It’s safe to say that Eurovision is officially over for 2018. Portugal hosted an incredible competition, Lisbon smashing it as host city. During the week in May, you could sense the importance of the event to the locals. This was Portugal’s first opportunity to host a Eurovision Song Contest. It was also my first experience of attending the event. I’m a big fan of Eurovision, vlogging and writing about the event over the past few years. This time I had the opportunity to work for Eurovision, presenting and producing their live social content on show days for their official Instagram, Facebook and Twitter platforms. Three months on, I wanted to give you an insight into what it’s like behind the scenes at the world’s biggest live music show and talk about some of the acts that I couldn’t publicly have an opinion on whilst the competition was going on.
One thing that can’t be understated with Eurovision is the scale of the event and the sheer number of people who work to make it happen. From the show crew and national delegations to security and local volunteers, I’d imagine there were at least 1000 people contributing to the Eurovision juggernaut and ensuring its continued success.
There are three Eurovision shows that you see broadcast across the world; the two semi-finals on the Tuesday and Thursday, and the Grand Final on Saturday night. However, those are just the televised events. What you might not realise is that there is actually a live show from the arena every night, as the national jury finals take place on the preceding evening to the TV broadcast. You also have a dress-rehearsal for each jury final, and a dress-rehearsal for the televised show itself. In all, that means there are 12 shows produced over 6 days.
Before all of this, there is a solid week of rehearsals with each delegation (country) allowed two rehearsal blocks in which the artist performs their track up on up to three occasions, enabling the performer to practice their choreography and moves for camera in the arena environment. As the camera moves for each performance are the most ambitious and complex undertaken compared to any other live TV broadcast, there are weeks of rehearsals using local performers as stand-ins before the delegations arrive in the host city, whilst delegation chiefs are able to provide feedback and notes whilst the camera and lighting moves are blocked out.
Here's Austria's stand-in rehearsal for 2018. Yes, Richard Ayoade is also a talent Portuguese performer.
Eurovision is certainly one of the most rehearsed live events you could ever feast your eyes upon!
As part of the social media operation in Portugal I arrived in Lisbon on Tuesday 8th May, the date set for the first semi-final. Based in the back offices of the media centre which played host to over a thousand journalists from around the world, I had the day to get my head around each performance and judge which cuts would be best for social platforms during the show. Every delegation performs for up to 3 minutes on stage with approximately 45 seconds allowed for changeovers between the acts; a choreographed masterpiece in its own right. Consequently, I would have 4-minute windows to clip each performance and post it to social platforms with the relevant copy. With #Eurovision the leading trend worldwide throughout each show, there is no room for an error. I rehearsed the process, just like every other operation involved in Eurovision, but also made sure I spent time in the arena to get the experience of a spectator, which enabled me to ensure the true experience was accurately conveyed to viewers at home.
No matter how much you rehearse, you can’t prepare for moments in which things don’t go according to plan. As you will remember, a protester invaded the stage during the UK’s Grand Final performance. I had originally earmarked this section of the performance to publish on social. Obviously immediately after the performance, fans would be looking to social first for official statements about what had happened on stage and what the response from the EBU (European Broadcast Union, responsible for Eurovision) would be. We couldn’t promote content featuring the protester, but we couldn’t ignore that SuRie’s performance had been interrupted.
I can’t lie, it’s a stressful situation to when you’re at the centre of a huge bubble with hundreds of millions of people peering in to witness how you handle it, but if you are the type of person who thrives under pressure, the experience turns out to be a massive buzz.
In addition to preparing for the live shows, I was also Eurovision’s first presenter for live social platforms. I gave behind the scenes tours and updates on Instagram Live whilst answering questions from fans around the world. These broadcasts were not greatly publicised and yet the reaction was quite extraordinary. There will certainly be more of these on a bigger scale next year!
There were some magical performances at this year’s song contest. It was one of the most tightly fought competitions for years but for obvious reasons, I wasn’t allowed to discuss my opinions publicly about any of the acts in the build-up to the event or in the immediate aftermath. Now that the dust has settled, I wanted to share my stand-out moments from the Grand Final and who I think will live long in the memory as outstanding Eurovision acts.
Featuring in the first semi-final, affectionately referred to by fans as the ‘heat of death’, Eugent Bushpepa wasn’t fancied by the bookies to make the final. Yet, he smashed his way through with a stunning vocal performance which unexpectedly wowed the arena like no other performance throughout the week. The song stood out to me when it was released as a potential dark-horse and it appears the national juries agreed ranking the song, ‘Mall’, in 7th place overall. In the end, Albania finished in 11th place which is astonishing considering voters at home ranked it in 9th. How that one worked, I’ll never know. The live vocals on this song were the best by a country mile and he looked nothing but entirely at home on stage. I have no idea what a single word of the song meant; the emotion was still conveyed. Eugent performed effortlessly and deservedly delivered Albania’s best result since 2012. I’m slightly gutted he just missed out on a Top 10 finish. Though, placing in 11th is nothing to be sneered at.
Belonging to the ‘Big 5’ might guarantee a Grand Final place for the biggest financial contributors to the competition, but it certainly doesn’t correlate with overall Eurovision success. In fact, Germany’s broadcaster NDR completely revamped its selection process in 2018 following an appalling run of results over the past five years. The format saw domestic and international experts involved with artist selection and song writing. A public vote ensured opinions at all ends of the spectrum could be heard. The result, Michael Schulte, a musician with a large online following was chosen to perform his emotional ballad, “You Let Me Walk Alone”. The song remained underappreciated by Eurofans across the globe prior to Lisbon, dismissed as just another German failure to recapture the success demonstrated by Lena at the beginning of the decade. In the absence of a semi-final performance, it wasn’t possible to judge how fans at home were reacting on social media until the big Saturday night performance. Schulte was flawless on the night. Terrific vocals and a backdrop with projected family photos further adding to the emotion conveyed by the lyrics. The song connected to audiences at home and as such, a 4th place finish was truly deserved. With a later position in the running order amongst some of the higher tempo numbers, this could easily have been the winner. If Germany take the same approach into future contests, we will see them challenging for a top spot with the same frequency as the likes of Italy and Sweden.
When César Sampson appeared top of the leaderboard following the distribution of points from the professional juries, my jaw dropped to the floor. Nobody saw this coming. Nobody had been talking about Austria. Sure, it was a nice sounding song with a powerful solo performance on stage. It was likely to qualify for the Grand Final, but never was it a contender to win. ‘Nobody but You’ was a true dark horse of the competition which remained under the radar right until the scores came in from around the continent. In hindsight, I have no idea why nobody predicted this to happen. César’s performance was outstanding. Wide-eyed, passionate, with a cracking vocal. The song rises to an emphatic conclusion, the almost perfect metaphor for what happened with its final placing in the Grand Final. Austria would have been deserving winners demonstrating how the coming together of excellent writing, melody, vocals and staging can have the impact of Eurovision delegations’ producers’ dreams.
I was disappointed when this entry first dropped. Disappointed for Ireland. Another year, another semi-final exit, another Eurovision disappointment. I thought it was dull, it had far too many uncomfortably high notes, and it certainly didn’t have any of the star quality required to be considered a contender for the top prize. Over time however, the song grew. Ryan O’ Shaughnessy soon found himself being looped on my Spotify playlists. Then we saw how the music video for “Together” translated on to the stage. It became a three minute musical masterpiece, with Ryan telling an emotional break-up story, depicted on stage both by himself and his piano-playing backing singer, and a pair of male dancers. This performance maximised the potential of the Altice stage, the arena crowd erupting when the dancers crossed a bridge onto the main stage, hand in hand. Although a major part of the performance, the dancers didn’t distract from Ryan’s tremendous vocal performance. Ireland really had to offer something special to qualify from the heat of death in Semi-Final 1. They did it in superb style, and would have been deserving of a top 10 finish overall.
FIRE! FIRE! FIRE! Somehow, I managed to spot this song well before Eurovision week. Fuego was listed as the 2nd track on the Spotify playlist for Eurovision 2018. Instantly, the track stood out. Mediterranean/Middle eastern vibes on tracks that had performed so well at Eurovision previously made me think that this was being underestimated by the majority of the fan community. A mega drop, a catchy chorus, and lyrics that you could join in with, this entry had it all. At the time of discovery, it was 100/1 to win with UK betting markets. Cyprus, having never won Eurovision previously were dismissed until we saw Eleni’s performance come to life during rehearsals in the Altice. From that moment on, she was the talk of Lisbon. Undeniably, following a superb semi-final performance, Fuego was the favourite to win the competition. Eleni Foureira’s stamina on stage was that of an Olympic athlete who dedicates a lifetime of training to their one performance on the world stage. The choreography acted as a strong metaphor to the lyrics, the arena smelling of the UK skylines on Guy Fawkes night. Pyros, everywhere! Cyprus finished in 2nd place. They were too close to the victory for such a small nation to not be undeniably disappointed. In hindsight, was this the true winner of Eurovision 2018? Oh yeah, yeah, yeah!
Joe is a Eurovision expert, blogger and vlogger from the UK. In 2018, he became the presenter for official Eurovision social media platforms. Contact: email@example.com