Yes, the live musicology blog is back after it, and the contest itself, has been absent for a year. We didn’t waste time though: Netflix asked us to analyse all 259 finalists 2010-2019 in celebration of the 2020 ESC movie. We learned a lot by looking at such a large body of songs: here’s the Eurovision 2010-2019 analysis blog post.
For 2021, I’m pleased to get back to the established format that I’ve been working with since 2011 – a live-blog analysing each song in Grand Final performance order, so you can read along while watching the show. As always, there will be analysis, commentary, and an attempt to predict the top 5 before voting begins. I’ll leave the [inevitably wrong] predictions up for posterity, along with the actual final scorecard.
This post is written the evening before (Friday), while I’m preparing the dataset, to explain a bit about the process, to provide some basic Eurovision facts (for Americans), and… to introduce my co-blogger. For 2021, I’m delighted and honoured to welcome my friend and colleague Mark Simos, Professor of Songwriting at Berklee and author of the book Songwriting Strategies, who is going to join me in live analysis of the songs. I thought it would be interesting to get an American’s perspective on the songs; like most Brits, I’ve grown up with the ESC, and am used to its other-worldly weirdness and its curiously specific musical and lyric tropes; my first ever vinyl record was Save Your Kisses For Me. Mark, on the other hand, has never seen the show, and comes from a folk-fiddle and Americana musical tradition, so who knows what he’s going to make of what is to come?
Until 2015, the blog was truly live – typing at breakneck speed with a metronome and guitar at my side. That was fine, but it meant that a few analysis mistakes crept in, and more importantly, it meant that people watching the live show could only read the blog entry after the song had finished, and had to hit ‘refresh’ between every song!
So to put this right, I’m now doing the blog ‘as live’, by typing in real time while we play back the relevant performances of the semi-finals. I did some preliminary work (with outstanding chord transcription work by Harvard PhD researcher and JBMS musicology intern Will Bennett), to get down the keys, BPMs and main chord loops for each song.
Mark and I then did a live-texting session (we’re both vaxxed but not allowed out just yet) while watching the video versions of each song. Sure enough, there were some Eurovision-y musical characteristics that seemed perfectly normal to me, after 40+ years of ESC conditioning and from Mark’s point of view seemed like they broke every rule (of songwriting technique, or of good taste).
ESC for Americans
The basics – things to know about the Contest:
- Each participant country uses their own process (usually a TV special with viewer voting) to select their song.
- 39 songs compete in the last week of May; two semi-finals reduce this to 26 in the Grand Final on the Saturday
- All countries can vote – but they can’t vote for themselves.
- In the live shows, all songs have to be less than 3 minutes in length
- The highest score per-country a song can receive is 12 points
- Greece always gives lots of points to Cyprus, and vice versa
- Hardly anyone votes for the UK because History and Reasons. Especially since 2016
- Until 2020, all vocals had to be live (all instruments had to be on a backing track). For 2021, backing vocals are allowed to be part of the backing track.
- The winner is announced at the end of the Grand Final, after around 60-90 minutes of voting.
- The winning country hosts the following year’s contest.
- More rules here
Italy is the hot favourite to win. Out of respect for Mark, I shall spell it ‘favorite’ from now on.