Eurovision 2013: Is Azerbaijan’s ‘Hold Me’ worth embracing?

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.

17 comments to Eurovision 2013: Is Azerbaijan’s ‘Hold Me’ worth embracing?

  • trollgirl

    His song is of the same quality ans style as last year Germanys Standing Still, but he lacks Romans charm and his telegenic glimpse and is far more old fashioned.And Roman had an excellent draw…we are yet to see what luck Farid wil have in this respect. Azerbaijan has so mach more reliable voting fans. I would guess he will also manage a borderline top 10. Possibly just outside the top 10. I personally find it borderline boring.

  • Daniel

    Here’s the first live rendition I’ve seen of ‘What If’ from Russia’s Dina Garipova:

  • tpfkar

    I see this as an entry with plenty going for it, but very dependent on a good draw, and with little chance of being hyped beforehand.

    On that note, where is the media angle this year? Last year it was the grannies ( and granddad) Jedward the year before. The Swiss salvation army band is the only flicker I’ve seen in this direction this year, not sure that has much mileage.

  • John

    Azerbaijan have an eyebrow-hoistingly good track record at the Eurovision. I’m intimidated to think how well Safura would have done with a better draw. My feeling though is that this may be their worst result yet. Turkey and Armenia had a good pedigree until they failed to qualify together 2011

    While this song isn’t as awful as those, a dull dud is a dull dud. A minute in and this song has shown us everything. And Daniels point about there being much more jury friendly slow songs, even before we mention the jury friendly stompers, is pertinent. Top 10? Well, if so, it certainly will be time to raise an eyebrow.

  • eurovicious

    It’s more tolerable than the other ballads because it’s not cloying, not awash with fake sentiment and not trying to impress upon you how lovely it is. It just does what it does, simply and sincerely. What you see is what you get. It’s almost old-fashioned in that regard, and I’m thankful for that. That said, it doesn’t have a great deal of emotional impact.

    Having watched much of the Azeri heats this year, I can confirm that the singers in the final (including Farid) are actually much better than they sounded. The final was a production catastrophe – the heats had better sound quality. If you stick “Fərid Məmmədov” into Youtube you can see his performances from heat 6 – Love Is Blind, Moon Blue (his best), Tutti Frutti and Ey Vətən. Looking at that Boyuk Sehne performance of Love Is Blind, the vocal is quite ropey though.

  • sonovox

    I’ve found ‘Hold Me’ unconvincing from the get-go: tuneless and dated, mid-table at best among this year’s ballads. For mine, Georgia, Estonia, Ukraine and Israel are all clearly a cut above, with Russia and Austria not far off (I’m not on board at all with the Netherlands – I don’t think I’ve ever wanted the Dutch to qualify less, and calling it sophisticated makes me wonder if I’m listening to the same song).

    Anyhow, if it wasn’t Azerbaijan and wasn’t male-led I’d have it as a possible NQ, never mind the win. But because it is, and because the production values in Malmo will surely be high, I end up agreeing that a borderline top 10 finish is pretty likely. Decent top 5 lay prospect, I’d have thought.

  • It’s a decent entry. I agreed with whoever said (possibly on another site) that they could potentially win ‘by accident’. I read that some people are working on the staging, so it’s likely that we’ll get a typically high-quality Azerbaijan stage show, rather than the standard performances we have seen thus far. I would possibly fancy this to finish in the top 5 if it gets a very late draw.

    12 points from Greece and 8-10 from Cyprus could well be on the cards, as the song has a very famous Greek composer and the song is definitely Greek-sounding.

    Yes, it’s flying through the semi as it comes as a massive relief after the first 3 awful songs. You can ‘Hold Me’ to that 😀

    • Ben Cook

      Yes, it was me who said it could win ‘by accident’. Sort of how they did in 2011, though that might be slightly unfair on ‘Running Scared’ which had a more obvious hook than ‘Hold Me’. But like Daniel, I feel conflicted. It is cheesy boyband pop, but probably the reason I like it is that it’s right at the top of its genre. It grabbed me from the first listen – even before the national final I picked this as the obvious winner in Azerbaijan.

      I think this year there are a couple of other songs which, provided everything comes together in Malmo, will pip this. But if the likes of Denmark get an early draw and/or give a bad vocal when it counts, Farid could cause an upset IMO. I can’t see it not finishing in the top 5.

  • Justin

    I dont really have anything to add to the wise comments above. I too think its a competent package which I strongly suspect will improve from what we have seen so far on arrival in Malmo. I see it as the opposite of something like the Swedish entry – this is less sophisticated but much more instant both in terms of its telegenic singer and the straightforward structure of the song.

    The last two Azeri entries made a big visual impact on the Eurovision stage and if they invest in the same way in Farid my view is that only car crash vocals can stop this one being very comfortably in the top 10. A nice late draw opens potential for possible top 5.

  • pimpin4rizeal

    I think the song has a strong chorus very catchy, my main problem is with his nasal vocals, at times it sounds like someone has listened to him when he says “Hold me” and held his nose while he is singing, the same problem was also there on his cover of “love is blind” for a ballad that is quite worrying.
    If he can sort out his problems and add a memoravle,stage show he could be one to watch, but I really have doubts,about him vocally.

    • Ben Cook

      Yes he does sound VERY nasal doesn’t he? I’m confident it’ll sound at least as good as Ell and Nikki on the night though (i.e. good enough to win!)

  • gavster2

    It’s a very formulaic production and somewhat old fashioned song. Like you say, the hook Is simple, but it doesn’t jump out at me. It’s no Kuula! He doesn’t seem particularly charismatic either – rather like a cabaret singer, though I guess he’s performing the audience in front of him.

    Having watched the Athens performance, that’s the second occasion I’ve heard him drift off key, which is a worry for Malmö. I suspect his first Azerbaijani TV performance had playback assistance and perhaps the national final version exposed some of his frailties.

    My original thoughts were that Azerbaijan will achieve a 7th-10th place and nothing has enticed me to change that.

  • First of all, let me say that I don’t believe that a too large sample of female singers suddenly make the rare amount of male singers in this contest stand out. In my opinion, that’s complete bullocks and it’s truly something that’s hard to find proof for.

    Secondly, if the Eurovision Song Contest would be filled solely with Eastern European / Ex Soviet Countries, then I think this is the year that Azerbaijan will struggle to end up in the TOP 5 (In the case of Azerbaijan it’s much more logical to talk about TOP 5’s instead of TOP 10’s no? Azerbaijan is mostly ignoring their ‘worst score’ ever; their 8th place in 2008).

    Why will it struggle? For the very simple reason that there are too many Eastern European countries who are better this year than Armenia and who are much more serious candidates for the TOP 5.

    I’m talking about:
    1) Georgia: From the composers of ‘Euphoria’, we get this traditional Swedish duet schlager. There is so damn easy in terms of staging. Just think about Sweden 2003, Azerbaijan 2011, Denmark 2010.
    2) Ukraine: This M-People-esque ballad with African influences can trust on a truly magnificent voice. IMO Zlata has THE voice of 2013. And the most impressive voice always ends up high (Albania 2012).
    3) Russia: Both Azerbaijan and Russia have similar cheesy ballads. Both tap from ballads like Jade Ewen’s ‘My Time’ (ESC 2009), but I just find Azerbaijan more dated, like Johnny Logan wrote the music. Russia however, has got a nicer, smoother voice and I think the staging will be classy.
    4) Belarus: Dated, old, copy of Turkey 2003 and Turkey 2009, but it still works among televoters. Look to what Greece did in 2008 and 2012. Song-wise, it’s still a European’s guilty pleasure.
    5) To a lesser extend you can add Moldova to the list. And I think Moldova and Azerbaijan will be fighting for a similar position in the bottom ends of the TOP 10.

    Then there are the true favourites like Norway, Denmark and to a lesser extend Sweden, Finland (Don’t underestimate her live Latvia 2002-esque performance), Malta (Don’t underestimate the Belgium 2002-esque performance of this cutypie) and Netherlands.

    So….enough reason to almost correctly predict the worst scoring ever for Azerbaijan since 2008. Allthough ‘worst score ever’ is something that you should take with a grain of salt :-). I say 9th or 10th.

  • stoney

    im not a huge eurovision fan but i always keep an eye on the odds and have a bet on the final, one thing i have noticed is denmarks odds are going the way of swedens last year, and are getting shorter and shorter in the run up, looks like they may end up odds on come the final, is this gonna be a repeat of last years land slide winner?

  • dicksbits

    The piano is very noticeable in this song. It’s a typical Eurovision style song in the sense that it’s well sung, catchy and performed by an attractive young man. And that’s the point (already made): It’s likely that he’ll stand out as he’s likely to be the standout performer of the solo male variety. There’s a very good chance this will go top 5.

  • Ben

    It’s also worth pointing out that the guy in charge of the choreography is the same guy who did Greece 2005 and Russia 2008…

  • Chewy Wesker

    I also keep coming back to “hold me” it does have a hypnotic rhythm to it, more so in the verse than the chorus. Farid i feel is very confident as he sings this track, almost too confident. You can see that he nods as he sings some of the lyrics, as if “hold me” was a multi-million selling No1 single that we were all familiar with. “in the air tonight” or “on the wings of love” this track is not. However i side with eurovicious and think it’s a low top ten. With Azerbijan 33/1 with the high st bookmakers clearly one of the ten front runners, i have to say that this may not make it top ten place along with Netherlands Italy and Germany. But i’m sure the uk will shorten up nearer the final, and i can stick bonnie as one of my four top ten failures, and farid can hold a top ten spot.

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