Divas and demonstrators

Divas and demonstrators

Russia’s grannies took second place at this year’s Eurovision, held in the controversial venue of Baku.

Published: May 30, 2012 (Issue # 1710)


Russia’s entry, the Buranovskiye Babushki, took second place, having lost out to Sweden’s Loreen.

BAKU, Azerbaijan — Sweden’s Loreen clinched the top spot at this year’s Eurovision Song Contest at the weekend with her dance hit “Euphoria,” pushing aside competition from a sextet of Russian grannies and a Serbian balladeer.

Juries and television viewers from across Europe awarded Loreen a total of 372 points, handing her an easy win in an event that ended in the early hours Sunday in host country Azerbaijan. Sweden will take over hosting duties next year.

Russia’s Buranovskiye Babushki, a group of six elderly ladies, garnered much public affection for their cute onstage presence and choreographed baking, but couldn’t quite match Sweden’s more contemporary offering.

Zeljko Joksimovic, a Eurovision regular from Serbia, came in a distant third with his slow and stripped-down “Nije Ljubav Stvar.”

Engelbert Humperdinck, 76, took the stage Saturday night for the United Kingdom, 45 years after he first got international attention crooning the hit “Release Me.” He came a dismal second-from-last with just 12 points in the 57-year-old competition viewed by some 125 million people worldwide and hailed by its legion of devoted fans as harmless, kitschy fun that allows Europeans to forget their differences — and economic troubles — for at least one night.

As last year’s winner, oil-rich Azerbaijan hosted the annual competition, having invested hundreds of millions of dollars in preparing for the event, presumably hoping it would serve as a public relations coup and mitigate misgivings about its poor democracy and human rights record.

Loreen, a 28-year-old Swede of Moroccan-Berber descent, was the favorite even before the final. Her song “Euphoria” even stands a chance of fair international commercial success — it’s already topped the Swedish charts for six weeks and gone platinum five times.

The winner is picked by juries and television viewers across the continent, so a broad appeal is deemed key to success.

Other contenders included Italy’s Nina Zilli and her lively ode “Out of Love” and Romania’s entry Mandinga, a band fronted by sultry vocalist Elena Ionescu, with their brash attempt at exotica “Zaleilah.”

The host country, a comparatively little-known former Soviet republic, has dug deep to make sure it’s also a star.

The new Crystal Hall concert venue, a light-bathed arena on a point jutting out into the Caspian Sea, cost $134 million to build and was put up in a speedy eight months. Countless more millions were deployed embellishing the capital, Baku, and buying a huge fleet of brand new London-style taxis.

Such profligacy aroused concerns about the spiraling costs involved in holding the contest in times of austerity.

“At the moment, if the costs are growing more and more every year and it needs to be more splendid, there are countries that would have huge difficulties, especially with financial situation in Europe at the moment, in organizing it,” said Annika Nyberg Frankenhauser, media department for the European Broadcasting Union, under whose auspices Eurovision is held.

Amid the glitz, antigovernment activists held a number of protests in the week running up to the final, seizing on the opportunity of the increased international media presence to draw attention to what they describe as the government’s authoritarian style of rule.

On Friday, police quickly shut down a small flash mob near the competition venue, roughly dragging away dozens of demonstrators and stuffing them into waiting buses, at least of one which bore a Eurovision logo.

Three demonstration participants were sentenced to jail terms of five and six days on Saturday, while 17 others were fined 20-25 manat ($25-32).

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