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When Local Celebrations Take On Eurovision Song Contest Selections Written by on April 2, 2018 | 2 Comments

March saw John Egan experience his first ever Norsk MelodiGrandPrix. It got him thinking on the balance between a national Song Contest, local TV audiences, and the ultimate prize of the Eurovision Song Contest ticket.

I am something of a Eurovision heretic.

I don’t follow the National Finals season as closely as a lot of other Eurofans. I used to, quite a number of years ago, but I very quickly learnt that leaping from show to show to show each weekend between December and March was exhausting.

And too often, rather sad.

There Goes My First Love

I have a particular knack for getting emotionally invested in songs that did not win. Songs which were, in fact, never going to win. I still have not forgiven Sweden for sending ‘The Worrying Kind’ rather than ‘I Remember Love’ in 2007… certainly I do not like to be reminded that Sarah Dawn Finer’s amazing power ballad finished fourth (fourth!) – in Globen that year:

Sarah Dawn Finer (Pre-Woodruff) – I Remember Love (Source: YouTube/escfan1)

The Ark , by the way, ended up 18th in that year’s Grand Final in Helsinki.  Serves Sweden right. See? I get wound up too easily.

Nowadays, I generally skirt over much of the national selection season, picking a few selections to follow somewhat closely, but even for selections I love (Estonia: no surprise there), I generally skip the National Semi Finals. Doing so makes it easier to manage things time-wise: I live in New Zealand, which is 12 hours ahead of Central European Time, putting many shows on at breakfast time. It also means the ‘discover, fall in love, then betrayal’ cycle only happens a few times a year, rather than weekly.

This year I watched the live finals of France, the UK, and Switzerland, along with a bit of Spain and Portugal. I also attended the Eesti Laul final in-person.

And Norway’s MelodiGrandPrix.

Why Norway?

Since I had a weekend to fill between two work events in Europe, I grabbed a ticket for NRK’s MGP and booked an inexpensive hotel in Oslo back in January. This wasn’t a decision based on love of the country. Certainly there have been Norwegian Eurovision entries I loved (Yes Margaret Berger, Bettan, and Secret Garden, I’m looking at you), but it’s not a selection that year-upon-year has enamoured me. In fact, I very nearly cancelled my hotel booking (and forfeited my MGP ticket, which was not expensive). But then the lineup was announced for this year’s final…

  • Three former Norwegian Eurovision representatives, including Aleksander Rybak (2009 Eurovision champion with Fairytale), Aleksander Walmann (who with JOWST finished tenth last year singing ‘Grab the Moment’), and Stella Mwangi (who crashed out of her semi-final with ‘Haba Haba’ in 2011).
  • Another entry was composed by Kjetil Mørland, whose ‘A Monster Like Me’ finished eighth in the 2016 Grand Final.
  • Another that Per Gessle, the creative force behind Roxette, co-wrote.
  • If you follow indy pop at all, seeing Ida Maria’s name was a surprising bonus.

This was about as heavy-hitting a ten-song National Final any small sized nation could put together. I was in; so too were several of ESCInsight colleagues, along with a friend or two of the parish.

Local And Low Key

Norway is the homeland of the current Executive Supervisor for the Eurovision family of events—whom we ran into at the dress rehearsal funnily enough, before he headed to Lisbon for the impending Heads of Delegations meeting two days later. Having never met ‘JOS’ (not to be confused with JOWST) before, my first impressions were professional and friendly. In fact, those two words largely capture my impressions of Oslo, Norwegians and MGP. As a comparison, I found Swedes are a bit more reserved during my Melfest experience in 2017.

Unlike the Eurovision Song Contest itself (and some other National Finals), getting media accreditation for MGP was not a complicated matter: arguably it was very, very low key. In fact, when one of our group’s member’s name was missing from “the list” it only took some common sense discussions to solve the problem. Like most press rooms the coffee was more of a caffeine delivery platform than a lovely warm beverage.

For the final dress rehearsal we were escorted into the arena and directed to take whatever unoccupied positions were free. This is an excellent strategy: it facilitates media seeing what the show will be like from various all parts of the venue if they wish. For MGP the Spektrum’s steep gradient seating means that people who were going to be in the top of the arena (like me) still felt close to the action. In addition to the stage itself, punters sitting in most sections could easily see the green room.

ESC Rules Be Damned

Dress rehearsals are just that: rehearsals. Tempting as it might be, what really counts is what happens during the live show. Some acts were still tweaking things a wee bit on Saturday afternoon, and the arena was populated by various entries’ production teams checking out how things came across on the big monitors (and, I suspect, the reaction in the hall). The seasoned performers always hold something in reserve. MGP 2018 only underscored the differences between practice and the one that counts.

I had only listened to each entry once previously, on the day they were available to be streamed. During the rehearsal I focused on (as a sidewalk social scientist) data collection. Here are a few of my observations:

  • The average (mean) transition time between songs was two minutes (range 0.5-3). In some instances the entire transition was for tear down (of the prior performance) or set up (of the subsequent one), but many were a combination of both. There was a transition between the opening and the first entry (which I did count): I did not pay attention to how long it took to break down song ten (since it had no impact on any act’s scoring). The ability to manage a snappy transition is important for whichever entry is selected, since the Lisbon producers are not obligated to recreate what wins a National Felection. 
  • The average number of performers on stage was nine, including the named artists (range 1-20). Eurovision’s six person rule be damned! There also seemed to be a number of entries with pre-recorded backing vocals.
  • I saw only one obvious missed shot during the rehearsal, where a singer’s top of their head was out of shot (which was fixed for the live final).
  • I heard one microphone fail (also fixed).
  • There were no obvious in-ear monitor fails, though one artist did “test test” as they were being announced—in the rehearsal and during the live final.

Had one of the song with 20 persons on stage won, adjusting that to the rules of the Eurovision would be a challenge. It did not come to that.

Without understanding any Norwegian, it was still clear that the hosts were fabulous, from their mashup opening number of previous Norwegian Eurovision entries, to their managing the results and the green room. And the crowd in the arena.

The main vibe for the show was “we’re having a party!” This was a Norwegian celebration of Norwegian music, with songs sung mostly in English (though two were in Norwegian and Spanish, respectively). But the show was also welcoming to outsiders, whether viewing online or in the venue itself. I was sitting with a Norwegian man and his Swedish girlfriend. We all agreed that NRK MGP 2018 was an outstanding event in terms of the quality of entries and the overall TV production

To The Results

All the previous MGP winners made the super finals, as did all three acts with an Alex (Alexandra, Aleksander or Alexander) as an artist. There were only two acts that got a massive reaction in the arena: Aleksander Walmann and Alexander Rybak. There were no acts whose reaction was poor, however. It was a very loved up crowd.

We don’t yet know the full allocation of the 10 international juries’ points. We do know which entries received a douze points from at least one jury:

  • Stella and Alexandra: Two juries’ favourite
  • Aleksander Walmann: One jury’s
  • Rebecca: Three juries’
  • Alexander Rybak: Four juries’

We also don’t know the televote results for the first round. But these four acts were also the four super finalists.

The second round is an ostensive battle round, but there’s no  accompanying live performances. Instead the public continue to vote during an interval act. The battles were gendered: Stella & Aleksandra and Rebecca faced off: Rebecca wins. Then Aleks and Alex faced off: Alex (Rybak) wins. At this point we get second performances of Rebecca’s ‘Who We Are’ and Rybak’s ‘That’s How You Write a Song’ for a third and final round of voting.

In the end, Rybak had over 50 per cent of the public votes in the second round and over 70 per cent of the votes in the third.  He was also first with the juries, in terms of receiving top marks. And probably first with the televoters throughout the evening.

A consensus victory, in other words.

‘That’s How You Write a Song’ lyric video (Source: YouTube/AlexanderRybakVideo)

Reaction

I had a rather jaundiced view of ‘That’s How You Write a Song’ before seeing it rehearsed in Spektrum. After the dress rehearsal, I could see that the song, even with its cringy lyrics, was a performance vehicle for Rybak—a very effective one. I anticipated it doing well later that night. Rybak is also something of a local hero, having won the Eurovision for Norway with ‘Fairytale’ in 2009. He’s a pro—and he saved the fairy dust for when it mattered most. Pithy as it might sound, he reached out and grabbed the audience, myself included, and said “Pick me!”

Can he manage to do that in Lisbon—twice—and become only the second artist ever to win the ‘modern’ Eurovision Song Contest twice with the public voting? That remains to be seen.

Rybak’s 2009 victory was comprehensive, in terms of both public and jury support. Many would argue that ‘Fairytale’ had a freshness and charm that ‘That’s How You Write a Song’ lacks. I never was a fan of his 2009 entry: In Moscow I was team Urban Symphony all the way:

Urban Symphony (Estonia) – Rändajad (Source: YouTube/Eurovision Song Contest)

Qualification for Norway seems rather straightforward, however: this is an entry that is well performed and cleverly staged. Unlike many of the other 2018 MGP entries, Rybak’s staging featured two groups of performers: a core group of six (including himself) and a secondary cast of several more. Neither the staging nor the audio actually needed the second group, so working within the 2018 Eurovision rule book won’t be an issue. Clever, very clever.

Eurovision heretic or not, I can no longer deny Rybak’s skills as a performer, nor how effective a vehicle ‘That’s How Your Write a Song’ is for him. Even if it leaves me a bit cold…like a Scandinavian.

Ida Maria – Scandilove (Source: YouTube/NRK)

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2 responses to “When Local Celebrations Take On Eurovision Song Contest Selections”

  1. Shai says:

    A tiny correction:when you write about the lineup and you mention Rybak you write he won the 2008 contest.
    Ofcourse he won the 2009 contest, as you correctly write, later in the article

  2. John Egan says:

    Thanks Shai–fixed!

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