When we think of the Eurovision Song Contest it is the glitz, glitter and glamour of that one Saturday night each May in a bursting and bustling arena that first comes into one’s imagination, the biggest party of the year for many a fan. That isn’t the reality of Eurovision for many. It is after all much more than a party for those taking part, where the bright lights symbolise the end of an often difficult journey. The ESC Insight team have been on our travels to find where those journeys begin, and where better than to learn about the inner struggles of Eurovision than one of its lesser known nations, Moldova. Ben Robertson investigates the impact of the Eurovision has on this all too often forgotten part of Europe’s vast continent.
One Proud History In The Contest
Moldova’s global reputation as a country isn’t strong. On many measures it is known as Europe’s poorest nation which is being hit further by the economic problems impacting in the unsettled region of Eastern Europe. Nevertheless in terms of success in the Eurovision Song Contest the Republic of Moldova is well and truly able to punch above its weight. Their qualification record is one of the best with an 80% qualification record and five entries placing on the left hand side of the Saturday night scoreboard.
Further than that arguably some of Moldova’s most famous faces across the world are known because of their Song Contest involvement. Every guide book I have read about Moldova reminds me that when in doubt, discuss the merits of twice entrants Zdob şi Zdub in an attempt to fit in. Furthermore kids and internet junkies across the globe will be aware of the success of Epic Sax Guy, some of which will have tried it for ten whole hours or even played the video game. I certainly recognised these names far more than any other famous Moldovans. In Moldova it is perhaps more pertinent than any other country that Eurovision is your way out, your chance to shine and get noticed beyond the concrete towers of Chisinau. Moldova punches well above its weight in the Song Contest, and even last year’s last place finish in the Semi Final does little to lower its appeal.
One Week Of Replicating The Eurovision Experience
By the time the Insight team were on the ground in Moldova events had already kicked off with their first Semi Final. Moldova follows a train-as-you-play model with a show on the Tuesday and Thursday evenings before the Grand Final on the Saturday night show. As you may expect we are not talking about a big arena show here, but instead the Moldovan selection is held in-front of a couple of hundred in one of the main TV studios. This is not flashy Eurovision in any sense but it ticks all the boxes for the show requirements. Fireworks and fire blasts were used by the artists freely and the five possible camera choices are maybe more limited than other shows but still required the thought to go into the TV appearance. The stage itself appears modelled as a smaller version of Moscow’s stage from Eurovision 2009 and is perfectly effective. It was a slick and entertaining live show which deserves the title of being Moldova’s top rated music show year after year.
That it is Moldova’s biggest music show should be little surprise. This is the way to break out of your nation’s borders and get exposure to a huge market. Breaking out into Europe from Moldova just does not happen. Even the viral song from the early 2000’s ‘Dragostea Din Tei’ was a song picked up from the Romanian music scene after the band O-Zone relocated there. Eurovision provides a huge incentive to Moldovan artists in being able to get to that international audience that would otherwise be completely unattainable.
Just like in Eurovision there is a media battle in the run up to the Saturday night final. Walking around Chisinau you could not avoid billboards advertising either the eventual winner Edvard Romanyuta or Julia S in an attempt to drum up support. Quite clearly the battle to represent Moldova in the Eurovision Song Contest is serious business for all involved.
The Man Making This Matter
During the show I spent time with Vitalie Rotaru, who acts as the Head of Delegation for Moldova in the Eurovision Song Contest. Vitalie was not only very eager to help us and give us the best behind-the-scenes experience of the show, he also actively seeked out our opinions and showed an eagerness to learn. It’s always good to get a face to somebody’s name and this man has a history on the Saturday night spectacle.
I start off by asking Vitalie about his aims with the Moldovan competition.
First we have to choose a good song. I hope that we will match the jury and the public 50:50 will choose the best song which will represent Moldova. This is the 11th time that Moldova participates in the Song Contest, our main goal is to qualify to the Grand Final, because last year we didn’t manage to go through. We have to be there at least, the most important thing is to go in the final. It is a lucky country because from ten participations eight times our song made it to the final. It is a good qualification rate, I think other countries, Montenegro for example maybe other countries, only first time last year. From this point of view we can consider ourselves very lucky.
Lucky Moldova may be, but Vitalie is certainly not relying on luck in his quest to recover from last year’s poor result. The Moldovan selection process this year has been tweaked. The biggest impact of this was for Vitalie to allow not just foreign composers but also foreign artists into the selection process. From this Moldova attracted 68 entrants from countries as eclectic as the United Kingdom, Belarus and Canada. 50 were then chosen for a live audition round in Chisinau which was delayed until January to allow all the foreign artists sufficient time to create travel plans. From that process a top 24 were chosen which took part in the Semi Finals.
Including foreign acts is something that few countries allow to happen, but Vitalie is overall positive about the impression on his competition, saying that it makes his competition ‘more colourful and more international.’ Certainly the inclusion of acts such as Kitty Brucknell significantly increased the spotlight shining from across the globe on Moldova’s selection process. However perhaps it was naive thinking that there would be no repercussions on this change in Moldova’s quest for the best Eurovision song. Moldova’s televote is traditionally very small and unpredictable (they were not able to record enough televotes to reach the threshold in the 2014 Eurovision Song Contest Semi Final for example) and the rumours abound post-contest that the win was not completely on the straight and narrow which made some fellow competitors furious.
After the show I asked Vitalie again about his viewpoint on including foreign artists.
This edition is the first one which allows foreign artists to enter. To be honest it is a big surprise that Edvard from Ukraine won our national final. We didn’t expect this. In Moldova people in their hearts they usually support only the local artists but I think Moldovan people support Edvard because he is from our neighbour country. We all know the problems which are in Ukraine, and I suppost that this vote was a vote to support Ukraine through the Eurovision Song Contest, despite the fact that Ukraine doesn’t take part, ensuring the Ukrainan voice will be heard in Eurovision.
Will we think again next year about this [rule change]? We’ll just have to wait and see about the rules. For a lot of people this is like an adventure, we have to see what will be the result of this decision. That answer we will only get after the international competition.
Willing Itself To Be Fully Transparent
Despite the frustration that was released by many artists after the results were announced, nobody can accuse Moldova of trying to disguise a rigged competition. During the Semi Final stages the televote numbers for the final qualifying place were visible live on screen for example. Further to this were inclusions such as making each jury member (all eleven in the final) announce their individual 1-12 point breakdown on live broadcast and to make every artist pick out their starting order randomly as soon as they qualified (conspiracy theorists should note that Edvard drew no. 3 from this draw).
There is a real commitment to ensuring the competition looks fair to those watching from afar. Perhaps one of the most bizarre moments of transparency comes from after each show. Moldovan Television breaks for the news headlines, during which a row of office chairs are brought on to line the stage. After that the chairs are filled by jury members, artists, composers and anybody and everybody involved in the contest. For a whole hour on Moldovan Channel 1 we break into analysis and debate about the contest that has just been. We at ESC Insight often look into the details of the contest with a fine-tooth comb, but this level of debate was beyond even our wildest dreams.
My Romanian is certainly lacking, but studying Spanish and Italian at school gave me enough to comprehend what was going on. Jury members were being asked to go over their justifications for points and were asked to give feedback for the artists on what to improve for the future. In the post Semi Final shows were the acts discussing with each other if the system should be weighted more towards jury voting or televoting, or keeping the current 50/50 system. Acts cross-examined each other, Doinita Gherman was engaged in a very heated debate about how authentic her Latin-flavoured song was to Moldovan culture, especially after switching into English for one of the choruses. We even witnessed live tears from Kitty Brucknell, pouring our her heart to the viewers at home about how much this all meant to her.
Vitalie was glad to get the opportunity to show why this is a part of the show.
Every time after the show the jury, producers, singers, bloggers try to discuss altogether about the final decision. And here we get two options pro or against the artist. After these discussions we have the opportunity to have the truth, to understand the opinions of juries which have to explain to everybody why they gave these points to the artists. We have to make the show transparent, everybody has to know why this song was chosen?
It’s fascinating to witness, but all just a little close to the bone. Holding this debate in the midst of the competition week to critique performances and over-analyse the entire process arguably does have a place, but not during the media cat-fight to try and represent your country. The artists are understandable very precious of their performances and their stage acts, and frankly seeing some of the emotions of stage was uncomfortable. Nevertheless what a wonderful commitment to competition transparency from the Moldovan broadcaster. More than anything in this entire experience witnessing these discussions being broadcast live was the key demonstration that Moldova was serious, super serious, about finding their best potential entry. This is not just a charade to chat on TV, this is putting every card face up and open on the table and opening every wound that Eurovision can create.
Super Serious Even If The Worst Nightmare Came True
My experience of Moldova opened my eyes more than I expected. I had a preconception in my head of witnessing an car crash of an event which would embarrass those of us with knowledge of Western broadcasting, but that was quite far from the truth. The show was small but highly effective and I believe from what I witnessed Eurovision itself might be more important here in Moldova than anywhere else in Europe. Vitalie certainly agreed with the importance of the contest.
Eurovision is important in Moldova, interest is very high, everybody thinks about it and people are discussing and commenting. We know that through this contest Moldova gets known in Europe, nowadays we are more known in Europe. 10 years ago nobody knows about our country, we have to promote our country. We can do this, our economic situation is not so good, but we have talented people who are able to represent our country as a talented country, which is a big thing for our county.
Certainly the cost of a delegation fee to enter Eurovision, as well as an extensive two-week hotel bill, is going to be a barrier for many of Europe’s smaller nations, not least one with the economic problems facing Moldova, such as the current devaluing of its currency. However the ability to get Moldova beamed into the homes of so many across Europe on a Saturday night is a huge incentive to succeed and reach the Eurovision Grand Final. What if though one year it goes further than that. What if by mistake Moldova turned up and won the Eurovision Song Contest, and was expected to host Europe’s biggest TV show in Chisinau?
We would be very happy. Why not have in Eurovision in Moldova, one year is enough to be well prepared for this type of event. We will be very happy to host one day, but I am realistic that it is hard to win, I don’t want to be pessimistic, but one day I would like to host.
It would be possible in one year but it would be hard. Chisinau itself does not have a suitable venue so building from scratch would be essential. Most of the project would probably be outsourced and the arena made of temporary stands in a new conference centre near the airport. However I see optimism in its possibility, and for it to drive improvements of the infrastructure and economy of this land all too easily forgotten. Eurovision has provided such a fantastic opportunity for Moldovan artists in the past that this country would grasp every single ounce of might they could muster to make themselves a fit and proper host. Moldova might be a peg or two behind Estonia, but back in 2001 the image problems Estonia had on the world were similar to those of Moldova today. As Dr. Eurovision has written for us previously Eurovision proved to be pivotal in shaking off the post-Soviet preconceptions to a western audience. In Moldova the desire for positive change, especially change leaning towards the European Union, would ensure a massive effort to re-brand Chisinau as a welcoming European city.
Moldova is proud to be involved in Eurovision and is extremely determined to keep this up. Being part of the Europe’s biggest show is unimaginably huge and something that Moldova will continue to use as a platform on the world stage. I can only admire the dedication that Moldova has demonstrated towards brand Eurovision over the last few years and can only wish that it continues to be the positive outlet for success in the future here as well.