United by Music Malmo banner in the trash

ESC in Malmö just concluded – some quick thoughts

Eurovision Malmö Mess:

Eurovision in Malmö just wrapped up, and so many unprecedented events unfurled in real time.

At the Grand Final Jury Show in Malmö, the audience was told Netherlands would not be performing live and that a video of the Semi-Final 2 performance would be shown instead. The audience was not given more info or any reasoning.

Originally, I had some posts planned to show how startups and lean teams might want to check off some baseline items before they can take a site live, and I also had some notes about using Kinsta to manage my website hosting and how I’m trying to figure out pushing from staging to production in a way that doesn’t override production blog post comments, and then I was going to dive into the Eurovision data people have begun sharing…

All of that will have to wait, as part of being lean is recognizing when something special is going on and how you can deviate from whatever original plans you had in order to share info within a larger context that’s happening around you.

I’m glad I got a video of the Grand Final Jury Show audience reaction to being told Joost Klein would not perform Europapa live, as well as a video of the love and support the audience showed for Netherlands as the Semi-Final 2 video was shown instead.

As it turned out, the EBU (European Broadcasting Union) would end up removing Netherlands from the Grand Final last minute, still without sharing much info that helped clarify anything.

It must not be easy putting on such a grand event like Eurovision, but this was a good example for all the organizations and teams out there on what not to do during uncertain or unfavorable times–the lack of communication and transparency honestly created more chaos and frustration.

Once that train gets away from you, it’s hard to recover.

When you have a collective of passionate people from all over the world who feel through music and are likely working professionals who have taken time away from their day jobs to support what this contest is supposed to stand for (peace, love, understanding, and unity through music), it can feel patronizing to be delivered a narrative with lots of convenient omissions.

The EBU expects a lot of grace but did not seem to extend that to artists behind-the-scenes. Why do we have them doing a press conference at 1:30 am after practicing and performing for 14 hours? Why do we feel entitled shoving microphones and cameras in their faces at all moments just so “we” can get “our” shot? Why are we so quick to discard people as soon as they no longer feel like smiling on command?

People tend to be understanding and forgiving, and if the EBU sincerely apologized for the way this was handled, it would have earned them much more trust among artists and fans and we all could have cooperated to find a better way forward together–because, again, one crucial component to this product working is that the audience buys-in. However, like with any corporate entity, it would not be surprising if there were advisors advising to not apologize, because that would be admitting guilt or mismanagement of some sort that could be used in proceedings.

And this is where the human part of Eurovision feels broken.

Yes, Eurovision is a song contest, but it’s really a contest about authenticity.

It’s a contest about the human spirit, one where if anyone is going to bare their soul and share openly, ESC is a universe that is supposed to understand mental health, big emotions, panic attacks, vulnerability, etc. And in May of all months! May is mental health awareness month.

ESC is a very accepting and forgiving universe that knows people aren’t perfect and gives people multiple chances to right any wrongs, so long as their intentions are sincere.

It’s not about one performer being vocally superior or one song being boppier than another; and just because someone got no points does not mean they aren’t loved by fans; ESC fans can tell when we are being fed a tightly managed, curated corporate persona vs someone who has the courage to just be themselves, whether others understand it or not.

And this was EBU’s mistake. Because whether their decision ends up being one they can live with or not, the way they handled it felt dishonest.

They ask fans to open up their hearts and show support, but then they have closed door meetings that made an example of one artist. Coupled with the cloud of secrecy and sparse details to back up such a final decision, the impact of their decision actually created a net-negative for more people, which is also why it objectively seems like a bad call with the information provided. “Just trust me” vibes is earned.

Was punishing Netherlands in this manner done to send a message to other artists to stay in their lane, or was all of this coincidental? Sometimes, the artists are just the messengers, and those around them also need to be held to higher standards.

To create a toxic environment that encourages panic attacks, sleep deprivation, hunger, or tension and then to unilaterally punish someone when they react is not setting people up for success. In this instance, the powers that be left too much room for speculation, and the way this all rolled out did not give the audience a lot of confidence in how things were managed. Even if what the artist ended up doing warranted any kind of action, that means the larger organization failed to set up everyone for success.

The original intention of this blog is to braindump thoughts related to helping startups and lean teams go from 0-to-1 by exploring Eurovision as a product. So let’s revisit what we can learn.

  • So much goes into a successful Eurovision, and it takes cross-collaboration, partnerships, and audience participation.
  • As a product, it’s been 68 years strong, but every year feels new.
  • Usually, there’s a lot to learn from how well Eurovision goes. This time around, there’s actually a lot to learn from how ✨ off-brand ✨ Eurovision ended.

When leadership is too removed from the experience on the ground, they can ruin the entire program for everyone.

Unless it’s an autocracy, it takes a lot more than 1 person to stamp a bad call. There’s often the face of the organization and then the Board and investors they are beholden to.

  • Malmö itself was lovely, everyone was so welcoming, kind, and helpful. It was beautiful to see the different ways people protest.
  • Like in any organization, 90% of the people working really hard to put together a great user experience from the bottom-up can have their efforts overshadowed by a few who make calls that are disconnected from the boots-on-the-ground reality.
  • For anyone in a management role, at a certain point, things are what they are and sometimes, you have to make unpopular decisions or dissent with courage. How the execution of decisions is handled is just as important as the decision itself. People will remember how you made them feel, so please, help them feel like a fellow human who is cared for.

This entire Eurovision year felt like it ended on such irony, but there are glimmers of hope.

There was beauty in the different ways people peacefully protested, there is the strength and courage of multiple delegations and fans speaking openly (as much as they could), there are the fans defaulting to love and support mode when not a lot of information is otherwise known, and there is the hope that everyone realizes Eurovision needs some fixing–and that it will take all of us to help prioritize mental health and personal boundaries for those we seek entertainment from.

If it’s any kind of business lesson people take from this, let it be that:

  • No matter how big your budget, how impressive your job title, how many years of experience you have on paper doing something–communication and lack of communication matter.
  • And what you communicate on behalf of the entire organization impacts everyone else around you, too.

Let’s hope Switzerland (this year’s winner), a neutral country, with the active cooperation of the EBU, can fix this and build a better, modern-day Eurovision that addresses the 24/7 pressure artists are put under for next year.

In the forthcoming posts, I’ll go back into exploring some ESC data that is out there and building the data pipeline, but I at least wanted to take a moment to braindump some thoughts about the EBU’s unpopular and unprecedented decision, what people can learn from it, and share the video I put together of our audience reaction to Europapa at the Grand Final Jury Show.

Leave a Comment

Scroll to Top