The major players of the German music industry all convened in Berlin for the 22nd annual ECHO Music Awards. But is the event really comparable to the Grammys, or are critics right to call it too self-congratulatory?
The 22nd annual ECHO Music Awards began Thursday (21.03.2013) evening as it would also go on - with familiar faces and more than a few clumsy moments; Schlager singer Helene Fischer, hosting this year for the first time, appeared on screen in the opening seconds of the live broadcast from Berlin's Palais am Funkturm accompanied by British singer and former member of Take That, Robbie Williams, who bumbled through a few statements in German.
Fischer then descended onto the stage on wires and delivered a rousing version of Robbie Williams' 1998 hit "Let Me Entertain You" before getting things underway by referring to the ECHO as "the United Nations of music."
The awards show, organized by the Deutsche Phono-Akademie (German Association of Recording Companies), has taken place annually since 1992 and while its organizers pattern it after internationally-renowned events such as the Brits and the Grammys, where winners are determined either by popular vote or jury, most ECHO prizes are decided based heavily on record sales from the previous year.
Nice to see you again?
Focusing on the best-selling artists in Germany means that the same stars tend to take the stage time after time. Lead singer of indie-pop band Silbermond, Stefanie Kloss, inadvertently summed it up in the video introduction to the Best National Group category, in which her band was nominated: "Ever since we brought out our first record (in 2004), we've been nominated for something every year. It's crazy."
Youth culture magazine "Vice" echoed that sentiment in an article titled "Ten Reasons We Are Boycotting the ECHO," listing among them the event's core concept of awarding trophies based on record sales: "It automatically means that any kind of innovation or vision is limited to one narrow idea, making the prize itself essentially meaningless."
This year's ECHO provided more fodder for that view, as acts who have been associated with the ceremony for years were wheeled out to appear again. Die Toten Hosen added four new trophies to their already large heap, Robbie Williams was awarded his tenth while new hip-hop sensation Cro was nominated in six different categories.
Rapper Cro: everywhere and nowhere
However, the 2013 ECHO ceremony scored well on the live music front; there was some gloomy synth-pop courtesy of ever-dependable duo Hurts, Cascada belting out this year's German entry for Eurovision, "Glorious," plus the eagerly-anticipated live debut of Depeche Mode's latest single, "Heaven."
Arguably the most eagerly-awaited performance of the night: Depeche Mode premiere latest single, "Dreams"
Another quirky highlight was German rapper Cro's live performance of "Einmal um die Welt" (Once Around the World) after scooping the prize for Best Hip-hop/Urban Artist. A crowd of Cro look-a-likes, all wearing his trademark panda mask, swarmed the stage in a move reminiscent of the opening of the 2011 Eurovision Song Contest in Düsseldorf where dozens of Lena Meyer-Landrut facsimilies danced around until the girl herself emerged to rapturous applause. Anyone hoping for a repeat reveal would be disappointed; at the conclusion of the song, all the Cro copycats unmasked themselves. The man himself had never been on stage in the first place.
A few moments surely left viewers scratching their heads. German dance duo Deichkind, appearing on stage to accept the award for Best National Club/Dance act refused to speak. Instead, a Lady Gaga look-a-like accepted the award for them, stumbling through the German speech in a manner reminiscent of Robbie Williams at the top of the show.
Lena Meyer-Landrut, who managed to win the Eurovision Song Contest in 2010 without so much as a lump in her throat, seemed to have a nervous breakdown at the announcement that the video for her single "Stardust" scooped the Best Video prize; she collapsed on stage and burst into tears.
British singer/songwriter Katie Melua mispronounced the band Unheilig (Unholy), winners in the National Alternative category, instead saying Unheimlich (Sinister). And to add insult to injury, just as lead singer Der Graf began his acceptance speech, Melua, realizing her mistake, interrupted to announce them again…and pronounced their name wrong a second time.
And just when one might have thought the show couldn't get any more surreal, up popped former French First Lady Carla Bruni.
The awards show has long mixed international stars with domestic household names. Arguably the crowning moment came on Thursday with legendary British rockers Led Zeppelin walking off with a well-deserved Lifetime Achievement award to a standing ovation.
Despite some moving moments, it's difficult to refute some of the criticisms the ceremony attracts. For example, Helene Fischer, sufficiently in the spotlight hosting the show and already with four ECHO awards on her mantelpiece, scooped a further two on the night; the first for Best Schlager Artist, the second for Best National DVD Production.
When an awards ceremony starts dishing out trophies to the host, it's easy to see why it invites criticism as self-congratulatory and un-original. Ultimately, the ECHO remains something of an enigma - a huge, lumbering event, part key industry meet, part joke, it suffers from an identity crisis, its inner workings a mystery to the public and it often seems riddled with backbiting and in-fighting. The United Nations of music? That may well be the most accurate description yet.