Next morning: the results
[edit – posted the next morning, Sunday 13th May 2017]
My predictions were:
- Portugal (correct!)
- Italy (actually 6th)
- Sweden (actually 5th)
- (or 5.) Bulgaria (actually 2nd)
Not my best year so far, but not my worst either.
- Successfully predicted the winner (Portugal)
- All my top 3 were in the top 6
- I was too snarky about the Moldovans (though I maintain it’s a terrible song)
- I was right to stick up for plucky Bulgaria
- The voters liked Belgium’s misery-fest more than I did
- Italy might have scored higher but apparently self-sabotaged their performance on the night with a dancing gorilla.
[original pre-live blog below, with videos embedded]
[Written at at 9:14pm GMT on May 13th 2017, before voting begins]
(Bulgaria also somewhere in the top 5)
How to use this blog entry
When the show begins, scroll down to the first performer (Israel) and read the text live along with the show, or just watch the videos. Intro
Welcome to the 2017 Eurovision live musicology blog, now in its seventh year. This site has provided live music analysis of the ESC final every year since 2011, previously during the UK live broadcast. Since 2016, the text has been written from Boston USA, 5 hours behind UK time and 7 hours behind the International Exhibition Centre in Kiev.
The Contest is now broadcast in the US, which would be a 3pm start time here, but the final usually (as this year) coincides with my students’ Commencement. So blog will still be ‘pre-live’, but the comments and predictions are published an hour or so 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. For any non-Europeans who are unfamiliar with Eurovision, the Wikipedia page gives a great overview.
As before, I’ve posted 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, but I’ve gotten close with the top few most of the time.
(scroll down along with the show, or if you’re reading this after the show has ended, watch the videos)
1 Israel – IMRI – I feel alive
Lots of builds here, harmonically and dynamically. The whole song form is three big ramps; the first is from the intro through verse 1 to the end of chorus 1; the second from verse 2 to the end of chorus 2; then a drop bridge, with a final ramp to the end. There are really two 8-bar pre-choruses, both of which use the chorus chord loop of Ab | Cm | Bb | Fm – so you get the feeling of chorusyness two, arguably three times. The song could be called ‘breaking me to pieces’ and have a perfectly good chorus, but when he hits the high autotuned C note on the title’s “I feel alive”. I’m typing this based on the video – so for those watching it live, see how they manage that high falsetto note. His ability to hit it (or mime convincingly to it as a ‘backing’ vocal) could affect the score bigly. Sorry, typing this from America.
2 Poland – Kasia Moś – Flashlight
A Hungarian YouTube commenter has just written “It is one of my favorite musics” and although I wouldn’t personally go that far, I’d say this a brave power ballad from the Poles. There’s elements of Bond themes (obvs) and a strange reference to the end of hte pre-chorus of the theme from Fame). The chord loop is Dm | Bb | Gm | Asus4 A | for all sections, and each verse ends on a note of E, ascending to A, which feels like they’re about to sing “remember my name… FAME!” (party game – try singing this at the end of every section). You might argue that my four-bar loop is actually 8 bars, depending on whether you count it as a turgid 60bpm or a predictable 120bpm (which is where they probably set the software metronome). I’d say the whole thing feels half time, because the chorus favours athemic at the expense of energetic. The chord loop never wavers, so it’s just ‘wedge of cheese’ all the way – keep adding more stuff for ever-increasing DIVA ANTHEM POWER. Not ridiculous at all by Eurovision standards, but unlikely to win. 65%
3 Belarus Naviband – Story of my life (Historyja Majho Zyccia)
No relation to 1D. Thank you Belarus for providing our first interesting rhythmic grooves of the night so far. This one apparently, and perhaps bravely, hopes to start a new tradition of super-fast (155bpm) 12/8 time Eurovision winners. The intro is a really cool E-Esus4 hammer-on arpeggiated electric guitar riff based on the top four strings of the open E chord, leaving lots of opportunity for the guitarist to fiddle about with open harmonics on the top two strings throughout the verse. It’s not really a loop-based song either – the sections are 16 bars long, and rely on that E-Esus4 movement, which admittedly makes for a super-memorable “Hey! Hey! Ay Ay Ay Ay O” singalong outro. The chorus melody is the only thing that really lets it down – too bland perhaps – but the parallel sixths of the boy-girl vocal harmonies are a treat. My personal favourite of three so far, but I don’t think it will do well with dance fans.
4 Austria – Nathan Trent – Running on air
The long dark shadow of the guitar part from Justin Beiber’s ‘Love Yourself’ looms above this verse like a charcoal cutout of Ed Sheeran, but once you’ve got past that there’s a nicely timeless type song underneath – imagine this verse sung in the early 2000s by Corinne Bailey Rae or Macy Gray. Nathan’s a really appealing performer, but this song requires him repeatedly to hit high A (and a higher C# at the start of chorus 2). The loops are unapologetically cheerful – Dmaj7 | C#m | Bm | Bm A/C# | in the verse, F#m | E | D | Dmaj7 | in the pre-chorus, and A | Bm | D | Dadd9 | for most of the chorus. The lyric “if you push me down I’ll get up again” is probably not influenced by Chumbawumba.
5 Armenia – Artsvik – Fly with me
You know that recent Internet meme idea that all works of literature can be improved by replacing the second sentence of the first chapter with the words “And then the murders began”? How about “The song started promisingly with an implicitly 3/4 time slow piano intro. And then the synth bass riff began”. Imagine this played at half speed on a cello, and look behind you in the alleyway for the parting of the murderer’s cape. I conquered my fear halfway through verse 2 just in time to realise that the chorus had no melody. Unfortunate ordering too (not the fault of the Armenians or the Austrians) – both this song and the last one are 90bpm.
6 Netherlands – OG3NE – Lights and shadows
Old-school songwriting here, with long-form chord sequences and some interesting changes, including a quirky truck driver’s gear change to get us into a higher key for the chorus. The verse begins with B to E major back and forth, then a cool 6-bar pre-chorus of C#m | G#m F# | C#m | G#m D#m | D#m E | E |, making you feel like there’s a time-signature change in bar 5 (there isn’t). The block 3-part voices on the choruses are lovely (remember Wilson Phillips?) although they unfortunately obscure the chorus melody until the second phrase. There’s a really cool harmonic trick at the start of verse 2 where they use a C#sus2 chord to make you think it’s chord 2 of the previous key (B major). Actually, we’re already into a whole-step key change, but you won’t realise it until you’re already into verse 2 and they turn it into C# major over the line “every time a candle glows”. A classic Eurovision trope given a new twist. There’s also an entirely unexpected appearance of a Steve Vai 1980s guitar lick at the end of verse 2, and an entirely expected appearance of another key change (to D) for the final chorus. OK, so back to the song; much as I love these chord tricks, 95bpm won’t get people dancing, and the chorus melody is not big enough to drive the crowds wild in the arena.
7 Moldova – SunStroke Project – Hey mamma
Geography question: where is Moldova? Eurovision answer: way down the leaderboard.
8 Hungary – Joci Pápai – Origo
You can’t hide Eurovision predictability just by changing the chord loops, though the Hungarians are going to give it a try. There are three here – Am | C | G | Dm | (verse), Am | G | F | G | (first pre-chorus) and Am | G | Em | F | (breakdown and outro choruses). Nice violin part (or possibly an erhu or similar) that mostly does a good job of obscuring the vocal. The chorus is dreadful – not in the sense of ‘filled with dread’ like a terrifying Armenian synth bass riff: more like every chorus repeat is a dreaded obligation. Like a tax return, maybe.
9 Italy – Francesco Gabbani – Occidentali’s karma
It’s not easy to write a sentence that’s unique in world history, but “Italian Buddhist playing a Gibson Les Paul while eating sushi with chopsticks” is probably a candidate. [fellow guitar nerds – it’s actually a Guild Bluesbird]. This one opens with one of those short-decay spiky analogue synth riffs, which are around a lot right now (probably thanks to Shape Of You). The Italians are among the favourites with the bookies, and it’s a lot of fun to be sure, assuming no-one in the Asian or religious communities take offence. There’s not much in the way of chord loops, which is unusual for Eurovision, and there’s some structural quirkiness to each section; the verse loop is Cm | Eb | Bb | Bb | x2, mixing 1 and 2 bar changes, and the pre-chorus (which sounds pleasingly like a chorus until you hear the actual chorus later) is Eb | Gm | F | Dm7 |. The chorus itself is in 2 bars – you think it’s over by bar 8, but there’s another 8 whole bars of lyric-lite singalong opportunity. And the pre-chorus is 6 bars (Bb | Bb | Gm | Eb | Cm | F |) – enough to make you think you’re hearing a chorus. So there are at least 3 candidates for memorable hook sections, along with the lyric lines sung in English ‘Singing in the rain’ and ‘Sex appeal’. Quirky, camp, danceable and a decent melody. Nothing to hate here.
10 Denmark – Anja – Where I am
Middling effort from the Danes with this mid-tempo minor key anthem. A single chord loop pushes its way through the whole song, but it’s a little unusual, starting on the IV, and neither beginning or ending on the home key chord, making it want to loop endlessly – which it does throughout. In this key it’s F# | D#m | A#m | G# |, or in friendlier guitar-capo-1 speak, F, Dm, Am, G. Anja sings it really well, at least on the video I’m watching, hitting those final chorus high notes without sounding diva-esque or operatic. Nice but not world-beating.
11 Portugal – Salvador Sobral – Amar pelos dois
This is lovely – like an undiscovered jazz standard from the Great American Songbook, with just a hint of Jacques Brel by way of ‘Inch Worm’ and Harry Nilsson’s ‘Schmilsson in the Night’ arrangement of ‘Makin’ Whoopee’ (find it if you haven’t heard it – Gordon Jenkins’ lush string arrangements are beautiful). It sweeps through many a key between verses and still finds its way back to F major with a coherent and timeless verse melody. I’m watching this on video shortly before the live broadcast, so although it’s one of the front-runners to win, how well it does on the night is going to be dependent on how sincerely Salvador sings it live. A wonderful song though.
12 Azerbaijan – DiHaj – Skeletons
The intro is a mashup of Ultravox, Gary Numan and Depeche Mode, but downbeat. Promising start, leading into a less Euro-skeptic but no less morose chorus – the loop is D | Bm | F#m | F#m. Cool title, but the song is basic, in both senses of the word.
13 Croatia – Jacques Houdek – My friend
Voice over intro: “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” These Croatian chaps [SPOILER] subscribe to the latter point of view, by telling us “There’s a miracle my friend / and it happens every day”. If you must play along with this song, do it musically (by strumming F | C | Dm | Bb |) rather than ideologically – these guys are far too credulous to live in an evidence-based reality. The linking section before the middle 8 uses the outro loop from ‘Hey Jude’ (F | Eb | Bb | F), and we end with a key change into G major for the last chord, which is nice but not really miraculous. Unless you believe that everything is.
14 Australia – Isaiah – Don’t come easy
The words “Isaiah, Don’t Come Easy” contain all of the letters of the words ‘Sam Smith”. Coincidence? Another down-tempo ballad, and without any histrionics at the end, thankfully. The loops (Bm D | A G| and | Em Bm | A etc|) follow all of Milton Mermikides’ Aeolian rules, with a brief Stairway To Heaven chromatic descent in the bridge. Now that the Australians are more European than the Brits, they are doing a great job with Eurovision entries, and this is another competent ‘deux points’ attempt. Creditable but unlikely to see the top five. 58%
15 Greece – Demy – This is love
After a strangely Evanenscent minor-key intro. Demy quickly gets down to business – the song whips along at a 2012-ish dance-floor banger tempo of 128bpm. The chorus loops hit double time, adding energy built on some solid pre-choruses (the first of which uses chord inversions). The usual nonsensical mashup of Nice Songlike Words – love, stars, story, tonight, forever, reaching (out), one, everywhere. I don’t mean to single out the Greeks for this of course – it’s probably part of the brief for Eurovision songwriters – but the formula is on parade here. Will probably score similarly to the Cypriot entry.
16 Spain – Manel Navarro – Do it for your lover
The title of this song is Do It For Your Lover, as you will be reminded exactly 32 times. The chorus goes “Do It For Your Lover, Do It For Your Lover baby, clap your hands and Do It For Your Lover, Do It For Your Lover, Do It For Your Lover baby, clap your hands and Do It For Your Lover, Do It For Your Lover, Do It For Your Lover, Do it for those you ever care and love”. There’s an acoustic reggae arrangement in a Jack Johnson vein (there’s even a surfing theme in the video) over a loop of G D | Am C for the most part, with a rare moment of interest when the all-too-brief B7 chord arrives at the end of the chorus, but then we’re back on the treadmill. It’s possible to have too much repetition, and also it’s possible to have too much repetition.
17 Norway – JOWST – Grab the moment
Like many Eurovision fans, I generally expect at least one of the Scandinavian entries to be near the front of the pack. Sadly this year it’s definitely not the Norwegians. Thought experiment: imagine your five favourite songs with the word “kill” in the first bar of the chorus. There are some nice synth parts in the bridge with some weird chord transitions that might be described as ‘bendy’, but this doesn’t make up for the previous section where the sampler interlude bounces that word “kill” around the auditorium at various pitches. Presumably the hat is authentically Norwegian, but I’m not so sure about the DJ’s sparkly welder serial killer mask. 31%
18 United Kingdom Lucie Jones Never give up on you
How did they manage to make a tempo of 128 BPM sound so unexciting? The chord loop is Dm | Dm | F | F | C | C | Bb | Bb | and goes on throughout, apart from a short 4-bar pre-chorus of | Bb | Bb | C | C |. The mainly pentatonic verse melody does a decent job of providing an anthem-like feeling, and there’s a really nice tension note of E (“You don’t fall”) and the implied move into a more major-scale feel in the chorus. But the chorus opens with almost 3 whole beats of no vocal, which weakens the impact of the the singer’s titular promise. It’s a nice melody overall, and more memorable than some from the past, but the UK should be shooting for something that stands out more. This is all academic of course; even if we had a Swedish style dancefloor banger there would still be no hope for us – it’ll be hard to find a voting country that isn’t aware of Article 50. 56%
19 Cyprus – Hovig – Gravity
We have both kinds of dynamics here – mf and f. You might count this one at 75bpm, although I think they intend 150, at least for the chorus. Either way it’s really hard to dance to (yes, I tried). The chorus has a decent 2-bar melodic hook, and there’s a cool moment at the end of the second chorus when it rises from the home key of Bbm to Db major, but it’s all too brief. Inoffensive but average. Will probably score similarly to the Greek entry. 47%
20 Romania – Ilinca feat. Alex Florea – Yodel it!
Yodelling theme, with yodelled lyrics that appear to be about yodelling, and I confess I didn’t know about the popularity of this activity in Romania. Other than the gimmick, it’s standard/bland I-V-vi-IV loops for the most part – the ‘Axis of Awesome’ loop – over an unmemorable melody. Dead in the water – or maybe lost in the mountains. 32%
21 Germany – Levina – Perfect life
At first I was surprised this one wasn’t more hotly tipped. The vaguely ‘Every Breath I’ll Be Missing Your Titanium’ guitar intro was promising and the ascending phrases of the verse melody were developing nicely, but the chorus just didn’t lift itself high enough, even with three title repeats at the end. The Germans usually provide something more remarkable than this.
22 Ukraine – O.Torvald – Time
The first real rock song of the night, or at least the first electric guitar-led band. A lot of noise in the choruses, but O is not a great singer, at least on the version I heard today. Lordi’s 2006 ‘hard rock’ victory featured a great chorus hook, great costumes and a great vocal performance. The Ukranians will need to do more than just bring guitars to the show.
23 Belgium – Blanche – City lights
What is this melody remiscent of? Tweet me the answer in the comments @joebennettmusic – I’m thinking of that sus4 ‘danger zone’ move from Ab to G. Surprised this is such a favourite (top 5 for most bookies). The melody spends so much time down in the lower part of the singer’s alto range, and the chorus starts on the same low note (G below middle C) as the verse, so it’s difficult to feel difference in the chorus. I’m going to stick my neck out, literally against the odds, and say that this one won’t do as well as predicted.
24 Sweden – Robin Bengtsson – I can’t go on
Please, Scandies, deliver something classic for us.Robin’s sharp suit and sharp delivery seem to fit perfectly with that staccato bass riff over the intro and verse. The verse and chorus use the same loop of C | C | Em | D |, and the chorus “I can’t go on / I can’t go on / when you look this freakin’ beautiful’ is as epic as we’ve come to expect from the Swedes. Good job, everyone – but is it quirky enough to capture Europe’s imagination?
25 Bulgaria Kristian Kostov Beautiful mess
Angsty love ballad, with a cool drum part and nice big textures in the chorus. It’s side-stepping a lot of cliches – the loops are not the most obvious ones. The chorus loop is (in Cm) | Ab | Ab | Cm | Cm | Bb | Bb | Fm | Fm | – in loop cliche terms, and to misquote Eric Morcambe, the right chords, but *not necessarily in the right order*. Unusually, the title is taken from the verse, not from the chorus (so you might remember this song at first listen as being called ‘Untouchable’). This is high risk in Eurovision terms, but I call it brave. He’s an appealing performer, assuming he can hit those falsetto notes in the live show. In my top 5, I think.
26 France – Alma – Requiem
The French are known, quite reasonably, for often sticking to their mother tongue in Eurovisions past. So this chorus (“will you take me to paradise” etc) is probably a big deal for them culturally. Thankfully, this more moderate political position (the nationalist vote having recently been beaten at the presidential polls) may pay off for them commerically. This is good solid Eurovision-by-numbers, but it’s also extremely French, correctly highlighting the certain fact that in all cultures the harmonic minor scale is more ethnically authentic than the aeolian mode. Should do well, and who else are those disenfranchised Le Pen voters going to choose?