With the cancellation of the Eurovision Song Contest, and no official competitive element either in the EBU’s ‘Eurovision: Europe Shine A Light’ tribute show or the online ‘Eurovision Song Celebrations’ of the semi-finals, the community is missing its definitive ending to the 2020 season.
For broadcasters, the EBU’s two-hour tribute show would help fill the four-hour slot reserved for the Song Contest. With the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, programming is in short supply, another advantage in airing a marque Saturday night show. It also acts as an anchor to build other Eurovision programming around it. A large number of these shows will involve viewer votes to select a winning song – essentially replicating each country’s televote and providing a resolution for the general public
But the community? Well, that’s where things get interesting.
Fiction And Eurovision Fandom
Fandoms built around media properties – be they novels, films, television series, anime, or anything else – have existed long before the intent was here, but the internet has allowed them to flourish. Fan fiction is a strong part of these communities, as Bronwen Thomas lays out in “What Is Fanfiction and Why Are People Saying Such Nice Things about It?”
“While the activities of fans may take many forms, writing stories deriving from one or more source texts has long been the most popular way of concretising and disseminating their passion for a particular fictional universe.”
While it may not be a fandom built around a fictional property, the Eurovision community loves to tell stories around the Eurovision Song Contest. It provides a rich tapestry for everyone to enjoy, to debate, to discuss, and to engage with other members of the community. While there is very little fan fiction that would be recognisable compared to, say, the fandom of ‘Sherlock’, the ongoing coverage by the community in news reports, videos, podcasts, and social media reflects the storytelling that you find in every community.
(That’s not to say there is no Eurovision fan fiction, as a glance at Archive Of Our Own clearly demonstrates).
Culture, Rebellion, and Exploration
Fan fiction becomes part of the culture of community, and can have an impact on the property. Take the fan fiction writers of Doctor Who after the cancellation of the show in 1989. They have fed back into the world of the show itself. The Big Finish range of licensed audio dramas grew from fan fiction and early audio productions; a number of fans were asked to write the continuation novels (with many of these being the first books they had published), and of course the fans eventually found themselves in a position to bring back and run the show in the 21st century.
Fan fiction can be rebellious. It runs alongside a property in real time. When something goes ‘wrong’ in a storyline, not only will there be discussions online about the rights and wrongs of the decision, there will also be those ready to write – sometimes in great depth – about what should have happened. Many of these can prove to be more attractive than the parent property.
These alternatives can explore other more dangerous areas, where different ideas and relationships can be examined and discussed. Harry Potter fandom has a huge amount of fan fiction that explores countless different variations of the world of Hogwarts and beyond. You can find storylines that take a drastic turn from that of JK Rowling’s original timeline (with some of the best, in my opinion, diverging just after ’The Goblet Of Fire’); curious approaches to the basic story (what if Harry Potter was a prodigy that applied rational scientific methods to studying magic?); or different relationships between the main characters (“of course Draco and Ginny were the power couple who defeated Voldemort, why would you think otherwise?”).
The Song Contest Community
Let’s return to the Eurovision Song Contest and the three tenets of culture, rebellion, and alternative timelines.
For the EBU and its members Eurovision is a large scale event that allows new technology to be tested, a place to share knowledge, and to expand public service broadcasting as a whole, but this is mostly behind closed doors. For the public, the Song Contest is a few hours of event television on a Saturday night and a good reason to have a party.
The culture of the Song Contest? That comes from the community. Outside the week of the Contest, Eurovision is a much smaller affair, but with an incredibly strong fandom. The Eurovision Song Contest flame is kept alight outside of May by a community with its own tropes, cliches, and affiliations.
As for rebellion, the critiquing of the songs and artists selected starts with the announcements of internal selections of National Final contenders. Examinations of back catalogues to decide if these acts are Eurovision material; reaction videos to instantly decide an opinion on the songs; and the coverage around national selections all feed into the idea that the broadcasters are somehow ‘doing it wrong’.
Just ask which act was ‘robbed’ at a National Final or a Song Contest (pick any year, someone out there knows someone who was robbed of victory) and you will find parts of the community happy to rebel.
Every year, the community builds its own alternative timelines. Before, during, and after the Contest, countless polls and rankings allow different parts of the community to declare their own rightful winner. Sometimes that winner matches the winner of the Song Contest, in which case that part of the community has proven that it understands the culture (perhaps even leading it). If the polls differ then you have your fan fiction… it’s just not as nicely packaged as ‘The Paladin Protocol’s’ exploration of Sheldon and Penny in The Big Bang Theory.
The Contest That Never Was
Finally, the cancellation of Rotterdam 2020 and the Eurovision Song Contest. The story of this season started as Duncan Laurence’s ‘Arcade’ won in Tel Aviv… although someone could decide that the story started long before that – perhaps when Ilse DeLange phoned Laurence while he was shaving to tell him she had a song that he was taking to Eurovision, even if he didn’t want to; a call to action straight out of Joseph Campbell’s ‘The Hero’s Journey’.
Nevertheless, the 2020 season was building up with the familiar tropes being rolled out; multiple songs from Symphonix, Mariette not winning Melodifestivalen, and Ireland loudly reminding everyone it had won the Contest seven times. Other tropes were being challenged: the BBC having major label support, Samanta Tina finally winning the Latvian selection, and Sanremo finishing on time…
Then the Contest was cancelled. The community’s story was incomplete. There would not be a winning song, there would not be an ending for the songs and stars that many were following, there would not be closure.
That loss spilled over into popular culture. On the day of cancellation news reports covered the loss of the Song Contest, talk radio discussed the impact, and broadcasters realised they had a big hole in their schedules that needed to be filled.
Who would provide an ending to the story? The community.
The online polls took on a new meaning. No longer were these alternatives to the Song Contest; for many they became the Song Contest. They became the only way to judge what could have happened on that Saturday night in May.
For many in the community, the urgency to replace the Eurovision show was a call to action. Recreations of the Eurovision format sprung up. The annual Eurojury from Eurovoix took on a secondary role as a replacement for the big show. New projects sprung up to fill the void, with the fan-produced Eurostream providing one of many alternative broadcasts.
These replacement shows captured the core of the Eurovision Song Contest community. They allowed the year-long culture to define the 2020 season, they rebelled against the narrative that there should be a Celebration instead of a Contest, and they provided closure in the strongest possible way to each section of the community.
It should come as no surprise that in the wake of the cancellation, the fans would simply carry on regardless and create their own ending.
Citations and Further Reading
“What Is Fanfiction and Why Are People Saying Such Nice Things about It?”, Bronwen Thomas, Storyworlds: A Journal of Narrative Studies , Vol. 3 (2011), pp. 1-24
“The bigger the plot hole, the better for the fan writer: Anglophone Weiß Kreuz Fandom“, An interdisciplinary workshop on Fan Fiction 14 – 15 February 2020, English Department, University of Zurich
“Ingroup Identification and Ingroup Projection in Fanfiction and “Star Wars” Fans” / Stephen Reysen, Courtney N. Plante, Grace A. Packard, Diana Siotos // Komunikacija i kultura online. – Vol. 10, No. 10 (2019), p. 88-103.
“Fanfic As Academic Discipline”, Erin Blakemore, January 20, 2017, Jstor Daily
Welcome to the Grand Final of 2020’s Juke Box Jury Championship. The eight winners of our regular shows, which started back in early March, were brought together at the start of this week. Two Semi Finals later, we have our four songs and this Grand Final.
No hit, miss, or maybe, today. It’s all about the points as we look to find our Juke Box Jury winner. It’s not about who would have won the Eurovision Song Contest, it’s about which song is our favourite.
Eurovision Insight Podcast: Juke Box Jury 2020 Championship, The Grand Final with Ross Middleton and Samantha Ross
Lithuania: On Fire, by The Roop
Iceland: Think About Things, by Daði Freyr.
The Netherlands: Grow, by Jeangu Macrooy.
Bulgaira: Tears Getting Sober, by Victoria.
We might even have an interval act for you as well…
Thank you all for joining us on the journey through the 41 songs on this year’s Juke Box Jury. As always your comments are welcome. If you want to review the ESC Insight podcast in iTunes, Google Podcasts, we’d appreciate it.
ESC Insight will be here during the summer to watch over the world of the Eurovision Song Contest. You’ll find the show in iTunes, Google Podcasts, and Spotify. A direct RSS feed is available. We also have a regular email newsletter which you can sign up to here
The Eurovision Song Contest 2020 has been cancelled and without exception new songs are needed for the 2021 competition. Yet nothing stops the selected artists from returning.
The list of countries with artists confirmed comes from across the continent, from Azerbaijan and Armenia, to The Netherlands and Belgium. In total there are fourteen acts officially confirmed at time of writing, and more may be announced in the later weeks and months.
There is one region of Europe that stands out in this list. The countries of the Nordics and the Baltics have not confirmed an invitation to their 2020 artists to return in 2021. Indeed, most of them have already confirmed a return to their National Final process (with the caveat that Latvian broadcaster LTV, at time of publication, has yet to decide their plan).
The discussions within each broadcaster would be a difficult one, as this is a particularly emotive issue. Dale Roberts, writing for Aussievision, addresses why the moral reasoning to support the selected artist is particularly strong:
”The cancellation of the Contest has been tough for everyone but the artists themselves are the most impacted. Fans and delegations can always come back next year, but for artists who may have waited their whole lives to compete, that is no guarantee.”
It’s easy therefore point the finger at the Nordics and the Baltics for taking away that guaranteed chance to shine to their selected artists, and ditching them in favour of going back to the public once more. Let me explain why the process and the emotions are not so simple.
Saturday Nights In February
Of the countries who have already confirmed their artists, only two of them, Australia and Ukraine, are countries which held a televised National Final to select their Eurovision song this year. Two others, Israel and Georgia, had selected their artist through a TV talent process. The others were pure internal selections without public input.
There is a big difference between the states of play in (say) Georgia and Israel, compared to Norway and Estonia. In selecting an artist for Eurovision, regardless of the song, the voting public in those countries chose the person they wanted to represent them. What they would do with those three minutes of fame was a decision made later. It’s therefore an easier and more natural decision to let that artist continue on their Eurovision trajectory for the next 12 months.
There’s also a difference though between Australia and Ukraine’s choice and that from Sweden and Lithuania. The Nordic and Baltic regions of Europe have had a National Final tradition that is now steadfast. ‘Australia Decides’ has been running for two years. Ukraine’s selection show Vidbir has only been running since 2016. The traditions in these nations are not yet set in stone as they are further north in Europe, where the selection shows generate a new wave of radio hits and top TV ratings through the long cold winter months, and have done so for decades.
The decision is without question a sad one, but it would be an even deeper cut for these nations if they were to cancel their selection format.
National Finals Bring In Ratings
An internal selection rarely generates the same momentum as a National Final. A good comparison here is from Finland’s YLE, who in 2018 and 2019 switched their format of selection show Uuden Musiikin Kilpailu (UMK) to select a song for an already confirmed artist. A National Final of different artists was back for the 2020 edition. The reasoning being, according to UMK producer Anssi Autio, was that this process would help bring ”more energy and efficiency” to the search for a song.
This in-between format takes time and energy. The artist needs to record numerous songs and create a stage show for each of them. They need to go out and find songs to perform and produce a high quality TV spectacle even if they know, deep down, most of the songs they produce are not ’the one’ that they are looking for. The preparation can be a much more daunting requirement than just coming to present three minutes on stage.
It was also a format that didn’t prove to be successful in the ratings – or at least not a reliable rating. Saara Aalto, selected for UMK in 2018, brought in more than double the figures than Darude got the following year. Those viewing figures for 2019 were the worst since 2014 for the competition.
In 2019 UMK producer Anssi Autio commented on how it was difficult to find an established artist to represent the nation, and how this was the driver to return to the multi-artist National Final format. The names competing in 2020 weren’t artists with Darude’s long track record of success, but ratings returned strongly – with 885,000 viewers live and a reach of over 1.5 million – the largest of any YLE show that week.
If Finland went internal for 2021, with or without a UMK, they would also be sacrificing one of their biggest rating hits.
Why Ratings Goes Beyond Just Who Is Watching
I’m lucky enough that I have been to many of these countries and visited their National Finals in my time reporting for ESC Insight. These events are some of the highlights of winter programming across the board – major events that are front page news and primetime entertainment.
This year I had the pleasure of taking in each stop of Melodifestivalen’s six week tour. A special part of that tour was to witness how Melodifestivalen was embraced everywhere it went – with parties and festivals for all ages across the length and breadth of the nation. Melodifestivalen has such a huge value to the Swedish population and has more views than any other TV show here – comfortably ahead of the Eurovision Song Contest year on year. But it also brings people together – with tens of thousands attending live each year and many more heading to associated parties, concerts and festivities in each of the six stops.
Let’s be clear here that Melodifestivalen isn’t Sanremo and it was not created independently of Eurovi sion – getting that ticket to Eurovision at the end of the merry-go-round is part of the DNA of Sweden’s extravaganza. Losing that ticket, or having a tour round Sweden to select a song for The Mamas, will take Sweden down the ratings slide that Finland had in recent years. But it’s the reach slide that would be more worrying, and it is the brand of Melodifestivalen that will suffer long term damage from that year out entertaining everybody from 3 to 93.
The free chocolate from the sponsors, the touring guy in a dragon costume or the after party red carpet are all parts of the bubble and that Melfest experience, but they aren’t what makes Melodifestivalen what it is. They are the side attractions. Ultimately Melfest is simply a festival of melodies, of songs. Just like Denmark and Norway run a melody grand prix, Estonia searches for an Estonian song and Finland runs a new music competition. The Mamas were not what Sweden selected as a nation. When people voted that night in Friends Arena, they voted for ”melodi nummer 3” – ”Move”.
That song came into the competition before the artist was attached to it. I sat on the jury selecting the songs in 2016, for the first few steps of that process we were not entitled to know who the artist behind each song was. Some of those tracks we selected were submitted by unnamed demo singers, and SVT worked with record labels to find appropriate artists to perform them. The song was the first piece of the puzzle and the song was what ultimately ended the competition in Friends Arena.
Once the decision was made that 2020 songs were not eligible to compete in 2021, then it was clear that a new song must be found and all of Sweden must choose which one it will be.
Everybody Is Still Welcome
Just because artists from the Nordics and Baltics don’t have their names already on plane tickets for 2021 doesn’t mean that they may not appear. Indeed should any of them wish to compete in a National Final, I have little doubt that producers everywhere will welcome them with open arms. Furthermore the narrative in their story and return would no doubt provide the springboard to make their entry one of the most anticipated of the year. Not only have the doors been left open, but some countries have already given special dispension to their 2020 representatives – Lithuania for example have confirmed that The Roop, if they wish, can get a direct pass to the final round of Lithuania’s selection process.
The Deputy General of Lithuanian broadcaster LRT, Gytis Oganauskas, explained that this decision was based upon trying to balance two different sides – The Roop on one hand and other music composers and producers in Lithuania on the other, who Gytis would not want ”to deprive them of this opportunity”. Because even without a Eurovision Song Contest, The Roop have benefitted from their victory – millions of hits, streams and downloads so far and I would be sure plenty more exposure this week as the continent tunes into ‘Europe Shine A Light’ and other competitions and showcases that various broadcasters are holding. It’s not Eurovision and all the razzmatazz, but it may still be be of equal value in terms of commercial success. Nobody is closing the door to the opportunity that they could replicate that success on the actual Eurovision stage next year.
It is very easy for the Eurovision community to look at the decisions made in Northern Europe and feel coldness and lack of empathy. That’s too much of a simplistic conclusion to make. The traditions that make up appearing in Eurovision to these nations are as much, if not more, about the process of selecting a song than who ultimately represents them or even Eurovision itself.
Indeed there’s an argument to be made that actually selecting their National Final winner internally for 2021 would actually have been the colder decision. That would have meant cutting off opportunities for others in the industry and taking away their diverse music spectacles than entertain entire populations each year. Which group should you be loyal too, the artist with their potentially once-in-a-lifetime moment, or to the entire nation for the joy and opportunity it provides?
Here in Sweden this week SVT are organising their own Eurovision Song Contest, ”Sveriges 12:a” with jury and public voting to work out who the favourite song is of the Swedish public. It’s little surprise that this music video clip show is front page news across the TV magazines in the coronavirus-induced cultural desert. But discovering new hit music has had that place in Swedish TV culture since Melodifestivalen’s creation. The belief in this part of the world is that it is the song that is central to the Eurovision Song Contest.
And I look forward to the hype and suspense if any of the class of 2020 do return to a National Final. I am sure they would be hard to beat.
When most of the internally selected artists decided on their entries for the Eurovision Song Contest, it’s probably safe to assume that each of them had a few potential entries for Rotterdam 2020. With a third of the broadcasters deciding to send the same artists in 2021, the easiest thing to do would be to go back to the 2020 submissions and choose again.
But is turning to what is effectively ‘Plan B’ a wise move? It’s been tried before and the results are… well, let’s find out how they turned out.
Germany 1976: ‘Sing Sang Song‘ replaces ‘Der Star‘
There are a few countries that have form for going with Plan B. In the current Big Five, Germany are the champions of change.
After a National Selection aired over two nights in 1976, German broadcaster NRK came back two weeks later to find out who had gathered the most postcard ballots from the 12 runners.
A gentler format you might think, but not one without a twist before the result. Schlager and Opera singer Tony Marshall won with over 125,000 votes before it was discovered that his song ‘Der Star‘ had in fact been performed publicly before the Final, breaking the rules in place.
Les Humphries Singers, some 20,000 votes behind were promoted up to first and took ‘Sing Sang Song’‘ to The Hague.
Germany finished 15th out of 18.
Germany 1999: ‘Reise nach Jerusalem‘ for ‘Hör den Kindern einfach zu‘
On 12 March 1999, 32.6% of the voters chose Corinna May as the winner of ‘Countdown Grand Prix’ to represent Germany in Jerusalem. However, just four days later it was revealed that ‘Hör den Kindern einfach zu‘ had in fact been released in 1997, a fact that was not lost on many prominent songwriters of the time.
May was duly disqualified, and the familiar songwriting duo of Ralph Siegel and Bernd Meinunger picked up the ticket to Jerusalem with Surpriz’s ‘Reise nach Jerusalem’… a coincidence that was not lost on many.
It’s worth pointing out this is one of the few times where ‘Plan B’ has worked out. Germany finished third.
Lithuania 2002: ‘Happy You’ for ‘We All’
Lithuania’s National Final ‘Eurovizijos’ might have been on to deliver LRT’s best ever finish to date when B’Avarija’s ‘We All‘ was chosen as their entry for Tallinn 2020 in February.
Come March came their disqualification. Once more the rules around pre-show performances was broken, in this case a Lithuanian version of the same song had been released on CD In September of the previous year. That led to Aivaras, who’d ended just two points behind in the national final, taking the nine hour bus trip to Estonia to perform at the Eurovision Song Contest instead.
Lithuania finished 23rd of 24. Making it worse, this was the era of relegations out of the Contest, and the country would not make another final until 2006.
Hungary 2009: ‘Dance With Me’ for ‘If You Wanna Party’ and ‘Magányos csónak’
It’s fair to say that they had a few issues in Budapest in 2009, resulting in Plan B being replaced by Plan C!
In January of that year MTV held an open call for songs, and in early February declared that Márk Zentai would go to Moscow with ‘If You Wanna Party‘. Not long after that announcement, his song was disqualified for having been released five years earlier under another title.
Kátya Tompos was decreed as the replacement a day later with ‘Magányos csónak‘ amid protest from the songwriter’s union among others. MTV’s hand was forced again however when Tompos herself said she was no longer interested in going to Moscow, leading the broadcaster to announce a third choice just seven days after their original!
Zoli Adok’s ‘Dance With Me‘ finished 15th in the Semi-Final and failed to qualify.
Ukraine 2010: ‘Sweet People’ for ‘I Love You’ and ‘To Be Free’
Possibly gathering the largest cult following of recent National Finals, Ukraine got themselves into an almighty mess in the run up to Oslo 2010. In late December, Vasyl Lazorovych was internally chosen by then broadcaster NTU for the Song Contest. The song ‘I Love You‘ was announced out of his shortlist on March 5th.
However, by the fifteenth, trouble was brewing. On the seventeenth, NTU declared that a new National FInal would be held.
The management at the broadcaster had changed, and Lazorovych’s selection was placed in doubt due to what is best described as politics inside NTU. Lazorovych was allowed to take part in the re-run on March 20th which included 19 other songs. This show was won by Alyosha singing ‘To Be Free‘, with poor Vasyl only coming seventh.
The drama didn’t end there, however. There were allegations that this new song firstly was plagiarised. Even if it wasn’t, it had been released some two years previously. After getting an extension from the EBU to submit their song officially, ‘Sweet People; was handed over on 24 March and would go on to finish tenth.
Germany 2015: ‘Black Smoke’ for ‘Heart Of Stone’
Possibly the best recent case of ‘we’ll go for Plan B then?’, German broadcaster NDR was thrown into a decision live on air in one of the most jaw-dropping National Finals of recent years.
We’ll skip forward to that fact that in the third round of ;Unser Song für Österreich’, Andreas Kümmert got 78 percent of the votes to sing ‘Heart of Stone‘ in Vienna, ahead of Ann Sophie who picked up the other 22 percent. However, it’s worth bearing in mind here that Kümmert may well have had both the first and second placed song in the previous round – artists sang two different songs, but the rules said you had to have two different acts in the Super Final
Stepping up to take his prize, Kümmert let off the bombshell that he didn’t really fancy Eurovision after all, and suggested that Ann Sophie was ‘more qualified and suited’ to representing Germany instead.
Host Barbara Schöneberger somehow managed to hold the show together; Kümmert dropped the mic and turned his back on the audience to walk out of the spotlight; and a visibly shocked Ann Sophie ended up sort of accepting the honour on stage (although she probably didn’t have much other choice) with NDR confirming Ann Sophie later that night in a subdued press conference.
The result of the hastily improvised Plan B? Germany came joint last with the dreaded ‘nul points’.
Belarus 2011, 2012, and 2013: Essentially Everything Changed
Rivalling Germany in ‘How not to do Plan A’, Belarus has had some embarrassing years, some hilarious years, and some questionable years… the latter two of which all centred around one girl in particular.
But first, 2011, when ‘Born in Byelorussia‘ was announced as the entry on 28 February, to be performed by Anastasia Vinnikova. Three days later the title was changed to ‘I Am Belarusian‘ alongside an announcement that new lyrics were to be written that were less Soviet-focussed. By 12 March the entire song was canned for having apparently been performed in public in 2010. The jaunty ‘I Love Belarus’ would end up going to Düsseldorf instead, finishing fourteenth in the Semi Final. came 14/19 in the Semi.
A year later, the five-act national final saw Alyona Lanskaya’s ‘All My Life‘ top the televoting with Litesound winning the jury vote. Having been at this show myself, I can say with relative confidence that Litesound were by far the favourite of the audience in the Sports Palace, and Lanskaya wasn’t a popular winner.
Ten days later the country’s President declared that he was launching an investigation into the ‘unfair’ win, and two days after Lanskaya was disqualified with mutterings of a rigged televote appearing online. Litesound, who’d finished second, were given the ticket to Baku… where they finished sixteenth in the Semi Final
Belarus selected their song for the 2013 Contest in December 2012. Less than ten months after being disqualified for unfairly winning a National Final, Lanskaya romped home with full marks form the jury, and more televotes than the songs finishing in second, third,fourth, and fifth combined.
Come January, BTRC were publicly saying that ‘Rhythm of Love’ could be switched out, and on 7 March the Plan B of ‘Solayoh’ was revealed as the official entry. Lanskaya’s third Eurovision entry in twelve months went on to qualify, and finished sixteenth on the Saturday night.
Juke Box Jury normally ends as we head to the Song Contest, but as we all know this year is a bit different. And that means Juke Box Jury is a little different too.
The eight winners of each reegular show have made it to the Championship. Over two Semi Finals and a Grand Final, we’re going to find a winner. It’s not about who would have won the Eurovision Song Contest, it’s about which song is our favourite. It’s time for the second Semi Final!
Eurovision Insight Podcast: Juke Box Jury 2020 Championship, Semi Final 2 with Samantha Ross and Matthew Ker
Sweden: Move by The Mamas.
Russia: Uno, by Little Big.
Lithuania: On Fire, by The Roop
The Netherlands: Grow, by Jeangu Macrooy.
Join us on Friday for the Grand Final. Bulgaria and Iceland have already qualified. Who will join them?
ESC Insight will be reviewing all of the songs selected for Rotterdam 2020 here on Juke Box Jury, so stay up to date with all our Eurovision coverage by listening to the ESC Insight podcast. You’ll find the show in iTunes, Google Podcasts, and Spotify. A direct RSS feed is available. We also have a regular email newsletter which you can sign up to here
We found out on March 20th that, due to the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 edition of the Eurovision Song Contest was to be cancelled. We wish everybody well during this difficult time.
Planning for the future is currently difficult. That though hasn’t stopped broadcasters in confirming that they plan to send the same artist for the following year. Within hours of the cancellation Spain had confirmed their desire to send Blas Canto, who was due to sing the song ’Universo’ in Rotterdam, to the 2021 edition. Many others have followed suit, and as of writing there are 13 artists confirmed by their broadcasters for the next Eurovision Song Contest. It would be little surprise if that confirmed list grew further in the coming weeks and months.
But it won’t be the same as just coming back a year later. The Reference Group for the Eurovision Song Contest decided that the songs from 2020 would not be eligible for any future competition. This decision was made because the songs would have all been released commercially in this 2020 season, and therefore would break the rules of the Song Contest. That means that these returning artists will have to bringing a fresh three-minutes of music to the competition.
The artists have a long time to prepare for the next Eurovision Song Contest. Usually most acts only get selected or confirmed just a few months before the competition each May. These thirteen will have over a year to write and tweak their latest creation, and presumeably many will want to release more music during this time as well.
Can They Escape The ‘Eurovision’ Hashtag?
Perhaps this is my native British bias kicking in here (James Newman, the United Kingdom representative for 2020, has not been confirmed by the BBC at this point), but I do have concerns about how these artists progress the next 12 months of their career. Throughout the next year these artists will be making lots more music, how will they know when they have ’the one’? Will ’the one’ be something that is held back for Eurovision or released early in the selection season? Will an artist choose to release that absolute smash hit in August….and then not find that same magic again until it is too late?
Furthermore I ponder how will the artists be treated by the rest of the media. Will being labelled as next year’s Eurovision artist so long in advance lead to more bookings and opportunities…or less? Will everything they do not linked to Eurovision be sidelined…or will everything they do be sidelined because of that Eurovision stigma? Will the artist be able to do anything different to their Eurovision entry this year, and is there any way to avoid that side-by-side comparison?
The Year Of The Advantage
This isn’t all negative however, and we must remember that none of us reading this has any clarity as to when the world resembles any sense of normality with gigs and concerts to look forward to. Yet with all this delay comes great opportunity. As a songwriter going into lockdown may give you the time to tell that powerful story or create that killer hook that will set 2021 on fire. 12 months is a long time for our predominantly young artists to grow, develop and mature. Come next year the artistry and songs they present may be an even better symbiosis.
Consider our 13-strong list. For some of them this ’dry run’ at the Song Contest will help some more than others. Some are more likely than others to find their sound in the next twelve months. Others meanwhile will struggle to find the same allure just one year ahead.
Ready For Round Two
Let’s return to Blas Cantó. ’Universo’ with its more electronic production was a departure from Cantó’s recent releases. The result was a song that sounded like it had been adapted to ’sound Eurovision’ with all the traps such as design can fall into. Production wise the song does much without tapping into any clear emotions. This is an artist with many years of professional experience behind him from one of the biggest music industries in Europe, so we have deliverd. But I’m actually confident that a year’s hiatus will result in Blas Cantó bringing a song more in keeping with what he can do best, rather than trying to be something he isn’t.
I feel precisely the same for Vincent Bueno, set to represent Austria. A charismatic and talented bubble of energy, ’Alive’ was a slick yet ultimately unremarkable number without a defining sound to latch onto. While I would be extremely surprised if Vincent Bueno doesn’t come up with something as energetic next year, I’d expect the sequel to ’Alive’ to be more edgy and bold.
In terms of who has confirmed for 2021 that I really see developing in the next twelve months, I have to name Stefania, the Greek representative. The former Dutch Junior Eurovision artist was set to kick start a solo pop career with ’SUPERG!RL’ and I’m sure a jaw-dropping choreography was planned for Rotterdam. Eurovision can be place to kick start a career and create a new star. However, assuming the same team behind Stefania with their Eurovision pedigree, I can imagine making a project for her for 2021 the pinnacle of her career and artist direction.
The final act I wish to highlight is Hooverphonic from Belgium. ’Release Me’ was distinctively them, moody and melancolic without pandering to the tropes of the Song Contest. Criticism of ’Release Me’, in particularly it’s monotonous timbre throughout the piece, was responded to by the band by comparisons to successful yet sparse Eurovision songs from both Blanche and Salvador Sobral in recent years. The nuance I can hear in the comparison of their style to Hooverphonic’s is about dynamics. The emotions in Eurovision songs can be small, but it’s incredibly easy to lose the emotional connection when that isn’t signalled to the listener. Stylistically I think Hooverphonic’s vibe oozes class and can be a hit at the Song Contest, but in this case I can actually hear ’Release Me 2.0’ being a song that captivates many more.
Too Much Eurovision Too Soon
On the other hand, there are artists already confirmed for 2021 who will have a real challenge to bring something as powerful as this year’s three minutes.
The first is Jeangu Macrooy. ’Grow’ is an incredibly personal ballad with a buge build and an intriguing progression through the song, both lyrically and in terms of production. There is an incredible rawness to the three minutes of storytelling that makes it the kind of song that doesn’t come along very often for an artist.
Yes, a year is a long time and could inspire such creativity once more. But my fear here is how the selection process is now different. For 2020, the Dutch broadcaster had gone through a big process to find the act that included finding the song. Selecting Macrooy was a process that was as much selecting the song as it was the artist. Now it is only as an artist that he returns, and the song part of the package needs to be created once more. Will the broadcaster have, or want to have, any say over the style of song that Jeangu will now present, knowing he has the ticket?
I have similar worrying vibes over Victoria, who was set to perform for Bulgaria this year. ’Tears Getting Sober’ was a popular song and beautifully orchestrated to make the naive melody sound poised and enchanting. My concern here is that Victoria, within the music video for her Eurovision entry, had reached such a perfect zen with herself and the music encompassing her. They were at one with each other. Where does Victoria’s music go from here?
The Billie Eilish comparison has been done all too much, and understandably so. After all, that is one of the most popular sounds of late 2019/early 2020. But there’s no guarantee that the world’s tastes will remain where they are today. The instinct is that Bulgaria will want to send ’Tears Getting Sober 2.0’ to the Eurovision Song Contest in 2021. This temptation to send the same sound yet again is going to be immense for Bulgaria. Will music be in a same place next year to have the same effect?
More Time To Prepare
The current global situation is a loss for everybody. Putting life on hold is not a decision our world leaders have taken lightly, and am sure all of us will appreciate life’s freedom much more once the situation returns to normal.
What I wish is everyone puts aside the ‘Contest That Never Was’ when eventually songs for 2021 are revealed. Everybody will grow through these pandemic. Our world is paused, but none of us will be the same on the other side. It will be easy, perhaps too easy, to compare songs that were written before and written after. We can’t expect artists to produce carbon copies of whatever you had already fallen in love with.
What I will say though is this. We’ve never had better opportunities for songwriters and artists to prepare. These thirteen will have longer than anybody ever has had before to prepare their Eurovision song. There are fewer creative outlets in the world right now. There’s every chance that in twelve months time we are listening to some of the greatest Eurovision entries of all time.
That thought is one of the positives I am clinging on to in these dark times.