Once upon a few years ago – yes, I’m too lazy to check when, exactly – I had the brilliant idea of spending a lot of time and words trying to see how much I can learn about upcoming Eurovision performances from limited rehearsal materials. Then the last few years happened and included a Eurovision in person, no Eurovision at all, and a remote accreditation. This means it has been a while since I’ve done what I actually set up to do in my original series of The View from San Francisco: extreme overthinking with not that much to go on except short clips, gut feelings and a sense we all have watched enough Eurovisions to actually have a pretty good feel for what we’re going to get.
Therefore and without further ado, grab your coffee and your breakfast food of choice and allow me to guide you through the scary place that is my brain as I reflect on the first day of open rehearsals.
The official videoclip of Sekret made no – I’m really really sorry for this terrible pun – secret that someone in Ronela’s artistic team has spent a lot of time watching Game of Thrones and Vikings. Therefore, I wasn’t particularly surprised to find a Dothraki dance troupe accompanying her on stage, but I was slightly thrown off by a last moment twist: Ronela’s costume designer is secretly (yes, again, I’m really sorry, this is not on purpose) addicted to reruns of I Dream of Jeannie. It’s great to see artists remembering and honoring iconic pop culture figures from decades past. What I appreciated even more was how the choreography is a subtle tribute to two Balkan Eurovision legends, Severina and Slavko. What a touching way to show that your pride in your roots and your region will never, ever be a – excuse me – secret.
I have given up on having a chance to understand who came up with those lyrics and why anyone thought it was a good idea a long time ago. And let me tell you it was a very difficult decision that started with me staring at my screen when I watched this for the first time, asked myself what the hell is this and why are they always doing this to me, then followed up and asked myself whether I wanted to know what inspired them to write this song and immediately responded to myself in this somewhat scary inner monologue that I really don’t.
Therefore, today I will focus on another mystery: why did anyone think that getting fashion tips from Pollapönk was a good idea? I don’t care if you couldn’t decide on a color scheme; “all the colors” is never the correct answer.
However, despite their terrible taste in lyrics, composition and visuals, they somehow manage to be a lot of fun and be very likable while they are having fun with their terrible-in-any-other-way entry. I suppose we’re going to find out how many points being nice and having Lithuania in the same semi with you is worth.
I do love it when acts bring the exact same national final performance to Eurovision and prevent me from having to process new horrors after I finally got used to whatever it was they inflicted on me in their national final.
I love it even more when countries realize that sometimes less is more, and that an intimate and nostalgic staging for an intimate and nostalgic song should just stay that way. The backdrop – in a rare moment of actual productiveness and contribution to the act that is standing on the stage – provides sparkling lights that make the song look like something that was all the rage back in 1967. I’m not entirely sure the stage designers intended to have its best feature be a time machine, but hey, whatever works. Literally.
The Swiss delegation obviously thoroughly researched and watched every single performance of a male soloist from the last decade. From what we saw in the rehearsal of Boys Do Cry, this is what I imagine the process was like:
It all started when the artistic director watched Israel’s Made of Stars and couldn’t stop crying. “But why would they ruin such perfect, unheard of in Eurovision presentation of a dark stage and sparkling lights, with a circus show?”
“So…” interjected the new intern interjected, “is that what you want to go with? Dark stage and some lights?”
“Of course not!” scoffed the artistic director, “we need to have some je ne sais quoi, like that thingy that guy from Sweden and the Bulgarian kid had? There was even this guy – I don’t remember what country he was from, they usually don’t do well, but he had ginger curls, he had that thingy too and he did really well!”
An hour down the rabbit hole of YouTube later, the intern finally figured out that the director meant those on screen graphics or projections that look like white chalk drawings. There was one little problem, though.
“But… sir,” he said, fearing what would come next – he just wanted to go home and catch up on the new season of Bridgerton, is this too much to ask? – “we don’t have the budget for such a production.”
“A-ha!” shouted the director. “We don’t need a big production! This is minimalist! We just need a small way to tell our viewers this is an intimate song about a broken heart!”
“A small broken heart, got it.”
Friday night was just going nowhere / Sitting in a small café / Feeling lonely, a little tired / I’ve been working hard all day.
“Shi! Shi! What are you doing?”
“I’m about to practice an inverted double clap, duh. Why are you interrupting me?”
“Because you’re supposed to write about Slovenia.”
“Do I have to?”
Let’s discoteque right at my home / It is okay to dance alone / Dance alone, dance alone (alone)
“What are you doing? You’re supposed to be writing something about Slovenia!”
“Doing nothing at all?”
“Excuse me. I’m Trying to get the choreography of this right. It’s really hard! How do they do that thing with the fingers?”
I’m lying, I’m late / I’m losing my weight / Because I want to dance all night / Because I want to stay all night / In the disco
“Shi! Shi! For crying out loud! Just write up something about Slovenia already!”
“Wait, what was Slovenia again?”
I had to turn off my natural tendency for gallows humor with this one, for obvious reasons. Instead, in a rare moment of some actual seriousness on my part, even looking at the little tiny bit we had from this rehearsal made me realize why Ukrainian staging has so often been the gold standard since they first joined the Eurovision Song Contest (well, okay, since their second entry).
Costumes aside (because I still don’t understand those), I find it astonishing that a delegation that has been in a state of a vicious war almost since this song was picked, has managed to do its homework so well that in 30 seconds of video they use way more stage and direction features than any of the delegations before them. Ukraine learned a long time ago how much every detail matters when you have three minutes to tell a full story, and even though they have the best excuse to be off their game, they still do this much better than many countries that had all the time, resources, peace and quiet to come up with something.
From a country who gets it to a country that doesn’t really get it (and is blissfully – for them – and unfortunately – for the rest of us entirely unaware of it). After not only qualifying twice in a row following six successive failures, but also finishing inside the top 5 both times, Bulgaria enthusiastically took to the task of adopting ambitious projects and even more ambitious social media verbiage in their quest to keep pushing the Bulgarian envelope at Eurovision. The only problem is that they have no idea what it is, exactly, that they are supposed to push, which results in all kind of questionable choices and concepts.
As far as I can tell, they focused on two main things when they came up with this year’s entry.
The first was picking a terrible, uninspired song, which is an interesting strategy. They went with an innovative approach in which they tap the subconscious of the viewers and draw almost invisible lines between this entry and last year’s winning entry (band! rock! it’s really almost the same, right!), counting on it creating warm fuzzy feelings of familiarity which can form a relationship between the intelligent viewers and the intelligent musicians.
The truly ambitious part of this very smart project was the second aspect of their chosen concept. Somehow, there was a person somewhere in the BNT offices who looked at Bulgaria’s recent entries and thought: “Oh! I know! What if we tried to come with another supergroup, except they will have to be even less likable than Equinox! Wouldn’t that be something?”
Well, Bulgaria, it is something. I will give you that. I’m not sure what this something is, but that’s entirely beside the point.
A proud member of the “it can go either way” when it comes to staging, the Dutch are definitely getting it right this year, which I imagine is to the credit of S10 more than anyone else. Much like its studio version counterpart, it stands out in its simple effectiveness and manages to establish a melancholic mood without overdoing it and even though the staging occasionally makes me want to sing Golden Eye instead (in itself never a terrible thing), that doesn’t distract me from noticing the actual song which is most definitely not sung by Tina Turner, nor it is in English.
Songs in foreign languages are still considered to be a tougher sell for wide audiences (despite quite a few successes from recent years saying otherwise), but there is a very simple test that can help see whether a staging works for a song, regardless of language.
It’s a pretty simple method. It’s called the Mute Test.
Step 1: mute.
Step 2: look at your screen and watch the performance without sound.
Step 3: reflect on how it makes you feel.
Step 4: unmute.
Step 5: listen to the song.
Step 6: Does your mood watching the performance match your mood when listening to it?
Yes? Congratulations, it works.
No? Congratulations, you’re Germany. Better luck next time, Jamie-Lee.
Let me tell you a story.
A very long time ago, in the ancient year of 2005, a band called Zdob și Zdub represented Moldova at the Eurovision Song Contest and found great success. They shared this wonderful achievement with a delightful elderly woman, known only by her moniker, Boonika.
Upon their return to their motherland, Moldova, the band members attempted to stay in touch with their illustrious partner, but every time they showed up at her house to say hey ho, let’s go, she’d just sit there, beat the drum, and say absolutely nothing in return.
After a while, they gave up. The years passed, and suddenly it was 2022. The members of our beloved band were frantically looking for all those cool props and costumes from 2011, but to no avail. With only hours to spare until the last train from Chișinău to Bucharest, they were running out of ideas until one band member, in desperation, suggested one last visit to Boonika’s house.
They were definitely concerned about once again not being able to cross the threshold, but when they arrived with their new BFFs, the Advahov Brothers , they found out that the house has been abandoned, and Boonika is nowhere to be seen.
Zdob și Zdub were sure all their problems were solved. After all, Boonika wouldn’t have protected the house so valiantly for so many years if she didn’t have a good reason. What treasures must be hidden there!
But what they didn’t know is that Boonika was a witch, and she had a very unique and rare power: every time she beat the drum, an item of clothing disappeared from a closet of a former Barbara Dex Award winner and showed up in her attic. When it was announced back in March 2022 that the award would be discontinued, the magic in the house dried up and Boonika disappeared, leaving behind her all the clothes that magically showed up in the attic over the years.
With no other choice, Zdob și Zdub and the Advahov Brothers took whatever they could from the attic. “I guess we aren’t so lucky after all,” they said as they sprinted towards the train station. “Hey ho! Let’s go!”
Oh, good. Interpretive dance. That one always works!
Said no one ever.
So, why, Croatia, why?
Also, while we’re at it, can someone explain the dress choice to me? What were the criteria, exactly? “See that dress? Yes, yes, that one, the one in a color and style that doesn’t match anything on stage, the song or the singer? It’s perfect!”
“Are you sure? It’s a bit… distracting.”
“See? You got our concept in one!”
I do love it when acts bring the exact same national final performance to Eurovision and prevent me from having to experience them again. You have two opposable thumbs, you can use them if for some bizarre reason having to watch the three minutes of this in the semi itself isn’t enough for you.
To my great shock and surprise, this is not terrible or tacky! Low bar, I know, but I’ve seen every single one of the previous attempts to stage a song that features a DJ and a DJ console, and this effort is the one that caused me the least desire to gouge my eyes out! It’s a miracle!
Also miraculous: technology and recorded backing vocals.
Not going blind: good.
Not going deaf: good.
Not having a very interesting performance: less good, but gooder than what most attempts to make this into interesting ones would probably be like. You win some, you lose some. Whatever happens, you can always remind yourself as you wait for your turn on stage that at least you’re not Denmark. Doesn’t it make you feel better already?
From the creative brief of the ERT offices, sent to the artistic team of Amanda Tenfjord on the occasion of her participation in the 2022 Eurovision Song Contest on behalf of Greece:
“You can do whatever you like. We completely trust you to do absolutely anything you want. We only have one request: whatever you do, make sure that people remember that Amanda Tenfjord is representing Greece, ok? GREECE. G-R-E-A-P-O.”
From the recordings of Amanda Tenfjord’s artistic team brainstorming sessions:
“OK, people, what do we have? Dead sun? Fantastic! What else? Cemetery of dead chairs? Beautiful! I love this creative energy! Now, here is the real artistic challenge for you all talented inspiring humans in this room, just close your eyes and tell me what you see when you hear the next sentence: a dead chair cemetery, but make it Greek. What is this that I hear? Blue back lights? Excellent! This is the type of original thinking we expect of each and every one of you. What was that? A white dress? Against a dark backdrop? Visionary! Opa!”
From the police report of the officer who responded to a disturbance call at the offices of Amanda Tenfjord’s artistic team:
An unidentified person, who claimed to be an Artistic Director, was found on the scene shouting “Opa!” while throwing folding plastic chairs against a wall. When asked for explanations we were told they are in the process of “making it Greek.” We suspect it is a password of sorts, but are yet to solve the secret combination that can help us decipher its meaning.
MARO: “I’m just going to stand here on the satellite stage and form a prayer circle far far away from all those crazy people.”
This is it for today. If you’re reading this, thank you for accidentally scrolling all the way to the bottom. I’ll be here all week!