Azerbaijan, Baku, Energy, Eurovision, From the Archive, Germany, Politics, Portraits

From the Archive: Europop Diplomacy

Two weeks from today, on May 14, the Eurovision Song Contest will take place in Dusseldorf, Germany after last year’s German contestant, Lena, won in Oslo, Norway with her song “Satellite“. More than just a Eurotrash version of American idol, a kitsch showcase, and an evening of Europe at its most fabulous, Eurovision embodies all the finer qualities of true geopolitics: ambition, scale, scope, grandeur, and the embrace of the superficial and culturally symbolic. Quite simply, Eurovision is that Saturday night a cultural kitsch observer waits year round for.

While English is the unofficial language of the contest, many contestants still choose to sing in their native languages risking the ire of other competing countries – possibly with competing nationalisms. There is a “Slavic bloc” to speak of when the text message voting comes around at the final stage of the competition. With most Balkan countries putting forth respectably kitschy enough candidates to make it to the finals, usually under the tutelage of grand masters such as Goran Bregovic, the old fault lines of tensions there come shining through the text message vote as well. Because the Brits, the Germans, the French and the Swiss pay for the hugely expensive concerts, their candidates make it to the finals no matter how terrible they are or how many years in a row they consistently rank last in the text message vote. It is a sort of swan song to the final vestiges of colonial dominance over trade on the continent because everyone knows that when it comes to kitschy Europop extravaganzas, you cannot compete with the East. And if you cannot wait until May 14 to get your Europop on (or feel an urge to relive some of the finer aspects of the Cold War), the American Embassy in Baku is sponsoring a little May Day rock and roll diplomacy with a band called “The Loaded Ladas”.

With significant oil wealth and little support from the “Slavic bloc” of Eurovision viewers and voters, Azerbaijan has done extraordinarily well most years in the contest by prioritizing the role the contest could play in the making of the future of Azerbaijan, should the country win and play host to the concert spectacular. The Azeri Eurovision contestants of the last two years, photographed in July 2010 in Baku, Azerbaijan:

Aysel Teymurzadegi, who performed as Azerbaijan’s contestant in the Eurovision song contest in 2009 and currently stars in Azeri commercials, with a friend and colleague, Zaur Darab-Zadeh (left), director of an internet radio station, on the rooftop of the Landmark Hotel in central Baku, Azerbaijan on July 3, 2010. In an effort at public promotion and demonstrating European aspirations, the Azeri government spends untold amount which one consultant estimated at 15 million in an effort to win the Eurovision song contest.

Safura Alizade, Azerbaijan’s Eurovision contestant in 2010, performs her single “Drip Drop” at the opening ceremony of the International Wrestling Final Golden Grand Prix at the Heydar Aliyev Concert Complex in Baku, Azerbaijan on July 16, 2010. One goal of the current President Ilham Aliyev is to win Eurovision investing huge amounts of Azerbaijan’s vast oil wealth in the effort, which some estimate at $20 million, and would result in hosting the European pop song contest in the Azeri capital Baku in an effort to show off the country’s European qualities.