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The View from San Francisco: Beautiful Mess

by | May 10, 2021 | 2021 Home Blog, escgo at Eurovision, Eurovision, Featured

The View from San Francisco: Beautiful Mess

by | May 10, 2021 | 2021 Home Blog, escgo at Eurovision, Eurovision, Featured

After two years away from Eurovision, the second day of rehearsals was a good reminder of some ground rules to have when following (and – sometimes – watching) the first rehearsals. This was first served to me by the stark contrast between watching the first part of the rehearsals yesterday in full, and then only having tiny bits to draw impressions from for the remaining songs.

First rule – don’t panic.

Second rule – seriously, don’t panic. Well, not really. But just remember that even if we get a similar length of video snippet from each rehearsal, you’re not actually going to get the same information out of it. For some countries it can tell you quite a lot, and for others, nothing at all.

For example, take the Belgian rehearsal that made me drool all over its camerawork in yesterday’s live blog like the good nerd that I am, but whose concept, which generally includes a band playing on a dark stage, looks in the video footage like a random warehouse gig in the outskirts of Rotterdam. I also have a feeling that regardless of my feelings towards the Romanian song – whose rehearsal I didn’t watch in full – there’s a similar phenomenon taking place there too and on screen it doesn’t necessarily come across like a student showcase of experimental theater.

On the other hand, sometimes what you see in the photos and video gives you a pretty good idea of what to expect when getting that performance with proper camerawork and in HD. Some delegations, like Norway, just bring their national final performance more or less as is, give or take a few tweaks, and knowing what you’re getting will never be in doubt.

Norway first rehearsal

Chains on You (EBU / Thomas Hanses)

It doesn’t mean that we can’t get the gist of the staging for any song that was never properly performed prior to Eurovision, though. Take Azerbaijan, for example. I didn’t get to see a full runthrough of it, but the little I did see was either familiar from the video clip or just to be expected (oriental backdrops and trolling Armenia by borrowing some dance moves from Artsvik, which probably doesn’t bode too well for them). Essentially, it’s a lot easier to get the idea of a stage show when the concept of it is a stage show; and if you saw a dance routine in videos from the hall, you’re just going to get a much better quality version of it when watching on the night. The only exception to the rule is if you get the staging director of “Same Heart” and they decide to just show the stage from afar for three minutes. But as long as your favorite song has both a choreography and a professional team that understands the audience needs to actually see said choreography, you can more or less imagine how it’d come together later on.

Rule number three is a tricky one because it involves a word most Eurovision fans have either never heard before or willfully choose to ignore: be patient. Not all delegations arrive equally prepared.

This little fact of Eurovision life becomes a bit harder to fully absorb when, for example, you have a few songs from a similar genre but are in very different places in the process, so one of them will come in on the first day and have something very close to the final product by the second run-through, while other delegations are still figuring things out and might not get it entirely right before the dress rehearsals. Case in point: Cyprus and Croatia in yesterday’s rehearsals. Vocals aside – because technical rehearsals aren’t really about that – you could probably use the Cyprus tape of any of the run-throughs for the live show and no one will notice.

Croatia? Not so much, which is why this rule is both important and tricky. As I was live blogging it, I had to work hard to separate in my head what of my disappointment in their staging was purely because of how underprepared it was – easy to see when, for example, the dancers were out of sync – and what was really just a result of not liking the concept. I like Albina quite a bit, by the way, so the good news is that I definitely think it’s going to look a lot better as we get closer to the live show. The bad news is that I still don’t really like the staging, but then again, tacky and I have never been the best of friends.

Croatia first rehearsal

A Matter of Time (EBU / Thomas Hanses)

Rule number four, which like the rest of this list isn’t really ranked in the order of its importance (but I feel like maybe I should throw in an easy one before getting to the big guns): it’s ok to have no idea what to make of a rehearsal. The little bit I saw of Israel made sense to me, but I have no idea what the overall impact is. The problem of this song has always been, well, the song, and I always thought that its chances are entirely depending on Eden, so I just know I will keep having no clue until I see a version in which I can actually see Eden’s expressions for three minutes. And to be fair, even then I might have no clue until after the tenth qualifier has been revealed.

This also applies to acts like Ukraine’s Go_a where the only thing one could – reasonably – expect was the degree of sheer madness (on a scale of 1 to 10, it’s around a 11). But you can’t predict crazy, so I will not know what to expect until I actually see it in full on camera, and I will have no clue what anyone else will make of it even when I do. C’est la vie.

Which brings me to rule number five, which actually always comes together with rule number one: it is possible that, on occasion, delegations will have a staging that doesn’t look at all like what we were expecting. Now, I want you to read this very carefully and repeat after me: that doesn’t make it bad, it just makes it different. You know, like when your favorite book is made into a TV show or a movie and it doesn’t look like what you were imagining it would look like, except unlike movies and TV shows they don’t actually change the storyline. It’s still the same song, just with a different artistic approach than the one we were imagining when we were thinking about how we’d totally be kickass stage directors and absolutely ace that staging thing that delegations are so often terrible at. We know better!

And we all know that the bigger the favorite, the greater the freakout – so it was to the shock of no one that Malta’s rehearsal had an immediate tsunami of panic mixed with some toxic waste in its wake. That type of meltdown, on top of being useful for exactly nothing, is often also a bit confusing for me because sometimes I just really can’t figure out what people were expecting. For example, what was it in either Malta’s song or video that didn’t make fans think the staging would have a bit of a showgirl vibe to it, coupled with a color scheme that can be seen from space? I’m asking for a friend. I’m not even going to talk about any comments that were in any way body shaming towards Destiny’s outfit, because if you liked the song and you have a problem with what she’s wearing, you really missed the entire point.

This doesn’t mean I don’t have an issue with the costumes and staging choices of Malta, but for entirely different reasons. I know Malta is a founding member of the “I don’t know what is this subtlety thing you speak of” Eurovision coalition, but even as someone who generally doesn’t think that every performance in a similar genre and similar sensible staging choices for the genre equate to a rip-off attempt, sometimes the line between a clever nod to a familiar entry and “get your own ideas” is very thick.

Malta first rehearsal

There Must Be Another Way (EBU / Thomas Hanses)

Picking a song theme that is very similar to Netta’s song? Totally fine. The message is as relevant as it was three years ago, and you don’t always have to be the first to do something. The fact the song expresses the message in ways that very much remind of “Toy”, slightly less fine, but also easy to let go of – even if it is pretty clear that the connection between the two is intentional and they are totally doing that “repeating what other winners did” thing. It happens. It’s not as common as many fans think it happens, but it does. But then you get to the first rehearsal and you get a show that (reasonably) has Destiny and a group of female dancers, with the entire color scheme of their black and pinks also being a pretty memorable feature of Netta’s costume – and to a degree also the dancers’ costumes (and hair). Basically, apparently the Maltese way of being in your face is actually punching you and breaking your nose in two places.

The fan reaction to Netta’s first rehearsal in 2018 was a fairly similar meltdown. While that doesn’t necessarily mean that Malta is going to win it just like Netta, it should at least mean that fans really ought to know this by now.

Where’s that definition of insanity when you need it?

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