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The What, Why and How Of Australia’s Unique Eurovision Appearance Written by on May 18, 2021

For the first time in the Eurovision Song Contest’s history, an artist will be performing in the show without travelling to the host venue to perform. This is the situation that Montaigne, Australia’s 2021 Eurovision act, has to face this year. Ben Robertson explains the logistics behind this decision.

Australia has been in the Eurovision Song Contest as a competing member since 2015. Prior to that decision there were years upon years of active engagement with the Contest, and a notable interval act from 2014, that led to the EBU granting Australia a one-time pass directly into the 2015 final in Vienna.

After that point, Australia was given one year extensions to their deal, and in that time the country has racked up a series of impressive results, with all of their four semi final tracks qualifying and only one missing the top ten. It is with little surprise that broadcaster SBS has been given a longer term agreement to enter the Eurovision Song Contest, set currently until 2023.

Australia is taking part this year, but is doing so in a different way.

The Live On-Tape Performance

That different way is described by the European Broadcasting Union as a ‘live on-tape’ performance. Due to the pandemic situation, each country was required to record a version of their Eurovision song in their home country no later than the end of March. This meant that, no matter what the situation was, there would be a fair performance of the song that could compete in May.

There were strict rules governing these performances to ensure the required fairness. Firstly, despite not being in the arena, they have to be done live, with a one hour window being given to deliver the performance. The process to upload that mix should happen within that hour as well the feed from each individual camera position. In contrast to the setup in Rotterdam, augmented reality was not allowed in these performances, and neither were green screens nor confetti.

There was though one aspect of flexibility that Rotterdam did not offer. During that one hour window where the live on-tape performance could be filmed, the delegation could choose from up to three different run-throughs of the song, in contrast to the fully live experience in Rotterdam.

Now we are in a Eurovision Song Contest under the guidelines of “Scenario B”, where delegations are allowed in Rotterdam and will perform live in the arena, but must follow an extensive Health and Safety Protocol. Delegations for which there have been positive COVID-19 cases, for which at time of writing is two, may not be allowed to compete in person. Should it be the case that the artists can not compete in such a scenario, those delegations are able to choose from either a rehearsal clip from inside the Ahoy in Rotterdam or the live on-tape performance.

Australia gets no choice.

A Continent Far Far Away

The Australian delegation is not in Rotterdam. In April it was announced that the Australian team would not be able to travel due to the current pandemic situation. In short, Australia’s policy against COVID-19 is one aimed at having zero cases of locally transmitted infection, and strict travel bans and quarantining are a part of the implementation for that.

If the Australian delegation had taken the decision to travel to Rotterdam, then the team would have had to have an enforced hotel quarantine back in Australia for two weeks, which for each individual is a cost of A$3000. Coupled to that, there also exists the question of how essential the travel would be to Rotterdam, knowing that a workaround solution existed with the live on-tape performances. An SBS statement described the decision as “difficult”, citing the “many factors involved in travelling to and from the event from Australia” as part of the decision making process.

It is a devastating decision for many involved, but especially for Montaigne. Montaigne is one of the many artists who has had to wait over a year for her Eurovision moment, having won the last edition of Australia Decides in 2020 with ‘Don’t Break Me’. Despite the “immense privilege” it is to represent Australia, the decision is still “sad” for her, which was reflected in her press meet and greet.

“It’s just been a rough two years to do Eurovision, because any expectations I had for it were always crushed by circumstance, which is annoying, but again very grateful to be here and really proud of ‘Technicolour.’”

While Montaigne may be proud of the song, there’s still the issue of the performance that was always recorded as a back-up and now is the real thing. Montaigne explained that, should she have been in Rotterdam, the performance of ‘Technicolour’ would have likely been more extravagant than what we will see in the Semi Final.

“Honestly I would change quite a lot, I was really happy with the costumes, the make-up, the dancers, I thought it was really cool. I think something I would have hoped for, is that the production would have been a bit funnier.”

“if we had more time and resources we could have achieved that. I wanted it to feel like a very feminine… superhero comic book energy.”

But, that there is a live on-tape performance at all is a huge blessing in this environment.

How The Performance Comes Together

Australia will perform in tonight’s 1st Semi Final of the 2021 Eurovision Song Contest. Drawn 5th, the performance of Montaigne is sandwiched between the effortlessly Swedish pop ballad ‘Voices’ and the emotional and wrought musical theatre number ‘Here I Stand’ from North Macedonia.

At first, the untrained eye will miss that there is anything unique about Montaigne’s appearance in Eurovision. After the Swedish act Tusse leaves the stage, the postcard will roll in with images of Sparta Rotterdam’s football stadium and all of the commentators can discuss Montaigne’s love of all things football, or gardening. Commentators can choose to present Montaigne just like every other act if they choose to, rather than a missing one. As we link up back to the arena, the title graphics will flash in just like they do for all the other songs in the show, before fading out to a picture of Montaigne on a dark stage, and her routine begins.

The staging used by the Australian team generally stays dark, but with intense flashes of light and colour, especially towards the song’s finale, and an incredibly tight choreography between Montaigne and her three dancers. Sure, the lighting and angles are different, but all considered the casual viewer would need to squint to realise that it was filmed literally on the other side of the planet.

The moment of sheer production class comes afterwards however when we are transported into the Rotterdam Ahoy. We will get an image from the back of the arena, looking out onto the stage’s LED screen where we will see the film of Montaigne’s performance that has been played to the audience of thousands in the arena. It is a tasteful and heartwarming moment.

After Vasil blasts out ‘Here I Stand’ following Montaigne’s performance we will then cut to a short break. During that break our host Nikkie de Jager will interview Montaigne, who is being woken up before sunrise to beam into the hearts of millions watching. It’s nice to have that connection and the chance to include Montaigne in the programme. Plus should she qualify for the Grand Final we’ll get to see the celebrations of her and the delegation.

Thinking about the future beyond 2021, one must be cautious about where the world, and Australia, will be for the next Eurovision Song Contest of 2022. Australia is planning for their borders to be re-opened back to pre-pandemic conditions by the middle of 2022. If that situation becomes a reality, Australia may need to compete in Eurovision via the same method as they are today if that is even an acceptable solution for next year’s Contest.

Of course the ability to be stranded on the other side of the world during this time isn’t what anybody wants, and the Australian delegation would love nothing more than to be back at Eurovision in person sooner rather than later. Thankfully that decision doesn’t need to be taken today. The distance between Montaigne and Europe is on one side of the coin heartbreakingly far, but on the other hand technology makes this all possible, meaning that she is closer to all of us than she could be otherwise.

About The Author: Ben Robertson

Ben Robertson has attended 23 National Finals in the world of Eurovision. With that experience behind him he writes for ESC Insight with his analysis and opinions about anything and everything Eurovision Song Contest that is worth telling.

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