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Final Countdown

Wolves, handbasins and hints of chaos: Notes from a slightly bonkers Eurovision build-up

Eurovision 2022 is a peculiar mix of showbiz, politics, tourism, cheese and chaos. Here’s what’s been happening.

Daragh Brophy reports from Turin, Italy: 

THE STORY OF Ukrainian group Kalush Orchestera’s Eurovision odyssey has overshadowed the build-up to the competition this year.

Rightly so.

How could it not? 

Selected to represent the country just days before Russia’s invasion, the folk-rap act’s song Stefania – with its haunting refrain and lyrics about a journey home – has taken on an outside meaning in Ukraine and beyond since the start of the war. 

The group were given special dispensation by their government to leave for the Eurovision but, as their press release says, “must return as men of fighting age the day after”.

One of their members joined the army three days after the invasion and remains in Kyiv this weekend defending the city. 

It’s an amazing story. You’ve probaly read it already. You’ll most likely be able to read a more detailed version of it here on The Journal tonight, because they’re all but certain to win.

ukrainian-kalush-musicians-participating-in-the-eurovision-song-contest Members of the Kalush Orchestra meeting with fans at the Eurovision village earlier this week. Bruno Brizzi Bruno Brizzi

There’s also a lot else going on at Eurovision. Ukraine may be odds-on favourites to win – but there are really good songs in the Grand Final line-up from, amongst others, Sweden, FinlandGreece, Estonia, Serbia, Italy and (yes, really) the UK.

If novelty, social media-friendly Europop is more your bag, you’d be best advised checking out Moldova (accordians, fiddles, step-dancing) and Norway (wolves, bananas).

The acts and hosts have been on site here at the Pala Alpitour venue since the start of the month engaging in a gruelling cycle of run-throughs, rehearsals, dress rehearsals and semi-finals.

An army of production staff have been here longer still, working ever-longer days as preparation for the Grand Final gathers pace. Producers only get to put the running order together 48 hours before the final so there’s an incredibly tight window to get everything right on the night: a third full dress rehearsal will take place this afternoon, ending just hours before the show proper begins. 

Expectations are higher than ever for the contest. It’s massive business these days. A TV audience starved of live events tuned in in their droves to watch Italy’s Måneskin win in Rotterdam last year. 183 million watched on TV. Millions more tuned in on Youtube or followed elsewhere online.

The press centre – set up in a sprawling tented complex linked to the venue – is expected to be busting at the seams tonight. There are journalists from all over the globe, not just Europe and its environs. The New York Times has sent someone this year.

italy-eurovision-song-contest-dress-rehearsal Serbian singer Konstrakta's In Corpore Sano - featuring hand-clapping, handbasins and lyrics about Meghan Markle's hair - has been a huge hit with fans in Turin this week. Luca Bruno Luca Bruno

Global interest 

The show is produced as always by the European Broadcasting Union. Its boss, Noel Curran – a former RTE producer and executive – has a long association with the contest, having executive produced the 1997 version in Dublin. The competition has been transformed in the last 25 years, Curran told The Journal yesterday. 

“The digital audience exploded last year – it didn’t increase, it exploded,” Curran said. 

Social media’s ability to provide platforms for the promotion of artists alongside spaces for fans to connect has been a shot in the arm for the Eurovision over the last decade. Seasoned Song Contest watchers reckon the standard of songs in the final has improved significantly.

“I’m not sure people fully realise just how big a social media phenomenon it is,” Curran said. 

“The UK entry has 12 million TikTok followers. The Italian entry, their video on Youtube has already been viewed 55 million times – and that’s before the final.

“I think the other thing you’re seeing is that more established artists in their own countries are performing – that’s why the performances are so good. For a lot of these people, arena performances are not new. 

“The second big thing that has changed is the record companies. Måneskin were one of the biggest acts in the world last year. The record companies have realised this is a massive platform – not as much in the UK or even in Ireland, but they’re catching up – but certainly around the continent.
Eurovision is big business now and they get that – so that means they invest in the campaigning before and they invest in the social media. 

before-the-final-of-the-eurovision-song-contest Members of Norway's Subwoolfer meet fans outside the venue. DPA / PA Images DPA / PA Images / PA Images

A lot of that campaigning and promotion effort has been directed at the massive press centre here in recent days. Alongside reporters and crew from established media outlets there are dozens of fan community members here, blogging or broadcasting in various languages for Eurovision-dedicated sites and services.

It’s a far cry from the usual dispassionate approach you’d find in press rooms at other large events. Dancing rarely breaks out at, say, the Citywest count centre or the National Ploughing Championships.

There’s a regular stream of performers making visits to the press marquees – the ballad singers posing demurely and giving earnest quotes, the novelty acts stopping for endless selfies and shamelessy working their gimmick. The fan community members in particular are lapping it up.

As you might reasonably expect at Eurovision there’s a slightly mad atmosphere around some of the more formal press events.

In between dress rehearsals yesterday, the three presenters – singers Mika and Laura Pausini and former Italian X Factor host Alessandro Cattelan – were hauled over the coals as a Swedish newspaper reporter castigated them for their slightly chaotic performances in the afternoon run-through. 

Underscoring the premise of his question, the journalist had only moments before been dragged up to the press conference top table to take part in a tremendously chaotic reinactment of an old Bros hit.

It was all pretty inexplicable. He wasn’t best pleased, but composed himself well to ask his question.

“I will admit the rehearsal today was somewhat challenging,” Mika admitted, switching gears after 20 minutes of softballs about whether the hosts had any movie work lined up or if they had a favourite language besides Italian.

It was hard doing it, so sitting there watching it was probably far worse for you.
Are we tired? Is the crew tired? Yes. Are they going to get their shit together? Yes. Is it going to be good? Yes.

eu1 Presenters Mika and Laura Pausini. Piovanotto Marco / ABACA/ABACA/PA Images Piovanotto Marco / ABACA/ABACA/PA Images / ABACA/ABACA/PA Images

Following that brief and unexpected outbreak of sincerity the mayor of Turin was hastily wheeled out, to much grumbling and sighing from the local media. 

Despite having one job to do – the usual stump speech you’d expect about the song contest boosting the local economy by several bajillion euro and providing a unique opportunity to showcase the city abroad  – the mayor instead managed to provide some inadvertant light relief by ad-libbing that his favourite pizzaria was just around the corner, but then declining to name it. 

One of the press team stepped in to call a halt to the pizza-related questions:

He’s the mayor not a concierge.

Eurovision being, as always, a unique and peculiar slice of showbiz, politics, business and tourism (not to mention – at the risk of overcooking this pizza metaphor – cheese), that seems a pretty appropriate quote to end on for this morning. 

I’ll have updates here on the site and on Twitter from Turin throughout the evening, so if that’s your sort of thing do check in later.

The song contest starts at 8pm and you can find the full running order here.   

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