Somehow, I ended up with a press pass for Eurovision. I’m not really sure how, and to be honest with you, it hasn’t felt real. That surrealness/imposter syndrome ended today, when I went to see the exclusive, media-only dress rehearsal for Semi Final #2. Let me walk through what it’s like.
By the time you see this, chances are the second semi final results will have been out – so rather than go who I think will qualify (my prediction: Belgium, shockingly, will take all 10 qualification spaces with the judges agreeing that they’re “just that good”), I want to give you the thoughts, feelings, emotions live (almost!) from the M&S Bank Arena.
I always like a good look at the behind the scenes of shows, especially when I’m not having to work at it. So understandably getting a peak at how the Eurosausage is made immediately piqued my interest. I had no expectation for what the first dress rehearsal would actually be like in terms of polish, so I’m delighted to say that it all came together
The first thing I have to bring up is how we ended up in the arena. If you went to Liverpool this week, you’ll be familiar with the endless snake of people reaching from the arena down to the Wheel of Liverpool. As snooty as it sounds, press is simply too good for that – so instead we have our VIP entrance. Not to be confused with the actual VIP entrance, of course. We’re not that special!
Press pass holders have their own entrance route, leaving from the official Eurovision Media Centre. It’s a little section of the exhibition site, on the far southern side of the dockland area. It’s quite the trek across – a good ten minutes on foot from the front of the M&S Bank to opposite the Keel hotel. After finally reaching the media entrance and being cleared by security, I waited in the lobby of the press centre for an armed security detail to pick me up.
Once into the arena, I hurried to find a seat, expecting it to be jampacked. To my surprise, it wasn’t. At most it was around a hundred or so in attendance, and most of the people there were other journalists or broadcasters, recording clips of the rehearsal to use on that evening’s news broadcaster. And from there, I noted that you could sit pretty much anywhere.
There were plenty of little things that stuck out to me; commentators Graham and Timur (the Ukrainian Graham) weren’t available for this early rehearsal – I’m assuming they have good excuses – so instead two crewmembers were used as standins. Ukraine’s penultimate performance had a few teething technical troubles; once fixed, a Ukrainian journalist celebrated with a very loud, triumphant ‘Slava Ukraini’. During the drag number, Hannah Waddington suggested a few minor script changes. Alesha & Hannah celebrated the end of a particularly dull but necessary VT with a hug and some banter we couldn’t quite hear. Everything that you were meant to see, however, is rigidly locked-in, structured and premeditated – even the throwaway gags that don’t quite land (looking at you, Scooch!).
But jokes that don’t translate is irrelevant to Eurovision when the good music does translate! Gauging the audience reaction to the tracks – and bear in mind this is an audience of devotees in the media who love Eurovision to travel here, and to watch a press show. The sheer energy of Belgian’s nu-diva house icon Gustaph can not be understated; even the diehard ballad-lovers in the press audience couldn’t help but clap along. Also of note was Armenia’s vertical stage, which got a few gasps from people not completely aware of the details.
Something I hadn’t really appreciated before was the magic of cutaway videos. Now on some level I knew that the iconic Eurovision ”postcards” VTs (those videos with the landmarks) were cover for set changes – being tsar of Southampton’s student TV for the last two years does make you a little bit aware of how it all works behind the scenes. Watching the crew hurriedly rush Armenia’s gigantic slanted stage into place was a particular highlight – and also of note were the crack team of broom-sweepers, ready to immediately mop up the detritus of prior acts off the glass Eurovision stage – it’s a shame they couldn’t sweep off the Australian act before they started performing.
As a running theme, everyone here has been really, really friendly. I got talking to quite a few proper journos and media people from across Europe. Even though the event occassionally enforces a teeny tiny real/fan media hierarchy, this isn’t the same on the ground. I sat with the lovely team behind the Greek Eurofans radio show – and after the main show.
If it wasn’t for the rail strikes attempting to ruin my weekend, I’d have stayed an extra day just for a chance to get into the final dress rehearsal. Alas, I will have to live with seeing it unfold on television like 99% of people. And, you know, like I usually do every year.
Taking stock of what I experienced, the whole thing was nothing short of incredible and if you ever have an opportunity/excuse to apply for press, I am commanding you to do it. Even in this preview form, it felt fully formed and the energy was there – big audience or no. In some way, the intimacy of the early screening. I experienced something truly special, and whereever next year will be – in Helsinki, Stockholm, Bruxelles, or maybe the UK again – I will do anything I can to get there and experience the magic in-person again, fingers crossed as press!