Bubbly Bubbly Bubbly Euro(vision)

A sane person to an insane society must appear insane

Kurt Vonnegut

So. The Eurovision. Yes, that Eurovision, that thing that just happened in Lisbon. The one that appears to be heading towards Tel Aviv Jerusalem next year. It was awesome. And also a bit terrible. A bit.

This was the first time I’ve spent the full fortnight in “the bubble”: there for day one of rehearsals, seeing how some entries unfold, develop, improve, and (rarely) snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Sorry Jess.

This wasn’t, however, my first Eurovision: it was my third.

My social history of the Eurovision

In 2004 I was in Istanbul for three days. That was a P1/P2 year, so my credential gave me access to a couple of Grand Final dress rehearsals (I arrived the morning after that first live semi-final), but not the press tent. Thus I sat outside the tent, using the free wifi to write a few unremarkable articles.

My abiding memories of Istanbul were:

  • Watching Ruslana do her routine perfectly during the (unimportant) rehearsals, without singing a note (clever woman)
  • Scoring a ticket to the Grand Final an hour before the doors opened
  • Going to the after party, which started at 02h local time: it was held mostly outdoors: it was 8C
  • Being allowed into every Istanbul tourist site for free because of my press credential (very clever)

In 2004 I had assumed Istanbul would be a one-off. Some nine years later and a request to help with some data analyses from this dude and I was dipping my toes back into the Eurovision waters. When Conchita won the following year my husband and both said “let’s go to Vienna next year.” And so we did. Through happenstance there was a press accreditation available from ESCInsight (and there was no longer a P2 so it was a proper accreditation) so we went for the second week. We had tickets to all the shows (standing room, HMMoG that shattered me), and I managed to write a few things.

But coming halfway through the rehearsals was like hitching a ride on a box car: you run as fast as you can to catch up, you leap up, grab hold and hope you don’t fall off. Overall, a good experience, but I again thought that would be my last bubble experience.

So why Lisbon? Well, it worked out timing-wise for some European work travel I needed to do regardless. And it’s Lisbon—one of my favourite cities and one of the more affordable places in Europe to spend (heh heh) a fortnight. As well, if Helsinki 2007 was anything to go by, the Portuguese probably assumed we won’t ever win again so we have to make this awesome. Which, they did. Awesome. So awesome! Obrigado RTP!

Then add in that Ireland had an entry that I was proud of—really proud of and excited by—and my plastic paddy™ gear was packed.

Inside

There is something to be said for being surrounded by people who share you disorder obsession passion. Others who believe—earnestly—in love love, peace peace. Who get a bit weepy over Eurovision entries. In the bubble there can be these surreal moments of connection, where you’re having a moment (In Lisbon that meant Ireland, France and Portugal for me). You wipe your eyes, look around and there’s someone else—maybe five or six someone else’s—having that same moment. It’s kind of amazing and more than kind of wonderful.

But it can also be a muditā experience with your mate’s favourites, which might be an entry you really, really dislike (for me this one, but also that one). If the entry is performed well, you’re thrilled for your mate—genuinely so—regardless of your own feelings about the song: if it is performed badly, you comfort them. Hardcore Eurovision fans are full of muditā; we really are a good-hearted bunch. If you’re a “win by any means necessary” kind of viewer, you’re at the wrong gig. Cause love is stronger than fire and we got love. Lots of it.

And that, my friends, can be a problem sometimes.

Outside

The press rooms are filled mostly by fan press for the first 8 days or. As the first semi-final gets closer, more mainstream media begin to appear. There are exceptions to this cycle. The Portuguese media were thick on the ground almost from the first day. Similarly, if a smaller country believes itself to have a particularly strong entry, they will often send journalists out for the first week. This year there was a fair number of Lithuanian and Hungarian mainstream media on the ground for most of the fortnight.

But mostly it’s people blogging or writing for Eurovision-specific websites. I was accredited for ESCInsight (rather than for 58points). I enjoy writing for Ewan and Sharleen: they like the sort of articles I am inclined to write: I can be a bit cerebral, scratch down below the surface. I wasn’t expected to push out bursts of copy about each rehearsal or press conference: it’s more like feature writing. They’ve never required me to chase the banal to produce clickbait. This is unusual in the bubble.

All of which really suits me, even if I am capable of fangurling a bit (hello Moldova bear cub) I’m equally disinclined to approach the artists—or occupy much of their time if an opportunity presents. This year the only act I sought out was Eleni Foureira—but she was on my radar before that explosive first rehearsal in Lisbon. I had a hunch Cyprus was aiming to win and had put together the total package (big song, right artist, memorable staging).

In general I am not inclined to demoralize myself at the Eurovision. I love the Contest—I do—but it’s not what gets me out of bed in the morning. I am more than capable of sacrificing my dignity for other things, but not for a promotional t-shirt. I don’t ask for selfies either. I’m 54 years old.

All of which perhaps give the impress that I think less of people for whom those sorts of things are important. I don’t. Different means different, not better or worse. But it does mean I often felt like something of an outlier in the press room.

Perspective

Speaking of the press room…there were a fair number of people complaining about the press room and the way the fan press were treated. Perhaps for people who attend every year, the differences can be rather stark. I don’t know: I am not one of those people. To me it was nicer than Istanbul; it wasn’t as plush as Vienna.

Let me describe how I saw our facilities:

  1. Plentiful table space with plenty of electrical outlets for devices
  2. Fast reliable wifi that only struggled during the jury and Grand Finals towards the very end of the fortnight: the press wifi was also working in the arena during the shows, which seems both clever and generous.
  3. Free attendance at the first and third dress rehearsals for each semi-final and the Grand Final
  4. Separate dedicated entrance to the venue for the jury shows, live semi-finals and Grand Final if we held tickets for any of those events
  5. Free espresso
  6. Free bottled water
  7. An individual mail slot
  8. Live stream of nearly every minute of rehearsals, all dress rehearsals and live broadcasts, with multiple monitors in each room
  9. Almost unlimited access at press conferences

These are not inexpensive undertakings.

Most of the space in the press area was occupied by the fan press. Most of these amenities were consumed by the fan press. The only differentiated access was for a bank of tables with ethernet ports: those were rightly reserved for broadcasters who need to transmit large media files. The wifi speed and stability was great, actually.

On balance the amenities on offer were generous.

Toy > Fire > everything else

Watching the Grand Final in the press room was exciting—it was my “come to Jaysus” moment of the fortnight. Though I totally Irish goodbyed and snuck out to get an uber to meet friends at a bar. Because I loathe massive crowds and the stage invasion spooked me a bit.

There was a low-key post Grand Final meetup on the Sunday afternoon. It was also a rather bubblicious gathering: mostly people who’ve attended for a number of years, who knew each other very well, and for whom the rhythm of the day was perfect. I, however, had already buggered up my internal clock with a late night (drinking water, w00), had gone hoarse from singing Eurosongs night after night, and needed food. I had my timings off and had to bail. My last evening was dinner with this lovely chap and his equally lovely wife, along with some of his colleagues from here. A quick nightcap with Ewan, a sleeping tablet, and I was up early the next morning for a flight to Sweden.

Was I happy with the winning entry? Yes. Was it my favourite? No: that was Ireland. But Netta is awesome and she gave her most coherent, tidy and fierce performance on Saturday night—when it counted a lot! I would have preferred Eleni Foureira to win: I love a first time winner for a wee country. Hopefully CyBC’s near victory will inspire them to put together another great entry and bring the Contest to Nicosia. Or Limassol.

I am also mindful that the current Israeli government will use hosting next year’s Contest as a pinkwashing endeavour. But there are lots of Israelis who think Netanyahu is a problem. Just like there are lots of Russians who aren’t homophobes and lots of Hungarians who aren’t xenophobes.

Depois dos adeus

Overall I enjoyed my full-on bubble experience. But I was ready to move on from Lisbon after 17 days. And…ready to move on from any sorted of purposeful Eurovision writing too. While I might be persuaded to write something for ESCInsight in the future, I am taking a step back.

I will keep this site going. Not with an aim of getting a future press pass. Instead it will continue to be what it’s always been: drills down into the aspects of the Eurovision—mostly, but not exclusively data-driven. In the coming weeks I’ll be rolling out:

  • Surprises in the semi-final results
  • What in the Grand Final results makes 2018 either an anomaly or a harbinger of things to come
  • Consideration of cultural capital (Bourdieu, not Coleman or Putnam)
  • Other analyses

Stay tuned.

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