Long before this year’s national final season had started, I decided I’d be attending Lithuania’s selection show. Little did I know that it would turn out to be one of the stand out shows of the year. The night before the final of Pabandom iš naujo, I sat down with Audrius Giržadas, Head of Delegation for Lithuania, and had a chat about all things Lithuania and Eurovision…
So Audrius, this is the 11th year of you commandeering the Lithuanian ship at the Eurovision Song Contest. Do you still have the same enthusiasm for Eurovision as you did back in 2010?
I wouldn’t say the same enthusiasm because I’m not as naive as I was in those days. But I still love what I do very much. Sometimes I think about being more deeply involved in the process from a television point of view. I’m more television production than music so when I watch Eurovision, I look less at the show on the stage and more at how the team is working, what people around are doing, especially when they are changing the set on stage. This is the most interesting thing for me. I would like to sit in the control room and be backstage. This is still the biggest miracle at Eurovision for me. Sorry to the music fans but I’m a television person so I’m still watching how people make television.
Actually that’s just as important because Eurovision is visual as much as it is about the music, so you have to be aware of that.
So, in the last 11 years who has been your favourite Lithuanian entry?
To be honest I wouldn’t point at the one entry because they are all different. They all have their good sides and bad sides. Sometimes I joke with my colleague Ramūnas Zilnys, a Eurovision journalist for many years, that when we retire we’re going to sit down and write a book called ‘Married to Eurovision‘. And in it we’ll tell all the true stories from behind the stage. Now we just have some people we love more and some not as much. Every year brings something new and I can’t point to the one I like or dislike the most.
Of course, I remember my first Eurovision very well. I just came into this big gang, fresh and naive. At the Head of Delegation meeting, I saw other people from other countries stand up and introduce themselves. We don’t do it now but it was a tradition back then. I had to stand up and say “Hello, I’m Audrius from Lithuania and this is my first Eurovision.” I then heard other people say that it was their 10th, 11th, 12th, 13th Eurovision! I saw them as ‘Eurodinosaurs’, you know? I was thinking: come on, guys. You’re still here? Not bored? And now I look back and see that I’m the same.
In terms of overall experience, was that your favourite year?
It was the most memorable because it was my first time, but I wouldn’t say it was my favourite. I’ve been thinking about it as you’re not the first person to ask me this question, but I can’t give you an answer. Sometimes you like the host city or the country but your artist is a pain in the arse. And sometimes you have a very good team but the city is a bit boring. It’s different every time.
Now I’ve been asking around and I can say that fans, journalists, and even people from other country’s delegations have noticed that you guys in Lithuania have upped your game with Pabandom iš naujo this year. There’s a lot more noise around the national selection. What have you changed?
There are a few reasons. First of all, there have been some changes to the management at LRT. The attitude inside the organisation towards the project changed. We have a much more serious attitude towards it and we created a working group, rather than making it just one person’s headache – me! We discuss all matters as a group and we’re looking at new ways of doing things. As you know, we rebranded the show and made it a little bit shorter. We had an open meeting with music producers, managers, and artists to sit down and talk about what they expect from us. We asked what they liked, what they don’t like about the selection and we made some changes based on those conversations. The change of format wasn’t big and we’d been talking about it for while, and we finally turned it into reality. Suddenly, they were here. The artists who we never expected to come to a Eurovision national selection were with us and we’re so happy about that. I believe that all eight songs competing in tomorrow’s final are really strong and I’m interested to see who we will get.
I think what people love about following Eurovision national finals is the fact that it’s a great way to find new music and artists, and each show has its own local and national flavour. The previous version of your selection show, Eurovizijos Atranka, has been the most watched television show in Lithuania. What has the national selection meant to the Lithuanian people and the music scene here?
There are two religions in Lithuania: Basketball and Eurovision. Both those religions have good and bad sides. People love you or hate you. So of course, everyone in Lithuania knows how to play basketball and they blame the players when they play bad. And almost everyone in the country knows how to make Eurovision. They blame us for picking the wrong song, the wrong artist, and that the selection is not working. But still they watch. People talk about the songs, the show, the performances, and they fight amongst themselves online about who is the best entry for Eurovision. So it’s a game of love and hate at the same time. It’s a never ending story.
As someone from the UK it’s the same for us. The BBC must be sick of UK fans complaining because we’ve obviously had a long run of poor results. I can totally understand that. I think it’s the same for every broadcaster though. When things don’t go well it must be for this reason or that reason.
The funny thing is a lot of people watch what happens in other countries. They see a lot of selection formats and we get told, year after year, that we should look at our neighbours and how good their selections are in comparison. When we had the discussion about other selections, we looked at Germany. We said, “Okay so Germany has won Eurovision, of course, but how many times have they come last in the final? And they have their whole complicated system. But again and again, other countries call us and say that we have a very good format and can we tell them about it. I believe this goes round and round all the countries in Europe.
I think when a song doesn’t do well at Eurovision and it’s come from a national final, that national final then comes under scrutiny. Sometimes you think, no, there’s nothing wrong. It just didn’t work out this time.
Like it was last year for us with Jurijus. But we still have this uncertainty over what really happened over in Tel Aviv with the voting. We got such a vague answer from the EBU and they blamed Italy. Some people understand this and some people just think the song was wrong, or the way he was dressed was wrong. We were just joking about this today actually. We were asked, “Why is he standing there with black t-shirt and black jeans? Look at the other countries!” Okay, let’s look at Sweden. Black t-shirt and black jeans. Then it was, “Why is he standing alone and with low lighting?” Okay, let’s have a look at the winning song. A man sitting alone at a piano with minimal lighting. So, you will never be right in this game.
When you compare the budgets of other broadcasters such as the BBC, SVT, the Russian channels etc., LRT has relatively less resources to work with. How do you get around that and stay competitive?
We just have to deal with it. No one will suddenly bring us more budget and when we look at the UK, Swedish, or Russian budgets, it’s not relative it’s much much bigger! The Swedish national selection goes all around the country and in different arenas. The Russians bring the huge sets and with a team made up of different nations. I’ll be honest with you, sometimes we look at the Russian artists and see them so lonely, given they are the only person who is from the country originally. The backing singers might be from Sweden or UK and the vocal coaches are from somewhere else. We see the Russian artist sitting alone on the white sofa, representing their country, and all the other people around them are from other countries. This goes to show just how big these budgets are when you can hire these professionals from anywhere you want. Also the production is huge and really good. It’s really deserved that a lot of Swedish people are working on the main Eurovision Song Contest because they are damn good professionals. We go there and we learn from them. So how do we deal with a smaller budget? We just do. You can see yourself today that we are working in this arena, ahead of the show tomorrow. We were only able to get into the arena tonight and this will be when the first rehearsal will take place. And we will rehearse all through the night. Tomorrow we have the dress rehearsal and then the show in the evening. After the show, we will then have to move out of the arena – the same night!
I’m looking around now and it does seem like the production staff are moving really quickly to get things done. Talking about budgets, let’s look at the BBC. A larger budget doesn’t necessarily mean you do well at Eurovision.
I will tell you about my one experience with BBC Studios. I have been working on another show called ‘Dancing with the Stars‘ and LRT had to buy the licence for the format from the BBC. A producer came from the UK and said: “Let’s meet your costumes department.” I introduced him to my two colleagues who were the costumes department. He raised an eyebrow. The producer then asked to see our scriptwriting department and I introduced him to the one person who writes the scripts. After that he asked to see two other departments and both were in the areas of the organisation that is just handled by me. He was shocked to see that we do lots as individuals. So when the BBC say department, we say one or two people. This is the difference.
What’s next for Lithuania at Eurovision? It’s a big question and I know you’re about to select your artist for Rotterdam, but beyond May do you have any hopes for the future? Do you want to see any changes?
We go again! That’s our new title translated from Lithuanian. I do hope that one day we will win Eurovision and finally we will be able to invite everyone to Lithuania – to Vilnius or to Kaunas. Maybe not this year and may be not next year, but I do hope that one day our day will come.
And I have one final question for you. Or, more a statement and I want your initial response. Ready? Audrius Giržadas, Executive Supervisor of the EBU. Thoughts?[Laughs] I would say thank you very much, but no.
You don’t want the stress?
I’m used to stress but I have to be honest, it’s better to stay a big fish in a small pond and not a lousy player in a very big team. So, I know my limits. Maybe 10 years ago I would have been more ambitious but less experienced, and I would say “Why not?” But today I’m happy where I am. I would like to go to the EBU and see how people work; what they do and allow me to understand them better. But thinking about the Executive Supervisor position? Thank you but no.
Thanks for taking time out to speak to me, Audrius. Let’s hope you get that win in Rotterdam with whoever is selected tonight!
You never know… we will go again!