When Local Celebrations Take On Eurovision Song Contest Selections

I am something of a Eurovision heretic.

I don’t follow the National Finals season as closely as a lot of other Eurofans. I used to, quite a number of years ago, but I very quickly learnt that leaping from show to show to show each weekend between December and March was exhausting.

And too often, rather sad.

There Goes My First Love

I have a particular knack for getting emotionally invested in songs that did not win. Songs which were, in fact, never going to win. I still have not forgiven Sweden for sending ‘The Worrying Kind’ rather than ‘I Remember Love’ in 2007… certainly I do not like to be reminded that Sarah Dawn Finer’s amazing power ballad finished fourth (fourth!) – in Globen that year:

Sarah Dawn Finer (Pre-Woodruff) – I Remember Love (Source: YouTube/escfan1)

The Ark , by the way, ended up 18th in that year’s Grand Final in Helsinki.  Serves Sweden right. See? I get wound up too easily.

Nowadays, I generally skirt over much of the national selection season, picking a few selections to follow somewhat closely, but even for selections I love (Estonia: no surprise there), I generally skip the National Semi Finals. Doing so makes it easier to manage things time-wise: I live in New Zealand, which is 12 hours ahead of Central European Time, putting many shows on at breakfast time. It also means the ‘discover, fall in love, then betrayal’ cycle only happens a few times a year, rather than weekly.

This year I watched the live finals of France, the UK, and Switzerland, along with a bit of Spain and Portugal. I also attended the Eesti Laul final in-person.

And Norway’s MelodiGrandPrix.

Why Norway?

Since I had a weekend to fill between two work events in Europe, I grabbed a ticket for NRK’s MGP and booked an inexpensive hotel in Oslo back in January. This wasn’t a decision based on love of the country. Certainly there have been Norwegian Eurovision entries I loved (Yes Margaret Berger, Bettan, and Secret Garden, I’m looking at you), but it’s not a selection that year-upon-year has enamoured me. In fact, I very nearly cancelled my hotel booking (and forfeited my MGP ticket, which was not expensive). But then the lineup was announced for this year’s final…

  • Three former Norwegian Eurovision representatives, including Aleksander Rybak (2008 Eurovision champion with Fairytale), Aleksander Walmann (who with JOWST finished tenth last year singing ‘Grab the Moment’), and Stella Mwangi (who crashed out of her semi-final with ‘Haba Haba’ in 2011).
  • Another entry was composed by Kjetil Mørland, whose ‘A Monster Like Me’ finished eighth in the 2016 Grand Final.
  • Another that Per Gessle, the creative force behind Roxette, co-wrote.
  • If you follow indy pop at all, seeing Ida Maria’s name was a surprising bonus.

This was about as heavy-hitting a ten-song National Final any small sized nation could put together. I was in; so too were several of ESCInsightcolleagues, along with a friend or two of the parish.

Local And Low Key

Norway is the homeland of the current Executive Supervisor for the Eurovision family of events—whom we ran into at the dress rehearsal funnily enough, before he headed to Lisbon for the impending Heads of Delegations meeting two days later. Having never met ‘JOS’ (not to be confused with JOWST) before, my first impressions were professional and friendly. In fact, those two words largely capture my impressions of Oslo, Norwegians and MGP. As a comparison, I found Swedes are a bit more reserved during my Melfest experience in 2017.

Unlike the Eurovision Song Contest itself (and some other National Finals), getting media accreditation for MGP was not a complicated matter: arguably it was very, very low key. In fact, when one of our group’s member’s name was missing from “the list” it only took some common sense discussions to solve the problem. Like most press rooms the coffee was more of a caffeine delivery platform than a lovely warm beverage.

For the final dress rehearsal we were escorted into the arena and directed to take whatever unoccupied positions were free. This is an excellent strategy: it facilitates media seeing what the show will be like from various all parts of the venue if they wish. For MGP the Spektrum’s steep gradient seating means that people who were going to be in the top of the arena (like me) still felt close to the action. In addition to the stage itself, punters sitting in most sections could easily see the green room.

ESC Rules Be Damned

Dress rehearsals are just that: rehearsals. Tempting as it might be, what really counts is what happens during the live show. Some acts were still tweaking things a wee bit on Saturday afternoon, and the arena was populated by various entries’ production teams checking out how things came across on the big monitors (and, I suspect, the reaction in the hall). The seasoned performers always hold something in reserve. MGP 2018 only underscored the differences between practice and the one that counts.

I had only listened to each entry once previously, on the day they were available to be streamed. During the rehearsal I focused on (as a sidewalk social scientist) data collection. Here are a few of my observations:

  • The average (mean) transition time between songs was two minutes (range 0.5-3). In some instances the entire transition was for tear down (of the prior performance) or set up (of the subsequent one), but many were a combination of both. There was a transition between the opening and the first entry (which I did count): I did not pay attention to how long it took to break down song ten (since it had no impact on any act’s scoring). The ability to manage a snappy transition is important for whichever entry is selected, since the Lisbon producers are not obligated to recreate what wins a National Felection. 
  • The average number of performers on stage was nine, including the named artists (range 1-20). Eurovision’s six person rule be damned! There also seemed to be a number of entries with pre-recorded backing vocals.
  • I saw only one obvious missed shot during the rehearsal, where a singer’s top of their head was out of shot (which was fixed for the live final).
  • I heard one microphone fail (also fixed).
  • There were no obvious in-ear monitor fails, though one artist did “test test” as they were being announced—in the rehearsal and during the live final.

Had one of the song with 20 persons on stage won, adjusting that to the rules of the Eurovision would be a challenge. It did not come to that.

Without understanding any Norwegian, it was still clear that the hosts were fabulous, from their mashup opening number of previous Norwegian Eurovision entries, to their managing the results and the green room. And the crowd in the arena.

The main vibe for the show was “we’re having a party!” This was a Norwegian celebration of Norwegian music, with songs sung mostly in English (though two were in Norwegian and Spanish, respectively). But the show was also welcoming to outsiders, whether viewing online or in the venue itself. I was sitting with a Norwegian man and his Swedish girlfriend. We all agreed that NRK MGP 2018 was an outstanding event in terms of the quality of entries and the overall TV production

To The Results

All the previous MGP winners made the super finals, as did all three acts with an Alex (Alexandra, Aleksander or Alexander) as an artist. There were only two acts that got a massive reaction in the arena: Aleksander Walmann and Alexander Rybak. There were no acts whose reaction was poor, however. It was a very loved up crowd.

We don’t yet know the full allocation of the 10 international juries’ points. We do know which entries received a douze points from at least one jury:

  • Stella and Alexandra: Two juries’ favourite
  • Aleksander Walmann: One jury’s
  • Rebecca: Three juries’
  • Alexander Rybak: Four juries’

We also don’t know the televote results for the first round. But these four acts were also the four super finalists.

The second round is an ostensive battle round, but there’s no  accompanying live performances. Instead the public continue to vote during an interval act. The battles were gendered: Stella & Aleksandra and Rebecca faced off: Rebecca wins. Then Aleks and Alex faced off: Alex (Rybak) wins. At this point we get second performances of Rebecca’s ‘Who We Are’ and Rybak’s ‘That’s How You Write a Song’ for a third and final round of voting.

In the end, Rybak had over 50 per cent of the public votes in the second round and over 70 per cent of the votes in the third.  He was also first with the juries, in terms of receiving top marks. And probably first with the televoters throughout the evening.

A consensus victory, in other words.

‘That’s How You Write a Song’ lyric video (Source: YouTube/AlexanderRybakVideo)


I had a rather jaundiced view of ‘That’s How You Write a Song’ before seeing it rehearsed in Spektrum. After the dress rehearsal, I could see that the song, even with its cringy lyrics, was a performance vehicle for Rybak—a very effective one. I anticipated it doing well later that night. Rybak is also something of a local hero, having won the Eurovision for Norway with ‘Fairytale’ in 2009. He’s a pro—and he saved the fairy dust for when it mattered most. Pithy as it might sound, he reached out and grabbed the audience, myself included, and said “Pick me!”

Can he manage to do that in Lisbon—twice—and become only the second artist ever to win the ‘modern’ Eurovision Song Contest twice with the public voting? That remains to be seen.

Rybak’s 2009 victory was comprehensive, in terms of both public and jury support. Many would argue that ‘Fairytale’ had a freshness and charm that ‘That’s How You Write a Song’ lacks. I never was a fan of his 2009 entry: In Moscow I was team Urban Symphony all the way:

Urban Symphony (Estonia) – Rändajad (Source: YouTube/Eurovision Song Contest)

Qualification for Norway seems rather straightforward, however: this is an entry that is well performed and cleverly staged. Unlike many of the other 2018 MGP entries, Rybak’s staging featured two groups of performers: a core group of six (including himself) and a secondary cast of several more. Neither the staging nor the audio actually needed the second group, so working within the 2018 Eurovision rule book won’t be an issue. Clever, very clever.

Eurovision heretic or not, I can no longer deny Rybak’s skills as a performer, nor how effective a vehicle ‘That’s How Your Write a Song’ is for him. Even if it leaves me a bit cold…like a Scandinavian.

Ida Maria – Scandilove (Source: YouTube/NRK)

Categories: ESC Insight


2018 presenter line-up revealed

Today we can reveal our presenter line-up for Eurovision 2018 with Rylan Clark-Neal joining Scott Mills for the semi-finals broadcast on BBC Four!

Graham Norton will return for the Grand Final on BBC One joined by Mel Giedroyc who continues to be a part of the Eurovision family taking the reins as BBC Eurovision Spokesperson delivering the result of the Jury vote live from London; while Ken Bruce will continue his long-running coverage over on BBC Radio 2.

Graham Norton says: “Eurovision is without doubt one of my favourite nights of the year - hugely entertaining, wildly unpredictable and often very funny. The UK have a belter this year with SuRie and Storm. It’s an anthemic floor filler that deserves to do really well, but that’s the beauty of Eurovision - anything can happen!”

Rylan Clark-Neal, Semi-Final Co-Commentator says: “After an amazing evening at Eurovision: You decide I’m absolutely thrilled to be saying I can’t wait to join the Eurovision family and host the semi-finals alongside Scott for the UK this year. As a massive fan of Eurovision I’ve already cracked out my Union Jack spice girl jacket and am packed and primed and ready to take on Lisbon. SuRie was great this year and I can’t wait to watch her represent us.”

Scott Mills, Semi-Final Co-Commentator says: “Eurovision is always the highlight of my year and I am truly excited that I’ll be presenting with fellow Eurovision fan, Rylan. Eurovision is the most wonderful spectacle and I’m looking forward to all the weird and wonderful performances that the contest always brings. Rylan and I will be live from Lisbon revealing who the finalists will be as well as cheering on the UK entry SuRie.”

Mel Giedroyc, UK Spokesperson says: “I am over the moon to be the UK spokesperson for this year’s Eurovision Grand Final on BBC One! I’m gutted to be missing the semi-finals this year but I’m super excited to be announcing the UK’s televote result live from London on the big night!”

Ken Bruce, Radio 2 Commentator says: “I'm delighted to be fronting my 31st Eurovision for BBC Radio 2, and look forward to presenting my radio coverage from a sun-drenched Portuguese cabana, but more likely two square feet of airless garden shed. That’s showbiz though!”

Categories: BBC News


Eurovision Insight Podcast: Juke Box Jury #4


Round four of 2018’s Eurovision Juke Box Jury, and the home baking is back. Along with the shortbread, Ewan Spence is joined by David Elder and Ross Middleton to discuss the hit, miss, or maybe potential of five more songs that are heading to Lisbon for this year’s Song Contest.

Eurovision Insight Podcast: Juke Box Jury #4
with David Elder and Ross Middleton

Armenia: Qami, by Sevak Khanagyan.
Belarus: Forever, by Alexseev.
Croatia: Crazy, by Franka.
Poland: Light Me Up, by Gromee, ft. Lukas Meijer.
Sweden: Dance You Off, by Benjamin Ingrosso.
Belgium: A Matter Of Time, by Sennek.

Don’t miss an episode of the Eurovision Insight podcast by subscribing to the RSS feed dedicated to the podcasts. iTunes users can find us in the iTunes Store and get the show automatically downloaded to your computer.

Categories: ESC Insight


Uncovering The Popular Tropes Of The Eurovision Story Contest

There are many ways to win the Eurovision Song Contest – after all, Russia didn’t even compete in 2017 but there will be many that would consider the outcome to be positive for the Kremlin (but it’s not a political show, you understand).

It’s a Song Contest that looks for the best singer, expects the flashiest fireworks, anticipates a well-choreographed dance routine… but it also treasures a low-key performance, artistic simplicity, reflecting modern music all packaged for family entertainment. We expect each entry to be the pinnacle of what that country can presents, but assuming a delegation finds the right balance of every factor, the audience has to be told ‘this is the one’

What role does press and marketing play in the Song Contest?

Storytelling Tools For A Modern Song Contest

The same topics rise in the public conscious as  each Eurovision approaches: ‘This country will vote for that country every year, regardless of song quality;’ ‘That country only won because of current events, not because the song is any good;’ ‘If a country does well, it’s because they found a way to cheat.’

But if those were actually true and actual deciding factors each year, how does that explain Portugal’s victory? Or Denmark, Austria, or Germany in recent years?

Salvador Sobral

Polls wavered in the days leading up to Kyiv 2017 between an Italian man with literal ‘sex appeal’ backed up with an ape suit and a Portuguese jazz singer standing alone onstage. It was all but decided: Italy was destined to win, so what happened?Italy’s Francesco Gabbani appeared cocky and bored and seemed to be ready to move on leading up to the Final – did that affect his outcome?

Meanwhile Portugal’s Salvador Sobral was in and out of hospital and most appearances in preparation for the performance were made by his sister. The story presented through the media was one of hope, never one looking to pull heartstrings. The result was that of a pure song winning, but could a native language-jazz waltz combo have won without such a narrative? How important is the attachment to the singer and their journey in a song contest?

The songs with the high notes, vocal presence, best-sounding song with headphones, etc are not mentioned in a Song Contest. Is it because our favourite show is something different… the Eurovision Story Contest? What tropes perform well at each year’s Contest, and can we predict the final result based on the trope that will be employed?

The No Shows

Albania seems to love those long, drawn-out notes perfect for impressing the juries at the Eurovision Song Contest, and it certainly helped achieve their best result, fifth place in 2012 with Rona Nishliu. 2017’s Lindita didn’t get this same treatment with ‘World’, reaching 14th and not qualifying, but then, what do you remember hearing of Lindita? She was missing the elements that told a story during the three minutes.

This year’s No Show: Romania’s entry with The Humans. ‘Goodbye’ is soaring at times and has big moments as a pop ballad, but what will happen onstage and will it be enough?

The Enigmas

Armenia in 2017 had a three minute song that sounded like it lasted an hour—in a good way! It grew and grew until it exploded, but for a first listen would it work? Watching a video taken from the crowd while she performed at the final, the crowd seemed distracted, waiting. When the big moment finally happened (in the last 30 seconds) it took some pyrotechnics to get an explosion from the crowd. It scored 18th and nobody talked about it, even to say that it was cheated out of Saturday night á la Finland not qualifying at all.

This year’s guesstimate: It’s hard to say who no one is talking about so early when the preview concerts have just started, but given how early they were announced I’m going to go with Switzerland’s Zibbz and  ‘Stones’.  The song has a fine message, a different sound, but no one’s talking about that—yet. Let’s be positive for Switzerland’s indie-flavored duo!

The Under-Performers

Maybe it was always a stretch, and maybe they were never bound to qualify, but I took personal offense when Latvia didn’t qualify with the electronic pop ‘Line‘ – in fact, they placed last. Latvia hosted its fourth annual Pre-Party in Riga for 2017  and the band performances there were strong, but maybe they required Aminata to get press instead of… awkwardly shaped neon art? I had high hopes for the performance, and I think I can admit it fell short of what I had wanted.

This year’s guesstimate: I’m looking at you, Czech Republic’s Mikolas Josef with ‘Lie to Me.’ This artist has the swagger, charisma, and charm that Jüri Pootsmann sorely needed in 2016 and I will be heartbroken if he underperforms on the night. Dear Mikolas, you’re on fire.

How about winners that didn’t, well, win? The songs that should’ve never rested on their laurels as it were. The song is everywhere and everyone is talking about it, but tripped on the edge of greatness?

The Promised Ones

Belgium’s Blanche was in the group of potential winners with her low-key song ‘City Lights’, but the press reports of her nervous rehearsal caused her betting pool to swim for the edge. The advantage to that was the synergy with the lyrics,,, her chorus including the sublime line “all alone in the danger zone”. To first time viewers it could be seen as a “performance”, though those who followed her story knew her struggle.

This year’s guesstimate: Let me do some non-jinxing, perfectly safe rituals here, alright, now that that’s done, prepare yourself… Finland’s Saara Aalto with ‘Monsters’. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love this, but it’s doing really well right now, and that causes me panic. Let’s just leave it at that and pretend I didn’t say anything, shall we?

The Gimmicks

The press loved to discuss whether or not Romania’s Ilinca and Alex Florea rap-yodeling track, aptly titled ‘Yodel It!‘, was a gimmick or a legitimate song. The song was in every Eurovision conversation in 2017, but the question was “was it a real song?” rather than how well could it do—would it have mattered if it had been the latter? The duo still gave them seventh place in the Grand Final, not even beating Romania’s overall best of third place.

As with Saara, I’m going to need another moment with the warding-off-evil tricks. Ok deep breath. This year’s guesstimate: Estonia’s Elina Nechayeva with the opera track ‘La Forza.’ This is perfection—she’s proven she can do it live, it’s clear, she’s talented, but how many out there will see and hear opera and tune out? Hopefully they’re impressed by her dress…

The Linguists

Language as its own gimmick? In a Song Contest involving multiple countries with their own languages, English is still the most prevalent choice—sometimes to an artist’s detriment (my precious Greta Salóme).

In 2017 we were treated to the first all-Belarussian language entry with Naviband. The group was ever-present in interviews, performances, on the red carpet—everywhere they went they were delightfully entertaining, and the track was well-discussed. However, the band still scored 17th place. I was hurt; I anticipated them landing Top 5.

This year’s guesstimate: This year’s entries have presented a delightful mix of native language entries, and so far I’m loving all of them. I’m going to go with Hungary’s AWS and the post-hardcore track ‘Viszlát nyár’ because they have a chorus including the translation “Goodbye, summer, you’re out late / Because you lied, you will be me / But you did not come.” Last year’s Hungarian entry, also non-English (Hungarian and Romani) landed eighth place, and do you know how much I would leap into the air if a post-hardcore non-English song did well at Eurovision?!

For Eurovision 2018 the big news (yet) doesn’t seem to be how good anything is yet. The point is that we all have an idea of what we want from our Song Contest. If an article surfaces that puts our favourites in a bad light, will it affect our take on the night? If it were truly about the performance, should we let it?

Sometimes it comes down to presence, that star quality that demands you stare at, or more importantly, a song that makes you vote for it. Loreen performed mostly solo on a mostly bare stage, as did Jamala (plus her tree). Måns Zelmerlöw had a simple costume, if you could even call it a costume, and danced alongside a stick figure on a screen. They were all favourites to win going in, not surprise winners. The same can be argued for our Salvador Sobral; the song may have been a “dark horse” in nature, but it was slated to land at least second place for the time leading up to the Grand Final.

Show me this, fellow internet citizens: I would like another Netherland’s The Common Linnets performance—a shock win, or at least second placement. I want to have the song no one mentions, no one expects to do well, but secretly loves.

Here’s hoping—wouldn’t it make for such a fantastic show?

Categories: ESC Insight


Eurovision Insight Podcast: C’était Ma Vie


Lisbon 2018 is seven days closer and as the preview party season continues, the Eurovision community draws together to remember Lys Assia.

Eurovision Insight Podcast: C’était Ma Vie

Goodbye to our first legend, a winner drops to third, and some surprise tickets go on sale. Ewan Spence and ESC Insight bring you another week of Eurovision Song Contest news,

As the Eurovision Song Contest 2018 draws ever closer, keep listening to the ESC Insight podcast for more Eurovision news, fun, and chat. You’ll find the show in iTunes, and a direct RSS feed is also available. We also have a regular email newsletter which you can sign up to here.

Categories: ESC Insight


The Chef’s recommendation – Where to eat in the Eurovision host city

The route for Lisbon continues and we head to a very important topic: food. When attending this year’s Eurovision Song Contest, it’s good to know what the city has to offer, and where, so you don’t waste time trying to find out where to eat.

While Portugal has a vast and rich gastronomy, you have nothing to worry about if you’re picky with food, especially because you’re in the country’s capital, Lisbon, where diversity and multiculturalism exists. Within this post, we’ll recommend a few restaurants around Altice Arena – where the Eurovision Song Contest will be held – along with a few other ones in center of Lisbon.


  • 1 Portugal’s traditional cuisine
  • 2 Fast food restaurants and international cuisine
  • 3 Where to eat close to the Eurovision arena?
  • 4 Where to eat in central Lisbon?

Portugal’s traditional cuisine

Before getting into those, since Portugal is hosting this year’s Eurovision, it’s only fair we provide you examples of traditional cuisine. As mentioned above Portugal has a rich gastronomy and it isn’t only fish. While codfish (in its various forms), sardines and octopus would be included in a traditional menu, meat plates such as the iconic francesinhas, Portuguese boiled dinner (Cozido à Portuguesa) and alheira would also figure there.

We’re not forgetting, Portuguese iconic sweets. Here’s just some of them to open your appetite: Pastel de Nata, Queijadas de Sintra and Ovos Moles.

See alsoPublic transport in Lisbon – how to get around in the Eurovision host city

Fast food restaurants and international cuisine

Just like in most other big cities, you find fast food restaurants – McDonald’s, Burger King, Pizza Hut etc. – around every corner in Lisbon. If you’re in a hurry or can’t spend much money on a specific day, this alternative is always there for you. You can have a meal for less than six Euros in one of those and the maximum you’ll wait will be 10 minutes on a very busy day.

If you’re not a fan of Portuguese cuisine and/or fast food, don’t worry. As mentioned above, there’s a little bit of everything in Lisbon. Italian, Chinese and Japanese restaurants are three of the most popular types and you can easily find one in the city.

In fact, right next to Altice Arena there’s a shopping center – Vasco da Gama – with a vast chain of restaurants including the majority of the fast food ones mentioned, and other type of cuisines like the ones highlighted above.

Where to eat close to the Eurovision arena?

As explained, there’s a big shopping center right in front of Altice Arena for any emergency but being located in such big area, there’s way more to offer. The recommendations that follow were based on different type of cuisines and different price ranges. Feel free to explore more to your taste.

Restaurant’s nameType of cuisinePrice range (for two)Location
Restaurante D’ Bacalhau ExpoPortuguese (Codfish)35€Parque das Nações
Sushisan*Japanese45€Parque das Nações
The Old HouseChinese60€Parque das Nações
Zero a ZeroItalian40€Parque das Nações
Hamburgueria do Bairro*Gourmet fast food (Burgers)16€Parque das Nações

Where to eat in central Lisbon?

While Eurovision will be held in Parque das Nações – where Altice Arena is located – many fans will not be staying so close to the arena. Many will be staying in central Lisbon. Once again, there’s a lot of restaurants to choose from, but here’s our recommendations:

Restaurant’s nameType of cuisinePrice range (for two)Location
MasstigePortuguese40€Campo Pequeno
Cais MadeirensePortuguese (Island of Madeira)20€Arroios
Nogueira’sGrilled food50€Santos
Ao Vegan Food ProjectVegan30€Chiado
Nosolo Itália*Italian40€Baixa

*The restaurants marked with this symbol have multiple locations.

As mentioned throughout this article, Lisbon has a lot to offer. This was only a quick overview of what to expect in terms of food and price level. There are several websites and apps such as Zomato, which will allow you to explore further and even find restaurants in the same street or area you’re staying in Lisbon. Have fun and be adventurous.

See alsoMarry me, baby! – How to get married in the Eurovision host city

Categories: Eurovisionary

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