Features

Meet the ESCXTRA Team! – Part 42 – Lisa

From Riverdance to Rotterdam - the messy bird that loves a banger!

As our team continues to grow, it means there are more of us that you can get to know! Therefore, we will continue to bring back our “Meet the ESCXTRA team” feature each time we have someone new for you to meet. What is our personal Eurovision story? Why did we want to be a part of this website? What are our favourite Eurovision songs of all-time? Also, how can you get in touch with us on social media? Read on to find out!

LISA BIRD

Hello procrastination my old friend! I’ve actually been a member of the team since February 2018. But have only decided to get around to this now. Mainly, because I’ve done so much in that time I now actually have things to talk about.

Most people are probably aware of who I am, I am known for being quite, erm… ‘enthusiastic’ and ‘passionate’ with my opinions on social media, shall we say! For the uninitiated, I’m Lisa, a 31 year old (yes, that does make me one of the more ‘mature’ members of the team! However, rest assured I have always been a child at heart), from Derbyshire. Many years ago I graduated from Derby University, studying history and heritage conservation. Now I work for a components company providing insulation and fabrications for construction. Outside of that and Eurovision, my free time is spent travelling, watching sports, gaming and working on my family history.

You can follow my mess on social media at Twitter and Instagram.

Your first Eurovision memory?

With my advancing years this gets tricky to pin down! Growing up with my parents working in the pub trade, cheesy music was a staple on the jukebox or by the hired entertainers. So of course ABBA’s winning entry ‘Waterloo’ and our own Buck’s Fizz winner ‘Making Your Mind Up’, were never far from my ears. Every year Eurovision has been prime time viewing. Even family and friends that claim they don’t like Eurovision, will still sit down and gather every May in the desperate hope that it’s our year again. My earliest memory of actually watching the contest wasn’t any of the acts, but the interval segment of 1994 featuring Ireland’s most famous export, the toe-tapping Riverdance. As it happens this would turn out to be blessing in disguise. Unfortunately for our Irish readers, the winner is probably my least favourite entry of all time.

Your Eurovision journey?

Settle in for story time with tea and biscuits on this one, it’s been a long journey! I’ve ridden the ups and mostly downs of high hopes and dashed dreams when it comes to my native United Kingdom’s exploits in the contest. I have seen the development of the contest into the modern juggernaut it’s become today. From the language and orchestra changes, voting changes and advancement in media technology to create vibrant staging and LED visuals. Not even televoting existed when I started watching.

90s

The late 90s still holds a lot of Eurovision nostalgia for me. Before Terry Wogan and the British press turned the public against the contest, we were still doing well. Strong, current sounding entries gave a feel good factor to cosy evenings watching with the family. Although growing up in the pub trade, that ‘family’ included the local punters too.

Back in 1996 I got my first experience of what Australia could do in the contest – yes I know the likes of Johnny Logan and Olivia Newton-John pre-dated Gina G. As well as members of The New Seekers and The Shadows, but I wasn’t born then. Our distant Oceanic friends let us borrow Gina who convincingly won the national final and gave us a Grammy nominated banger in ‘Ooh Aah… Just A Little Bit’ that became a worldwide hit! It remains my favourite UK entry and is the second best UK-Australia collaboration after me and my partner – who of course takes great amusement in how my destiny has played out! Also we have to stan the requirement for all instruments to be present on stage. This meant that with the songs computer generated beats, two desktop PCs had to be on view.

Of course this means I witnessed the last time we won the contest, with Katrina and The Waves ‘Love Shine A Light’. However this is where my treasonous ways jump out. We rarely send current, relevant sounding upbeat entries, which also leads to me rarely liking the UK entries by default. In 1997 I was discovering my love for native instrumentation with the likes of ‘Dinle’ and ‘Mana Mou’ instead.

Noughties

My favourite decade of Eurovision! So much expression of culture and vibrant, memorable songs, both for right and wrong reasons! Bigger, bolder staging. More participants and a deepening passion for Europe’s biggest music contest.

Around 2003 was when I became more invested in the contest and started to keep rankings of my favourites, which today I keep organised in a spreadsheet. (Sad I know!) It also helped I was a massive t.A.T.u. fan girl at the time. They were at the peak of their fame due to the risqué music video for ‘All The Things She Said’ and the huge favourites going into the contest. Said video also became invaluable research into my appreciation for the female form. Although t.A.T.u. Didn’t win, the diversity of the entries on show and the close voting, still makes it an underrated contest.

Next in my milestones came 2004. This saw the birth of the semi-final era and also what the East could do in terms of hosting and the entries. Mainly this is all about Ruslana marking her impact within the fandom, as well as on me. Many will know, because I don’t mention it enough, that ‘Wild Dances’ is my favourite Eurovision entry of all time! Not me reliving my Xena: Warrior Princess fan-girling through Ruslana. As well as getting me through how awful GTA: IV was with her hilarious DJ cameo on Vladivostok FM. Ukraine would go on to also become my favourite Eurovision country for their conveyor belt of uptempo pop.

Towards the end of the decade came what was and still is my favourite contest of all time in 2009. This was a special year in many ways. Although I personally believe the winning song was and is twee and terrible, it was a strong year across the board. The bangers banged with full traditional grit and most of the ballads still remain timeless classics. This year really bonded my affinity to Estonia, with the ethereal majesty of Urban Symphony’s soaring violin strings and Sandra’s magical Estonian vowels in ‘Rändajad’.

At Eesti Laul 2019, ten years later, I finally had the pleasure of meeting the unofficial Queen of Estonia herself! Also 2009 was a rare time the UK actually made some effort, with Jade Ewen earning a top 5 placing! Thus it became my realisation, through her heavy promo touring, that actually, yes other countries do national finals too. So a further obsession was born!

Now

May of 2012 stands out, not least for the host nation making sure we never forgot the land of Fire, with all that promo! Or for Loreen’s ‘Euphoria’ becoming the envy of every attempt to dethrone her since during the ESC250 and being another example of Eurovision going mainstream. But because it coincided with a unique weather event, where the UK actually had sunshine! I remember being sat in shorts sweating all week during the shows and also in hope we wouldn’t come last. This year again had a lot of great uptempo songs that suited the summer sun.

Jumping ahead to 2016 and probably my second favourite contest. If only for the impressive production values and hosting by SVT. This was another milestone year for me, as I ventured out into the wild and started attending events such as our national final You Decide and the London Eurovision Party. Although I didn’t experience much of the national final season live, as I spent the majority of it visiting family in New Zealand.

Through attending more events I got to meet people I had been chatting to online for years and discover that the Eurofandom truly is a weird and wonderful interconnected family that comes together every now and then to escape the real world and bond over Eurovision. One of my favourite underdogs, Bulgaria also returned and ‘If Love Was A Crime’ remains one of my favourite entries for its message and Poli’s enthusiastic gusto she gave that year.

Last year was pretty special. Not least because I joined ESCXTRA, but it was also the first year I travelled to the contest to experience the festival that the host city becomes once Eurovision takes over. During my time in Lisbon I experienced all the live and jury shows and finally got to meet my favourite entrant ever, Ruslana! As well as the bizarre experience of having the UK, Estonian and San Marino delegations staying in the same hotel.

Meeting Cláudia Pascoal

These were memories to last a lifetime bonding with my Eurovision family and it helped to have great participants like Eleni Foureira, Jessica Mauboy and Saara Aalto that were always on my Eurovision wishlist. It was also a refreshing change having a contest without the reliance of LEDs. So it forced acts to be creative and show initiative to be memorable – see ‘My Lucky Day’ for how Moldova usually excels on that briefing. Once you start meeting and getting to follow the acts on their journey, it enhances the overall experience and you get attached to songs that maybe you otherwise wouldn’t without knowing their story.

Meeting our unofficial mascots xtra Basic ft. Emily J at Eesti Laul 2019!

This year saw many standout highlights. As I upped my travel game to alarming climate change levels by attending national finals of other nations for the first time. I visited Malta for The X Factor Malta. I haven’t even attended the UK version. As well as this, I experienced a Baltic tour that took in the finals of Eesti Laul and Eurovizijos Atranka. After that I ticked off attending Eurovision In Concert from my bucket list.

It was worth 36hrs with no sleep to meet Jonida Maliqi in Amsterdam!

Being able to follow the journey of those winners and particularly following Michela’s progression from X Factor, to song choice, to Eurovision – although I didn’t attend this year, added a deeper fondness and passion for the contest. It was a contest of many highs – alternative entries like ‘Zero Gravity’ and ‘Hatrið Mun Sigra’ exceeding. Plus San Marino and North Macedonia showing the big boys how its done. Although some lows – another UK last place, oh dear! Although all of that has been outdone by being able to share the fun of the contest with my partner, everyone needs to date a Eurofan. Only they will understand why you disappear for six months a year and how Christmas is actually FiKmas!

Next year will be another year on tour. Travelling further afield to attend Australia Decides and going back to the contest to see Rotterdam’s take on everyone’s favourite music show.

Why Is Eurovision special to you?

The world keeps turning through technological and geo-political progression, yet this weird and wonderful melting pot of culture and music has survived it all and grown with it. It blends together my love for music, travel, a good party, geography and social history. There’s a sense of belonging and community that comes with being a Eurovision fan. Once you delve into the level of content from national finals and following the artists after the contest and getting to know the people you share those experiences with, there’s no going back.

Also on a personal level, there’s a level of safety from being part of the LGBT community and how Eurovision has been a platform for acceptance that other fandoms don’t have. When there’s so much division and attempts to isolate us all in the world, Eurovision is a uniting force that binds us together. Better than anyone, I know that distance is no barrier and how it shrinks the borders. Thus allowing fans from near and far to have a voice. It’s the same for the smaller nations that get to share their musical stories on a global platform. One of the greatest things about the contest is that with so many songs to choose from, there are always pockets of fans for each and every one. Every personal taste is catered for from pop to folk to techno-anti capitalist industrial electronica and everything in between.

I love seeing the birthing process of the songs and artists through their national finals, the pre-party season and to the Eurovision stage. The anticipation is just as good as the contest itself, before the serious work begins. Now I get to be a part of that through working with ESCXTRA and the team in writing about their journey and life after the contest. More than that I’ve made new special bonds and friendships through my love of the contest. Above all, it’s just good, harmless, fun and escapism from the humdrum of life and depressing current affairs on the news.

What attracted you to ESCXTRA?

Early in my childhood I had a passion for the escapism of books and creative writing in school. As I grew older and life took over, this waned. Then when it came to my growing Eurovision hobby I found myself on internet forums. As we all know it’s easier to admit our deepest secrets than admit we’re Eurovision fans to people in day to day life! So finding kindred spirits to spend hours writing and discussing news and gossip about Eurovision became a growing interest. However despite people around me trying to encourage me to go find a fansite to put my thoughts to use, I was always adamant I’d never join one. Anyone that knows me, knows I can be very lively in debate, shall we say! So I thought I’d have to lose that feisty spirit.

Throughout my growing passion for the contest, ESCXTRA became my go-to location for the latest news. The sleek website layout made it accessible and stand out. But beyond the surface, there has always been more to the content. From editorial debates, the prediction game, the live streams bringing the rehearsals to the viewers with fun commentary and a focus on the music releases from artists after the contest. 

Last February I had the shock of my life when an offer to join the team slid into my DMs and the rest is history! From there I’ve become part of a great team and made some great friends too. Everyone works together as a supportive unit for the same common goal of telling the news stories within the fabric of Eurovision and its connected events. All with the aim of pushing Eurovision into the mainstream and letting the acts shine. I’ve been lucky enough to travel the world covering national finals and this year I had the privilege of working backstage at the London Eurovision Party. My pride and joy though, is being able to use my appreciation for music to be a helpful member of our New Music Friday feature.

And finally; your top 5 Eurovision songs of all-time?

I’ve already bored you all with this last year in the ESC250 series we did. You can read my top 10 here. So I’m going to switch things up a bit and shine a spotlight on some underrated songs I enjoy.

5. Dschingis Khan – ‘Dschingis Khan’ (Germany 1979)

How did this originator of trolling majesty only finish fourth? Robbed I tell you! Every great Eurovision classic has to snap with staging, the catchy hook and flashy choreography. Knez is shaking at that spinning work. This crazy lot delivered it in spades. All the novelty songs since were clearly inspired by Dschingis Khan. I accept that in modern times it would probably push the boundaries of cultural appropriation. But this is the kitchy fun that everyone knows and loves when it comes to Eurovision. Such was its impact, that it was a chart hit in Australia long before they had designs on joining the party. It also featured as the theme song on Seven’s coverage of the 1980 Olympics. Last year it was even given a revamp for the 2018 FIFA World Cup 2018.

4. Tajči – ‘Hajde Da Ludujemo’ (Yugoslavia 1990)

Let’s go crazy indeed! Just for how much I’m not a fan of the twee 1989 winner, this has to get a special mention as a great host entry. A retro banger by Yugoslavia’s answer to Marilyn Monroe. This should’ve been the entry granting Yugoslavia their victory, it’s easily their best song! Its fun and flirty nature was very daring for the time. I also love the fact she did a full routine, stood still, until the guitar solo breakdown.

3. PingPong – ‘Sameach’ (Israel 2000)

This had the honour of being the opening song of the new millennium. What a way to start after everyone survived the Y2K bug and Doomsday fears. We have to stan protesting with a lighthearted Eurodance banger. The only people not happy ironically enough, were Israel themselves. After the group tested the Israeli broadcaster’s patience by changing the lyrics to English, showing a same-sex kiss and waving the Syrian flag, they were essentially considered independent representatives. Although I personally thought it deserved to win, Europe didn’t agree. But that didn’t stop this three minutes of joy making me happy!

2. Elitsa Todorova & Stoyan Yankoulov – ‘Water’ (Bulgaria 2007)

Every now and then I’ll be gripped by something completely wild. ‘Water’ is that to a tee! Elitsa wailing away in Bulgarian. Meanwhile we have the traditional turbo-folk beats fused with the combination of rapid drumming and a techno instrumental. Also Elitsa’s hair flips walked so Eleni’s could run. 2007 wasn’t a classic contest by any stretch of the imagination, but this remains a highlight. Bulgaria always dared to be bold even if it didn’t always pay off. Which is why I miss them. Fortunately for Elitsa and Stoyan their first attempt in the contest did. It helped that it was during the televote only era. As the jury may not have been kind to their cultural showcase.

1. Adelén – ‘Bombo’ (Melodi Grand Prix 2013)

OK I’m taking severe liberties here, but stay with me! I couldn’t not find a way to get this in. I’ve done enough talking of my favourite Eurovision entries throughout and in the past. So why not give a moment to my favourite ever national final song of all time instead?

Any other year and ‘Bombo’ would’ve easily been selected for Norway. Unfortunately it found itself up against Margaret Berger’s ‘I Feed You My Love’. As well as another Latin inspired bop, which featured dancing rabbits. The infectious, ‘I Love You Te Quiero’. Every Eurovision related event without fail, ‘Bombo’ has everyone rushing to the dance floor. The beats are hip grinding life itself! I dare anyone to not want to dance to it. It was ahead of its time given the popularity of those tropical beats in modern chart music today. I also love the unofficial songwriting rule in these songs that they have to drop in corazon! Of course the eagle-eyed will know this was written by the famous Norway export Ina Wroldsen. This anthem sums up my music taste in three minutes and makes me long for Spain themselves to bring back this style.

Stay tuned for the next part of our Meet the ESCXTRA team series! Remember, you can share your Eurovision stories with us in the comments section below. Or via the comments sections on our social media channels @ESCXTRA. We would love to hear them!

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