Eurovision 2018 – live music analysis blog #eurovision


 

Final results

[voting results entered at ~11.30pm GMT / 6.30pm ET on May 12th 2018. My predictions shown in brackets]

  1. Israel ‘TOY’ (2)
  2. Cyprus ‘Fuego’ (1)
  3. Austria ‘Nobody But You’ (x)
  4. Germany ‘You Let Me Walk Alone’ (4)
  5. Italy ‘Non Mi Avete Fatto Niente’ (x)

My predictions (actual placing shown in brackets):

  1. Cyprus ‘Fuego’ (2)
  2. Israel ‘TOY’ (1)
  3. Ireland ‘Together’ (16)
  4. Germany ‘You Let Me Walk Alone’ (4)
  5. France ‘Mercy’ (13)

So I missed Austria and Italy completely, but got the first two (albeit reversed) and predicted three of the top four.

Of the soft predictions:

  • The Danes’ ‘Higher Ground’ (my personal favourite) will do well, but won’t win.
    CORRECT. Denmark came 9th (of 26)
  • Finland’s ‘Monsters’ will be in the top half of the voting.
    WRONG. Finland were 25th out of 26!
  • The Netherlands’ competent and enjoyable US country-rock ‘Outlaw in ‘Em’ will get some votes but will be in the bottom half.
    CORRECT. 18th of 26.
  • The Estonian operatics won’t do well.
    WRONG. Estonia were 8th of 26.
  • The Hungarian metalheads will get crucified. Which will probably suit them just fine.
    CORRECT. Hungary were 21st out of 26.

Predictions

[Written at at 10:19pm GMT (5:19pm ET) on May 12th 2018, before voting begins]. As always, I’ll leave the predictions here permanently, and post the real results when the voting is complete.

  1. Cyprus ‘Fuego’
  2. Israel ‘TOY’
  3. Ireland ‘Together’
  4. Germany ‘You Let Me Walk Alone’
  5. France ‘Mercy’

Soft predictions:

  • The Danes’ ‘Higher Ground’ (my personal favourite) will do well, but won’t win.
  • Finland’s ‘Monsters’ will be in the top half of the voting.
  • The Netherlands’ competent and enjoyable US country-rock ‘Outlaw in ‘Em’ will get some votes but will be in the bottom half.
  • The Estonian operatics won’t do well.
  • The Hungarian metalheads will get crucified. Which will probably suit them just fine.

Intro

Screenshot 2018-05-12 14.56.41Welcome to the 2018 Eurovision live musicology blog, now in its eighth 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, this year, also the Altice Arena in Lisbon, Portugal, where the live show takes place.

The Contest is now broadcast in the US, with a 3pm start time here in Boston. This blog post is typed live, and I try to upload the comments around two-thirds into the song’s runtime so you can read the analysis before the next song. For any non-Europeans who are unfamiliar with Eurovision, the Wikipedia page gives a great overview.

As before, I posted predictions of the winners before the voting began. 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.

And, as always, I recommend music creative types (particularly songwriters and producers) read Milton Mermikides’ excellent ‘Deux Points’ article, which gives top tips on how to write those fair-to-middling low-scoring ‘Euro-formula’ songs. As you listen to tonight’s show, look out to references to the Aeolian mode aka natural minor scale (in music generally, the least exotic of all the minor scales; in Eurovision terms, an essential signifier of cultural and emotional authenticity). As we go, I’ll also point out all the vi-IV-I-V (6-4-1-5, or Am-F-C-G) chord loops, of which there are always many. To save time on technicalities, I’ll post the BPM, key and main chorus chord loop at the top of the commentary.

Ready? Refresh your browsers… now!

 


26 • Italy • Non Mi Avete Fatto Niente • Ermal Meta e Fabrizio Moro
BPM: 90 • Key: D#m 

Italy has won twice – in 1964 and 1992, and I’ve tipped them in the top three before. But, here, too many words. So many words. It’s not that they’re Italian words (I always prefer it when countries sing in the mother tongue, and the trend around the turn of the millennium of doing it all in English has thankfully receded recently). It’s just that those relentless 16th notes create so much repetition in the melody that it leaves too little for the lister to remember, after the first play through anyway. What we used to call a ‘grower’, back in the days when album tracks existed. Last lyric is “just like a bubble” and I fear this song may be similarly ephemeral.

50%


 

25 • Cyprus • Fuego • Eleni Foureira
BPM: 101 • Key: Bm • Bm D | A  Em |

One of the favourites to win, and it’s easy to hear why. Big campy intro, and a beat that manages to be simultaneously Latin and Euro-pop. This could beat all of the Scandinavians this year. Favourite lyric “you got me pelican, fly fly fly yeah”. The big minor penatonic vocal melody (and the similar reedy hook after the title line) dovetail really well, and the massive dropping 5th “Fuego” at the end of each chorus is a real crowd pleaser.

85%


24 • Ireland • Together • Ryan O’Shaughnessy
BPM: 94 • Key: F • Chorus loop | F Bb | Bb C | x2

“Name?” “Ryan O’Shaughnessy”. “Country of origin?”. “Oim naht tellin’ yer”. How much more Irish can this be? None. None more Irish.

Ever since the musical ‘Once’ came out, this sort of inoffensive singer-songwriter acoustic material has enjoyed a resurgence in the mainstream, no doubt with help from Ed Sheeran. Pleasant but possibly too sincere for diehard Eurovision camp-ers. Lovely dance duet in the foreground. Some lovely singing and classic heartbreak lyric writing, but really predictable. Despite this I liked the melody, and I’m thinking it could score highly. The falsetto is a little wobbly in the penultimate chorus tonight, which is a shame because the melody works well, and the song is really well structured, melodically and in form. Good stuff.

79%


23 • Netherlands • Outlaw In ‘Em • Waylon
BPM: 87 • Key: Em •

This is the only song to announce its key in the title. Kind of sounds like someone who’s just learned the riff for The Eagles’ Life In The Fast Lane but doesn’t like the twiddly bits. Apparently, this song was co-written in Nashville, and it’s the only obviously US-style song here. (The hat says Country, but the leopardskin jacket briefly mentions funk). Not sure about the random dancing guitarist in the waiter’s jacket – he seems to be grooving to a completely different song.

This is country-rock by the numbers, and really competently done. And, as my old editor at a music magazine said I should never write in a review, “people who like this sort of thing will like this”.

But, y’know… it’s Europe?

65%


22 • Israel • TOY • Netta
BPM: 130 • Key: D#m •

EDM and Ableton fans – looks like there are three Ableton Push controllers embedded in Netta’s desktop there. Very cool – they’re used (at least) as eye candy, although I can’t tell if she’s actually controlling them (hope so). “I’m taking my Pikachu home” is one of the less ridiculous lyrics here, providing an oasis of sanity amidst the yodelling and chicken noises. There’s a lot to unpack here – some good solid Girl Power sentiments, a few Gaga-esque rolled Rs, and a strangely Latin lolloping groove, plus lots of cool sound design in the vocals. It’s one of the favourites to win, but I’m not sure its quirky-ness will appeal to every country. It’s a lot of fun, and Netta is a fantastically playful performer, and although it’s not my personal favourite, with (sonic and melody) hooks that strong, I think it’s going to do really well. The crowd in Lisbon is going crazy.

85%


 

21 • Hungary • Viszlát Nyár • AWS
BPM: 82 • Key: D#m • Chorus loop: D#m | B C# |

Metal-est song so far. Proper metal, too – dropped tuning, double bass drum, the works. Sort of Pantera, a bit Metallica. Only the sweet harmony thirds vocal on the first two choruses give it away, but the one-chord breakdown before the Big Drop Chorus, and the alternately growling and screaming in the vocal takes it back to metal. And… oh. A key change up a whole tone (it’s Eurovision after all!). A brave effort, and will be a fitting metalhead bloody sacrifice to the all-powerful gods of Euro-pop. I liked it, but only because I like to see a guitarist with a job.

51%

 


 

20 • Sweden • Dance You Off • Benjamin Ingrosso
BPM: 109 • Key: Fm • Chorus loop: Fm | Fm | Ab | Ab | Db | Db | Bbm | Cm |

A revival of the stuff that Bruno Mars likes to revive. The chorus uses the same 8-bar loop throughout, and I like the lift to the major home chord in bar 3. The vocal is falsetto pretty much throughout, and doesn’t waver much at all, although there’s a lot of other stuff supporting it – vocal thickening, harmonies and an occasional vocoder. You could do a lot worse than always betting on the Swedes in Eurovision (and they’re my go-to favourite in moments of analytical indecision) and although I’m sure this has already filled the cosy and well-insulated dance venues of Sweden, but I can’t see Europe chanting this for the next year to come.

62%


19 • Moldova • My Lucky Day • DoReDoS
BPM: 122 • Key: Dm • Chorus loop: Dm | A | Gm | A |

Spice Up Your Life!

More vaguely Charleston-y samples here, with a celebrity-squares style theatrical set full of doors. Block harmonies owe equal debt to ABBA (as does all Eurovision) and The Spice Girls. Ends with ‘dummy dummy ding dong, dum de dah da’ – a nice nod to classical 1970s Eurovision. Fun!

61%


 

18 • Bulgaria • Bones • EQUINOX
BPM: 88 • Key: F#m • 

“You just gotta let go and feel it, feel it, feel it”. I’ll be the judge of that, thank you. This is one chord, for the most part, with moody melodies and big-picture spirit lyrics (fire, burning, universe, walls, soul etc). Cool little pentatonic riff on the outro F#-C#-C#-B-A “oh oh oh o-o”, before a dramatic drop a couple of beats from the end. Several lead vocalists, all equally solid and committed. Bleak, windswept and interesting (which coudl be a bias – this is how I imagine Bulgaria).

56%


17 • Finland • Monsters • Saara Aalto
BPM: 122 • Key: Cm • Chorus loop: Cm | Ab | Eb | Bb |

It’s so nice when someone breaks the mode. Here, when verse 1’s lyric sings “hiding there under my bed” – we get a really cool palate cleansing F major – a moment of the Dorian mode before we’re back into the inevitable 6-4-1-5- of the chorus. I think ‘Monsters’ is a good lyric idea – mischievous and quirky and not too Eurovision-y, which is why it’s interesting, and of course why it won’t win. Creditable effort though, and the melody has some nice twists. Saara is a strong performer (apparently she voiced Elsa in the Finnish dub of ‘Frozen’). Sadly the vocal is out of tune during the, er, 360 rotation of the backdrop that the poor woman is strapped to. The production is pure Euro-pop, with that filtered percussive bass sound that mixes well with the Hans Zimmer style toms playing under the later choruses. The vocal is more comfortable in the higher registers, albeit with a bit of a wobble on some of the held Cs. I blame the rotating backdrop.

65%


16 • Australia • We Got Love • Jessica Mauboy
BPM: 114 • Key: G • Chorus loop: G | G | Em | Em | C | D | G | G |

As we know, Australia officially became part of Europe in 2015. And they seem to have settled in well. This year they’ve put in something pretty good – why do the Aussies get Eurovision so much better than the Europeans? This song uses the Stand By Me / Every Breath You Take chord sequence (also Olly Murs’s Dance With Me Tonight). I like the “Don’t, don’t give up” over notes of C-C-B-F#, and the chorus works equally well at ballad or belter level. Not world-beating, but maybe partially Europe-beating.

68%


 

15 • Denmark • Higher Ground • Rasmussen
BPM: 82 • Key: F#m • Chorus: F#m | D | A | E | Bm / A | E | E | Bm |

I always like the Danes. They usually put something unusual forward, and very occasionally win (I still remember ‘Fly on the Wings of Love’ from around 2000).

So this is Danish people as proper Vikings. With sails, trenchcoats, wind, snow machine and goth eyeliner. Proper Scandie. Great melody here – I love the “Higher Ground” end of the chorus. Really cool key change after the 2nd chorus. The move up to Bm sounds like chord IV but it’s actually a key change up a fourth. We’re now in Bm (on reflection, it has been a bit growly thus far). Much better in this key. Credit to Denmark for the boldest key change of the night so far. And up again! Via Em, to C, to something like Esus, and back into a final pre-outro breakdown on F#m again. Is there going to be another one? Yes! We’re now in A minor, setting us up nicely for what’s bound to be a high note to finish. How high can he go? C above middle C. Not bad for a guy whose beard is flapping in the snowstorm.

78%


 

14 • Czech Republic • Lie To Me • Mikolas Josef
BPM: 106 • Key: F#m • Chorus loop: | F#m | E | (that’s it)

“Lie to Me”. OK, here goes. It was an excellent idea to have a faux charlston feel for the Czech Republic’s 2018 Eurovision entry. This is the most appealing song I’ve heard since Scatman John’s 1994 hit Scatman (Ski-Ba-Bop-Ba-Dop-Bop). Enough?

The boys provide some fun theatre here, with braces and schoolbags, and a token “what’s up Eurovision” to attempt to disguise the deadly muted trumpet sample. The crowd loved it. The rest of Europe, maybe not so much.

57%


 

13 • France • Mercy • Madame Monsieur
BPM: 97 • Key: Am • Chorus loop: Am | C | Dm | F | (+ TWO cowbells)

“My name is thank-you”.

As always, the French sing in the mother tongue, and Madame, here, is singing incredibly clearly – even my high school French is keeping in. Strong rising pentatonic chorus melody, and the chord loop is positioned in the lower middle of the predictability deck. The drop is just another (half) chorus, leading us to a ‘Mercy Mercy” outro over the chorus chords, which is more interesting than just repeating the chorus, albeit not dynamically powerful enough to send the crowd into a singalong frenzy. Original but also accessible. Probably in the top five, I’d say.

76%


 

12 • Albania • Mall • Eugent Bushpepa
BPM: 190 • Key: E • Chorus: E | E | A | A | C#m | F#m | A | B | E | E | A | A | C#m | E/G# | A | B

Tempo crisis! Is this 190BPM or 63BPM? I’m going with the latter, but it has plenty of motion, enabled by a big strummed E5 6/8 power chord. I’ve included the whole chord loop above, which is unusually long for Eurovision. Eugent hits a terrific screamed high E just before chorus 3, and returns to it – and even a tone higher, to F#, in the improv section. In fact, that was an A above that. Wow. Super powerful singing, and a solid song. If I recall correctly we’ve not had a 6/8 or 12/8 winner in a long time, but this isn’t it.

51%


11 • Germany • You Let Me Walk Alone • Michael Schulte
BPM: 150 • Key: B • Chorus loop: B | F# | G#m | E | (half-time / 75 BPM)

A hymn to Ed Sheeran by the Germans, featuring the Millennial Whoop / A Team 5th-3rd major key back and forth. I like the pacing of the pre-chorus, but the ‘one… two… three…’ chorus is arguably too sentimental for my tastes. And my tastes are pretty sentimental. But Michael is a solid/sincere sounding vocalist, and the chorus builds nicely. Chords-wise, we’re using the ‘With or Without You/Axis of Awesome’ loop – the second most popular after 6-4-1-5. Good enough to avoid the lower ranks, and could even make top five. The Germans put a lot of work into their entries every year, and this is no exception.

67%


10 • Serbia • Nova Deca • Sanja Ilić & Balkanika
BPM: 125 • Key: Bm • Chorus loop: Bm | G | Em | A (F#m) | x2  Em | G | Bm | A | x2

And… here’s the first ethnic instrument of the night. Something reedy – like a bagpipe with no bag (a good idea anyway?). And this rubato intro sounds (for all I know) like authentic Serbian singing. Even if it isn’t, it’s really lovely.

The chorus melody is kind of… specific (and of course Aeolian). Balkanika sing it better than Sanja. Despite the chords being more ambitious than the straightforward loops we’ve heard so far, this chorus isn’t setting the world (or even Europe) alight. Middling.

55%


 

9 • United Kingdom • Storm • SuRie
BPM: 116 • Key: Bb • Chorus loop: Eb F | Gm Bb | Eb Bb | F |

Possibly the best UK entry in a while. I like the big message of Euro-brotherhood (full disclosure: I voted Remain). “I Still believe in chasing rainbows…” and “Storms don’t last forever”. Hold hands together etc. Peace, love and optimism. It’s like Brexit isn’t happening. Melodically, there’s rather a lot of James Bay’s Hold Back The River in that chorus, but with pentatonic melodies the odds of coincidental similarity between two songs are shorter (SuRie – you can use that in court if you need it).

That was a really cool breakdown section, and although SuRie’s audibly out of breath (probably the monitor mix and the pressure to blame) the double chorus outro works nicely. Good, and should hopefully avoid “nul points”. Not that this isn’t a good pop song, it’s just that I set my expectations according to the political climate.

63%


 

8 • Portugal • O Jardim • Cláudia Pascoal
BPM: 120 • Key: Bb • Cm Bb | F |

Never really goes anywhere. Same loop all the way through. Does this song even have a chorus? Or are we listening to it now? Sounds like a jam session, and the vocalists are making nice vowely noises over the top (with apologies for my poor Portuguese). The chorus is coming soon, I’m sure, after this drop. Oh, here’s another drop, and a quiet bit. Chilling now, with a gentle fade down, then a diminuendo, followed by… the end.

35%


7 • Norway • That’s How You Write A Song • Alexander Rybak
BPM: 104 • Key: Fm  

That’s How You Write A Song. Specifically, a song by the Bee Gees or Chic – it opens with a ‘Stayin’ Alive’ style drum loop. Alexander is a really charming performer, and the vocal is solid. But I just hate songs about songwriting. It’s a personal prejudice, and maybe the voters won’t share it, but I can’t in all conscience love this one.

Sneaky! Norwegians have won the ESC with a fiddler before – and it’s a great fiddle line. And that ‘step one… step two…’ stuff has worked since Eddie Cochran. The audience in the room are loving it, as is my family here in Boston. But I’m staying here in grumpy corner.

57%

 


 

6 • Estonia • La Forza • Elina Nechayeva
BPM: 97 • Key: Dm • Chorus loop: Bb | Bb | Dm | Bb | Bb | Bb | C | F/A |

Someone always tries big-soprano opera. This year the Estonians are the first to shriek, and Elina cuts it brilliantly here – for pitches this high, it’s a lovely soft tone. Projection-mapped frock throughout. Classily done.

Melodically the verses feel like they’re just revving the engine without going anywhere, but the chorus goes off the scale – she’s at top Bb there, I think. It’s 97 BPM but feels like 48.5. Great showcase for Elina’s voice, and lots of big anthemic power, but not hooky or dancy enough for the voters?

50%


 

5 • Austria • Nobody But You • Cesár Sampson
BPM: 85 • Key: Bm • Chorus loop: Em Bm | A / / D | G / / D | G

This is more like it. Happy chords, great singable chorus melody. At 85 BPM it’s the slowest one so far, but the shuffle beat and handclaps keep it moving nicely. Proper dynamic range between verse and chorus, and solid choir work in the background. Ooooh there’s a middle 8! And it’s exactly 8 bars long, like a middle should be. Down for the drop chorus, down the octave, and for the big lift chorus, a huge band crash on the second beat of the bar, setting us up for the double chorus. Ends nicely on a mysterious-ish (m11th?) chord. Best one so far. Great chorus melody, universal sentiment, good vocalist. A lot to like here.

76%


 

4 • Lithuania • When We’re Old • Ieva Zasimauskaitė
BPM: 90 • Key: Gm • Chorus loop: Gm | Eb | Bb | F(sus4) |

If Ieva wants us never to forget the first time we met, some memorable harmony would be a big help. Another 6-4-1-5, albeit with a sus4 at the end. The vocal is deliberately underpowered in a slightly wobbly Sinead O’Connor / Cranberries style, and it seems like there’s a Big Dramatic Lift coming. There are some nice melodic moments, but that constant root-5th-root in the chorus melody is a bit wearing, saved only by the second half of the chorus when she soars – a little – up to the Bb note. There are images of old couples in the background that are slaying the audience – at least, the one in my living room here.

57%


 

3 • Slovenia • Hvala, ne! • Lea Sirk
BPM: 140 • Key: D#m • Chorus loop: D#m | B | F# | C#

Just the one note melody, then. Surely the chorus will bring something less predictable. Here it comes… it’s a… 6-4-1-5 chord loop! Repeat 4 times, and… STOP! “Are you ready to sing it with me?” “Hvala, ne!”. Crowd are kind of going for it, albeit with confused looks on their faces. And now, strangely, in a slightly rambling bridge, with a big ramp up to… a drop? And then it’s the outro. Could have been saved with a good chorus. And a better bridge. And the verses could use some work.

43%


 

2 • Spain • Tu Canción • Amaia y Alfred
BPM: 120 • Key: C • Chorus loop: Am | F | C | G (but some starts with C and Em)

This is the first of the 6-4-1-5 chorus loops, but there are some variations. Slightly varying a cliche is always a good way to make something popular. Competent harmonies, though Alfred’s vocal isn’t as strong as Amaia’s.

Double rising pre-chorus up to the big double chorus, with a drop leading into the outro. The American presenters liked this one, and it’s good to hear something in 3/4 this early on, but possibly too insipid for the Euro-dance fans. Not in the top 10, I predict.

56%

 


 

1 • Ukraine • Under The Ladder • MELOVIN •
BPM: 140 • Key: A#m • Chorus loop: D#m | F# | A#m | G# |

He’s trapped in a coffin, singing Beyoncé’s “Oh Oh Oh Oh” melody as an intro. And the chorus appears in the first 30s – straight to the point – with a decent rising minor pentatonic “oh oh… yeah”. Not taxing for the fans to remember. Pretty OK chords too. As diatonic minor key four-chord loops go, the chorus of the Ukranian entry is one of the lesser-used – starting on the D#m and only resolving to the home key chord in bar 3. Refreshing. But the verse is far too forgettable. Standard drop chorus, before the ramp up to the end with obligatory pyros. But oh, that vocal. Sometimes flat, sometimes sharp, but never in between. This is going to come out near the bottom of the pack. Unlucky (but that’s what you get for standing under a ladder).

45%


 

Comments

  1. Joe – Cyprus is fav at the bookies 5/4 – what are your 1,2,3?

  2. Would you have placed them differently if you had only heard the tracks and not seen them, Joe?

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