Eurovision 2012: Will Azerbaijan win again with ‘When The Music Dies’?

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.

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9 comments to Eurovision 2012: Will Azerbaijan win again with ‘When The Music Dies’?

  • Cliff

    Thanks Daniel. I agree with the above. It’s a beautiful ballad with flawless vocals. However, it is quite a dark song and based on performing at number 13 (lucky for some…) I’m not entirely confident that there will be a return to Baku next year.

    What are your thoughts on Ott Lepland with Kuula for Estonia this year? Do you plan on doing a review?

    • Daniel

      Hi Cliff, thanks for your comments. On the subject of ‘Kuula’ I think it treads a fine line between moving and cheesy. I’d much rather see Ott behind the piano than standing, as he looked uncomfortable doing the latter in the national final.

      Without too many friends and in its own language, I think Estonia will be relying on jury support, which ‘Kuula’ may get plenty of, especially in the semi. The piano will help here too.

  • Christian

    I agree with you that it won’t be a serious contender, but especially for reasons of songwriting. For me, it just goes nowhere, because it doesn’t feel like having a real structure (which is also the problem with Spain, I think – compare Nadine Beiler from last year).

    There will be a lot big ballads were I can imagine people at my ESC-party heavily waving around their arms and loughing out lout about all the drama – being on 13 out of 26 this one just won’t stand out enough to get the “casual vote” given it a real push forward. It just doesn’t say “Vote for me, I’m the _BEST_ of them all” enough.

  • eurovicious

    Largely agree, though it’s worth remembering that while Running Scared may have been lyrically and musically positive, it also had a negative title which didn’t stand in its way. I think When The Muzak Dies is a cert for the top 10, very likely even the top 5 – it’s a great song that’s accessible, mainstream and contemporary enough to do very well indeed, and the performance and staging will no doubt ooze soulfulness and professionalism. I can really see it appealing very strongly to a large number of people not just despite the lyrical content but because of it, bearing in mind Adele’s massive global popularity over the past year. When The Music Dies isn’t Suus-dark by any means, and mournful yet commercial breakup songs are the shizzle at the moment – Jar Of Hearts, Somebody That I Used To Know, Someone Like You, Rolling In The Deep and even The One That Got Away and Video Games have all been huge across Europe over the past year. When The Music Dies is similar to Drip Drop but much stronger and with a stronger performer, and as Drip Drop managed to come 5th despite being first on, I can see this year’s song doing very well indeed. “Mournful duduk” sounds like a medical condition.

    Do you mean “Taken By A Stranger”?

    (I’ll refrain from commenting on the irony of Azerbaijan entering songs called Running Scared and When The Music Dies in light of their human rights, political freedom and press freedom situation. Oh whoops, I just did.)

    If they do win again, they should do a Millstreet and relocate the contest to Nagorno-Karabakh for 2013. I for one will be there in the audience, contentedly sipping a combat ration in my Eurovision fan helmet and designer camouflage gear.

  • eurovicious

    “Everything” in 2006 was cheesy and terribly performed (not to mention ungrammatical), while “Mamo” was always too much of a russoballad to translate westward and had the disadvantage of being in Ukrainian and having very alienating staging. I don’t see When The Music Dies as comparable with either of these – rather than being in any way overwrought, it gets it just right (as I’m sure will also be the case with the vocal performance), and the staging will no doubt be suitably simple and classy.

    One for the fans: here’s Austria’s Conchita Wurst in her former incarnation as Tom Neuwirth, performing Anna Vissi’s “Everything” on Austrian TV in 2007: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kIwXt1MY4jo

  • Substanshell

    Regarding Sabina’s live vocals. I’m not convinced! She is not the worst singer there is but sometimes she’s trying things she’s clearly not capable of.
    I dare you to watch the following clip in full length:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TGQ_Rg0W1A4
    Even if her rehearsals turn out to be promising I still won’t/can’t trust her. She may still decide to show off and get carried away in front of millions during the big night, which could very well end up in a ridiculous mess.
    I’m not trying to talk anyone out of betting Azerbaijan, but I personally won’t touch it.
    Best of Luck, with whatever you decide to do!

  • Henry VIII

    Azerbaijan was the one I was waiting for, the last country you had planned to do Daniel, although I hope you do others.

    Good point that a sad song may attract less votes than an equivalent quality happy song. Picking up a phone and voting involves expending a little energy and a happy state primes the body for energy expenditure, however much we may like a good melancholic tune.

    It’s draw is probably a bigger factor – not terrible but not great either. Nevertheless it’s still been a price I thought was high, looking back I bought some 100 on the 16th.

    I notice another big hitter Turkey has now drifted to 95 on Betfair.

  • Donald

    Found this performance by Loreen on YouTube.
    String quartet for Baku? Vocals well up there on this one I think.

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