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Eurovision 2020 in review: From cancellation to Shine A Light

23 December 2020 at 17:00 CET
Eurovision: Europe Shine A Light - Presenters EBU / Kris Pouw
Eurovision 2020 had just been cancelled for the first time in its long history and as a result the competition was forced to enter new and uncharted territory. Let’s continue our ‘Eurovision 2020 in review’ series together as we take a look back at how we all united to galvanise the Contest.

Eurovision fans around the world were not only left devastated by the news of the Contest's cancellation but were also concerned and saddened by the impact the coronavirus had on their everyday lives. Instead of the Contest 'opening up' and with the world suffering together while simultaneously in isolation, everyone was wondering the same thing: What does the future hold for the Eurovision Song Contest 2020?

Eurovision at a distance

People were in desperate need of some good news and the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) and its Dutch members NPO, NOS and AVROTROS recognised the significance Eurovision had on the lives of so many. In just a short turnaround, it was revealed they would broadcast a new series of alternative shows to keep the Eurovision flame burning in 2020.

Almost immediately, the EBU and its broadcaster members from all around the world worked together and began the big task of preparing several productions, under the huge challenges of social (and work) distancing restrictions.

From their living room to yours

Fans couldn't go to the music, so the music went to the fans.

Live events around the world were being cancelled and several Eurovision artists, past and present, started to share their music with their audiences online. Eurovision didn't want to miss out on the fun, so after a couple of ZOOM calls between the Eurovision online crew working for several countries, Eurovision Home Concerts was born.

Coordinating multiple artists across several countries following different restrictions, with different levels of access to resources, and all within a short period of time, was definitely no easy feat. However, the artists, producers and broadcasters really embraced the challenge and banded together to make sure that Eurovision fans got a fantastic show.

Eurovision Home Concerts EBU

Each episode of Eurovision Home Concerts featured several artists from Eurovision's past as well as the participants from 2020. Each performer sung their own song and a cover version of another Eurovision hit. The choice of cover was voted via social media using a poll listing the song options chosen by the artist themselves.

The first episode aired on Friday 3 April and featured 2018's Ryan O'Shaughnessy from Ireland and 2017's Slavko Kalezić from Montenegro amongst several others.

Ryan O'Shaugnessy (Ireland 2018) kicked off Eurovision Home Concerts Ryan O'Shaugnessy

The artists really took it to another level and surprised fans with their ingenuity. Ryan fell in love with Think About Things, Iceland's 2020 song from Daði og Gagnamagnið and decided to replicate it as close as possible for the show. He worked tirelessly with his friends and housemates who were also eager to try "something wild and wacky" to support the Eurovision community. "We used instruments lying around the house and customised them to make it a little quirky. We decided to wear white so we would look in uniform. After practicing the dance over and over, we filmed it in the garden on one camera and then I edited the footage together."

His rendition became a major hit with the fans. "It was a great way to spend time in the first lockdown", the Irish singer said.

Slavko referred to his time creating the videos as a "joyful" experience. "I was so happy and pleased to be part of the first episode". Like Ryan, Slavko put in a lot of effort to create a masterpiece for his fans to enjoy. "I was trying to do two very different videos that would show my acting skills and that would take these songs to another level." His goals to "make people smile" and for people to "see the other side" of his creative world were clearly realised. His performances were very well received and his social media lit up too. People posted comments such as: "Eurovision needs more Slavko" and "Slavko is my hero" which left the artist feeling "deeply touched." He went on to exclaim: "I am very thankful and want say to all my Eurovision fans that I respect them so much and appreciate every word dedicated to my creative world. I love them so much!"

Of course, for the 2020 artists, creating a show at home was not entirely how they imagined their Eurovision experience to be. Albania's 2020 participant, Arilena Ara was featured in Episode 6 which also included performances from Jedward from Ireland (2011 & 2012) and SuRie from the United Kingdom (2018). Of her experience in the unique show, Arilena said it was "a little bit strange" at first but it quickly became a "great" experience.

"Even though we were performing from our homes and not in actual stages, I could still feel the unconditional love of the audience and the people who have been watching me," she said.

Like for many of us, it was a strange time and she recalls recording her songs as a "day to remember." Places that were usually bustling with crowds and buzzing with noise were all of a sudden vacant and still. "The city was empty, there were no cars and nobody around, only a few birds flying over us," she said. Despite a feeling of sadness at the sight of her abandoned city, Arilena was comforted in the knowledge that her country was doing everything it could to slow the spread of the virus.

Uku Suviste from Estonia also reminisced on his time creating Eurovision Home Concerts, Episode 3. "I was just at home like everybody else," he said. Although Uku originally envisaged having a large production team working on his stage performance at Eurovision, he took the opportunity to create something different and to "make it more personal". His love for vocal harmonies inspired the direction of his videos and he built them up from there.

He was involved in the whole process, from concept creation to editing. "I’m a big fan of video editing and I edited these videos myself while a good friend of mine filmed them. I was also involved in the creation of my videos. Then we, of course, had a larger team with our own director, editor, camera crew and so on, but I always wanted to be part of the process."

Uku provided fans with not only an amazing musical show but also a stunning visual display. He and his team multiplied himself for the video of Euphoria. "I chose that for the a-capella bit because I thought that people would understand how the music was built a bit better and easier that way" he said.

However, there was a moment in time where Uku may have given an entirely different performance for the show. "There was a poll running for the election of the second song. I had Fairytale and Euphoria as my two options. I thought that if Fairytale would win the poll, I would contact Alexander Rybak to take part in the performance. He had actually written to me earlier when then the Contest was cancelled. But in the end, Euphoria won the poll and I scratched that idea. Instead, I asked Alexander if he could play a bit of my own song for the Home Concerts and he agreed!

Overall, Eurovision Home Concerts were a success and have now been watched 1.9 million times! Fans enjoyed it so much, they were left wanting more:

Fans continue to demonstrate their ingenuity

Proving the Contest's important role in bringing music, culture and people together, fans took the initiative to create even more Eurovision fun at home.

That's when #EurovisionAgain entered the chat.

The initiative was sparked by fan and journalist Rob Holley, who urged the community to sync audience viewings of classic Eurovision Song Contests together on Twitter and Youtube. "The cancellation got me thinking about the things I’ll miss, but also the joyful bits that fans recreate all year round,"he said. The online event became so popular that the EBU joined in support by getting the rights to access older Contests and releasing them to the public for all to enjoy.

The fan-endorsed social event even continues to take place to this day. The last watch party occurred on Saturday 19 December with a special event housing the 26 most popular songs that didn't reach the Semi-Finals in previous competitions, as voted by you! The Eurovision Again shows have become a worldwide his and have now been watched over 3 million times!

Potential participants of the Eurovision Again Semi-Final edition EBU

Eurovision lights every corner of the world

On the same dates of this year’s Semi-Finals, a two-part show labelled Eurovision Song Celebration 2020 recognized all the 41 participants and their songs in a non-competitive format. YouTube creators from all over Europe were also invited onto the show to give their reactions to the songs and there was the return of the classic Eurovision challenge 'Switch Your Genre'. The productions also showed the first-ever Fan Recaps, where we got to see fans sing, dance and party along to the songs of 2020, again reminding us all how important the Eurovision community was in the making of the year's entertainment. It turned out to be a big hit, amassing an audience of nearly 3 million!

To finish off the unconventional season, Eurovision: Europe Shine A Light was broadcast in place of what would have been the event's Grand Final on Saturday 16 May.

In a race against the clock, the 41 participants were asked to provide footage from their homes. Several broadcasters embraced the opportunity and went the extra mile by contributing with a special performance, a cross-talk or another unique addition to the show.

So much was done in a short period of time: several graphics were made; costumes were created; a new script was developed; locations suitable for social distancing were booked; securing the original Eurovision 2020 hosts was confirmed; and online host NikkieTutorials was prepped to deliver a different show entirely.

In just under 7 weeks, the commitment, hard work, and thorough collaboration of the public service broadcasters from across Europe and beyond, came into fruition. Audiences were able to gather around their screens to see performances from the 2020 participants and Eurovision entrants from the past, including a special, digitally coordinated sing-a-long of the United Kingdom's Katrina and the Waves hit, Love Shine A Light from 1997. Comments on the Official YouTube page included: "Never have we needed a more uplifting message more" and "after this performance we can all agree that Love Shine A Light is a first song that won Eurovision Song Contest two times."

One question remains

Eurovision's 2020 story could have been one of only heartbreak and disappointment, but turned out to be a demonstration of the community's ability to 'rise like a phoenix' and spread joy to several millions of people's homes. None of it would have been possible without the sheer determination of the public broadcasters, performers from Eurovision's past and present, and of course, the ever-loyal fans.

Eurovision: Europe Shine A Light NPO/NOS/AVROTROS

After a tumultuous season full of ups and downs and ups again, and the pandemic still causing mass destruction globally, we were all still left wondering the same question: What does the future hold for the Eurovision Song Contest 2021?

Hold on tight for our final instalment of 'Eurovision 2020 in review'!