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Music

Pop and politics in Baku ahead of the ESC finale

Some can sing, some can dance, and some can do neither - but it's all fair game at the Eurovision contest. There are 26 candidates remaining after the semi-finals in the competition to determine Europe's best song.

One thing is already clear: This year, Europe isn't in the mood for weird rhythms, heavy metal or party hip-hop tracks. Austria, Slovakia and Montenegro have been voted out before the finale on Saturday. It's also not a good year for rock at the Eurovision Song Contest. The Swiss duo Sinplus with their tune "Unbreakable" were about the only ones doing indie rock, and they went home on Wednesday.

Ralph Siegel, the man who composed an ESC entry for the 20th time and furnished the song for San Marino in the contest, was forced to say goodbye on Tuesday.

But it should make at least a few people glad to hear that Dutch singer Joan Franka with her country song "You and Me" got the boot during the second semi-final. Her rather ridiculous feather headdress was accompanied by vocals that could have easily won her the title "Worst ESC Singer."

Techno and soul riding high

Nina Zilli

Retro-soul in Italian by singer Nina Zilli

The Italians are doing something different once again. Emboldened by their second place win last year with a jazz musician, they have delivered another song that is anything but typical ESC schlock. With "L'Amore e Femmina," Nina Zilli sounds suspiciously like Amy Winehouse at a few junctures, but the track brings in some Memphis soul brass and 60s guitars. It has retro charm, and betting agencies see it going far in the contest.

But if you believe the bookies, one thing is already clear in 2012: Sweden, the country that delivered Abba and the most popular Eurovision song of all time, "Waterloo," will take first prize again this year. Loreen, the 28-year-old singer with Moroccan roots and a wild mane, has delivered an infectious tune, "Euphoria," located somewhere between the modern and the mystic. It's euro-trance-techno with a hymn-like melody that could get plenty of clubbers' hands in the air.

For Roman Lob, Germany's representative, the bookies see a finish just above the middle of the pack. But the finale is always good for a few surprises.

Sweden's Loreen singing on stage

Many can imagine Sweden's representative, Loreen, taking the contest

Fans vs. jury?

The Eurovision winner will be decided partly by audiences voting via telephone or text message and partly by a professional jury of musicians and music experts. Conventional wisdom has it that the public always votes for the garish and glitzy while the jury selects musical quality. But whether that's true remains a secret. The results are added before going public.

Rona Nishliu

Rona Nishliu stands out from the Eurovision crowd

One of the critics' darlings is 25-year-old Kosovo-Albanian Rona Nishliu from Pristina. With the lament "Suus," Nishliu delivered an impressive vocal performance during the first semi-final. She is likely the best singer in the entire competition, but the song is not danceable, and the melody isn't likely to get stuck in people's ears. With dreadlocks draped like snakes around her neck and a gown resembling a lit-up blue curtain, she stands out from the mass of pop sing-and-dance routines.

But if it's singing and dancing you're after, the Buranovskiye Babushki from Russia may be just the thing. They won over everyone from the audience to the press as they performed their folksy "Party for Everybody" in traditional dress - complete with an onstage cookie baking routine.

Russia's Buranovskiye Babushki

But who can resist six singing, dancing grandmothers?

Maybe it was a result of Turkey's geographical proximity to Azerbaijan, or maybe the audience had just had enough of post-Yugoslavian ballads and 120 beats per minute euro-dance music by the end of the second semi-final. Whatever the reason, Turkish singer Can Bonomo and his song "Love Me Back" unleashed nearly as much enthusiasm from the audience as the Russian grannies had done during the first semi-final. The pop song with traditional flair made people in the press office get up and dance a conga line.

Below the surface

Can Bonomo

Can Bonomo is Turkey's representative

Though the Azerbaijani government is presenting itself as open and welcoming, the ESC has not remained free of political implications. There has been no noticeable censorship in terms of press reporting, but once the artists involved take a stance on politics, the authorities step in. Swedish singer Loreen met with human rights activists, which prompted an immediate complaint on behalf of the government with the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) that the artists should keep their distance from politics. The EBU hosts Eurovision and has taken a similarly cautious stance. When Loreen was asked at a press conference about meeting with activists, the moderator passed on the question, saying the good mood shouldn't be diminished with topics like that.

A protestor is taken into custody in Baku

Protestors may be out in force on the night of the competition

The state's custodians seem to be present everywhere, even if in small ways. In the Euroclub, the ESC's official party location, no music from Armenia is allowed. And there are rumors that the short films to be played during the show, produced by Cologne company Brainpool, were replaced a few hours before the semi-finals with pro-government Russian productions.

The immense police presence coupled with a number of blockades have contributed to a feeling of uneasiness. The government seems nervous, and one can only hope that the finale on Saturday night does not lead to violence between protestors and police.

Author: Matthias Klaus / gsw
Editor: Rick Fulker

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