Contest shouldn’t overly indulge in nostalgia, but that’s no excuse for completely ignoring your own participation in the contest. I’ll admit that Dusseldorf and Malmö had some shortcomings, but Baku pales in comparison to both. It was actually a year that I wasn’t excited for the Grand Final after the Semi-Finals; there was just no warmth or comedy in Baku. It was vapid.
So what do you all think? Was Baku’s hollow hosting a highlight for you? Did Dusseldorf dazzle? Was Malmö a mess? Comments below peeps!