Azerbaijan provides the last of my contender previews for this year’s contest, giving a total of 13 – a third of the 39 entries. (The others: UK, Italy, Ukraine, Netherlands, Sweden, Belarus, Georgia, Russia, Greece, Germany, Norway and Denmark.) In many ways it’s the hardest to write.
You see, I’m utterly conflicted about Farid Mammadov and ‘Hold Me’. It’s a rather standard ballad, yet it’s one of the few entries I voluntarily return to. There’s plenty for it to overcome, but a fair amount in its favour.
You can watch the winning rendition in the national final here but the video clip of Farid’s performance at the Athens Europarty last weekend possibly gives a better indication of what we can expect from him vocally in May.
I should start by trying to put my finger on why ‘Hold Me’ appeals to me despite my better judgment. I’ve heard it described as ‘boyband fodder’, ‘bland’, ‘cheesy’, dull’ and ‘dated’. I can’t deny any of that, but it also offers a simple, well-structured tune with some nice retro touches in its instrumentation, including a piano riff that reminds me of ‘Windmills of My Mind’ and a plinking xylophone.
Farid didn’t sound impressive in his national final, but the mix was terrible there and he wouldn’t be the first less than flattered in a studio not fit for purpose. (The best recent example I can think of is Georgia’s 2010 Sopho, who went from sounding flat awful in her national final to pretty fabulous at Eurovision.)
I’m slightly loath to rely on footage taken from a nightclub gig, but the Athens display indicated there wouldn’t be any vocal problems in Malmo, especially once you factor in backing singers. In fact, there was a passion to his performance that fellow Eastern bloc balladeers Dina, Nodi and Sophie could learn something from.
Beyond that, the appeal of ‘Hold Me’ to juries is more open to question. What the Russian and Georgian entries have in their favour are songs that offer bigger moments to wow jurors in particular. Those juries also have more sophisticated ballads, such as ‘Birds’, to reward too.
Azerbaijan have managed a top ten in the jury vote every year since 2009, with form figures of 8-9-2-8. ‘Hold Me’ is their least contemporary entry so theoretically may struggle in relative terms here. Having said which, I’ve witnessed two poor Azerbaijani performances in a jury rehearsal, for the 2011 semi and the 2012 final, and their vote held up surprisingly well in the circumstances.
The country’s record in the televote has been remarkable. Since their inaugural eighth place in 2008, they have not been out of the televote top five, with form figures of 2-5-1-5. There are a couple of arguments for thinking that a decent televote position is once again possible.
Firstly, the chorus offers the easiest of hooks. This is a song that doesn’t need more than one listen. The familiarity of ‘Hold Me’ is easy to criticise but it’s pretty useful in a Eurovision context, as Denmark’s 2010 anthem ‘In A Moment Like This’ displayed.
Secondly, Farid’s youthful good looks can’t hurt in a year with very little competition in this respect. If he reaches the final and Iceland doesn’t, he’s the only male balladeer on offer. I’m not sure his chiselled crooning is quite the teen-girl catnip of Eric Saade curling his lip at the camera and proceeding to smash a glass box, but maybe I’m just disappointed that Farid’s ability to perform a Donny Montell-style cartwheel will go to waste.
One setback is the withdrawal of Turkey from this year’s contest, which means the loss of a guaranteed 12 points given how close the two countries are. The argument that Turks around Europe will throw their support behind Azerbaijan instead was not upheld by the voting patterns of the 2011 final for which Tukey failed to qualify.
There’s also the question of how much the slew of ballads from the former Soviet Union will affect the performance of each. As I’ve mentioned previously, the running order may take on extra importance here.
All these conflicting arguments make me understand both eurovicious when he says he envisages a lower top ten position but definitely not top five, and Ben who warns that one can never say never with Azerbaijan in an open year. Tim also seems confident of a top ten spot for ‘Hold Me’.
What do you think? Let us know below.