Not every Eurovision fan makes their first pilgrimage to the Song Contest in the double capacity of obsessed fan and accredited press. But, after a decade of devotion to the musical cause we all know and should unconditionally love (with no exceptions), that’s exactly how and why I’ve come to be on the ground in Stockholm.
Ten years ago, during a Saturday night channel-surfing session, the sight of some instrument-thrashing monsters from Finland had me saying to myself, ‘Oh, sweet Lordi!’ — and in an instant, my interest in the Contest was piqued. So too was the desire to talk and write about it as often as possible.
As time passed, I also developed a slight obsession with Sweden, the contest’s current golden child (no threat to Nadav Guedj’s status as the ‘Golden Boy‘). As a result, a window of personal opportunity was thrown wide open when Mans Zelmerlow snatched victory six for Sweden in Vienna last year. Eurovision returning to the Land of Loreen (though due to someone other than Loreen) was, to me, Prince Caspian blowing his magic horn to summon the Pevensies to Narnia.
I had to answer the call.
Doing so did involve a year of planning, plus a suitcase full of flags — but not Tim Tams, to the chagrin of the rest of the ESC Insight team — being carted from Australia to Sweden. I did make it with said suitcase, and almost immediately found myself doing the Barei shoe-shuffle over to the side of the Eurovision Song Contest some never see: the buzzing hive of activity and rehearsal-related gasps that is the Press Centre. I have fast discovered, there are lessons to be learnt, battles to be fought and expectations to be subverted.
It turns out that there are plenty of people who know more about Eurovision than I do (does my life still have meaning?) and they all seem to be sitting in my general vicinity. When it comes to rehearsals, they seem to just know what ‘makes’ a successful one, and have an even more acute awareness of what ‘doesn’t.’
Monday, for instance, Armenia’s hypnotic first rehearsal produced several audible ‘wow’ moments, whereas Croatia’s unravelled-VHS-tape-cape concoction drew an intake of breath of a different kind, as well as multiple namedrops of Barbara Dex. Yesterday, it was Gabriela from the Czech Republic’s calling a halt to the first run-through to question the acoustics that had journalistic heads bobbing in approval, while Malta’s surprisingly messy Take on ‘Walk On Water‘ prompted the same heads to be scratched.
As someone who’s usually at home this time time of year, steadfastly refusing to watch any rehearsals (I enjoy the element of surprise) these reactions are all forming part of an experience that, for me, is at an extreme end of the Eurovision Season Spectrum. What they and the rehearsal viewings have taught me, as a newcomer to the official media coverage scene is this: what happens in-between run-throughs can be as eye-opening as what happens during them. I’ll give you the cardboard cut-out of Elvis that I spotted as the camera pulled back yesterday morning as an amusing example.
Then there’s what takes place outside of the rehearsals, which is where I really have to tighten the restraints on my inner fangirl. Viewing the run-up to Eurovision 2016 professionally, without screaming out loud when a competing artist strolls casually through the Press Centre is tough! But seeing the artists in the flesh as opposed to on screen has actually proven very insightful. Before I made it to Eurovision, I tended to put the participating artists on a pedestal — or not, depending on how they came across in interviews and during their time on the stage. Being in the thick of things has reminded me that these singers and songwriters are actual human beings
And, from what I’ve seen and heard so far, they’re all decent ones.
I attended the Hungarian and Russian press conferences yesterday out of rampant curiosity, and the humility and head-screwed-on nature of both Freddie and Sergey was evident… as was the need to please the press and project a positive image of themselves and their entries. It was fascinating to witness Sergey Lazarev the person, as opposed to Sergey Lavarev the star, and it seems that Sergey the person shares some of the passion for Eurovision that those of us in the bubble do. I hope to see a lot more of that as the week continues — or at least figure out how to detect fakery.
When Does The Holiday Start?
Plenty of what I’ve experienced so far at Stockholm 2016 – the celebrity-spotting, freebie-fetching and, as we are in Sweden, fika-consuming — is what I’d expected in all my years of glamorous fantasies. But those are the work perks, and that brings me to the operative word: work.
Covering Eurovision in a press capacity is hard work, and there are plenty of long hours to be put in over the next fortnight. But it’s the huge part of me that is a fan, feeling the same fever of the Press Centre population, that will get me through.
At least, I think so. I’ll have to get back to you on that front when the Contest is over, the Press Centre has closed its doors and I’ve caught up on many, many hours of missed sleep.