In this editorial, our co-founder and editor Zack Kerr shares some personal reflections on recent events in his life, his time in the Eurovision press and ESC United’s journey so far. This editorial is written from the opinion of the author and does not necessarily represent the views of the other editors, the EBU or escYOUnited as a whole.
Sixteen weeks ago, my best friend was killed in a car accident. In a flash, the person with whom I got coffee every morning, the person who would always know the right thing to say when I was struggling, was gone…
Losing him has been traumatic. It is nothing that I would ever wish for someone to experience, particularly in the quick, sudden, and shocking way that it was thrown upon all of us (myself, his wife, his sons, and everyone whom he positively impacted). I have had great support, but what still stings is the lack of sympathy from a good number of people who I thought were my friends. I tried to tell myself maybe they were dealing with their own issues. Or maybe I just thought they were better friends than they thought we were. Regardless, for me, it was just more and more bad energy being pushed in my direction.
For these past 16 weeks, I have been in a rut, digging myself deeper and deeper into a hole that I could not escape from. It is only now that I find myself ready, willing, and able to do a “hard reset” to figure out what I want to accomplish moving forward. And it is only now that I feel ready to actually write about it.
Currently, I am getting the help I need. Better yet, I find myself excited about the new plans and goals that I have cultivated during this respite. But, it also means that I have to let go of certain other responsibilities.
With that said, and with Sean’s blessing and encouragement, I am writing to let everyone know about my plans to take an extended break from ESC United as I pursue other interests related to my personal and professional lives. Things that helped me cope are now things that will become further integrated into my life and in some ways, worthy manners to continue to remember and honor my friend. There is so much to be discovered out there and I am excited to learn more about who I am and what I can be.
As I leave, I want to sit back and think about what I learned through my many experiences at Eurovision and ESC United.
- A song’s value is not based on its final ranking – The great thing about Eurovision is the diversity of music. Every song will have its fan base and they will connect with a song for a particular reason that is meaningful to them. Do not let anyone else undermine your connection with any song. “X My Heart” gets played when I feel like I need to remember that my friend somehow is still here watching out for me; it takes a lot for me to even consider it being Azerbaijan’s first non-qualifier. What it means to me is more valuable now. So if “Euro Neuro” takes you to your special place, have at it!
- Trust your instinct and do not let the press sway you – Remember that the on-site press at Eurovision rehearsals can be biased. They are a rather homogenous bunch that do not represent the entire population of Eurovision viewers. Looking at last year, the largely gay male population latched onto “Roi” and mostly ignored “Proud” (likely as they did not identify with the song). Expect this to happen again and again. They typically have a good grasp on things, but sometimes a little bias will get in the way. They are human after all, so do cut them some slack; they do get it right a lot of the times as well!
- Don’t ever stop supporting the singers – The artists are people. It is easy for us as press to cross that fine line from not liking a song to personally attacking an artist. When press do this, we must stand up for the artists. In many cases, these are not famous, experienced, professionals; rather, they are young performers just beginning their careers. They are pretty much the property of the broadcasters and paraded around from rehearsal to press conference to interviews (where we the press force them to sing their song acapella over and over and over). It is no wonder that I have seen at least one instance of an artist sneaking off for some space (the most memorable being when a 2013 fan favorite went shopping and for a smoke without telling the delegation). For many of them, this is the biggest stage on which they will have ever performed. I can only imagine the stress. Make sure to continue being supportive and they will appreciate it. Sean always told me the fantastic story of Zoë publically crying tears of joy as she watched the EuroClub patrons singing Loin D’ici to her as it was played.
- Cherish the bonds you make with fellow fans… – I never thought it would be possible to meet so many people from so many different places in one swoop. I am honored to call these people friends and for them to have allowed me to learn about their upbringings, cultures, and circumstances, and to ask questions. The live streams themselves create a sense of community, even if physical proximity is not present. You never know what you will have in common with others beyond Eurovision, so please give one another a chance, even when you disagree on which songs are going to win!
- … And ignore those who don’t get it – We all know certain people that love to devalue our love of Eurovision. But with Eurovision, I have honestly learned a tad bit more about the current affairs and cultures of participating countries. In some instances, it can be as minor as being able to identify a country’s location and flag. In others, it may be attempts to try to better understand a political controversy. In turn, I hope these opportunities continue to make me a more informed global citizen. I have had friends try to lecture me on European matters and although I’m not an expert, Eurovision has provided me with just enough to have gone and sought information beyond the one US-based article they read. Call me a jerk, but I do get some joy when I tell them that my “stupid song show” was what provided the impetus to get informed and perhaps they themselves should give it a chance before making conclusions.
I want to take a moment to thank our readers, my colleagues, and the leadership of ESC United for their continued support and work. Seven years ago, the beginnings of ESC United from its original forum form gave way to Matt and I attending the 2013 Eurovision Song Contest as a small team, attempting to replicate the work of the larger teams. It’s great to see the growth and where we are now. As we approach May in Rotterdam, I am excited for you all to be further introduced to and acquainted with the many members of ESC United. Enjoy the times that you will share as you experience the joys and pains of Eurovision qualifications, non-qualifications, shockers, and wins.