Five points from the Eurovision press bubble

In 2010 I offered some advice about following rehearsal blogs. Up till then I’d sat at home and done just that. From 2011, I’ve been lucky enough to write one myself from the venue’s press centre.

Being present doesn’t necessarily make the picture clearer. There are hundreds of different opinions within the Eurovision bubble and it can take some getting used to. One strategy I’ve adopted to counter the bubble is to write my copy before reading others. But the daily swirl of discussion is bound to have an impact.

As you settle in to read through the copious rehearsal blogs over the next two weeks, here are a few things to bear in mind.

1. How it works
The full schedule can be found here. In the first week, each country runs through its song 3-4 times during first rehearsals and during second rehearsals. The first rehearsal is not filmed by anyone other than eurovision.tv, who only offer small tidbits of staging, and costumes are not usually worn (though are often briefly held up to cameras as an indicator).

Second rehearsals are filmed by blogs within the arena. Often the first run-through is captured to be uploaded quickly, and these are sometimes the most ragged. What you get from these videos, invaluable though they are for those following at home, is obviously very different from the TV feed showing the hosts’ camera angles.

Changes and refinements are made during this process. For example, lighting and costumes are sometimes switched so delegations can assess which works best.

2. What’s important?
It’s worth pointing out that the main variable in a country’s chances has already been decided – the song. Staging can be important, and can make a difference between victory or otherwise. However, despite the excitement and the detail of rehearsal blogs, it should be kept in its context, which is occasionally unimportant.

To take an extreme example, Loreen can choke on a snowflake during the jury rehearsal and still win that vote because she’s singing ‘Euphoria’ in the exciting way we already saw it being staged in Melodifestivalen.

On a more mundane level, take this year’s Maltese song. I’ve seen it performed live in Amsterdam and London. I doubt there’ll be any change to the way it’s staged in Copenhagen. We can report on the backdrop, the colours, the outfits, how much they engage with each other and the cameras. None of that is to be dismissed, but we pretty much know what we’re getting.

That won’t be the case with the more gimmicky staging concepts, which brings me onto my next point.

3. Can it be fixed?
I’ve seen plenty of early-rehearsal problems mocked by the Eurovision bubble, before coming good when it mattered. Eric Saade’s box initially failed to smash in 2011, Zlata’s entrance in the arms of a giant started out as a shambles in 2013. That didn’t stop either getting a podium finish.

So when problems arise, as they invariably do – especially with the high-concept stuff – ask yourself if the problem is just a technical one that can be fixed, or a more intractable one that will still be an issue on the night.

4. When a slow build is a good idea
Some acts arrive with all guns blazing at the first rehearsal. In 2012, Iceland’s Greta and Jonsi were at their very best on that first day in Baku. Unfortunately, Jonsi rather wore out his vocal cords by the second week, whilst Greta looked like a rabbit in the headlights when it mattered.

Others are slower to get going. Malta’s Gianluca was poor early on last year, losing his timing on more than one occasion before reserving his best performances for the big occasion. Hungary’s ByeAlex could look at his watch mid-song and show a general nonchalance in rehearsals – that didn’t stop him also managing a surprise top ten place last year.

A slow build – taking the concept of rehearsal as literally as possible – is often the most sensible way.

5. Tweet, tweet
Twitter is at its best with realtime, breaking news. It’s thus become the perfect tool for reporting from and following rehearsals. Sign up if you haven’t already, get following and prepare to sort the signal from the noise in bite-sized chunks of 140 characters or less.

I will be tweeting my initial thoughts on the first rehearsals from the press centre tomorrow. You can follow my tweets here. Any questions or comments, do keep them coming below.

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