Editorials & OpinionEurovision

Rethinking Eurovision and failure

How might rethinking ideas of failure contribute to a more civil, positive contest?

As second rehearsals continue, and Big 5 rehearsals commence, we have a stronger idea of what the live shows might look like. However, as staging concepts meet reality and fan opinions alter as performances are more accessible, how might rethinking ideas of failure contribute to a more civil, positive contest?

Over the last few months as part of my thesis work, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the idea of failure. What is failure and who gets to define it? How does the idea of failure connect to the Eurovision Song Contest. How might different models apply, or indeed fail to apply to this often used but strangely defined term?

The Oxford English Dictionary elliptically defines failure as ‘the fact of failing’, it might also mean a ‘lapse, a slight fault’ (1.b); ‘the fact of being exhausted […] declining in strength or activity’ (2); ‘a thing or person that proves unsuccessful’ (3.b). Here, failure could be momentary or long-lasting, something that happens or something someone does (or doesn’t) do. Failure is embodied as much as it could be happenstance. How might failure be ‘performed’ or perpetuated by acts and the fandom at large?

Failing acts?

In one sense of the term, all acts who do not win the Eurovision Song Contest ‘fail’. However, we all know that narrative is pretty misleading. Not coming first on the scoreboard does not mean the career of the act is over, or the entry is a dud. Indeed, there are countless examples of acts becoming household names and songs becoming continental hits in the weeks, months and years following the contest. To use an obvious example, Mahmood did not win in 2019 with ‘Soldi’, yet his career has flourished. Verka Serduchka did not win in 2007, yet ‘Dancing Lasha Tumbai’ has become one of the most recognisable entries of the 00s. Eleni Foureira did not win in 2018 with ‘Fuego’ but etc. Expectation management is key here. Media outlets have historically described the recent string of UK results as a failure, on the simple virtue they didn’t win. Yet those same outlets probably couldn’t name the act of the year, or the song, or indeed the last act/song to win for the UK. The effect of this mythmaking narrative that to not win therefore must mean ‘Europe hates us’ or ‘revenge for Brexit’ or even ‘vindictive scoring’ s not only unfounded, but establishes an impossible expectation of what taking part in the contest looks like.

All acts who fail to qualify for the final ‘fail’.’

As demonstrated with Croatia’s Albina last year, in a system where the jury vote and televote are split, it is entirely possible to be in the top 10 with each and not make the final. Here, despite the intention of both prongs of voting demographic was clearly to see Croatia on Saturday nights final, the nature of the Contest being fixed to numerical points as an implicit marker of value means ‘intention’ might not be enough. Another example might be Bulgaria’s Sofi Marinova who, tying with Norway’s Tooji lost out a slot to final due to a tie-break rule. Tie-break rules are designed to create an objective result, though the methodology to achieve this can often be subjective. Should the country that performed first go through? How about the country who received points from the most number of countries? Highest number of 12s, 10s, 8s etc? Maybe qualifiers should be based on the highest average placing (or lowest, to give the country who has the weakest track record a chance to shine?)? In any formulation, ‘failure’ becomes a technicality.

Speaking of track record, many of us can remember Sweden failing to qualify for the first time in 2010. While Turkey and Armenia failed to qualify the year after, or Greece in 2016 – this wasn’t any country, it was Sweden! The expectation we place on certain countries for pristine records is amusing as it is bizarre. It also establishes additional pressures for acts to keep up the regime of success which, if not met to ‘our expectation’ (a phrase I’ll address later) we can mock or laugh at the expense of an act. I can recall NRK making a slightly cruel video following Anna Berghandahl’s reaction following her NQ:

However, it should be pointed out that Sweden technically failed to qualify twice, the first occurring in 2008. But for the ‘jury wildcard’ 10th qualifier occurring between 2008-9, Sweden would’ve missed out on competing for the trophy in Belgrade. Furthermore, Anna was closer to qualifying (5 points) than Charlotte Perrelli (13 points)! Failure, or the perception of failure is much more fluid than we might think.

Performing failure

The Eurovision Song Contest has always required live performance. The only exceptions so far remain the live-on-tape for Australia and Iceland last year. Though entirely necessary, let’s hope they will remain the only two for a long time. However, as the decades have progressed and different acts/genres have been represented on stage, the role of ‘performance’ has increased exponentially. However, as props or choreography becomes more intricate, the risk for failure increases. The search to reinvent how a song might look to folks at home can lead to things backfiring. I can recall a 2016 rehearsal in which Sergey Lazarev missed his footing and tripped on the wall prop. There are many compilations of ‘Eurovision vocal fails’ which, though somewhat interesting from an archival perspective, eternally memorialises a lapse of vocal stability or control. These compilations often highlight a moment or few seconds over the rest of a competent vocal, when the vast majority of us lack the skill to perform most/all of these songs.

Rehearsals should be the time for failure or blips to occur. Rehearsals can be used for all sorts of things and delegations will be at different stages. At this stage, some acts are ready to go, while others need that extra opportunity to tinker with the package. Rehearsals will not be the thing the public or jury vote on, so missing a camera shot or hitting a bum note ultimately makes little difference. If anything, rehearsals are designed and intended for these blips, providing a provisional model or litmus test for what we might expect for the live shows.

In the run up to yesterday, few fan sites presented concern about Citi Zēni’s stage charisma, Maro’s skills in harmonisation and Amanda Tenfjord’s vocal mastery. These qualities are presumed to be ‘stable’ or ‘reliable’, facets proven in national finals, pre-parties or supplementary content since being selected. However, there were questions for all acts about adjusting to the kinetic sun not working or acts who have demonstrated shaky vocals in the past. Of course, the performance can theoretically be a disaster in all rehearsals and magically come together for those three minutes on stage.

The failure of fandom…

The final aspect of failure requires some uncomfortable self-reflection. As a fandom, there are moments where we collectively fail the acts.

It would be fair to say that there have been frustrations at the rehearsal process this year. The closure of first rehearsals for media and the exclusive digital TikTok partnership has led to a lot of hot takes. The breakdown of the kinetic sun has undoubtedly impacted a number of delegations who have had to rethink a backup staging plan in very limited time. I imagine many people are more stressed, tired and irritated than usual. It’s important to place these feelings in the context of 2022. While we are (re)adjusting to a ‘new normal’ (hate that phrase), the pandemic is still a thing, Ukraine is still under assault. There are many, many other bad things occurring locally, nationally and globally. The 2020s have been tough to us all, and some of that is resurfacing or manifesting in strange, but visible ways.

It is incumbent upon us all to recognise the following things:

  • Acts who participate in the Eurovision Song Contest are human beings.
  • The huge technical crew who oversee props, lighting, sound mixing, cameras and delegations are human beings.

Given acts see the rehearsal run-throughs in the viewing room, they are all too aware if something doesn’t work! They are aware that the failure of the kinetic sun has led to some odd results or a camera shot doesn’t quite work! There is a distinction between constructive criticism and being rude, mean and cruel. We must learn the difference between the two.

The failure of moderation

Not every opinion needs to be spoken into the world. Making a catty meme or withering set of comments may be great to get a few likes on Twitter or cause an argument for some ‘drama’, but they perpetuate negative vibe that over recent months has become increasingly unpalatable. Many have complained about the lack of access in the first few days of rehearsals. However, if acts are subject to hostile comments and dismissive commentary, why should we have access at all? Some of the comments, tone and ways in which we communicate with one another contribute to the toxicity of the fandom and contest at large. This negativity presents a counter-productive narrative that the fandom and fan media should be restricted. It taints the experience for acts, crew and fans alike.

For example, there is a distinction between the following two statements:

This was not the performance I expected, the act appears to have used this run to work through camera marks and/or choreo. The delegation have chosen to pare things back staging wise.

This was a lazy performance, with cheap staging lacking any creativity.  

While the first statement provides a commentary that reflects the context of rehearsal time (keeping in mind that for some acts, second rehearsals are in reality a first rehearsal to rethink a performance in light of the kinetic sun not working as planned), the second isn’t useful. It presents a tone of ferocity that is not only a poor description of what occurred on stage, but is just rude. Perhaps in the era of zooms and working from home we have lost our social sensibilities. Our words carry meaning, affect and impact. We should all make efforts to ensure our language is temperate. After knowing these songs and artists for months, we have a perception of what we think should happen on stage. Sometimes, when that expectation is not met it can be jarring. However, this dissonance should not be the trigger for toxicity online or in person.

Toxicity and hostility towards acts

Of course, not every song or performance will be to our liking. A song might sonically jar you or over/underwhelm visually. As an opinion, that’s fine! But not every ‘hot take’ needs to be posted or shared!

Last year, following a tirade of abuse last year at Tusse, Destiny and others, the Eurovision Youtube included the following description to all uploads:

The Eurovision Song Contest celebrates diversity through music. Please keep your comments respectful. We will not tolerate racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia, body-shaming or any other derogatory or hostile language. Offensive users will be blocked and reported. Music first, always.

Eurovision Song Contest

However, this year things seem to have escalated. Tagging an act, stating their performance is ‘lousy’ and ‘should not qualify’ is quite atrocious. Some might suggest acts are putting themselves out there so they should expect negative responses. I don’t entirely agree with the sentiment, but I think we can all recognise the distinction between privately thinking or disclosing a song/performance isn’t your cup of tea and *wishing* failure upon others. This sentiment has been rightfully called out by fans and fan press alike, with Eurovoix posting a clear and powerful message earlier today.

How to enact change?

All sorts of things could be considered to try and steer back to a sense of civility, humanity and kindness. In my mind, a collective statement, echoing the sentiments of the ESC Youtube message should be adopted by all fan sites. In many cases it is implicit or presumed, but a collective message provides solidarity as much as clarity. However, this can and should be taken further. I can’t help but wonder if a model could be created by the EBU/broadcasters? Some system to offer suggested guidelines or approaches to describe, analyse and configure descriptions or live running commentary. Trickle-down economics rarely works as concept, but maybe it might to engender social change?

Stay tuned for our reviews for the rest of today’s rehearsals at the Pala Olimpico. If you want to know what to expect from the rest of the day, check out our rehearsal schedule. Meanwhile, remember to tune in to our live stream for instant reactions to every rehearsal!

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One Comment

  1. I flat out CANNOT stand the nasty comments on Austria’s rehearsal! 😡 I don’t think haters recognize Pia’s improvement since the pre-parties. She is a f*cking newcomer for Christ’s sake. She deserves better! Let’s get a new trend going: #AustriaForSaturdayESC2022

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