Our country-by-country round-up of the leading contenders for Eurovision 2012 conveniently finishes with last year’s winners and this year’s hosts Azerbaijan. Their representative this year is Sabina Babayeva singing ‘When The Music Dies’. You can see the official video here.
At this stage last year, there was a sense that the former Soviet republic ticked more boxes than any of its rivals in the build-up to the contest. The only question mark surrounded the live female vocals in the duet ‘Running Scared’.
This time, Azerbaijan also sends a strong, contemporary, jury-friendly song and still has plenty of allies to rely on. But Sabina’s live vocals don’t seem in doubt – you can see her perform the song live here. So could it be that the contest returns to Baku next year?
You can certainly construct a case for it. Penned by the same Swedish songwriting team as ‘Running Scared’, ‘When The Music Dies’ is a classy ballad, with hints of Sam Brown’s ‘Stop’, as Rob has pointed out, but an updated version for the age of Christina Aguilera. It’s a western-sounding song but with a nice hint of the east in the sound of the mournful duduk.
It is one of the strongest songs they have sent to the competition, and their form figures read 8-3-5-1 so far. That impressive record is helped by their many voting allies, which include a seemingly guaranteed 12 from Turkey. Ukraine, Russia, Hungary, Moldova and Georgia have also given Azerbaijani entries an average of over nine points.
On this front, the country benefits by the withdrawal of its neighbour Armenia with whom it is not on friendly terms. They compete with each other for scores from many of the ex-USSR states, and don’t swap points themselves. However, this is partly offset by the withdrawal of Poland this year, a generous ally in past contests.
As an automatic qualifier, we already know where Sabina is drawn in this year’s final – at halfway through proceedings, 13 of 26. Normally the commercial break comes after this point, which allows ‘When The Music Dies’ to be an impactful end to the first half of the contest.
However, this is not as advantageous as last year’s draw for ‘Running Scared’ which was at 19 of 25 and followed by a bunch of songs that seemed unlikely to rival it. Its main competitors were drawn far earlier.
There are other reasons for thinking that ‘When The Music Dies’ does not have it as easy as ‘Running Scared’. The 2012 contest looks far more competitive, especially in the battle for the jury vote. Ell and Nikki were able to come second with juries behind runaway leader Italy, given a dearth of contemporary ballads that often do very well with this constituency.
That is not the case this year. Among the big five alone, the UK, Spain, Italy and Germany send songs and/or singers that could be perceived to be jury-friendly, and there are plenty of others you can say the same for: Denmark and Serbia for starters.
But this is not my main concern for the Azerbaijani entry. My main worry is that the song is just too much of a downer for the audience. At a subliminal level, will people want to vote for an entry called ‘When The Music Dies’ to win a song contest?
At a more conscious level, Sabina opines repeatedly about a former love turning cold and suggests an everlasting night. Obviously it’s not music to dance to, but nor is it a message to be inspired by. It’s music to slash your wrists to.
We actually have two examples of host country songs that did something similar, Greece with Anna Vissi’s ‘Everything’ in 2006, and Russia with ‘Mamo’ in 2009. Both were strong, powerful, overwrought songs that ultimately turned viewers off. They finished ninth and eleventh respectively – poor relative results for two countries with plenty of voting allies.
What we could have here is a song that, as I suggested about Lena’s ‘Taken by a Stranger’ for Germany last year, offers a respectable entrant for the host nation but almost seems designed not to push too many buttons.
I don’t want to overdo this line of thought given the country’s fine record in the contest and the strength of the song and singer. It ticks too many boxes not to take seriously, and remains a big price at 75 in the Betfair win market given this. Another top ten finish looks highly likely at this stage.
I argued after last year’s contest that Azerbaijan was a default winner, and this year we have the possibility that something similar could happen. It’s an open looking edition with the chance of another big disconnect between the jury and public vote – the rest of last year’s jury top five could be found at numbers 11, 18, 22 and 24 in the public vote. No wonder Azerbaijan managed to succeed.
I can’t discount there being a case of history repeating, but my gut feeling at the moment is that without the advantage of a great draw and given its downbeat nature, ‘When The Music Dies’ won’t quite connect with the audience enough to make us return to Baku in 2013. Agree? Disagree? As always, do let us know below.