OK so I got two of the top three, and predicted Australia’s placing, but I underestimated the power of Jamala’s vocal, or perhaps the political impact of the lyric of 1944.
ORIGINAL PRE-LIVE BLOG
How to use this blog entry
When the show begins, scroll down to the first performer (Belgium) and read the text live along with the show, or just watch the videos.
Welcome to the 2016 Eurovision live musicology blog, now in its sixth year. This site has provided live music analysis of the ESC final every year since 2011, previously during the UK live broadcast, narrated by the much-missed Sir Terry Wogan and more recently by the equally nationally treasured Graham Norton. This year, the blog will be a little different, partly because I’m writing this from Boston, 5 hours behind UK time and 6 hours behind The Globe Arena in Stockholm. Happily, 2016 is the first year that the Contest will be broadcast in the US, which would be a 3pm start time here, but that coincides with my students’ Commencement, and I don’t want to get caught live blogging while awarding degrees. So the methodology this time around is that the blog will still be ‘pre-live’, and published ahead of the live broadcast of the final. This means I’m working from the published running order and watching the videos on the ESC website. So this means, for the first time, the blog will show the songs in performance order.
As before, I’ll post predictions of the winners before the voting begins. 2015 is the only year so far that all three were correct, and in the correct order. I’m less confident of stable predictions this time around; there are a lot of politics this year (Ukraine’s controversial song 1944 and Russia’s ongoing LGBT rights issues), and as we know the UK manages to upset the European community most years. From our chart-topping crowd displeaser in 2003 (Afghanistan war) to 2016’s Brexit isolationism, we tend to find a way to vote ourselves to the bottom of the rankings, not helped by some truly anodyne songs and ‘postmodern’ performer choices.
Through all this, my time so far in the USA has made me feel even more European than ever before, so here’s to Eurovision 2016 – long may your songs reverberate across the world!
I’m writing this at 1.20PM USA Eastern Time, which around three hours before the voting begins, and as with previous years, I’ll leave the predictions here and add the actual results tomorrow morning. I would love to see Austria do well, because it’s such a sweet song, and Ukraine’s 1944 could be a political vote against time, but I’m going with musical feelings rather than lyric, which, for me, puts the rhythmic Russians out front.
(if you missed the live show, you can watch all the videos here.)
1 • Belgium • Laura Tesoro • What’s The Pressure
Belgium opens the show, with this charming cover version of Le Freak by Chic, only three years after Daft Punk’s Get Lucky. At 117BPM it’s a bit more relaxed than some of the past winners, but it has plenty of energy due to some frenetic brass licks and some nice funky guitar/bass octave unisons in the verses. Unlike the Chic songs that it pays homage to (we might also add in Queen’s Another One Bites the Dust – which is the same thing), What’s The Pressure is in F#m (verses), and sorta modal F# major in the choruses. That lift up to A major at the start of the chorus and the drop back to F# major in bar 3 gives us two dollops of cheerfulness for the price of one. There’s no step-it-up key change at the end, thank goodness, which would be an affront to the Gods of Disco, although the spaced-out bridge section provides a bit of a harmonic breather before the chorus loop comes round (and round) again. The chorus title hook comes in half a bar after the downbeat, which I think weakens its impact, although it scans really well, and the backing harmonies give it some fizz. But it’s fairly predictable throughout and lacks anything to make it stand out from the pack. Mid-tempo, mid-quality, mid-ranking. Good start though. 64%
2 • Czech Republic • Gabriela Gunčíková • I Stand
12/8 power ballad at around 70BPM. This is one of those songs where you can tell how big the final chorus will be when you hear the quiet bit at the beginning. The piano player might be rolling up and down some simple arpeggios (Gm, Fadd9, Eb, Fadd9), but the cellos beneath are ominously predicting that Big Drum Fills Are Coming. I’m leaving the previous sentence unedited, so if I’m wrong, we’ll know in two and half minutes’ time. Wait – was that an early chorus on the Eb chord? If so it’s a bit turgid, though the string arrangements, vocal diva-isms later and Big Drum Fills will paper over the cracks, no doubt. And here’s the vocal drop, giving the maximum headroom to ramp up the crescendo… and here it comes… and… and… it’s over. No Big Drum Fills, no wind machine in the hair, no choirs. Never got out of third gear. This is not nearly big enough for a power ballad. Gabriela might be left standing in the vote. 55%
3 • The Netherlands • Douwe Bob • Slow Down
Nice sweet Tom Petty style guitar pop from the Netherlands. The verse chord pattern drives some lovely melodic lines in A major (Bm – E – A – Amaj7), which in the ‘Mister can you help me’ pre-chorus fools us briefly into thinking we’re in C major, but the repeating C – Em change actually implies G major. The melody goes up while the key drops down a tone – nice idea. And we stay in G major for the ‘Slow Down Brother’ chorus – G | Em / Bm / | Cadd9 | C/D / G /. This means that verse 2’s opening B minor chord sounds like a middle 8, which is a bit clunky in this context, but the discomfort goes away after the first couple of bars. Personally I loved it, but Eurovision doesn’t have an easy history with this kind of top-down Cadillac US guitar pop. And calling a song ‘Slow Down’ seems to reflect the opposite of Eurovision pull-out-all-the-stops philosophy. 60%
4 • Azerbaijan • Samra • Miracle
Azerbaijan gets the ethnic instrument in straight away, then samples and filters the bejeezus out of it to Make It Contemporary. The verse starts with a predictable three-chord Fm vamp, though the jump to F major in bar 7 is refreshing and unexpected and a little Bond-like.
And here’s the chorus, at 50s in, which seems to come from a completely different song. It’s big-fizz-pad anthem fare, and the ‘Gonna Take a Miracle’ title sounds great when sung over that chord pattern that constantly threatens to resolve to the relative major key of Ab, but keeps finding its way back to the Fm (the only thing in this chorus that gives any clue that the verse and chorus are from the same song). At around 96BPM, it’s neither danceable nor grandiose, and apart from that really great F major chord, doesn’t have enough to stand out for the voters. 57%
5 • Hungary • Freddie • Pioneer
Opens with a Cm-Ab-Bb-Gm loop played at 75BPM, in the style of Heart’s ‘Alone’, or possibly something ballad-ish by 80s rock diva (and recent UK Eurovision finalist) Bonnie Tyler. The video (and presumably the live performance) features a guy hitting a bass drum in the sky for some reason, and with little apparent connection to the drum part. The chorus opens with the Euro-friendly phrase ‘A million hearts of a million people’ and later ‘a million lives in a million temples’. The obvious title for this song is ‘A Million Hearts’. The actual title is ‘Pioneer’, a word that is buried at the end of a melodic line one bar from the end of the chorus. Might be difficult for the voters to remember. 50%
6 • Italy • Francesca Michielin • No Degree Of Separation
The Italians, starting the verse in the mother tongue, have put together this slightly unusual half-time-feel love song at around 75BPM. This one is refreshing for the relatively static chord changes in the verse – four whole bars of C major, with just a few sus4s and sus2s sprinkled in. But this relentless and dull major key melody feels meandering and overly scalic. It also relies far too much on two notes – E and F above middle C. The phrase ‘live in love’ over the notes C,B,E,F in the penultimate chorus is melodically beautiful, but too little too late after the march of those two overused notes. Nice drumming. 55%
7 • Israel • Hovi Star • Made Of Stars
Clever intro. The main loop of Gm-Eb-Bb-F(sus) is played as quadruple time, which gets us used to the loop quickly, and makes it more familiar when we get to the verse. This is the first six-four-one-five chord loop of the competition so far, although I’m sure there will be many more as the night wears on. They’ve varied it slightly, notably by playing the F chord in first inversion as F/A, and using the occasional sus4, but let’s not be fooled – this is the Sensitive Female Chord Progression in a classy wig. Scale melody, and nicely sung, but not a strong enough ballad to be near the front. 52%
8 • Bulgaria • Poli Genova • If Love Was A Crime
Beyoncé had the subjunctive mood right with If I Were a Boy. Midge Ure less so with If I Was…. But Poli Genova’s English grammar is way better than my Bulgarian, so we should let it go. Am-G-F-C is the verse (and chorus) loop, with a variation Am-Em-F-C in the ‘love was a crime’ pre-chorus. A simple diatonic chord loop, but surprisingly underused in Eurovision. The title hook appears in what feels to me like a pre-chorus. Or even if you hear the ‘love was a crime’ section as a chorus, the hookier ‘post-chorus’ is (according to the implied structure in the published lyrics) the Bulgarian phrase ‘О, дай ми любовта’, followed by the English phrase ‘They will never break us down’. I liked it, but singing the best bit in the mother tongue might be a votes risk. 48%
9 • Sweden • Frans • If I Were Sorry
Our second subjunctive mood song, back-to-back with the previous one, and this time the grammar is correct. Regular readers will know that I always place the Swedes near the top of my rankings, because they are just so good at Eurovision, and at pop songwriting in general. This year’s isn’t one of their best, but there are still some great things here. The vocal is performed in a vaguely Mike Skinner style Estuary English, and there are lots of cool production elements here – finger snaps on the back beat (and elsewhere), a very subtle string quartet in the pre-chorus, and a decidedly un-Eurovision sparseness in the arrangement overall. Curiously emotionally neutral lyric – it doesn’t seem stirring or even romantically wistful to say ‘if I were sorry’ although the vocal is delivered with an authentic sense of regret. A curiosity, but I’ll be amazed if it wins. One of my Swedish friends suggested that they wanted to avoid the top spot this year, because hosting the contest so frequently was costing taxpayers too much. Swedes are notoriously inscrutable; I couldn’t tell if he was being playful or smug.
10 • Germany • Jamie-Lee • Ghost
Finger-snap backbeats are clearly in this year. This song has the dual distinction of the first appearance of the key of Bbm tonight, and the largest number of F naturals in any melody. Every section relies on this note, and once you notice (it’s the note on which they sing ‘This is the voice’ and the word ‘ghost’) it’s hard to shake off the feeling that this note is following you around the room. Plodding. And not in a good way. 35%
11 • France • Amir • J’ai cherché
France is apparently one of the favourites this year, which is great news. Over the years I’ve seen them sabotage their chances with sheer bloodymindedness, providing chanson (fair enough!), punk and rock despite Eurovision voters having shown little interest in these things for more than 50 years. This is in a different league, and has many ESC-friendly elements – four on the floor groove at a perfectly danceable 124BPM, low pass filtering, danceable off-beat handclaps, pentatonic ‘youuuuu’ vocal hook. And they sing the choruses in English, clearly representing an attempt to build a bridge of peace across the English channel. Could do well. My favourite so far. 78%
12 • Poland • Michał Szpak • Color Of Your Life
The chords are a mashup of ‘Something’ (bars 1-4), ‘Stairway To Heaven’ (bars 5-6) and ‘I Will Survive’ (chorus). The melody does a great job on top of this, and I really like his vocal tone (on the video anyway – hope this tuning survives the live monitor mix on the night). The line at the end of the middle 8 ‘There is no smoke without fire’ is missing a syllable to scan properly, but he bluffs it out with by really going for it on the last word. And now to the final key changes. Perhaps surprisingly, 12 songs into the show, this is the first push-it-up-a-semitone chorus lift we’ve seen tonight. But wait – after doing half a chorus in the so common–it’s–inoffensive change from Am to Bbm, they use the F major chord over the ‘who you really are line’ to crowbar in a completely unexpected IV-i chord change, pivoting us from F major to C minor, less than 10 seconds from the end. This is the only song I can recall that goes up a semitone then a whole tone. End on a single chord of C major, because if you’re going to throw away the rulebook, you might as well throw it a long way. 60%
13 • Australia • Dami Im • Sound Of Silence
Em-G-D verse loop, and a nice two-chord half-length “caaaaallling” pre-chorus, all of which gets us to the first chorus less than 40 seconds in. Big dynamic range between the verses and choruses, and it doesn’t sound forced. The Australians (who are, as we know, now Europeans) have been following European pop (and the ESC) ever since their love affair with ABBA in the 1970s, and they speak the language without any hint of an accent. Close your eyes and imagine this is Malta, Norway or Germany. Apart from the mostly-stolen title, I really like this. Even though it’s a ballad, it’s my frontrunner so far. 86%
14 • Cyprus • Minus One • Alter Ego
For some reason the Cypriots seem to be flirting with Scandinavian rock imagery. The video even has guys in hoods, facial piercings and wolves. But no amount of Smoke On The Water double stopped guitar licks can disguise the Mediterranean origins – this is high NRG euro-disco in a leather jacket. And… YES! The first guitar solo of the night, and it’s a corker – full-on Van Halen fingerboard tapping licks, for four uninterrupted bars of joy before the disco fever erupts once more. A mashup that will probably alienate many, and although I think it’s a brave idea, the song isn’t strong enough to engage many countries. Except Malta and Greece, who love them whatever they do. 45%
15 • Serbia • Sanja Vučić ZAA • Goodbye (Shelter)
Opens with a nice variation on the six-four-one-five loop – in this case, Ebm, Cb, Gb, Bbm, making it six-four-one-three. There’s a strong chorus hook here, albeit a well-used lyric idea. The middle line of the chorus “could have fought my way out of your hands, found a shelter from the pain” is sung over the chords of Db, Abm and Bb. Try singing along here with this section of the verse from ‘Fame’ “You ain’t seen the best of me yet, Give me time I’ll make you forget…”. Fits rather too well, perhaps. We have the requisite ‘veneer of world music’ instrument at around 1 minute, and the semitone-up key change to E minor, and another last-minute major chord right at the end. The Serbians may be in harmonic collusion with the Poles this year. 57%
16 • Lithuania • Donny Montell • I’ve Been Waiting for This Night
More six-four-one-five looping, with the same first inversion fourth chord used by Israel. The chorus works from the same loop halfway through, making it the equally well-loved one-five-six-four. ‘Oooooh’ post-chorus anthem bit. Chorus melody concentrating on one note, and limiting its range, making it easier to sing along to. Big pad-heavy chorus production. This has all the ESC elements, but doesn’t have anything musically or stylistically interesting (or even particularly cheesy) to counteract its inherent blandness. If it wins, you will regret not betting one pound at least – on its current odds, you’d make £151. A seven thousand bet would make you a millionaire. Don’t do this. 45%
17 • Croatia • Nina Kraljić • Lighthouse
This chorus chord loop is so stretched out you almost don’t notice it – it’s six-four-five-three (Bbm, Gb, Ab, Fm). The verse chords are less predictable but by the time you’ve heard the chorus a couple of times you’ve forgotten them (well, I have, which is why they’re not written here). Standard whole tone modulation to Cm in the final chorus. There are too many songs like this one in 2016, and this isn’t one of the best. Nice Cranberries influence on the vocal. 51%
18 • Russia • Sergey Lazarev • You Are The Only One
The poly-synth stabs in the intro lure you into thinking you’re hearing 3/4 at a crazy 190 BPM, but as soon as the snare comes in your brain shifts gear and you realise you’re in a 12/8 shuffle at around 128BPM. The whole song relies on this implied-triplet rhythmic tension between the vocal melody, and it’s strangely intoxicating, though that might be because we’ve heard some much material that relies so little on rhythm to engage the audience. Harmonically there’s not much to write home about – the iv-IV-I-III chorus loop of Bm-G-D-F# has already appeared tonight (can’t recall where) but that thunderingly simple bass-snare beat against the cross-rhythm idea makes it one of the most exciting songs so far. The key change is a whole tone, and the unaccompanied ‘you’re my only one’ gives another tiny shot of adrenalin just when you think there are no more lifts coming. Really good. I suspect Swedish involvement. 80%
19 • Spain • Barei • Say Yay!
There are some cool backing vocals here, and I like the machine-gun fast delivery of the lyric generally. The ‘Madchester’ snare part in the breakdown takes me back to the early 90s, and the track has lots of energy, but all that fast delivery covers a fairly boring pentatonic melody, with no space in it, meaning it’s difficult to remember after a single listen. Very cool rhythmically, and more adventurous, but I don’t think it’s catchy enough. 63%
20 • Latvia • Justs • Heartbeat
A mostly pentatonic melody, which sounds improvised over a fairly unremarkable backing track. Horrible programming of that loping LFO synth bass, which throws the rhythm of the chorus off. The vocal is out of tune on the video, which doesn’t bode well for the performance on the night. Nothing to hear here. 28%
21 • Ukraine • Jamala • 1944
This blog never gets into politics, but all the press talk about this song suggests that if it does well, it may be due to the social issues raised in the lyric. If so this will be a big departure for the ESC. Personally I really dislike that ‘phat’ synth bass sound, but it may be that this is what the kids are enjoying right now. The drum groove is lovely though. The unaccompanied vocal candenza before the final chorus is great, and the minor 2nd interval (presumably a Ukranian folk music reference?) adds more authenticity. Jamala is an extraordinary singer, and that final vocal lick is just unbelievable – was that F three octaves above middle C? The melody doesn’t seem hugely inspiring, but I think the combination of performance and lyric might carry it. 74%
22 • Malta • Ira Losco • Walk On Water
More 90s Madchester drumming – where has this come from? Have the Stone Roses and The Inspiral Carpets toured southern Europe recently? Full-on diva alto vocal here, with some very powerful pentatonic licks, and a strong (and suitably bland) title. The chord loops are less safe than some of the others, but the melody in the verse is instantly forgettable. Or at least that’s my memory of it. Passable chorus, so I expect it will be in the middle of the pack.47%
23 • Georgia • Nika Kocharov and Young Georgian Lolitaz • Midnight Gold
Finally, some indie-rock. Every now and then a country tries it (which is admirable considering than no indie-rock song has every won). The A-G two-note riff against the beat is pleasingly un-Eurovision, as are the science-lab oscilloscope experiments that someone seems to be conducting in the background. Cheerfully anti-Eurovision, and it will get killed by the votes, but we need songs like this in the ESC – it shows that not everyone is aiming at the same target. Points for bravery. 17%
24 • Austria • ZOË • Loin d’ici
The Austrians singing in French. Nice gesture. The French have never sung in Austro-Bavarian. This is a proper old-school Eurovision chorus. Cheesy as anything the 1970s ever provided, and has some of the same melodic fragment ideas. The chorus doesn’t even use four-chord loops – the sequence is Em-C-Am-D–G-C-B7-B7. This could not be more dated. I love it. It cannot possibly win. 36%.
25 • United Kingdom • Joe and Jake • You’re Not Alone
I always watch the UK’s entry with a heavy heart. We have, for so many years, treated Eurovision as some sort of ironic joke, and thrown some truly terrible songs and performers at it. These boys represent a return to earnest, non-ironic pop, and IMO something of a return to form for my Motherland. The chorus chord loop of B-F#m-E-B isn’t over-used (and doesn’t appear anywhere else this year). Cheerful, and stands a chance of keeping us away from ‘null points’, but not near the top. 58%
26 • Armenia • Iveta Mukuchyan • LoveWave
ABBA-style whispered spoken word over the intro. The siren effect that brings in the first chorus sounds like it might be some kind of Shepard tone – if so I can’t recall ever hearing one of these at the ESC before. The ‘ooooooo’ vocal hook that underpins the chorus is really strong and incredibly memorable – more so than the rest of the song. The Ethnic Woodwind Instrument enters before the last chorus and plays a nice minor-key riff, which extemporises over four repeats, staying on slightly into the chorus. And the official lyric actually contains the phrase “Ba-ba-da-bu-whoa-oh-oh”, which ranks alongside Eurovision’s finest lines. This has lots of really good ingredients, and they have taken some modest musical risks here. But the song is way too serious – Eurovision is supposed to be fun! 54%