ESC Insight

ESC Insight
15
February
2017

Newsletter: Fans Face Uncertainty In Kyiv

Newsletter: Fans Face Uncertainty In Kyiv

To make sure you don’t miss out on any of the latest developments, subscribe today to get weekly updates delivered straight to your inbox. You can also read this week’s edition in full right here, but first a preview of this week’s newsletter:

Ask Team Insight

In which our writers are given the opportunity to sound off on a topic close to our hearts. This week’s question is “If you could make one change to the official Eurovision rulebook, what would it be?

Ben Robertson
Drop the jury voting for all songs from first place to last place, and have them only pick a top 10 or 15. Eurovision is a place for positive voting, not negative as jury members now have the power to do.

Ewan Spence
Running order for shows to be decided by a random draw. I know the arguments on increasing excitement and giving each song a chance to stand out, but I’ve always favoured Eurovision to lean towards being a fair Contest, rather than a manufactured spectacle. The running order impacts on the result, therefore it should be random.

John Egan
Let all the prequalified finalists perform live during their voting semi-final as the voting/interval act. 3 x 4 minutes so these acts get as many live opportunities as the semi-finalists.

Lisa-Jayne Lewis
Change the start time to 7pm (U.K.) 8pm Central Europe. It’s on too late (not really a rule, but it doesn’t make any sense to remain in its time slot.)

Sharleen Wright
A controversial one… but… looking to JESC as a trial, I think we should change it so that winner simply has first refusal to host. Lets go into the contest with less pressure felt by smaller countries, nor any fear from some others to host (Sharleen made this recommendation prior to the recent developments in Kyiv – John Lucas).

Check out the rest of this week’s Eurovision analysis by reading the latest newsletter in full right here.

Categories: ESC Insight

12
February
2017

Sanremo’s Lessons For The Eurovision Song Contest

Sanremo’s Lessons For The Eurovision Song Contest

My week in Sanremo has been an eye-opening experience. The slower pace of the individual shows contrasts with the faster pace of the competition as the fortunes of the 22 artists. And while it is used to help select the artist for the Eurovision Song Contest, Sanremo is a unique beast of a music contest that continues to evolve. Is there anything from the Festival that I think the EBU should consider for Eurovision?

The Value Of History

For an annual event, the Eurovision Song Contest is quick to move on from ‘we’re here because we won last year’ to the new songs and looking forward. While some broadcasters will package up clips of previous years to cover the commercial break for the BBC, more emphasis is placed on the host country with perhaps a nod to next year’s host country once a song is declared the winner.

That’s not the case in Italy. Sanremo does have an advantage here because RAI has been organising the broadcasts since the first shows in the city and now runs the whole event. Compare that to the Eurovision Song Contest which moves venue and host broadcaster on an annual basis, effectively resetting the show each year. The traditions that do exist are more to do with the rules and the occasional long-established element.

There is something to be said about reminding everyone about the impact and the memories every year. It creates more passion, more connections, and emphasises the status of Sanremo.

Lucio Dalla, Sanremo 2017 opening VT (image: RAI Play)

Lucio Dalla, Sanremo 2017 opening VT (which you should watch here on RAI Play).

Voting’s Third Way

For the quarter finals the public televote makes up fifty percent of the vote and the other half is made up of votes cast by all the accredited members of the media. I’m not sure the Eurovision Press Room is ready to take that responsibility on, but it’s the second system that has more interest for me.

To keep everything from getting predictable, the voting system changes for the last two nights. The Semi Final and Grand Final of Sanremo have three voting elements. The typical ‘Expert Jury’ and public televote constituencies are joined by a specially selected panel of 300 music fans from across Italy. They vote from home using a secure app, and make up 30 percent of the final vote (with the experts getting 30 percent and the public the balance of 40 percent). It acts as a delightful restraint to stop the public and expert juries running away with a result.

We’re going to expand on televoting and reflecting public sentiment later in the month on ESC Insight. For now, one thought… I’m sure 300 panelists could be found in San Marino to create a valid public vote and avoid the secrecy we saw in Stockholm 2016.

Big P, Little P

There is a huge interest in the Sanremo Music Festival from the media – this is one of the major events in Italy’s social character and is reflected in the diverse range of organisations that are in the press contingent. With space at a premium in the city, there is no practical space to gather everyone together. The solution is to split the media over two press centres. One is focused on the fan community, the other to the more traditional publications and broadcasters.

Supporting the various levels of media over the two weeks at the Eurovision Song Contest involves shifting priorities from the community-focused first few days to the major broadcaster dominated last few days. The Song Contest does try to accommodate all of the fourth estate in one space under a single ‘P’ designation. Sanremo is able to offer specific facilities to two different groups and while I think that leads to a hegemonic  view of new media, targeting specific media facilities to specific groups in the Song Contest’s Press Delegations could help reduce the high costs involved in managing the press room.

But if the EBU was to take on one idea from the Sanremo press room it would be this. The Italians keep a fully stocked and licensed bar open whenever the press room is open.

Sanremo 2017 Press Room (Image Ewan Spence)

Sanremo 2017 Press Room (Image Ewan Spence)

Today’s Story From Sanremo Is…

On the dot at 12 noon every day of Sanremo week, the Artistic Director (and host) of Sanremo Carlo Conti, the organising team in the Ariston Theatre, and the RAI broadcast team hold a press conference to talk over the previous night’s show, the plans for that days show, any other relevant information

Compared to the single thirty-minute press conference from the EBU over the two weeks of the Song Contest, Sanremo is incredibly open with its information, plans, and creative thinking. It also allows the team behind the Festival to shape the media coverage of the next day – for example focusing on achieving more than 50 percent market share for the opening show, promoting the appearance of guest stars such as Ricky Martin, or explaining why a local organisation is getting some stage time.

I much prefer the open and pro-active approach from the Sanremo team.

This Is What Not To Do

Sanremo 2017 managed to get over 21 hours of television out of 22 songs. The Eurovision Song Contest should manage eight hours from 43 songs this year. Part of the, er, charm of Sanremo is the mix of social acts and special guest stars. It works in Italy because of how important Sanremo is to Italy’s sense of identity, but this is an element that struggles to travel well.

Given how much the flow of the Eurovision Song Contest is disrupted by the sole commercial break in the middle of a typical running order, dropping in a ten minute medley from Ruslana followed by an interview with Natalia Vodinanova would not work.

Junior Eurovision 2016 tried something similar, with Poli Genova’s performance of ‘If Love Was A Crime’ dropped into the middle of the Contest’s songs by PBS Malta.

The lesson here is simple. Sometimes the Sanremo needs to stay in Sanremo.

It’s A Song Contest!

Sanremo did something new this year… it used staging to emphasis two acts. Sergio Sylvestre had a heavenly choir appear on his shoulders with a clever camera angle that utilised the stage-high entrance door. And you can’t escape the subtle but relevant appearance of Gerald the Gorilla in Francesco Gabbani’s ‘Occidentali’s Karma‘. Even with those considerations, every act at Sanremo was primarily static, in front of a single microphone stand.

The focus is on the singer, on the lyrics, on the composition, and on the song. There’s nowhere to hide a poor performance, there’s no throwing money at glowing wall to try to distract the viewers and voters at home. Choose a colour theme, hand us your PowerPoint for some graphics, step out onto a level playing field and entertain us with talent, not tricks.

Hiding In Plain Sight

Sanremo, along with a number of Eurovision National Finals, makes a big thing about keeping the songs under wraps for as long as possible. The first time the public will hear them is on the Tuesday or Wednesday night live Quarter Final show. That creates a sense of excitement around the initial shows.

There’s no way that the Eurovision Song Contest could manage such a feat – it would kill every national Final for a start. But coordinating the release of the official videos and making it an ‘internet event’ to build up the event would be an interesting choice.

As if it’s not clear, Sanremo is not Eurovision and Eurovision is not Sanremo. But the two contests can learn from each other, bring the best in class ideas from one to the other, and create a better show and a more engaging experience.

Categories: ESC Insight

11
February
2017

Eurovision Insight Podcast: Daily News From Sanremo, Saturday 11th February

Eurovision Insight Podcast: Daily News From Sanremo, Saturday 11th February
http://archive.org/download/escinsight_20170211_448_SanremoSaturday/escinsight_20170211_448_SanremoSaturday.mp3

The marathon is nearly over, as is my time the 67th Festival Della Canzone Italiana – which we all know as Sanremo. Joining me for the final podcast from Sanremo is the editorial team of OGAE Italy. Who do we think can win, who would we want to win, and is there a suitable song and artist for the Eurovision Song Contest in May?

Eurovision Insight Podcast: Daily News From Sanremo, Saturday 11th February

ESC Insight reports from backstage at the 67th Sanremo Music Festival. Ewan Spence is joined by the OGAE Italy team to preview the final night of the world-famous festival. Plus music from Massimo Ranieri.

Keep up to date with all of the Eurovision news during National Final season (and beyond) by subscribing to the ESC Insight podcasts. You’ll find the show in iTunes (why not leave us a review?), 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

11
February
2017

The Language Of Eurovision And The Music Of Malta

The Language Of Eurovision And The Music Of Malta

It would be easy to look at Jamala’s stunning victory in Stockholm 2016 as a celebration of minority languages. The song ‘1944’ had a haunting Crimean Tatar chorus which added a layer of beauty to her performance that lead it to creep over the victory line.

However we all know that underneath, the song’s English lyrics were cold, harsh, and effective. The media storm about the political finger wagging throughout the piece captured people’s interest far more than the delicate native tongue of her uprooted family.

English dominated the 2016 Eurovision Song Contest Grand Final in a way it never had before. The French and Italian songs had their main hooks in the English language and even traditionally conservative Spain brought ‘Say Yay’ without any splash of corazón or contigo thrown into the English melody. The only entry without any English of the 26 songs was the Austrian entry, where Zoe’s ‘Loin d’ici’ was performed in a language that was natural for her if not relevant to Austria. Other than the UK and Malta, every other song in the 26 used a language that’s not official to their country.

Few would have thought Malta would be the country at the epicentre of language identity in the Eurovision Song Contest. By selecting ‘Kewkba’ into the Maltese selection that debate has surfaced across the sunshine island.

The History Of An Identity

The Maltese language has origins starting in the 12th century and is unique for its roots in Arabic, despite using the Latin script. Arabic words were fused by loan additions from Sicilian, Italian and British vocabularies as various groups came to Malta for work or to rule its strategic position in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea.

Despite pressures from all three the Maltese language survived throughout foreign rule. Indeed today the language is still used as the mother tongue of 94 percent of Maltese people. That statistic may sound staggering to a Eurovision Song Contest fan. No Eurovision entry has been in Maltese since 1972, despite 27 attempts in the meantime. More staggering is that no song written in Maltese has been performed in the Maltese National Final since 1993. Even then the entries were submitted with an English version to head to the international festival, relegating the native language to second place in the pecking order.

While a handful of songs over time since have been submitted in Maltese, none have made it past the first round. The reputation of the Maltese language in the Song Contest is so low that, according to Maltese broadcaster PBS, a song in Maltese ‘hasn’t been submitted for years’ before ‘Kewkba’ showed up.

To find out more about why this has happened I spoke to Ray Fabri, the President of the National Council for the Maltese Language. In his role he works to promote the use of Maltese more across the island. Much of the focus is to demonstrate the use of Maltese as a written language by providing signage for hospitals and airports. Maltese’s problem is that although it is a spoken language by the vast majority of citizens, almost all would instinctively switch to English for anything written, even to family members. Writing in Maltese is a particular challenge with colloquial speech often dropping in non-native English and Italian-isms as well as the lack of a computerised spell checker to help.

One would expect the growing globalisation and the widespread use of English would be weakening Maltese further. This isn’t just pop culture, but also practicality. University exams for example often need to be in English to accommodate many foreign students, and in reality a population of less than 500,000 cannot produce enough material in different topics to match demand.

Fabri though believes his work with the Maltese language is in the midst of a ‘mini-revival’, and much of this increase is from young people. While most languages are struggling for momentum Maltese is packed with it. ‘Language is an important part of our identity’ as Ray says, and certainly the Eurovision stage would suggest that their use of English now defines Malta less. Back in the 90s, Malta’s most successful period in the Song Contest, Malta was unique for singing in English, as one of three countries with that privilege before the language rule was lifted. Malta is no longer special for using the modern lingua franca, and young people can only use Maltese to create an identity instead.

A New Philosophy For The Old Broadcaster

During 2016 a wave of change came in at Maltese broadcaster PBS. Anton Attard, a stalwart for many editions of Malta’s National Final and the Junior Eurovision Song Contest in 2014, stepped down for the role to be given to John Bundy. The direction of change in running the Eurovision selection is markedly clear. The new production to select a song for Kyiv will be a one-shot 16 song competition. No more will there be drama such as changing the song as the artist approaches March’s deadline, as we witnessed when ‘Chameleon’ was ditched in 2016.

The most notable change for this edition though is that Malta’s infamous expert jury is no more. In recent years Malta more than anybody has held the least democratic National Final, with over 80% of the votes cast made by invited jury members in the audience rather than viewers at home. A rationale behind this lop-sided weighting arguably to decrease the bloc voting within Malta, a country dominated by a few families and towns where local support can get an act far (I’m sure we’ve all noticed how many Vellas and Borgs there are lurking around).

The 100 percent televote is a drastic change in PBS’ philosophy. Commenting on this, a PBS spokesperson commented that as a ‘festival of the public, the public should choose the song that represents the country’.
The added twist is that not only was ‘Kewkba’ submitted to the selection process, but it qualified, with PBS saying there their selection jury only ‘selected by the song submitted’ – meaning there was no quota for the language diversity akin to many other countries. The song is there on merit and suddenly became the centrepiece for an island nation where national identity and language solidarity are the hot topics of the day.

The person in the middle of this revolution is the rather innoculous looking artist Janice Mangion.

Taking A Risk With Your Music

The importance of sending a song in Maltese is not something Mangion misses the importance of, recognising that her ‘native language is not given the exposure and importance it deserves’, and that ‘as a country we should be proud of our heritage and open to the idea of sharing our language.’

Malta may have its’ own competitions in the Maltese language, but no musical showcase in Malta is bigger than the Eurovision Song Contest platform. The chance to export music outside of the Malta’s rocky shoreline doesn’t happen often, and the Song Contest each year provides such a big carrot to many Maltese artists that it it’s not surprise the island is Eurovision bonkers.

However to dare to submit a song in Maltese to PBS in Maltese was not an obvious move for Janice, and admitted she ‘needed some convincing’ from the composer and lyricist of the song to make what she called a ‘risk’.

The risk is part of that identity problem. On one side Malta is incredibly proud of their language and the Song Contest may be seen as the ultimate way to present it. However on the other hand the language has previously been to Eurovision twice…and finished last twice. Those first two years of Maltese Eurovision Mangion believes may have scarred the nation from taking those risks, and to ‘change this perception’ is one reason Mangion is entering this year.

Her story here sounds familiar to another recent National Finalist from the opposite side of the continent. In Finland’s Uuden Musiikin Kilpailu only one of the ten songs in the Grand Final was in Finnish, ‘Helppo Elämä’ by Lauri Yrjölä.

Speaking to me in Helsinki, Yrjölä complained that ‘Finnish people seem to have some sort of grudge against the past, as Finnish language songs haven’t really done that well.’ Similarly to Mangion, much of the positive response to his track has come from abroad. His ‘bold dream to take over the world singing in Finnish with this international sound’ though will need to wait, after only finishing 8th in Finland’s selection. The leaderboard shows his theory was spot on correct however, with ‘Helppo Elämä’ finishing joint 5th with the international juries, but 9th with the Finnish population televoting.

Eurovision, Language and a Rollercoaster Maltese Selection

Recent Eurovision Song Contest themes such as Building Bridges and Come Together have been held up previously for their not-so-subtle correlation to the political divisions that have troubled Europe over recent years. It is unsurprising that this year’s slogan Celebrate Diversity has sparked off the same discussions about the place of the Song Contest in a modern Europe. As Executive Supervisor of the Eurovision Song Contest Jon Ola Sand has commented, this theme lets us ‘celebrate both our common ground and our unique differences’. Few differences can be as common between Europe as the languages we speak.

Malta would not be alone with selecting a song in their unique language this year either, already a Belarussian jury overturned a 5th place televote for Naviband to send their Belarussian ditty to Kyiv, and more are expected in the coming weeks. Perhaps as nationalist movements grows an ugly head across Europe it is up to the Contest to show the positive side of national identity. The identity and culture of different people is diversity, and can have no bigger platform to celebrate itself than the world’s biggest entertainment show.

Janice Magion

Janice Magion

Whether Malta selects Janice Mangion to represent their country is a different matter, and with previous Eurovision artists and established artists in the line up it’s no given thing. The interesting thing about this year’s Maltese selection is the return to 100 percent televoting, and with the Maltese language on a resurgence the momentum is certainly there for a surprise. Regardless of whether it wins or not, Ray Fabri has already admitted that its inclusion in the National Final has generated ‘interest and curiosity’ for the language. Inside the island once again those discussions and debates have started once again, and beyond Malta’s shores the Maltese language has been heard by thousands of Song Contest fans. It could be millions in May.

Whatever songs go to Kyiv, they always come with their country stamped alongside their song title. Language doesn’t need to define the identity of a song; the performer being proud of their work and where they come from and so much is always enough. Nevertheless we all know of the times when the Contest can empower minorities to shine a spectacle on their existence and raise their issues in ways politics and National Councils can never achieve. There is no reason the Eurovison Song Contest cannot help make a language gain the recognition it deserves in the same way.

Categories: ESC Insight

10
February
2017

Eurovision Insight Podcast: Daily News From Sanremo, Friday 10th February

Eurovision Insight Podcast: Daily News From Sanremo, Friday 10th February
http://archive.org/download/escinsight_20170210_447_SanremoFriday/escinsight_20170210_447_SanremoFriday.mp3

Sanremo is not Eurovision, Euroivsion is not Sanremo. In today’s podcast Ewan sits down with Donald McNaughton (from Insight’s Juke Box Jury shows) to talk about the differences between the two shows, how history has diverted their respective paths, and to pick out some favourite songs from this year’s Festival.

Eurovision Insight Podcast: Daily News From Sanremo, Friday 10th February

ESC Insight reports from backstage at the 67th Sanremo Music Festival. Ewan Spence is joined by Juke Box Juror Donald McNaughton to compare Sanremo to the Eurovision Song Contest. Plus music from Annalisa.

Keep up to date with all of the Eurovision news during National Final season (and beyond) by subscribing to the ESC Insight podcasts. You’ll find the show in iTunes (why not leave us a review?), 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

09
February
2017

Eurovision Insight Podcast: Daily News From Sanremo, Thursday 9th February

Eurovision Insight Podcast: Daily News From Sanremo, Thursday 9th February
http://archive.org/download/escinsight_20170209_446_SanremoThursday/escinsight_20170209_446_SanremoThursday.mp3

On today’s show from Sanremo we look back at the results of the last Quarter Final and discuss the three songs sent to the Italian’s Andra Chansen round, before previewing the Covers Contest tonight with a dash of musical history for each song.

Eurovision Insight Podcast: Daily News From Sanremo, Thursday 9th February

ESC Insight reports from backstage at the 67th Sanremo Music Festival. Ewan Spence is joined by OGAE Italy’ President Cristina Giuntini to preview Thursday night’s Covers Contest and the Campioni’s Second Chance round at Sanremo. Plus music from Don Backy.

Keep up to date with all of the Eurovision news during National Final season (and beyond) by subscribing to the ESC Insight podcasts. You’ll find the show in iTunes (why not leave us a review?), 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

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