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Blindfolds, Grannies, and Jokers

This year’s crop of Eurovision acts from the East is a bit tamer, but there’s still plenty to puzzle over.

by Stephen Underwood and Barbara Frye 16 May 2012

Surely, as many people tune in to the Eurovision Song Contest each year to see how weird it can get as to look for an unsung talent or to root for their own country’s avatar of pop tackiness.

 

Earnest ballads sit oddly on the Eurovision stage, which is invariably all neon and klieg lights. It’s a place for electrified kitsch, and many acts happily embrace the spectacle. Remember cross-dressing Andriy Mykhailovych Danylko/ Verka Serduchka, who represented Ukraine in 2007 and finished second singing Dancing Lasha Tumbai? (Did it mean “goodbye Russia,” “whipped cream,” or nothing at all?)

 

When this year’s contest gets underway on 22 May in Baku, the choices from the former Soviet Union will be a bit less outlandish than Danylko, but then what isn’t? There’s still a good selection of the strange, the sweet, and the simply inexplicable.

 

From Russia, Buranovskiye Babushki, or the Buranovsky Grannies, are an unusual act, but not in that Eurovision way. Most of the women in the group are in their 70s, and 76-year-old Natalya Pugacheva has the distinction of being the oldest ever Eurovision participant.

 

According to their Eurovision profile, the Grannies came to Russia’s attention in 2008 when they were featured in a television program. That was the first of many TV shows and concerts in which they would cover pop songs by the Beatles, Queen, and other famous acts in their native language, Udmurt.

 

The ladies hope the attention they garner at Eurovision will help protect their mother tongue, which is spoken by fewer than 500,000 people and is listed on the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization’s list of endangered languages.

 

They also are trying to raise money to build a church in their village, Buranovo, about 600 miles east of Moscow.

 

 

Their song, Party for Everybody, begins sweetly and slowly, in anticipation of the party to come. Then things get crazy. (“The house is full of kids, the relatives have come. I am going to put on my green dress, I am going to tie a white head cloth. And I am going to dance.”)


Last year, Moldovan rockers Zdob si Zdub donned pixie hats and declared themselves So Lucky while a lady pixie wheeled around stage on a unicycle. The year before, Sun Stroke Project & Olia Tira’s Run Away spawned an annoying, 10-hour Internet meme that has had millions of hits on YouTube.

 

This year, Moldova’s entry is more traditional – if you consider tutu- and tennis-shoe-wearing brides joining singer Pasha Parfeny in reflecting on the seductive powers of his trumpet traditional (which might well be the case for Eurovision). Parfeny will sing Lautar, a catchy, Balkan-brass-infused pop song.

 

The singer, who bears a vague resemblance to Edward Norton and is a finalist in a male model contest linked to Eurovision, has said he doesn’t expect to win. “The main thing is not a victory, but it is participation,” said the modest 25-year-old.

 

 

For the first time, Georgia will send a man to compete in Eurovision. Anri Jokhadze, 21, will sing I’m a Joker, a propulsive, if mystifying, number with an operatic opening that seems befitting of a singer who, as Eurovision press materials point out, has a range of four octaves.

 

In a recent interview Jokhadze insisted I’m a Joker is a serious song despite its title and refrain (“I’m a joker, I’m a rocker”). “No, the song is not a joke at all,” he said. “It just reveals a type of a person who is satirical and humorous. ... The song incorporates different elements of funk, disco, and opera.” When preparing the final version, he added a new, Georgian-language opening to the song, making it the first time the language has appeared in a Eurovision submission.

 

 

Latvia’s entry is a kind of aural looking glass. Anmary will perform Beautiful Song, a song about singing a beautiful song that wins the contest and becomes a hit. The video is set to Anmary singing this to two friends, who join her in her dreams of having her song being sung by all.

 

Adding to the performance are Anmary’s large, piercing blue eyes, which convey a level of earnestness that might not have been intended by the songwriters. At 22, she has been singing for much of her life and it isn’t a stretch to consider Beautiful Song her plea for international recognition. She sings of hanging up on Mick Jagger because she is simply too busy – an audacious goal indeed.

 

 

Though a tad more standard, Lithuania’s entry deserves note for combining a blindfold, a bit of retro flare, and gymnastics. Donny Montell is 24 years old, though he could pass for younger.

Montell – né Donatas Montvydas – begins his ballad blind to the audience with a black sash tied around his eyes while he slowly serenades a lost love. Soon enough, the blindfold comes off, the pace picks up, and we’re in the midst of a recognizably Eurovision dance tune. Is it a bit kitschy? Of course. But he comes across sincerely enough to pull it off.

 

Stephen Underwood is a TOL editorial intern. Barbara Frye is TOL’s managing editor.

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