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XTRA Debate: Considering welfare in the Eurovision Song Contest?

Over the decades, the contest has become a space of inclusivity. Women, members of the LGBTQ+ community, and disabled persons have all been accommodated and celebrated. However, despite these progressive traits, does the contest need to reconsider the role of welfare, health and safety and safeguarding for fans, acts and production alike?

We have already previously discussed the role and impact of rehearsals. Prior to the contest, I suggested:

However, like many things in our society which is bending to instant gratification, our desire to see and know everything can easily become detrimental. A slip-up of any sort can too easily be brought up in a press conference in the form of many uncomfortable questions. Reports or anecdotes may hit national media outlets, leading to a lot of excessive stress/anxiety for delegations.

XTRA Debate: Should we have more or less access to rehearsals?

Now there has been a bit of time to reflect on the 2019 contest, I still think the point sadly rings true.

The issue with rehearsals?

Generally speaking, the rehearsal schedule is almost identical year to year. Rehearsals typically begin the week before the final, either on the Saturday or Sunday. Every act is given two official rehearsals, with the first being longer to account for camerawork and other technical details. After each rehearsal, acts and delegations scrutinise the footage in the viewing room. Shortly after they are scheduled for meet and greets – which generally takes the form of a press conference. Depending on schedules, acts may do additional media or promotional work to try and boost exposure.

Don’t forget to add in pre-parties.

Oh, and social media acting as a medium to directly send hundreds, or more likely thousands, of notifications, comments and critiques… Eurovision is an intense few months for all acts, but I’m not sure how many of us actually appreciate how intense it actually is.

Now, of course any established act has a tight and packed schedule. It’s part of the job. However, most acts tend to focus on one task at the same time. Touring acts usually have an intense period of press/media in advance of dates as an opportunity to sell tickets. International tours may involve local press. Even so, these interviews tend to be brief… as opposed to having a heaving press centre within walking distance to the stage at all times. The friendly competition format of Eurovision inevitably ups the scrutiny and intensity, rather than a popular act performing to adoring fans.

Strain on acts?

The day after the first semi-final, John Lundvik was briefly interviewed by the BBC podcast: Eurovision Calling. One interesting exchange reveals the strain on acts.

We had the Orange carpet the other night. There are THOUSANDS of photographers and people that just give me a few words “just sing just do that just do that”. I mean it’s amazing but you get so tired.

John Lundvik, Eurovision Calling Ep15

Michael Rice interjects, joking that the 2hr orange carpet experience was mainly ‘the same questions over and over again’. John responds:

You try to reinvent yourself, because you don’t wanna say the same thing to everybody.

John Lundvik

Although Michael Rice is relatively new to the music scene, Lundvik started his musical career in 2010. The shared experience between the acts indicates that the contest itself could do a lot more to mitigate the strain. At the very least make these long events more user-friendly.

A day of rest?

Below is rehearsal schedule of Tel Aviv 2019. One obvious difference between this schedule and most Eurovision schedules is the removal of rehearsals on Wednesday due to memorial day. I think moving forward, having a break mid-schedule could offer a much-needed pause from the production team who have worked long days (even prior to rehearsals officially beginning!). All members of the press are given the opportunity to see the host country. Artists can have a day to compose themselves before the madness recommences.

The role of the fandom

That said, we as Eurovision fans have a part to play in this. We have to set the precedent for good practice. Be it asking more diverse questions to acts or framing potentially valid criticism in a way that does not cross the line of being abusive or intentionally trolling acts.

Recent reports of Sarah McTernan receiving death threats is frankly unacceptable. Obviously the Irish singer is correct in saying this is ‘part and parcel’ of being in the public in the modern era. It would be naive to fully shield acts from the sad reality of how technology can be used for negative purposes.

Absent welfare?

Slovenia’s representative this year, Zala and Gašper (now known as ‘zalagasper‘) brought the nation to the final for the second consecutive year. Sebi is incredibly intimate, delicate and hypnotic. Like all songs, it isn’t for everyone. However, a minor scandal occurred during the press conference of the first semi-final. A few flippant comments were interpreted as ‘rude’, ‘ungrateful’ or ‘brattish’. Prima facie, I get it. You would expect all qualifiers to be super happy upon qualifying, full of energy and excitement.

This is the part where fan expectation clashes with human reality. In my view, it is unrealistic to expect any act to be ‘on’ all the time. As I’ve outlined above, like all human beings acts get tired. While casual fans may tune in for a few hours a week, acts would have spent the large portion of the day in the venue, building up a lot of anxiety to meet the increasingly unrealistic expectations of the world. Sebi is incredibly introverted, as you can see by the performance.

While all acts will receive some form of media training to deal with press conferences, not all acts will have the experience or desire to want to do constant press stuff.

Now, sure a point could be made that this is part of the job of being a Eurovision act. However, after a long day and receiving undergoing the huge anxiety of the result segment would you really want to sit through a press conference?

Timing welfare

For qualifying acts from the second semi who are drawn first half and therefore expected to return to the venue in a few hours time, this is amped up even further. Although the broadcast semi is only for 2hrs, acts will be in the venue all day. Even after the results, the press conference generally takes an hour. Therefore, acts generally have very little time to recover and sleep before an early morning call for the jury final on Friday.

Obviously, there is only so much that can be done to accommodate acts… But I wonder if it would be an idea to suspend the official running order for the Friday dress run? Let the acts from the first semi and Big 5 perform first, giving all semi two acts a chance to get more than a few hours rest. This will raise potential production issues, but can that be mitigated?

I wonder the extent to which the acts are considered to be ‘working’ while they are at the venue. In the UK, for example, daily breaks are required between shifts. Most staff are required to have at least 11hrs between shifts. Obviously this rule has exceptions, and will be different across the continent. To me at least, leaving the venue at maybe 1am to be required to be back for a morning rehearsal seems particularly grueling.

Nick: Mixed feelings

I feel very mixed about all of this. In this segment, I’ll try to highlight what I’m thinking. Hopefully, I’ll reach a conclusion by the end of this, but I’m not quite sure yet.

First and foremost, I think the role of PR at the Eurovision Song Contest is immense. This goes before the contest – who doesn’t remember Aram MP3’s comments about Conchita Wurst in 2014 – as well as during the contest, like with the Slovenian act this year. The general opinion plays a big role at the contest and as an artist, you need to know how to play this game. The Slovenian duo, whether you found it quirky, authentic or whatever, had no idea how to play it. Just think of Waylon in 2018. When he didn’t like the reporting on his stage performance, he banned the two biggest national newspapers in the Netherlands from receiving content. It surely didn’t help him. Contrary to that, we see acts who go from party to party at the contest. They’re as present at Euroclub as most of the fans and do not particularly behave like a professional there. Whether that’s wise, I’ll leave that to you to fill in.

Welfare I think is important. Oliver’s suggestion to give semi two qualifiers a bit more time before the Friday shows is one I wholeheartedly agree with. This is part of physical welfare. Giving them the rest they need. And that is something I feel the contest can grow in. The extra day of rest helped them immensely. A good idea of how a day works – for the entire delegation – was posted by Samantha Ross of ESCInsight.com. Her piece shows: A day can be exhausting. Imagine doing it for two full weeks: It’s a lot.

That’s life?

In the end, I do feel that toughening up is sometimes necessary. Waylon is especially a good example here: You can’t just shut the game down for bad press. Like Sarah McTernan said: Part of all that happens is just part of society. And now, I don’t mean we should shove mental or physical stress under the carpet. By no means is that what I’m trying to say. It’s a vastly important side of the two weeks there. Care for each other. People do it in the press centre, let’s also do it for the artists. I do however think that the contest is a game you need to play as an artist. We can’t necessarily change that. We all should try to put less pressure on acts, who are the core element of the contest we all love so much, but it certainly isn’t a holiday for them. To achieve great things, you need to work hard. Play the PR game, take your rest and do the things you’re there for.

Costa: It’s bigger than us

The question of act welfare and whether organisers have a ‘duty of care’ over the participants is an incredibly complicated one. I feel like the contest is a victim of its own success when it comes to this. The scale of the contest has amped up the pressures and expectations placed on the artists involved. What exactly can be done? Not that much, really. Aside from valid and tangible adjustments like scrapping the excessive press conferences, there is little else that comes to mind. I endorse the idea of a rest day in rehearsals, the reality is that the schedule has to be tight in order to keep costs down.

As much as I agree that journalists need to ask more interesting and eclectic questions…that’s the nature of fan media. We live in a content-driven world, populated by YouTube channels and social media pages that are all wanting a piece of the action. These platforms are the key to keeping the contest relevant, so there’s only an extent to which their access can be stripped without damaging the contest’s popularity in the long-run. But really, journalists do need to get more creative with how they engage with artists, especially during the rehearsal stage.

World realism?

This leads me to my final point…hateful comments don’t begin and end at ESC. Give someone a social media profile, they’ll use it to target someone they don’t like. Not all abuse is direct; on ‘Eurovision Twitter’, artists can end up the butt of the joke, often veering the point of being harmless. I will always defend satire, but I also really hope these people don’t see everything that’s said about them. Sure, we can all do with being kinder, but that’s beyond the scope of this contest. Personally, I don’t even tag artists in positive comments I have to say about them, because even adoration can just amp up the pressure and feelings of suffocation in a pressure cooker situation like ESC.

What do you think? Should the contest make more of an effort to cater to the welfare of acts and/or production? Be sure to stay updated by following @ESCXTRA on Twitter@escxtra on Instagram and liking our Facebook page for the latest updates!

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