A Modest Proposal

A strange, unique Eurovision feature is the “fan journalist.” Press passes are provided to selected bloggers and mega-fans, allowing them access to the media room, the artists, and the rehearsals. Whether sanctioned or not, rehearsal footage regularly finds it way to YouTube ahead of the contest. This year, at the request of the artists, Malmo organizers limited press access during the 1st technical rehearsals. The press could attend, but no photos and no unauthorized video. In making this change, Malmo organizers made a small step to distance fan journalists from the rehearsals, but in practice nothing much changed. Photos leaked and fan journalists provided running commentary during the rehearsals.

Not naming names, but we were appalled by some of the feedback coming out of the “press” during the early rehearsals.  “<Country> had a bad first run thru during their first rehearsal!!! NOT QUALIFYING” -or- “<Country> was ahead of the beat in the recorded track!  QUALIFICATION IS IN QUESTION!!!  Turns out his earpiece wasn’t working! They fixed it later! WILL HE QUALIFY?!?!” (Ok, I’m paraphrasing and exaggerating, but only slightly.) This type of reaction is both poorly-considered and unfair to the artist. It isn’t unique to this year, either.

I’m at risk of overgeneralizing. I know of many Eurovision fan journalists who try hard to avoid jumping to such conclusions. But not all, not enough. And therein lies the rub, because as long as Eurovision organizers give press passes to fans, Eurovision organizers will never be able to filter out the fans that offer respectful assessments from the ones that don’t.

Speaking from a selfish perspective, we like being able to watch the rehearsals. We enjoy watching the acts come to life because we’re fans and we’re eager to see what they’re planning.  We like being flies on the wall and we are interested in the creative process, but we don’t need to watch the rehearsals. We don’t really benefit from watching the rehearsals.

It’s unusual that fans are allowed this much access, and it’s unusual for a reason. Rehearsals are for the artists. Even as late as tech rehearsal, artists need to be allowed the freedom to experiment, to try things out, and to fail. Now, any act that is still seriously experimenting in tech probably has bigger issues, but that’s their problem to have, not ours to see.

As fans, we are not entitled to see rehearsals.

By opening the rehearsals to fans with press passes, the Eurovision organizers put pressure on the artists to perform at a high level even during tech rehearsals, lest the artists open themselves up to unfair, unnecessary criticism from overeager observers who quickly jump to conclusions.

I for one am in awe of the excellent attitude the performers have toward the Eurovision rehearsal process. Generally, it is the artist’s prerogative whether to let outsiders view their process, and permission, when granted, is limited to those who have been carefully vetted. But at Eurovision, the artists have no such control. Rather, by agreeing to represent their country, these artists have tacitly granted permission to let random outsiders observe and judge them before the contest. From what I’ve been able to tell, the artists tend to handle the fan scrutiny with good humor. You rarely hear a negative word out of them on the subject, though a complaint about the process would be completely justified.

There is a journalistic reason to allow press access to some rehearsals. Early access allows journalists to identify the major elements of the country’s act, ultimately to help the audience understand any interesting or remarkable features. What these observers, can–and should–be gleaning from rehearsals is insights into the major choices in the staging: How many performers on stage? What kind of choreography is there? Any major props? Any changes to the arrangement since the official album? Dang, it is, like, totally over the top?  But here’s a hard truth: to report on these elements, the press doesn’t need access to any more than one set of rehearsals.

In banning photos and video from the first rehearsals this year, the organizers didn’t go far enough. Interviews, press conferences, by all means keep those open to the fan journalists. But Eurovision organizers should close rehearsals and adopt a full embargo on first tech, and I would shed no tears if they embargoed second tech as well. The artists deserve it.

5 thoughts on “A Modest Proposal

  1. My only objection to this article is its title, since it implies Swiftian satire, and I don’t think that’s what you are going for. I absolutely do not understand why ANY journalists are allowed to view ANYTHING connected with the tech rehearsals, unless the country delegation specifically requests it.

    This is another example of artists being given less-than-respectful treatment by the contest organizers. (See also the amateurishly staged “Eurovision In Concert” shows, and the awful official videos therefrom.) For the performers, participation in the contest is a reputational minefield. It’s no wonder so many current music superstars won’t go anywhere near it.

    It’s the performers, not the fans, that are the heart of the contest. They should be treated better, and certainly be allowed to work out their technical issues away from the glare of the internet spotlight.

  2. Cheers. Fair point about the Swiftian-ness, though I somewhat expect that yours and mine are minority views on the subject, thus perhaps not so modest after all.

    Chris, on the other hand, simply feels it’s a metaphor for the Eurovision bloggers eating the artists alive.

  3. Very true, every single word.
    Most fans forget that artists are people, and sadly end up degrading them to thing or a toy that must entertain them 24/7.
    Next year, at least first rehearsal must be completely closed.
    And I also agree with Eric, sometimes organizers too mistreat some artists, or give a different treatment to those that are favorites (check some of the official page article titles).
    Let’s hope it changes someday.

    • I don’t know that *individual* artists are being deliberately mistreated. I’m more concerned about the overall situation. I think the Contest’s operations committee needs to seriously reconsider their priorities for this contest.

      To attract top-caliber performers, the ESC needs to be seen as a good career move. It is NOT a good career move if the performers are forced to perform with poor equipment, or a bad audio mix. It is NOT a good career move to have all the glitches of your first tech rehearsal in a strange venue, described to the world by amateur snarkers.

      I understand the thinking. The EBU obviously wants its most ardent ESC fans happy and engaged. But as with many fan communities, those fans are somewhat insulated from the world at large. They are not the ESC’s primary audience, and they are certainly not the contest’s only stakeholders. And the contest organizers, being inside the bubble where all the fans have gathered, may be forgetting the bigger picture. The more they concentrate on the fans’ interest, to the detriment of the performers, the harder it will be to attract quality participants to the contest in the larger countries. You can have a contest with performers and no fans. You can’t have one with fans and no performers.

      If you want to sell more sausage, you do not throw open the doors of the sausage factory for all to see what goes on inside. That’s essentially what the ESC is doing with these tech rehearsals. The fans can doggone well wait to see the sausage after it’s in the casings. Allow the performers and their teams to get the preliminary work done without having to worry about what some geek with a press pass is going to spew out all over the internet. (And I say that with love, as a fellow geek. I’m writing these heartfelt comments, aren’t I?)

      I think it’s perfectly fair to let the fans and press see the later rehearsals, since if there are still problems at that point, then that’s news.

      I would like to see the ESC on the air in the USA. That will be a lot more likely if it’s seen as a prestigious music contest. It won’t be so easy if it’s merely the European pop music equivalent of Comic Con. Ideally, it should be both, but the EBU needs to strike a better balance to make that happen.

      • I don’t think artists in all EBU countries are disincentivized from participating in Eurovision. You see artists in some countries try and try again over years because they want the visibility that the contest affords. And there some countries that often do send their best talent because they are proud of participating in the contest. I do think attracting top talent is an issue in a country like the UK or France, where top talent has other, better opportunties to gain international exposure.

        Yours is a larger point about EBU’s vision for the contest and how they want to grow it. I don’t disagree with what you’re saying, but mine (and Nara, I think yours too?) was more a point about artistic integrity and the need to respect the creative process.

        The EBU wants to engage fans, yes, and I think rightly so. The fans bring to the press room passion and a knowledge of the contest that gives it energy. How narrow would the coverage be if it were just disinterested journalists! Would there even be any coverage prior to the semis if it weren’t for the fans? I think the EBU has been reluctant to distance fans from the rehearsals because it is a privilege the fans have come to expect over time and the EBU doesn’t want to upset them by taking it away. But I actively reject the notion that the fans will be alienated if they still have the press room, access to the performers, and the later rehearsals. We’d get used to it.

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