Nobody in the Eurovision Song Contest world can come anywhere close to being as creative as the Swedes.
On the Eurovision stage Sweden in the last five years has always reached the top ten at the Song Contest no matter what genre it sends, winning awards for staging as well as music. The two Eurovision editions Sweden has recently hosted in 2013 and 2016 have not only been some of the most quality productions on and off screen but also the cheapest to produce.They also have a National Final system in Melodifestivalen that is not only the most watched TV show in the country but also the competition many other Eurovision nations would aspire towards.
The voting system of Melodifestivalen had a major overhauled in 2011, after Anna Bergendahl did not qualify to the Eurovision final. Since then half of the results in the final were from international juries and half from televoters. While jury/televote splits are nothing new, bringing in jurors from other countries has infected selections for Finland, France, Romania and beyond. Many broadcasters are looking at Sweden and seeing this as one change they can do to improve their Eurovision results in May.
Bilal Hassani won both the international jury and televote in France’s Destination Eurovision Semi Final
One more recent change that hasn’t been picked up by other countries has been with Melodifestivalen’s voting app. Launched in 2015 Melodifestivalen’s smapp records votes through button-bashing the screen to vote instead of traditional text or phone methods.
The benefits of the app are many. It bypasses the phone networks so means app voting is free, increasing the sense of democracy. It also can be far more intuitive than having to text or call a certain number and means that votes can be cast far quicker than before. Other features such as predicting the results and seeing how your friends voted increase engagement with the show. That engagement is massive, with Melodifestivalen’s project leader Anette Helenius claiming 1 in 5 viewers are using the app to vote.
That said, the app has many critics. Some argue that an app based system has overly trended towards young people’s taste, with a savvy smartphone generation able to vote far stronger than older viewers still calling in. Others use the ‘heart-symbol’, which shines on screen more when more votes are cast, to decipher with scary accuracy how successful songs are even before recaps have been shown. The app also has been one contributing factor to Melodifestivalen’s rather pedestrian voting sequence in the final show, where so many millions of votes are cast that the televote score has the standard deviation as tiny as San Marino’s qualification record.
More app votes resulted in a stronger heart symbol on screen during the previous editions of Melodifestivalen
While the app has been refined each year slightly, this year is undoubtedly the biggest change to voting since its introduction in 2015. What is remarkable is that this change has only been possible because of one enormous advantage apps have to other voting methods. You have to consent to send in your data. With four years of data at their disposal SVT have made grandiose changes to their voting system which I believe every other broadcaster, and even the EBU, will be watching with great interest.
Update In Progress
The headline news is that SVT are now dividing up voters into seven different categories based on the age you use to sign up for the app. Those age categories are as follows:
3 to 9 year olds
10 to 15 year olds
16 to 29 year olds
30 to 44 year olds
45 to 59 year olds
60 to 74 year olds
75 years and over
Anette Helenius explained that the rationale for chosing these age bands was to group viewers who had similar ‘lifestyle’. Although there are slight variations to the scoring system as you go through the Heats, Andra Chansen, and the Melodifestivalen Grand Final, the basic system remains the same. When you log into the app, you have to give your age. You then vote in the voting block of people the same age as you. Each block has an equal sum of points to give to the songs. The votes of people aged 75 and over will create a voting block of equal value to those aged 30 to 44, for a total of seven blocks.
The televote, for the heats and for the final, will be used as an eighth block of equal voting size to the seven from the televote. The opportunity to text vote will disappear completely. In the Grand Final an international jury of eight countries will remain, and give out points equal to that of the seven different app groups plus the televoters for a 50/50 points split.
Dividing up jurors by voting age isn’t anything new in the Eurovision world, but I have to go back to the days well before my birth to find those systems.
Eurovision 1973: One juror 25 and under and one juror over 25 from each country.
This is revolutionary by SVT and I strongly believe will make a stronger voting system for the competition.
Why These Changes Will Bring Success
As mentioned above, one of Melodifestivalen’s biggest criticisms has been that the songs that do well all belong to genres of pop music that appeal to younger viewers. The 2016 final is a good example of this where the oldest artists were only in their thirties and were performing songs aimed at far younger audiences.
While Anette Helenius says that ‘it has been clear that songs that perform well do well with all age groups’ they have ‘listened to viewers’ and made this change. As all Eurovision fans would know well, to win the competition you have to get points from the vast majority of competing countries. It would be little surprise to suggest as Anette does that songs doing well in Melodifestivalen get points from all voting ages.
Nevertheless the dominance of youth-friendly tracks has been high, arguably too high, in the race to qualify to the final. With the ‘middle’ voting group aged from 30 to 44 years old this change may be the little tweak needed to increase the diversity of songs that reach the show in Friends Arena. Gustav Dahlander from SVT’s Melodifestivalen team has said that the 2018 qualifiers to the final though would not have been different with this system. Perhaps it is more of a cosmetic change.
However a more substantial change is the much needed improvement to the voting system of that Friends Arena Final. Last year the spread of votes in the Melodifestivalen final was very small ranging from 37 to 67 points – far less than the juries spread from 2 to 114.
The spread of international jury scores (top plot) compared to app votes (bottom plot) in the 2018 Melodifestivalen final
The Melodifestivalen final of last year was officially a 50/50 jury/televote split, however in practice the ratio was much more weighted towards the jury. The new system will still be 50/50, but each voting block will vote in the same style as the jury – with 12 points to their favourite. I would actually predict here, if Anette is correct and voters of all ages agree on which songs are best, that actually 2019 gives more advantage to the voters at home over the jury. It will be fascinating to see.
A small but subtle change will also come in the presentation of the app during the show itself. The heart symbol remains, but no longer will it glow based on how popular a performance is. Instead the symbol will glow different colours (a maximum of three) based on how much the song has been voted on by different groups. Expect to see more greens and blues (the youthful colours) for Dolly Style and more oranges and reds (the older colours) for Arja Saijonmaa. Because each voting block, and therefore each colour, has equal value, gone is the concept of predicting a winner before the song has even finished performing. This is ultimately a huge improvement to the viewer experience.
One Step Too Far?
Although this voting system has so many benefits, it also shows a speed of modernisation that even Sweden may struggle to keep up with. The dropping of SMS voting is one, but also note that for Andra Chansen televotes will not be possible in the presumably small voting window. The app is quite clearly the future, but is the nation ready for it just a few years into the change? It’s one thing in Stockholm to walk around hipster markets paying for everything with your mobile phone, but is that the same reality as for every Swede from Luleå to Lund?
Furthermore, the selection of the voting blocks is bizarre, and defined seemingly by SVT’s arbitrary lifestyle groupings. While I can imagine many Swedish three-year-olds have the capability of voting on the easy-to-use app, a question mark has to come about the ability to vote coherently from a three-year-old. Should a three-year-old vote be given equal value? Of course downloading an app, inputting their age correctly and consenting to allowing SVT to use their data will have to be done by their parents/guardians. It’s one thing borrowing mummy’s phone to vote, it’s a different thing to have that responsibility yourself. The children’s age category will likely come under heavy scrutiny once results are revealed.
Gustav Dahlander also reveals big albeit unsurprising differences with the app itself, revealing that viewers aged 15 are six times more likely to vote than those aged just 50. Even though the age range from 45 to 59 age range is larger than that from 10 to 15, extrapolating this data would suggest the 10 to 15 year old voting block to have a larger voting population.
Samir and Viktor qualified three times to the Melodifestivalen final
Think about this another way. If you are watching the Eurovision Song Contest from Latvia or from across the border in Russia, which country gives you personally the biggest individual voice? Latvia of course as their population is smaller. Will it be possible in the new system to register a different age for yourself so your vote is worth more than your peers?
Another thought is also that just because you have logged in with a certain age, doesn’t mean that the same person will be the one voting. Is one reason the votes are almost always the same with different year groups because younger children are using the phones of parents to vote themselves? This is where SVT’s big data approach may fall down. It would also explain some bizarre voting on the app that I have witnessed (one can see how friends have voted) in for example voting for both songs in an Andra Chansen duel. Perhaps there isn’t just one person behind the vote. Perhaps this process is too perfect to work in practice.
However, voting in Melodifestivalen isn’t just about record results, it’s about getting everybody involved in the good mood party, and this should be a huge win for the app.
A Party For All Of Sweden
It’s highly symbolic that the colours of the rainbom span through the new voting blocks in Melodifestivalen. Every colour is in the rainbow. Every type of song should be in the competition. And every person in Sweden should be tuning in and getting their voice heard.
After all, they call Melodifestivalen here ‘Hela Sveriges Fest’ (A Party for All of Sweden).
The current mood locally in Sweden is that the show has become less of that in recent years. And it is a big deal to make it a party for everybody. Look back on how the songs are selected in the Melodifestivalen jury room – all divided up by genre, by language and by the gender of the composers. There should be role models from all walks of society on that stage, performing to all the viewers at home. It is a clear part of the public broadcasting service that SVT tie up with running Melodifestivalen.
The impression currently dominating Swedish society is that Melodifestivalen is a young person’s game, and you have to appeal to the youth of today to get ahead. If that perception lingers then Melodifestivalen’s diversity will be lost. This change is a step in the right direction to increase the interest and voice from all people in Swedish society.
Everybody can be a part of this, and everybody should have an equal say in the outcome.
As well as the weekend’s National Final results, the latest news, and what’s happening on ESC Insight, this week’s podcast also features our first ‘Eurovision Thoughts‘, as Samantha Ross talks about the great Eurovision superstitions.
Eurovision Insight News Podcast: A Very Superstitious Song Contest
An Ice Age star for Sanremo, San Marino goes to the CIA Answer Book, and Samantha Ross thinks about superstitions. Ewan Spence and the Insight team cover the latest news from the world of the Eurovision Song Contest 2019..
Find out more about Ne Party Pas Sans Moi at ne-party-pas.com, and find out more about Sanremo with #sanremowikipeddy on Facebook.
Eurovision’s National Final season is picking up more speed. Remember you can stay up to date with all the Song Contest news 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.
Also in this week’s newsletter, a frontrunner emerges in France, one of Eurovision’s biggest breakout stars of recent years returns to the Contest and Czech Republic set their national selection into motion. You can read the newsletter in full here, or subscribe for a regular dose of Eurovision insight and analysis delivered direct to your email inbox.
ESC Insight National Selection Playlist
Czech Republic | Lake Malawi – Friend of a Friend
One of the clear standouts in the Czech selection is this instantly hummable number from alternative-pop collective Lake Malawi. The heavily accented spoken-word sections sit right on the line between charming and irritating, but the chorus is a total earworm. With a confident stage show, this could really stand out from the crowd in Tel Aviv.
‘Roi‘ (King) by Bilal Hassani (France)
Easily topping the leaderboard in the first semi final of Destination Eurovision and clocking up 3 million views of the lyric video in lass than two weeks, Bilal Hassani’s Roi can now be considered the clear frontrunner to represent France in Tel Aviv. A genderqueer YouTube sensation with a massive following in his home country, Bilal seems primed to be one of the big media stories of this year’s Contest – which rarely hurts when it comes to the scoreboard…
‘Cherry Absinthe’ by Edgars Kreilis (Latvia)
You can always count on the Latvians to throw up a quirky gem or two in their national selection. With its oddball lyrics recounting a night out on the hard stuff, Cherry Absinthe could inspire drinking games across the continent if Edgars Kreilis wins the ticket to Tel Aviv. Please drink responsibly!
‘Blind Bird’ by MaNNaz (Lithuania)
Lithuania’s epic national selection „Eurovizijos“ dainų konkurso nacionalinė atranka 2019 kicked off last week. It’s a long, long road until they finally decide on a winner, but this atmospheric electro mid-tempo topped the scoreboard in the first heat, so it should be considered a contender. It’s no Get Frighten, but then again, what is?
‘Army of Love’ by Bella Santiago (Romania)
Since finishing fourth in Romania’s national selection for 2018, Bella Santiago’s career has gone from strength to strength – including victory in X Factor Romania just last month. So it’s little surprise to see her granted a Wildcard spot for this year’s selection. Army of Love is a powerful ethnic pop number that pays tribute to the singers Filipino roots with a section in Tagalog – a possible Eurovision first should she win.
You can stay up to date with all of the latest Eurovision news and analysis right here on ESC Insight. You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter.
Since the end of November 2018 we have known who is performing in fifty-ninth edition of Melodifestivalen – still the undisputed king of all National Finals. Melodifestivalen is such a deep part of the Swedish tradition that any small snippet of news attracts huge attention. SVT, Sweden’s national broadcaster, knows this, and drip-feeds snippets of information throughout the entire buildup, all to hysterics from the following media.
We have known who is performing in which show since their announcement in November, but on Friday January 11th we actually got to find out which order the songs were being performed in. This was announced through the medium of a casual livestream presented by the competition co-ordinators for Melodifestivalen, Christer Björkman and Karin Gunnarsson. This form of transparency about the process is also as traditional as the show itself.
Christer Björkman explaining his running order on SVT’s livestream (facebook.com/melodifestivalen)
It’s little surprise therefore that the running order also follows all of the traditional rules of SVT programming.
SVT’s Running Order Mantra
The opener to the entire competition is Nano with the song ‘Chasing Rivers’, a collaboration of Melodifestivalen hot-shot composers Thomas G:Son and both Joy and Linnea Deb. Christer Björkman describes the song as “energy-filled” – and I have no doubts will be the type of track to get everybody clapping along not just inside the arena but inside every living room as well.
This is standard SVT broadcasting. The opening song should be rousing – a call to attention – something that gets the viewers not just to watch the show but be ready to be a part of the action. No matter how sentimental or strong, a ballad can never kick start the show with a bang. SVT’s running order model wants something for the audience to get behind, cheer and be animated for to open the show.
The closing numbers for each semi final as well generally has the same energy filled routine – the show at the end should always be something to keep viewers interest until the buzzer. However the nuance is that often the final song in the show is more unique. Looking at last year’s competition as an example, songs like ‘Dance You Off’, LIAMOO’s ‘Last Breath’ and Mendez’s ‘Everyday’ were very engaging, but all had something about them that wasn’t just a straight up song – they all offered something new be it in style or performance. Generally a show opener is more straight-laced, easier for all the public to engage with, whereas the expectation for a show closer is that it will deliver something fresh and new.
The other part to being ’drawn’ last in Melodifestivalen is that you are the act which has the most expectations, interest and hysteria thrust upon it. A good example of this would be Loreen’s Statements’ in 2017 which was drawn last in both competing shows. The one that is generating most excitement or intrigue is the one that often performs last. This theory explains why Anna Bergendahl has been given the last place position in her heat. A similar point can be made for Jon Henrik Fjällgren, the most recent winner of Sweden’s Let’s Dance, who will be most hotly anticipated in the third heat in Leksand – and let’s note that previous winners include Måns Zelmerlöw and Benjamin Ingrosso.
The rest of the running order is generally divided up to give the competition as much variety as possible. Melodifestivalen is, at least in its early heats, far from a pure music and songwriting competition. It is a party for all of Sweden through the medium of competitive music. It is important for SVT to actively include a range of different performers from all walks of Swedish culture. In each and every show we have young performers starting their musical journey alongside the welcome return of old veterans.
Note through SVT’s presentation video that many different colours of post-it note are used. That isn’t for prettiness value, these post-it notes reflect the ‘colour’ of each song, and very rarely are two colours back-to-back.
Another addition to the challenge is that the show must run seemlessly from one act to the other, and seasoned fans will remember glass shattering props, showers of water and lifts above the entire audience (and that’s just from one certain artist). Songs with less stagecraft are likely to be sandwiched by performances with a much bigger stage footprint purely to make the spectacle of live TV as stress-free as possible. I expect this partly might explain Wiktoria’s somewhat surprising early 3rd place draw in semi final one, following girl group High15 and a song called ‘Mina Bränder’…or, in English, ‘My Fires‘.
I know what I’m expecting on stage there…
Six Weeks Of Storytelling
The patterns outlined are true for all of the four heats. However what builds up over time is a whole range of stories based on how the show develops in the public’s eyes. Note how Nano opens up the first heat but bands The Lovers of Valdaro and Pagan Fury open up the third and fourth heats. From both I am expecting tempo-filled floor-fillers, but with increasingly diverse levels of genres on show (Pagan Fury are fulfilling the now tokenistic nod to rock in Melfest’s 28-strong roster) . Sure, heat four is a separate show, but the audience at home has been warmed up for more diverse sounds by the previous heats – once the cameras reach Lidköping everyone is ready to rumble.
It’s important to remember as well that the stories of the show will be the stories that dominate the mainstream entertainment headlines. Having lived in Stockholm for eight years I’ve seen my fair share of ’schlagerskandals’. Some of that story will undoubtedly come from the script, but also the story of the competitors themelves. Two members of former boyband FO&O compete, both looking to go one better than Felix Sandman’s second place last year. They are in heats two and three respectively, making for a compelling head-to-head narrative.
There are other examples. Tabloid press will love semi final three with Martin Stenmarck drawn 3rd and Lina Haglund drawn 4th. For those not aware, Martin has been together with Lina’s sister Hanna for nearly two decades. 15 year old Bishara has a song by last year’s winner Benjamin Ingrosso, and has lots of pressure on his shoulders as ‘the Instagram star’. The expectation will only increase now he’s been given the same running order position as Frans did with his 2016 triumph with ”If I Were Sorry”. Rebecka Karlsson will compete in heat three, the week after her Idol conquerer LIAMOO competes in Malmö Arena. The list goes on.
Why do these sparks of stories matter? Because these stories are part of the way the public change their opinion about the songs.
A somewhat surprise qualifier last year was ”Fuldans”, a somewhat comedic take on Swedish music from dansband Rolandz. However, by heat four in what went down in history as a rather turgid 2018 contest, such a special Swedish pastiche found a frustrated audience ready to button-bash their smartphones and cast votes for it. I will never be proven right, but I don’t think the same act would have worked three weeks earlier while Melodifestivalen and its audience were still finding their feet.
When we move to the final two weeks with Andra Chansen and the Final, new rivalries and storylines will develop and be developed, with the running order part of the picture that will enhance the plot lines. Time will tell who dominates the headlines come March, but what will dominate the headlines is clear. Melodifestivalen.
The Immediate Impact of Running Order
The fine control that SVT has over the running order undoubtedly help to make it Melodifestivalen as exciting and fascinating as it is. It also has a statistical impact. Looking back through the last four years of history (since each heat was seven rather than eight songs) the stats tell a clear picture.
Song running order position (top row) and average placing in heat (bottom row) in Melodifestivalen from 2015 to 2018
Songs drawn first, and last have a much greater chance of qualifying. On only three of the sixteen occasions since the switch to seven song heats has a song drawn last not qualified directly to the Friends Arena final. On those three occasions the songs in question finished 3rd and went to Andra Chansen. Loreen with ‘Statements’ was the only one not to make it to the Final either direct or via Andra Chansen.
We also see that, just like the tradition of the Eurovision Song Contest, being drawn 2nd is a curse at Melodifestivalen. In keeping with the sawtooth approach to SVT production with diversity central, the song drawn second more often than not brings down the tempo from the high-energy opener. John Lundvik’s qualification from 2nd place last year was only the fourth in the entire history of four heat Melodifestivalen – with 2011 being the most recent occasion.
There is a definite argument to be made for song quality in the process here – are the songs drawn last kept last because the establishment want people to wait for them? In reality TV circles we often use the phrase ’pimp slot’ to describe last place in a running order. This phrase is used because this slot gives these performances a huge chance to catch the audience’s attention (and the opportunity to use larger and more complicated props that need more time to clean up and get off-stage). Sure, the song may be good, but we don’t know that yet. What we do know is that SVT want us to wait for these performances and that alone increases everybody’s expectation.
The Fallout Is Under Way
The first indication of success is often nowadays with the betting markets. Some Swedish bookmakers have already shifted the market considerably. Who would have thought Anna ’non-qualifying’ Bergendahl would be favourite two months ago with Margret ”I don’t want to compete in Eurovision” Jamroży second favourite. I can tell you they definitely were not favourites before the running order was announced.
Melodifestivalen win odds 24 hours after the running order annoucement on Unibet
Betting might not be important to many, but its a great proxy for momentum. Songs drawn 2nd are drifting in the betting market, seemingly chanceless. The hype around their performances drops before anybody gets a chance to hear the songs. This is the double-edged sword of a producer-led running order, the public and media will exaggerate any small impact and amplify it.
And They All Lived Happily Ever After?
Speculation will continue from now all the way until the final in March. Every little thing SVT does will impact the show in terms of anticipation, in terms of excitement, but also in terms of who may ultimately win and lose.
Melodifestivalen is not just a singing contest. Melodifestivalen is a musical soap opera that can be enjoyed on air, online, and in print. The complete buy-in to SVT’s storylines throughout Sweden makes Melodifestivalen unique in the pantheon of National Finals and impossible to replicate.
All we know for sure is that one of those 28 songs will be heading to Tel Aviv in May, unless there’s a plot twist from Moldova. But what are the chances of that?
The visual details of Tel Aviv 2019 are confirmed, along with the first big wave of results, ticketing information, and National Final dates.
Eurovision Insight News Podcast: Tickets! Logos! Slogans! Action!
More results coming in from National Heats, the official logo and slogan are announced, and who wants to hear the music of ‘Jon Ola Sandz’? Ewan Spence and the Insight team cover the latest news from the world of the Eurovision Song Contest 2019.
Find out more about Ne Party Pas Sans Moi at ne-party-pas.com.
2019 begins and the Eurovision year continues as the National Final season picks up some speed. Remember you can stay up to date with all the Song Contest news 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.
I’ve often theorised that one year’s Eurovision winner may influence the next year’s musical lineup, and nowhere is that more evident than in Hungary’s unabashedly badass AWS and their song ‘Viszlát nyár‘. But Sam, you may be asking, how exactly does a something like ‘Amar Pelos Dois‘ lead into a song that feels like its polar opposite? The change in BPM alone could give a person whiplash.
Following the Sobrals’ win in Kyiv, we saw an uptick in non-English-language content, as well as a broadening of genres. Furthermore, in Salvador’s case we saw a winner who saw Eurovision as a single stepping stone in a career, rather than the be-all, end-all. While Contest success would be lovely, Salvador was more focused on projects he had on the boiler back in Lisbon.
I saw echoes of this in AWS, as well. These guys came into the show as outliers, with a divisive song in a language spoken by few outside their borders. They had nothing to lose, so they went headlong into this musical festival, showcasing what they did best on their own terms. They were unrepentantly true to themselves, and while it didn’t result in a victory, they ended up with a ticket to the Grand Final, a precious and much sought after slot at Wacken Open Air, a #2 album in Hungary (their highest chart placement to date), and a meme-able moment that will live on forever.
Even beyond the unlikely parallels between AWS and Salvador Sobral, it was just a damn fine song. Their energy was palpable, their performance raw and honest, and their use of pyrotechnics rivaled your average Apollo mission.
‘Viszlát nyár‘ proved that a song can have fireworks and feelings.
‘(Can’t Keep Calling) Misty’, by Frankie Animal (Estonia, Eesti Laul)
One of my favorite moments in the annual Eurovision Song Contest routine is my first pass-through of the candidates for Eesti Laul. It never fails to provide a mix of brilliant (or at least memorable) songs to keep my playlist fuelled for the rest of the year. As I ploughed through the list for 2018, one song grabbed me by the lapels and still hasn’t let go: Frankie Animal’s ‘(Can’t Keep Calling) Misty’, a bluesy rock number that sounds both classic and modern, all about grasping onto the last threads of communication in a failing relationship, even when the ones involved know it’s unhealthy.
Slinky, coy vocals from Marie Valga leading into a chorus that flows like warm honey and a ripping guitar solo, combined with a staging that felt less like a National Final performance and more like you’d wandered into an intimate underground club… I was hooked.
The rest of their back catalogue is just as strong, including their collaboration with Juri Pootsman, ‘Funny’. (I was sure to include both tracks on a Eurovision-inspired driving playlist I set up during a recent road trip through Scotland. Even my boyfriend, who is generally Eurovision-unaware, was into them, which says a lot.)
I dig through National Finals in order to find hidden gems, and ‘Misty’ was an absolute diamond.
John Egan (58 Points)
‘Mall’, by Eugent Bushpepa (Albania)
To be fair, the Festivali i Kënges preview video of Eugent Bushpepa lipsyncing in what looked like my Parents’ basement was far from remarkable – even he looked embarrassed. Bushpepa comfortably won the Festivali, albeit with a four and a half minute version of ‘Mall‘; we would have to wait and see how it would survive the three minute chop for Lisbon
We didn’t get a live, high quality audio performance of the Eurovision version of ‘Mall’ until the preview party circuit was wrapping up in April. There was a bit of a frisson after that; Bushpepa’s epic vocals certainly commanded attention. And yet, few seemed to rate Albania’s chances in 2018.
Lisbon was my first year on-the-ground for an entire fortnight inside the Contest’s bubble. The intial Albanian run-through came on that first Sunday morning, after the rather uninspiring sessions with Azerbaijan and Iceland. But ‘Mall‘? Camera shots were all sorted and the audio perfectly mixed. The vocals? Bushpepa motored along until the first chorus and then let it rip.
It was during the bridge – when he just sort of casually makes side-eye contact with the camera that he knew was going to be there while hitting the mother of al rock howls – that sent a ripple through the press room. Another run-through; he did it again. And again, two more times. Eurovision had itself a proper rawq gawd.
While the public didn’t quite love Mall as much as jurors (18th with the former, 7th with the latter), eleventh place in the Grand Final is the third best ever result for the delegation, and the second best ever for an Albanian language entry.
‘Together’, by Ryan O’Shaughnessy (Ireland)
It was all planned. ‘Twas all his Mam’s fault. And also Salvadorable’s.
In May 2017, as Portugal romped to an unlikely Eurovision triumph, Mrs O’Shaughnessy ostensibly turned to her musician son and said ‘why can’t you represent Ireland at The Eurovision?’” Musicians doing the hard graft, it seems, saw in the Sobrals’ win in Kyiv (and Jamala’s the year before) something of a game changer. If a timeless bossa nova ballad sung in Portuguese can win both the public and jury votes, why couldn’t their music find an audience on the Eurovision stage?
Together, as it turns out, was presented to RTÉ as a comprehensive package. Team O’Shaughnessy crafted it as a three minute song specifically for the Song Contest. They had storyboarded the preview video and staging for Lisbon: RTÉ wrote the cheque and provided some video production nous. ‘Together’ was as much a campaign as an entry.
Yet… while other entries were delivered fully formed at their first rehearsal in Lisbon, Ireland needed their rehearsals to workshop camera angles and lighting. To be honest, the first rehearsal was majorly awkward, but each run-through improved a bit. Things were a lot better for the second rehearsals, and after that, things were largely locked in.
I wasn’t convinced Ireland would qualify… but I knew ‘Together’ was worthy of qualifying, which hasn’t been my opinion of most of Ireland’s recent entries. The whole package was just wonderful. That squee you perhaps heard from the bowels of the press room on Tuesday night? That was me when Ireland was announced as the tenth qualifier.
Lisbon totally transformed my way of assessing Irish entries. A good result is nice: being proud of our entry is more important. As a member of the Irish diaspora I was proud of ‘Together’. Ryan O’Shaughnessy managed to wipe away a lot of negativity around the Contest in Ireland by taking it seriously, stay true to his own creative voice, and having a bloody good time while doing it. Imagine a Contest where every participating broadcaster did exactly this: send an entry it could be proud of.
Philip Colclough (On Europe)
‘OK ou KO’, by Emmy Liyana (France, National Final)
Well sitting at my desk at work, I chose this song as a moment of the year because it’s been in my head for months and it was playing over and over when the esteemed webmaster asked me to write something about 2018!
As you will read in other people’s words here (Monty specifically), the French National Final was a masterpiece. It showed that technically there would be no issues with ITV producing the Eurovision Song Contest for the UK if the BBC ever gave up (this was a France 2 production in association with ITV Studios France) but of course the French music industry’s current opinion to both Europe and the Song Contest isn’t exactly in step with the UK – but enough about that, it’s this song that matters.
‘OK ou Ko‘ starts with a thumping backbeat which Emmy does her very best to drive along during the first verse. To me, it’s a perfect combination of a beat that literally shakes me to my soul and a performer who you instantly believe and, frankly I wouldn’t like to get on the wrong side of Emmy because she could take me in a fight and, I suspect, part of me likes that!
The thumping beat goes through the entire song instead of wimping out like so many songs do. However for me it’s the what might have been that makes it. This song could have won the Song Contest with the right staging. I don’t say that lightly but if Loic and his chums can come quite high up the board with a song that is not dissimilar in style then France2 could well have put their shoulder to the wheel and done something similar with Emmy. The potential is there for all to see in the video, the song is there, the Jurors saw it… yet the Televoters went for a more populist song.
Death to televoters!
‘Outlaw In ‘Em’, by Waylon (Netherlands)
Yes, some of you will have had gone apoplectic when you have seen the title of this ‘Moment of 2018’ but stay with, because you’ll agree with me soon enough.
First off, the studio version of the song is excellent when taken in isolation. It’s a well rounded country-pop song (albeit one that Garth Brooks would have rejected in his pomp), but be that as it may it has a beat that gets your toes tapping and lyrics that are just the right side of cliché for a song of this genre, especially when he just plays it straight in the Eurovision video recorded in The Melkweg (the version we’ve used below). Couple that with Waylon’s well-practiced southern drawl (more Limburg than New Orleans though) it’s not a bad listen.
And then you turn up to Lisbon and all hell breaks loose.
There he is lauding over his two black male dancers like he’s some nineteenth century colonialist in a leopard skin jacket pointing and seemingly making them dance at his command. It looked absolutely wrong to everyone …but not the Dutch.
To Waylon, the Dutch commentators, Dutch fans and certain members of the Dutch press it looked fine and we were over-reacting and some of us were even called Social Justice Warriors. I did think the words they were looking for was “human” but it lost translation from Dutch to English …yes lets say that. Thankfully someone at AVROTROS saw sense, or at least saw what we were saying about it, and sanded down some of the rough edges of the performance but it still didn’t sit well for the rest of the rehearsal period.
So why is this a moment of 2018? – I guess it’s the point when the power of what I write and say in a Eurovision context comes to the fore. Broadcasters shouldn’t go blindly into the Eurovision Song Contest and believe they are always right and the community, so often derided, do know something. It might not be much and it might sound discordant, but it proves that we should never stop shouting to improve the end product.
Richard Taylor (Eurovision Ireland)
‘Every Single Day’, by Felix Sandman (Sweden, Melodifestivalen)
In recent years, Melodifestivalen entries have drifted into the vaults of time, but ‘Every Single Day’ seems to, in my opinion, have bucked that trend.
Just like when Sanna Nielsen lost out to Charlotte Perrelli back in 2008 with ‘Empty Room’, we have an entry that is memorable for all the right reasons. Like ‘Empty Room’, ‘Every Single Day’ provides great storytelling through drama, emotion and overall performance.
Had Felix Sandman qualified for Lisbon, I’m sure we would’ve had seen a better connection with the audience when it came to the voting.
‘Perta’, by Manw (Wales, Junior Eurovision)
Finally, one of our regional languages has finally made it to the Eurovision Song Contest stage – albeit the Junior version. Welcome Welsh!
Ever since S4C took the runner up spot at Eurovision Choir last year, they’ve aimed to go bigger and, without the presence of a national broadcaster, they were allowed to take to the Junior Eurovision Song Contest stage in Minsk.
While Manw failed to win over the juries and the online voters, she brought Welsh to the forefront in one of our beloved contests. Just like ‘Every Single Day’, ‘Perta’ too had the drama and emotion, which for me helped make this entry a stand out amongst others.
Robyn Gallagher (Wiwibloggs)
‘Storm’, by SuRie (United Kingdom)
Coming into Eurovision: You Decide 2018, it seemed that the UK had at least a couple of strong contenders. But to the surprise of many, the National Final was won by Eurovision Song Contest veteran SuRie (albeit with Belgium) with her song ‘Storm‘. It was, however, no surprise to those who attended the show in Brighton, who reported that SuRie was the only act who really connected with the audience. She was also praised for her excellent social media presence, showing a smart, witty character – like your cool friend who just happened to also be doing Eurovision.
But ‘Storm’… well, it wasn’t the best song. It felt dated and didn’t come remotely close to the sort of singles that dominate the streaming charts – or indeed the songs that do well at the Song Contest.
In Lisbon, it became clear that even though ‘Storm’ might not be the best song, SuRie was a great performer. She put everything into the performance and her seamless recovery from the stage invasion is something that few could have managed.
Perhaps to no one’s surprise, the song didn’t do especially well with either the jury or the televoters, resulting in yet another 24th-place finish for the UK. If there’s a lesson to be learned by the BBC it’s this; don’t waste your best performers with average songs.
‘Tempel’ by Indrek Ventmann (Estonia, Eesti Laul)
After Salvador Sobral won Eurovision 2017 with the lovely ‘Amar Pelos Dois‘, the 2018 National Final season had more than a few songs inspired by its gentleness. Estonia delivered its moment of Zen with Indrek Ventmann’s ‘Tempel’.
The song was simple and short, clocking in well below the three-minute maximum. The lyrics were equally simple, mostly consisting of a frequently repeated mantra (in Estonian) that painted quite the chilled-out picture. “Here is my temple, the springs and the palm trees/Here is my peace, here is my peace”
At Eesti Laul, Indrek sat still on stage as the distractions of the modern world buzzed around him. Chatter, electronics, bright lights, media (and a Koit and Laura coffee mug) tempted him, but he was immune to their allure, just being peaceful in his own world.
With the 2019 line-up of Eesti Laul now published, it seems that the classic left field acts are mostly absent – and that’s a pity. Even if a song like ‘Tempel’ is not a likely contender for Eurovision, it’s still a pleasure to have it in the lineup, bringing a little moment of Zen to the otherwise chaotic National Final season.
Monty Moncrieff (OnEurope)
‘Tu Cancion’, by Alfred & Amaia (Spain)
I’m not usually given to overblown saccharine schmaltz, so it was as big a surprise to me as it was to almost everyone I mentioned it to that I loved this overblow saccharine schmalz from Spain. I mean, really loved. There were times I had to pinch myself to check I hadn’t gone to bed and woken up as drenched in puppy love as poor Alfred himself.
No, I still can’t really explain it. I’d not followed their story, or their TV talent selection, but something about the way this ballad soared into that swooping crescendo of ‘Siento que bailo por primera vez’ steered it in just on the getting away with it side of the queso. Despite all the sugar-coating the teenage emotion of their burgeoning love underpinned this with a genuineness that you could completely relate to, even if you did have to watch it cringingly through your fingers at times.
By the time of the promo video and studio version they’d managed to rein it in to the point where you were at least convinced he’d make it to the end of the song without popping. Ironically this also meant that by the time they got it to Lisbon it had been rehearsed to within an inch of its life and the additional two months of life’s hard knocks has squeezed some of its spontaneity from it.
The Spanish fans’ had double-dropped their enthusiasm pills, urged on by both a tabloid romance and the opportunity to bury their determined indifference to Manel Navarro from twelve months earlier. Fever pitch took over Lisbon’s Bairro Alto on the Friday night as the song tinkled from a thousand mobile phones in the tiny, cobbled streets, masked by about ten thousand (mostly) male voices screeching along. It was hard not to be enthused for, if not exactly with, them. It was always a long shot but I did see a route to victory for this if a lot of other conditions were met, albeit one that was scuppered the moment we saw the running order.
‘Eva’ by Lisandro Cuxi (France, National Final)
Like Phil, I wasn’t prepared for the French National Final. I had read or previewed nothing about it before the first Semi Final so it came as a hugely welcome surprise to me that it was actually bloody brilliant. A refreshed formula was so welcome for a country that I believe has not received its due rewards for being bold at the Eurovision Song Contest, an unrequited history stretching back as long as Joëlle Ursull, albeit not in every year.
Standout performer for me was Lisandro Cuxi, hot from France’s ‘The Voice: La plus belle voix’. I liked his competing song ‘Eva’, but I’m cheating slightly here, as this is my musical moment only insofar as it opened up his 2017 hit ‘Danser‘ and album ‘Ma Belle Etoile’ to me, both of which stayed on my playlists all year. Although to be honest I could pick the entire French selection as it was so nice to see this level of effort being made with contemporary artists.
‘Eva’ is good, but it never quite hits the standard he finds on his debut release, which leaves me hoping his National Final experience was a good ‘un and we’ll see him back in it soon. Just imagine if he could deliver France their long-overdue win.
‘Tror du att han bryr sig’, by Benjamin Ingrosso & Felix Sandman (Sweden, Post-Contest)
The one track from the 2018 Eurovision season that really, really stuck with me was Felix Sandman’s vulnerable ‘Every Single Day’. The track was positively Troye Sivan-esque with its stark honesty and Sandman’s performances were contemporary, effective and memorable.
I curled my lip when Sandman lost to Benjamin Ingrosso’s forgettable slice of Swedish radio-pop, ‘Dance You Off‘. Ingrosso went on to achieve one of the biggest snubs of recent Swedish Eurovision history when he received just 21 points by the public in the Grand Final (although the jury vote pulled him up to a respectable seventh place overall). I felt vindicated. Felix Sandman would not have won in Lisbon, but his song had been the more interesting choice for Sweden.
Enter ‘Tror du att han bryr sig‘ – Ingrosso’s first single after his mildly embarrassing experience in Lisbon. A duet with… Felix Sandman! Swedish lyrics are an interesting choice for artists poised to break outside of Scandinavia, but it felt like a defiant statement for them both. “Do you think that he cares / cares the way I care about you?” they sing – both detached and too cool for school with Ingrosso’s slick, summery charm and Sandman’s slight brittleness on display.
The lyrics are curiously gender neutral, the beat is radio-friendly, and the vocals mingle effortlessly. The end result is a song that is heavy on ambiguity but easy on the ears. Maybe this should have been the real contender for Sweden?
‘Under the Ladder’, by Melovin (Ukraine)
In 2018, Ukraine entered Melovin and I think this is closest I’ll ever get to see Patrick Wolf at the Eurovision Song Contest. Whenever the Song Contest season rolls around I find myself hoping that this is the year that the BBC manages to coax Wolf out of semi-retirement and onto the Eurovision stage. Wolf’s curious brand of camp, cynicism, romanticism, and high production values always seemed destined for greater things than niche singles on BBC Radio 6. Alas, I’ve waited a decade and it hasn’t happened.
‘Under The Ladder’ was the recipient of early hype but became the underdog a long time before we even made it to Lisbon. I loved everything about it: the intensity, the high drama, the conviction, and the staging. Ukraine clearly got the memo that this year was all about pyro, death, and drama — what better way to achieve this than put Melovin in a vampiric outfit, catapult him out of a piano-coffin, and then set everything on fire?
It was memorable, even if Melovin was given the slot of death. I don’t think a song has won from being first in the running order since Herreys in 1984, and it wasn’t going to change this year. ‘Under The Ladder’ proved an effective contest opener (I saw plenty of “vampire guy from Ukraine” tweets) but was soon buried under an avalanche of pyros, pelicans, and maneki-neko figures. I think the song is blooming lovely and has stood the test of time while other entries have lost their allure.
Patrick Wolf, your move. Can you do better?
Roy Delaney (Eurovision Apocalypse)
‘Toy’, by Netta (Israel)
“I think you need to look at this, Roy…”
I love it when my readers give me tip offs and local knowledge on Eurovision Apocalypse, and when an especially reliable regular called Ido dropped me a note back in the first week of February I quickly rushed to click play on the YouTube link he’d sent. It was from the early stages of an Israeli casting show called HaKokhav HaBa (Or The Next Star to you and I), and a lass called Netta Barzilai had utterly blown the audience away with a barnstorming loopstationed version of the Spice Girls’ Wannabe. I was hooked on the spot.
Of course, there was no guarantee that she’d even make the next round of the show, let alone the Eurovision Song Contest proper, so leftfield was she as a performer. But her creative presence was enormous, and I figured that if she made it to Lisbon then she’d stand a very good chance of doing very well indeed. I quickly checked the odds for Israel at the bookies and found them to be incredibly favourable, so popped down a respectable little cover bet, then sat back and anxiously followed the action for the next few weeks.
This turned out to have been something of a wise move, as this beautiful creature not only wiped the floor with all before her back home, but her knock-’em-dead performance in Portugal tapped into the prevailing #MeToo atmosphere of the time, and effectively paid for my trip to Tel Aviv next Spring. You can often overthink Eurovision and talk yourself out of things that are sitting plainly before you. But sometimes you’ve just got to go with your gut and stick with the thing that you first thought of, as more often than not it’ll pay off for you. Especially when the artist is as charming, talented and unique as Netta.
‘Canção do Fim’, by Diogo Piçarra (Portugal, Festival da Canção… briefly)
Most years my second pick would be some bonkers-in-the-nut confection from a far and distant land. But this season there was a song that touched my heart in such a manner that it’s still flowing around my music-addled brain to this day. The only problem was that it was already somebody else’s…
The moment I heard that Diogo Piçarra would be taking part in Festival da Canção I was excited.
Salvador’s massive win the previous year had encouraged some of the big hitters of the Portuguese scene to come out and attempt to represent their nation on home ground. And what an utterly beautiful piece of work it was. Gentle, understated, and powerfully performed, I was drawn into my telly with every word this consummate storyteller effortlessly breathed out. Understandably it won massively with with both the juries and the folks back home. But that’s when the issues began.
For somebody watching had noticed that the song’s structure was almost identical to the the obscure Pastor Walter McCallister song ‘Abre Os Meus Olhos‘. It’s still not clear whether this was a deliberate ploy to borrow the melody from a lesser known release, or merely a forgotten earworm that was unwittingly woven into the fabric of the new song. But either way, Diogo immediately stood down from the Contest, and in one fell swoop we were robbed of an entry that would surely have been another big contender for Portugal rather than the table proper they eventually plumped for. However it turned out, we’ll always have this performance – one that utterly stopped me in my tracks. How flipping dreamy is this!
Over To You
Along with part one, those are the Musical Moments of 2018 from ESC Insight and the friends of the parish. Now, it’s up to you. What songs did we miss out, which singers caught your heart, where was the lyric that made your emotions soar? Let us know in the comments.
And if you want to support ESC Insight as we cover the Song Contest during 2019, please visit our Patreon page, patreon.com/escinsight.