Spotify fans can follow on with Ellie’s mixtape in the popular streaming app. For everyone else, YouTube embeds are included throughout the story.
‘Do It, Try It’ by M83.
I wasn’t even thinking about going to the Eurovision Song Contest this year. I was perfectly happy to be a stay-at-home fan, watching from the glamorous confines of my sofa, glass of prosecco in one hand, Tweetdeck in the other. To be honest, I’d not really considered the Song Contest as being a real event that civilians could attend. It’s a fictional event in a pocket universe, right?
But then, one Tuesday night in Glasgow, I got a very unexpected message from Ewan. There was space on the ESC Insight team, would I want to go and could I make it work?
Well, there’s no sensible answer to that but “yes!”
To be sure, I turned to my MP3 player for guidance. The song at the top of the queue was ‘Do It, Try It‘ by M83. I decided that this was great advice, not just for this particular decision, but also how to approach the trip when I was there. I would do it. I would try it. I would fully embrace the Eurovision Song Contest experience.
‘Say Yay’ by Barei.
So what was the run up to the Song Contest like for me? Well, I’d done my normal thing of reviewing all the songs on my blog – you should take a look, I was rather sweetly wrong about quite a few songs this year. There’d already been some new things added to my Eurovision world; I’d been to my first London Eurovision Party, and I’d done a Juke Box Jury podcast. I thought that I was getting nicely prepared for what awaited me in Stockholm.
I’d decided that my big favourite for the win was Spain. The lovely Barei was overflowing with charisma and she’d tightened up the vocals considerably since the hot mess that was the Spanish National Final. There’s also no way they could ruin a massive pop song like that with some sort of gimmicky staging disaster, right?
Inspired by Barei’s stagewear, I packed my case with sequins, metallics, skinny jeans and sensible trainers. Not really having an idea what journalists wear, I decided Eurovision was a good opportunity to wear all the ‘off duty rock star’ gear that I rarely get the chance to wear in real life.
When the day to fly out to Stockholm came, I was as nervous as as I was thrilled. All the others knew each other already. They’d already been in Stockholm for days! They’d bonded! What would they think of this great big lolloping physicist coming along late and posing as a journalist?
‘Inner Sanctum’, by The Pet Shop Boys
The first morning in Stockholm was beautiful, fresh and sunny. I made my way to Globen by T-bana, feeling an uncontrollable smile take over my face. This was so exciting! My first Eurovision and I was going to be experiencing it from the weird, glittery heart of it all. What did I expect from the Press Centre? I had no real idea, to be honest. All I really knew there would be coffee and wifi, plus opportunities to watch rehearsals, get interviews and go to press conferences. I also suspected that it would be quite fun and that at some point I’d do a podcast. As it turns out, there’s no way to dress up an ice-hockey stadium to look like a glamorous space-age multi-media nerve centre, not even with the most Ikea furniture I’ve seen in one place that wasn’t an actual branch of Ikea.
I brandished my fresh new accreditation badge at the unfailingly friendly contest volunteers. I entered the inner sanctum. I was there. It was pretty cool.
‘Freya’ by The Sword.
Let me tell you exactly how incredible I felt at Eurovision in Stockholm. I felt cool, I felt welcomed, I felt the immense privilege of being able to peep behind the Eurovision curtain, I felt a sense of overwhelming communal joy. I felt amazing.
Because of the kind of person I am, I chose to express this level of joy by going for a walk and listening to some heavy music… some very heavy music. This was a nice bit of rock counter-programming, a concept we are familiar with at ESC Insight. On my commutes to the press centre over that first gruelling weekend of fourteen-hour rehearsal blocks I listened to quite a lot of energetic, epic metal. I might have used the podcast to plug Electric Wizard too.
This song, however, is awesome. The Sword are an American stoner metal band and this is a song about Norse goddess Freya. Go for a walk with it. Imagine me, shades on, headphones in, rocking out on the T-bana with all my Eurovision kit on. I must have looked totally ludicrous, but the sheer buoyancy of my euphoria made me simply immune from caring.
‘Laika’, by The Hungry Hearts.
One of the more surreal but heart-warming aspects of the trip was the interview I did with The Hungry Hearts. Despite not winning the NRK Melodi Grand Prix to represent Norway, they’d turned up in Stockholm to perform some shows, meet up with their intense Norwegian fans, and introduce themselves to their equally intense fans from around the Eurovision world.
It’s fair to say that we haven’t seen the last of them.
They have very specific plans for world domination that I fully believe they intend to see through. As long as there are the kind of wrongs in the world that a lesbian art group can right, we’ll have The Hungry Hearts. As they say themselves, Laika was only the first of fifty spacedogs.
When it was my turn to interview them, I decided to talk to The Hungry Hearts about the nature of political art (that’s the ESC Insight approach for you) and dear reader, they were so fabulous that I could easily have run away with the circus.
‘Cool Me Down’ by Margaret.
Another song that wasn’t even in the main competition, but that seemed to be everywhere, was ‘Cool Me Down.’ It might have been a comment on the weather, or it might just be that it’s more danceable than ‘Color Of Your Life’, but I found myself chilling out hard to it on the Euro fan cafe terrace on the golden, toasty afternoon before the first Semi Final .
It made me think about the power of a really hook-laden pop song to become the soundtrack to your summer. Thinking back to the 90s, the big chart hits like ‘Say You’ll Be There’, ‘Don’t Speak’, ‘Freed From Desire’ and ‘Lovefool’ bring back much stronger, more emotional memories of good times and heartbreak than the very credible stuff that I also liked.
‘Hear Them Calling’ by Greta Salome, and ‘Loin d’ici’ by Zoë.
Tuesday was a day of serious highs and lows. I’d watched the first Jury Semi Final from the pit with some ESC Insight friends the night before and like everyone else, we were expecting results to go a certain way.
We’d been telling ourselves that credible, spooky, Iceland were definitely through, no problem, but that Austria was a confection of pure fan-onanism (if you will) and that there was no way that our heart’s darling Zoë was making it through to the Grand Final.
So confident was I that Iceland were basically automatically through that I’d made my own tribute to Greta’s sexy Ozzy Osbourne costume – a little black dress loaded with as much fringing as the sleeves could sustain – and I’d worn it to the press centre in anticipation of waving my fringed arms at Greta during the qualifiers press conference. (To what end I’m still not sure, I think I was planning on winging it)
But Iceland never came out of an envelope. Somehow, even after the last envelope I was expecting someone to say ‘Iceland’. Greta was robbed, once again.
Anyway, once we got to the Euroclub the dress came into its own. A surprising amount of Icelandic people were excited to see a British lady with no dance training whatsoever perform Greta’s moves from the Euroclub podium. I was only too happy to oblige.
Then there was the other, happier result. Austria surprised all of us cynical hacks by qualifying for the Grand Final! The crowd reaction to ‘Loin d’ici’ had made Zoë cry at the London Eurovision Party, they’d made her cry in Amsterdam too, and she’d already graced us with her fragrant presence from the VIP balcony over the weekend. While we were celebrating her success, she appeared at the top of the stairs to mime along to the Euroclub playback of ‘Loin d’ici’ and was bombarded with pure love.
Happy tears all round.
This was such a fun night. I normally detest clubbing now I’m a married lady in my 30s, but I’m willing to make a special exception for Euroclub, where my ‘go big or go home’ attitude to the dancefloor makes me a valuable party asset instead of being the kind of person who is gently escorted out to a quiet room. The feelings of cameraderie, friendship and celebration were almost overwhelming. Plus, a new friend who shall remain nameless gave me a compliment that I consider to be of the very highest sort. After a particularly energetic bout of dancing to a sequence of high intensity Eurofloor fillers, he bellowed “You. Are. A. Queen!” in my ear.
Finally, I have found my people.
We partied until well after sunrise, walking back through Gamla Stan to catch the first T-bana home. I wasn’t even tired.
‘Seis’ by Mick Pedaja.
Wednesday was taken up with gently trying to effect some sort of recovery from my all-night Euroclub experience. I was finding it totally impossible to sleep in the hotel, due to the noise, the intense sunlight and my general over-excitement. Finally, thanks to the music of enigmatic Estonian genius Mick Pedaja, I experienced a moment of beautiful, cosmic calm which enabled me to nap and sort myself out somewhat. I did awake from the nap having a dream about a somewhat disturbing hypothetical UK Song Contest song involving druids, but a refreshing nap it was nevertheless.
It was at about this time that I was getting so tired that things were starting to seem a bit magical realist. It felt like I’d started magically calling things into being; from an interval act involving robot arms, to a non-political Ukrainian embroidered blouse to a knitting shop run by a friend of a friend. I felt like I was stepping through Zoë’s magical dream kingdom. Everything was getting very strange. I was clearly overdoing it.
If Love Was Just A Midnight Crime Where The Sound Of A Heartbeat Was Golden
Semi Final 2 night was very special and that’s why it gets four songs. After a day in the press centre, fretting about the fates of our favourites, at the very last minute a kind friend from another Delegation was able to make several of our days by giving us a handful of tickets for the Live Show. This was very exciting indeed.
In the build up, we’d gone from thinking that the second Semi Final was the ‘difficult and ballady’ half of the draw to thinking that this was where a likely winner (Ukraine or Australia) could come from. There were also plenty of our favourites due to perform – I wasn’t alone in loving Justs’ hauntingly danceable ‘Heartbeat‘ for Latvia, and we were one hundred percent behind Poli Genova, her hard-working team and the wonderful ‘If Love Was A Crime‘.
In the end, I walked into the Globen thinking that my list of hopeful qualifiers was too long and I was setting myself up for disappointment again. But a magical day ended with a magical result. All of my favourites qualified! Even Georgia!
One of my favourite memories of the Contest is going to be dancing in the arena to the breakdown of Midnight Gold and getting a response of general disgust and alienation from the rest of the audience. It felt pretty good when their name came out of the envelope.
The big winner of the night though was Australia. In a hall full of travelling support, urging Dami Im on, her performance gained an extra gear. The melismatic display over the final chorus seemed emotional rather than technical, which is what we wanted from the song and added to the peculiar electricity in the arena.
The only appropriate way to celebrate… to the Euro Club!
‘Doing It To Death’ by The Kills
By Friday morning I was emotionally and physically exhausted. But by Friday night I’d be out of the bubble. This hit me harder than I thought it would – leaving on the Friday looked perfectly reasonable as an itinerary when it was just squares on the calendar, but when it came to actually doing it, it was something of a wrench. The only thing that kept me on track was that I was leaving the bubble to go and celebrate the marriage of a close friend. I think that we all know that Eurovision teaches us that the only thing more important than Eurovision is friendship.
Friendship, coffee and the last fumes of my Eurovision joy were basically the only way I got through that Friday. If anyone out there is thinking about coming to Eurovision, you should treat it as if it was a mental, physical and emotional marathon. Do not trifle with it. To take care of the physical part you’ll need to watch your fluid intake, make sure you get the right balance of carbs and protein and make sure you’ve got rest days both during and after the Contest if you think you’re going to overdo it. For the mental and emotional parts, I would recommend calling home regularly, getting plenty of sleep, not over-committing socially and occasionally taking a half hour away from your social media. Do Eurovision, but don’t do it to death.
Before I really knew it, I’d had my final Eurovision arena experience in Stockholm – watching the tremendously exciting Grand Final run through, finally capturing that epic Georgian light show – and emptied my pigeon hole for the last time. Then, off to the airport.
‘I Love EU’, by Gruff Rhys.
Obviously, it’s not a political contest. Obviously, the EBU has nothing to do with the European Union. Obviously, the Eurovision Song Contest has nothing to do with the result of the UK referendum.
But still, as I sat at the gate in Skansta I reflected on the amazing, life-changing week I’d had, and how that contributes to a life where I’ve been lucky enough to travel, work and live outside my home country. All of these experiences have contributed to my character and confidence, showed me the lives of others and broadened my horizons. I was feeling deeply sentimental about the Song Contest, and about the continent as a whole. Gruff Rhys’ sweetly adoring ode to the European Union really hit the spot. It was either that or listen to Midnight Gold for the thirteenth time in a row.
‘1944’, by Jamala.
Of course, I was at a wedding party on the night of the Grand Final, so I didn’t watch the Song Contest live. (And I’d seen the show the day before too, so I had a pretty good idea of what was going on) .
However, I did sneak away to a quiet room with some other Eurofans to stream the final voting on my phone. Due to some technical hitches involving Sazeracs and Whisky Sours, we missed large sections of the public voting, but when we restored connection at the point where Poland got their massive televote boost, it was obvious that the Russia vs Ukraine story that we’d been telling all week at ESC Insight was coming to a rousing finish. Then when the Russian televote came in and the result was clear, I was so incredibly moved. The most artistic, sad, dangerous, subtle, Eurovision song in years had triumphed!
Thank you Europe, for making Jamala your winner. It was the perfect end to my extraordinary first Eurovision. I will see you in Kyiv.
There’s no way I can go back to watching from the sofa now.