As the Altice Arena returns to normality and everyone recovers from Lisbon 2018, our hearts and minds look forward to the rest of the year. With Young Musicians and Junior Eurovision on the horizon, plus planning for Israel 2019 under way, there’s a lot of Eurovision to go round.
Eurovision Insight News Podcast: Chilled Tunnocks
Spain’s viral miss, Eurovision legends for the summer, and advice from the press room Tunnocks wafer. Ewan Spence and ESC Insight catch up on news from the world of the Eurovision Song Contest.
Keep listening to the ESC Insight podcast as we face the summer months between season. You’ll find the show in iTunes, and a direct RSS feed is also available. We also have a regular email newsletter which you can sign up to here.
There are very few songs that are remembered from the Eurovision Song Contests that were held in the fifties. Naturally the winning songs from each year are at least recognised by all, you have the utter powerhouse of ‘Nel Dipinto Di Blu’… and then you have ’Sing Little Birdie’.
Pearl Carr and Teddy Johnson’s second-place entry at Eurovision 1959 is a key song in the development of the Song Contest. It was the first song that was… fun!
In an era of static singers and locked off camera angles, the UK’s second entry was a revolutionary song. When you look at the portrayal of relationships on television at the time, ‘Sing Little Birdie’ is one of the most quietly subversive two minutes in Eurovision history.
With arguably the first ‘surprise prop reveal’ in Song Contest history, it showed a couple who connected both to the audience and each other on stage. It handed the secondary passive role to the male singer, it was playful, whimsical, carefree, and most of all, it was genuine.
Teddy Johnson’s career in the public eye effectively started with his broadcasting on the English-language side of Radio Luxembourg, which is regarded as the forerunner of both commercial radio in the UK and the influx of pirate radio stations that pushed musical boundaries in the fifties and sixties.
He joined the station in 1948 and ran the English output in partnership with Geoffrey Everitt until 1950. Johnson helmed the UK Top 20 show for the then marathon duration of two hours every week, and when Johnson returned to the UK to work primarily on his singing career, the slot was taken over by another institution… Pete Murray.
For those keeping track, Pete Murray hosted the UK’s Eurovision selection show in 1959 and was the commentator for both the TV and radio broadcasts of the Song Contest from Cannes that year.
Breaking The Rules
Johnson is noted as recording one of the earliest ‘remote duets’ recording his harmonies in the UK while American Jo Stafford would record her side in America. Covering older songs meant this innovative new technique wasn’t an immediate hit, but it handed Johnson another first.
As with many entertainers plying their trade in the fifties, television and radio work was about exploring a new medium and taking chances. A true man of variety, Johnson was happy to take one for the team, including what can only be described as a rite of passage as he took to the boards at the Glasgow Empire acting as the stooge to another legend, US comedian Jack Benny.
The new medium of broadcasting was also drawing its lead from the variety shows and multi-billed theatre shows that packed venues every weekend in every major town and city around the world. If you had mastered the art of fitting in with a rotating cast, were happy to work in a live environment, and could connect to an audience down the camera, then success was within reach.
1950 saw him meet Pearl Carr on the set of the BBC variety show ‘Black Magic’. It was suggested that the two pair up to do a duet, as he explained to Paul Jordan in an interview last summer:
“I didn’t want to do it, I was a solo singer, I didn’t do duets,” he said laughing. “I was offered a variety tour after Black Magic. I told Pearl that I’d be away for the summer and that I wouldn’t see her for a while. She replied saying that she would come with me on the tour. At the time she was in a band called The Keynotes, that’s how we started.”
Although Carr & Johnson continued to record separately, they worked on their double-act. Their first joint-billing was at the top of the bill at the London Palladium. If ‘Black Magic’ was their ‘Bonnie and Clyde’, this first run at the Palladium was effectively Carr & Johnson’s ‘Dangerously In Love’.
Which leads us back to the Eurovision Song Contest. The call from the BBC to appear in the Song for Europe selection show came from the Head of Light Entertainment, but Eric Maschwitz forgot to mention that if they won, they’d need to be free to pop over to Cannes to fly the flag for the United Kingdom a few weeks later.
As Johnson recalled, that led to a moment of panic:
“I said: ‘What? What do you mean?’ I didn’t know we had to represent the country. We had no idea whatsoever. He gave me the dates for Cannes and I just hoped we had them available. As it happened, we did. Pearl flew out with three guys from the BBC but I was doing a small show for ATV and got a later flight.”
Given their status in light entertainment circles, the BBC were sending one of the most formidable musical acts to the Song Contest in its short history, and its return would be the first of fifteen second places in the Contest. It also established Carr & Johnson in the public eye, gifted them a signature song that they would continue to sing for decades to come, and create one of a handful of songs in the formative years of the Contest that changed the direction of the Contest.
Teddy Johnson was a true pioneer of entertainment, willing to try anything, and always respectful of his audience. But most of all, he was a kind, fun, and loving partner to Pearl Carr.
Edward Victor “Teddy” Johnson, entertainer, born 4 September 1920; died 5 June 2018.
ESC Insight has arrived in Lisbon, and the next two weeks will be full of opinions, thoughts, and editorial around this year’s Song Contest. But first, what are the team expecting from the Song Contest, what is Suzy expecting Portugal to offer us, and what do we think of the first day of rehearsals?
Eurovision Insight Podcast: Daily News From Lisbon, Monday 30th April
Welcome to Lisbon! ESC Insight has arrived in Lisbon as the first rehearsals get under way. Our first daily podcast from the Big Orange Sofa in Lisbon with expectations, explanations, and the excitement of the first day of rehearsals.
Now we are reporting from backstage at Eurovision, remember to stay up to date with all the Eurovision news by subscribing to the ESC Insight podcast. You’ll find the show in iTunes, and a direct RSS feed is also available. We also have a regular email newsletter which you can sign up to here.
As is the tradition, the first Monday of rehearsals means the release of the names of the jurors for this year’s Eurovision Song Contest. In line with recent years, the list features a broad mix of artists, music or media industry professionals and ‘others’.
2018 Jury membership criteria
According to this year’s rules each delegation’s jury must:
Have five members, including a chairperson
Be citizens of the participating broadcaster’s country
Juries cannot include employees of a participating broadcaster as members
Members cannot have been jurors in 2016 or 2017
Jurors are supposed to be music industry professionals, specifically “radio DJ, artist, composer, author of lyrics or music producer.”
Feature some balance based on age, gender, and background
The last requirement is particularly vexing, since there is an odd number of jury members and only five members in total.
A scan of the list of jurors shows there are a fair number who don’t seem to line up with #5. “Artist manager” is one example of this, as are “journalist”, “stylist”, and “Deputy Head of Professional Arts Department of the Ministry of Kulture”.
Unlike in some recent years, all delegations have provided a complete list of jurors before rehearsals began.
There are a number of Eurovision alumni on this year’s list, including two former winners. Niamh Kavanagh gave Ireland its fifth victory in 1993 with ‘In Your Eyes’. In 2010 she brought Ireland back to the Grand Final, finishing 23rd with ‘It’s For You’. Emmelie de Forest brought Denmark its third victory in 2013 with ‘Only Teardrops’. She also composed the 2017 UK entry ‘Never Give Up On You’, which finished 15th.
Artists who have previously competed in the Eurovision:
Nathan Trent (Austria 2017)
Laura Tesoro (Belgium 2016)
Tom Dice (Belgium 2010)
Mary Roos (Germany 1972, 1984)
Aminata (Latvia 2015)
Amber Bondin (Malta 2015)
Cristina Scarlat (Moldova, 2014)
Nina Zizic (Montenegro 2013)
Michał Szpak (Poland 2016)
Bojana Stamenov (Serbia 2015)
Tijana Milosevic (Serbia 2017)
Guri Schanke (Norway 2007)
There are also a few artists who’ve sought to represent their country at various national selections. Sweden’s Mariette Hansson participated in the 2015, 2017 and 2018 editions of Melodifestivalen. Bryan Rice competed in the Dansk Melodi Grand Prix 2010. K-One is on the Swedish jury. He co-wrote Sanna Nielsen’s ‘Undo’, which finished third in Copenhagen 2014.
We aren’t provided data with respect to the ‘background’ of jurors. We do know, however, their dates of birth and (ostensive) genders. Broadly speaking, the gender split is even.
Our youngest juror at 16 years is Karl Killing who competed in Eesti Laul 2018. The most seasoned juror is Zdenka Kovacicek from Croatia, who is 74 years young. Azeri jury chairperson Mubariz Tagiyev is 70 years old, only a few months older than his fellow Azeri juror Tunzala Qahraman. In fact, with Nurlana Cafarova (their youngest juror) aged 30, the age range for the Azeri jury is 42 years.
What happens next
Juries do not vote during the live broadcasts. The second dress rehearsal for each show–called the Jury Rehearsal, cunningly–is live streamed to a sequestered jury room in each broadcaster’s studios. They complete and submit their votes that same evening.
That means half the scores for each stage of the competition are determined before the public shows. Sometimes differences between the broadcasts matter–a lot. In 2011, the UK entry (‘I Can’, Blue) featured a wobbly jury vocal and a much better one on Saturday night. The juries ranked Blue 22nd (57 points): the public had them 5th (166 points). The following year Loreen choked on her prop snow during the jury final. ‘Euphoria’ nonetheless topped both the jury (296 points) and public (343 points).
During this year’s Grand Final broadcast, the participating broadcaster is required to read out the names of the jurors live. Once we know the 2018 winner, the detailed jury votes for the semi-finals and Grand Final are routinely published on eurovision.tv.
Being a Eurovision fan who has tasted the delicious banquet that is the on-the-ground live-show contest, it’s hard when you have to stay at home and feast on lean pickings served up by your mates who are all enjoying themselves in the land of Pastéis de Nata for May 2018. Rather than suffering serious FOMO or forcing myself to adopt a European timezone for the next fortnight (cause one actually has to work and earn a proper living), I’ve been seeking out ways to enjoy the contest here at home and take a whole bunch of people along with me for the ride.
One of the best ways to share the love, introduce your some of your non-fan colleagues to the contest and have them feel invested in the results is to run a sweepstakes.
Download your ESC Insight Eurovision 2018 Sweepstakes Kit here
Sweepstakes aren’t about betting or strategy, but about a game of luck. For a small investment, you stand the chance to win a significant amount more. It doesn’t require entrants to necessarily know the songs, the history of the contest or the artists. But rest assured they will be more keen to follow along when they think that doing so could be to their monetary benefit.
The potential of having your workplace or other organised environment (perhaps a class or another social group) are endless. Working in the travel industry, I use a sweepstakes to encourage my colleagues to learn more about the countries they have drawn and then share their tourism knowledge with others as part of the experience.
In addition, you can use it to run some related events – perhaps a screening – or write some emails or newsletters to entrants where you can share your knowledge of this years contest.
Eurovision is about bringing people together. I highly recommend using a Eurovision sweepstakes as a launchpad to not only create new fans, but to create conversation in a positive and culturally embracing way. And if it makes your working life more bearable and helps you get through the season whilst remaining separated from your mates all in Lisbon having a good time, all the better.
There was a certain frisson around ‘Amar Pelos Dois’ when it was revealed (along with the other entries) for RTP’s Festival do Cançao (FdC) 2017. That frisson built through Salvador Sobral’s appearance in its semi-final (where it ranked second): by the time Sobral performed in the FdC final, there was a genuine buzz: Portugal had something special on offer, though it perhaps seemed too Portuguese for the Eurovision Song Contest.
It is worth remembering that ‘Amar Pelos Dois’ did not win the televote in either its FdC semi-final or grand final. In other words an audience where everyone would have understood the song’s message, public support was extensive rather than overwhelming. Rather quickly the buzz around ‘Amar Pelos Dois’ got very loud within the Eurovision fan bubble.
And yet…many a Eurovision obsessive made observations like “it’s wonderful, but it’s not the sort of song that inspires a massive televote”, “I love it, but he’s too quirky for a mainstream audience” or “I think this is timeless, but I suspect a lot of jurors will see it as dated.” In other a quality entry, but not expected to do particularly well in Kyiv.
Well that turned out differently.
In 2017 we had a winner that shattered some of the unwritten rules—or, if you prefer, the conventional wisdom—in terms of winning the modern, aggregate-public-and-jury scored Eurovision Song Contest. Portugal is not part of a reliable voting bloc. Its diaspora might help an entry get out of its semi-final, in a flat scoring year. Aside from some regions of Spain, there is nowhere else in the Eurovision voting area where Portuguese is a regional or official language. And then there’s Salvador himself, whose style might best be described as idiosyncratic. RTP’s decision to eschew the surfeit of LEDs or other special effects in favour of classically stripped down staging.
‘Amar Pelos Dois’ had so many things going against, in terms of convention. It still won. Which got us thinking: why don’t we unpack some of the unwritten rules of the (Eurovision) game? And which winners have flouted them?
Rules Versus Rules
In discuss rules, we are not referring to the actual rules for the 2018 Contest. Year upon year these are more often tweaked a bit rather than being wholly rewritten. Even the shifts in the scoring system (from jury to public to public with a bit of jury to blended public/jury to the current aggregate public jury system) have been incremental over two decades. The fundamental rules have been consistent. Of course participating broadcasters can add their own rules about language, nationality of artists and songwriters, among others. But we’re not interested in those broadcaster specific rules either.
We’re focused on those unwritten rules, which fans and delegations discuss from time to time, often in consideration of an entry’s potential to do well. The sorts of things that work or do not work at the Eurovision.
Play To The TV, Not The Crowd
Many a dream about winning the Eurovision ended when an artist comfortable playing arena gigs steps onto a Grand Final stage. In addition to being huge, a Eurovision audience is super passionate. Many artists get hit with that rush of Eurofan love and proceeds to give an epic performance to the crowd. For everyone in the arena something amazing has been shared.
However it often comes across really disconnected to the much larger audience watching on telly. There are a few thousand votes available in the arena: there are millions for the taking behind the camera. Many seasoned musicians, who have cultivated their performance ethos over years, have fallen into this trap and not got the result they had hoped.
Unless you’re The Olsen Brothers. If you were two middle-aged Danish brothers who’ve been trying to represent your country at the Contest for a couple of decades and finally got the ticket. You’ve already lived the arechtypal rock and roll lifestyle (and all its excesses). You walk out on stage, look at each and decide “Let’s just have a blast!” You missed the camera? No worries, there another one (and you point to it each time you find it)! The crowd’s clapping along? AWESOME! When you’re nothing singing, you’re laughing.
The Olsen Brothers – ‘Fly On the Wings of Love’ (Source: YouTube/Olsenbrother Music)
The Olsen Brother were just so damned cool! And it came across brilliantly on telly.
Comebacks Don’t Win Eurovision… Or Make Great Comebacks.
Blue tried it. Ditto No Angels, Dana International, and Bonnie Tyler. Each of them tried to leverage participating in the Eurovision to rekindle their career. Some did OK (Blue were 5th in the public vote in 2011) while others…didn’t.
A Eurovision enabled comeback is probably still a risk worth taking…if you’ve got a strong entry. If you do reasonably well, you will probably gain some new fans, perhaps even a record deal (or retain one about to be lost). Many have tried to win the Eurovision as a career reboot strategy. It doesn’t usually work out as well as hoped.
Then there’s Katrina and the Waves, whose career had stalled by the mid 1990s. After a global smash with Walking on Sunshine, they released a series of CDs and singles, none of which generated anywhere near the sales as their big hit. But one night in Dublin that changed, when the Waves—led by 37 year old vocalist Katrina Leskanich—scored one of the biggest Eurovision victories of all time.
Katrina and the Waves – ‘Love Shine the Light’(Source: YouTube/escLIVEmusic1)
‘Love Shine the Light’ became the band’s biggest ever hit. Which still couldn’t prevent the band from collapsing a year or two later. The comeback thing also sort of worked out OK for Johnny Logan.
You Can’t ‘Just Sing’
In the golden era of the Contest, viewers were treated to legions of singers standing at their mark and singing. The high tech stage setup that is the 21st century Song Contest offers a lot of options for entries. Aside from all the high tech kit, many countries’ top designers are happy to contribute a frock or outfit for an extra fabulous look. Dancing or some form of choreography is good too. Whatever you do, you don’t want your performance to seem to be too static.
The 2010 Eurovision season had a handful of entries favoured in the betting odds. The Azeribaijan entry, ‘Drip Drop’ would be performed by the ingénue Safura. Denmark’s Chanée & Evergreen had the more schlager ‘In a Moment Like This’. And then there was Germany’s entry:
Lena Meyer-Landrut – ‘Satellite’ (Source:YouTube/Eurovision Song Contest)
Stefan Raab was the man driving that years German selection, the man who brought ‘Guildo hat euch lieb’ (7th in 1998) and ‘Wadde hadde dude da?’ (5th in 2000) to the Eurovision stage. Raab also co-wrote those ‘Can’t Wait Until Tonight’ (8th in 2004). That’s three entries, with top 10 results. Handing the reigns to Raab savvy rather than risky.
At the end of a multi-week selection there were two shortlisted singers, each of whom recorded the two short listed songs. Lena Meyer-Landrut’s version of ‘Satellite’ topped the German charts almost immediately. When it entered the Austrian and Swiss charts Eurovision fans started to take notice. In the quiescence after the mid-March Reference Group, Lena seemed to fall off the radar a bit.
When the rehearsals started in Oslo, Lena rocked up in a little black dress and just sang the song. Many wrote off her chances—except perhaps Raab and Lena. She sounded great, she looked great, she looked comfortable and she clearly was having fun. And Europe decided to join her!
Buzz Kill ≠ Victory
Many Eurovision entries have been built around an important social message, which is laudable: art is sometimes uniquely positioned to illuminate the need for change in our world. Over six decades of Eurovision Song Contests war, family violence, terrorism, and racism have been the subject of really strong entries (including several in 2018 too). While many of us appreciate it when the Song Contest is used as a platform for such aims, it does not often result in a finish near the top of the leader board.
Therefore on paper a song about Stalin’s purge of Crimean Tatars during World War Two (the Great Patriot War) would seem an obvious party killer. Unless you’re Jamala.
The magic was in the music, but the path to victory was in the maths, according to Jamala’s scientist husband Bekir Suleimanov. After the car crash that was the 2011 Ukrainian national selection, no one could blame Jamala for never again having any interest in the Ukrainian Eurovision selection. But Bekir persisted: with her talent, and a great song—one that suited her as an artist—along with strong levels of support across the public and jurors, Jamala could win the Eurovision. With something strong.
Jamala – ‘1944’ (Source: (Source: YouTube/Eurovision Song Contest)
“When strangers are coming, they come to your house, they kill you all and say ‘we’re not guilty, not guilty.’”
Not the sort of lyrics that gets the party started. ‘1944’ is neither a banger nor a ballad. It’s sort of jazz-infused, trip-hoppish song that Jamala’s catalogue has featured for years. It is contemporary; it’s just not mainstream pop. But everything—the melody, the arrangement, the vocal and the staging—were pure class. Both jurors and the public got solidly behind ‘1944’: being second favourite with both, under a new aggregate scoring system, brought Ukraine their second Eurovision victory.
Don’t Be Too Queer
When ORF announced Conchita Wurst had been internally selected as the Austrian entry for Copenhagen, many fans viewed it as a “nothing else works, why not just send…” moment. The preview video revealed a very good song, but it was very camp—and could she deliver it live? How would it be staged? Ostensibly ‘Rise Like a Phoenix’ should have been staged rather conservatively.
Then there’s Conchita herself, Austria wasn’t known for being the most socially progressive member of the European Union in 2014, particularly around LGBTQ+ rights. And then there were all the central and eastern European participant broadcasters (including former Soviet states further East) from countries for overt hostility towards gender and sexual orientation diversity. There were so many ways ‘Rise Like a Phoenix’ could have gone off the rails.
Conchita Wurst – ‘Rise Like a Phoenix’ (Source: YouTube/Eurovision Song Contest)
Except it didn’t. Styled and coiffed beautifully, staged magnificently, and performed epically, from the first rehearsal it was clear Conchita was a contender. And that the public in “western” Europe would love her. As did the public in Hungary, Lithuania and Georgia (10 points each), Ukraine and Romania (8 points), and Moldova (7 points). Austria’s third place in the Russian televote only earned Conchita 5 points because Russian juror Dominik Joker slated Conchita by putting her 21st: the others had Austria 7th, 9th or 10th (she ended up 11th with the Russian jury as a result. It didn’t matter. Conchita won. On her own terms.
The Golden Rule
These rules have all been broken. There is one, however, that trumps both the unwritten and written rule books: artist self-belief. Every one of these artists believed in themselves, their song, and how to present it. It is very difficult to win a 40+ entry song contest. But if you don’t believe in yourself and your entry, if you don’t walk out on that stage supremely confident (all four times), it is so much harder to convince jurors or the public to put their confidence in you.
These entries all appeared on the Eurovision stage on their own terms. They were presented in ways that allowed them to be confident, and thus were able to deliver great performances when it mattered. As the rehearsals start this week it will be readily apparent who isn’t comfortable and confident. That can improve over the fortnight—Blanche’s ‘City Lights’ in 2017 comes to mind—but we haven’t recently seen that lead to actual victory.
Class of 2018
Sending something amazing is better than sending something safe, if you want to win the Eurovision Song Contest. Most years. We thought it would be fun to consider who might be this year’s rule breaking winner. In the end we have four.
Georgia’s Iriao, which combines polyphonic singing with jazz on ‘For You’. A group of middle-aged guys singing in a language no one else understands.
The Netherlands’ Waylon, who has gone full-on country with ‘Outlaw in ‘Em’. He finished second as half of the Common Linnets with ‘Calm After the Storm’ in 2014, so it is something of a comeback too.
Hungary’s AWS, who have aspirations to be the first metal and post-hardcore Eurovision winner with ‘Viszlát nyár’. Performing a song about a father’s dying words to his son.
Portugal’s Cláudia Pascoal, who aspires to make Portugal the first Eurovision host to complete the double since 1994, with the airy, chilled and moving ‘O Jardim’.
Mind, we aren’t predicting any of these will win. Yet. Let the rehearsals begin!