Eurovision Song Contest research

Regular readers will know that I have been live-blogging the Eurovision Song Contest final since 2011. Every year I sit down in front of the TV, metronome and guitar in hand, and write live musical analysis of the songs in real time, then attempt to predict the winner before the voting starts. Here’s the full archive 2011-2019 (spoiler – I only managed a home run in 2015, with all the top 3 correct, in the right order). My approach (in all musicology) has always been to try to analyse and understand the underlying songs/tracks on a musical level, and move past all the camp theatricality and geopolitics. I take the view that all popular music is ‘good’ by someone’s standard, and that it’s as interesting to analyse songs from a mainstream TV event like the ESC as it is to look at more obscure/highbrow material. Those who carry the scales of musicology should be blindfolded.

‘Volcano Man’ by fictional Icelandic duo Fire Saga, played by Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams. The songs in the movie were written by Atli Örvarsson.

In 2020, the planned contest in Rotterdam was canceled due to worldwide restrictions, but in a strange turn of events, Netflix asked me to undertake some academic research into the musical characteristics of the songs over the past decade. The research was commissioned in part as a celebration of the contest, and also to promote the release of the 2020 movie Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga starring Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams. Working with my friend and colleague Simon Troup (Digital Music Art UK), we analysed the 259 finalists from 2010-2019, immersing ourselves in the corpus over an intense 15-day listening period, and extracting high-level data (key, BPM, style, lyric theme etc) to see what we could learn about voter preferences and song evolution.

We’ll be publishing a pre-publication version of the research paper very soon, and the full academic paper sometime in 2021 after peer review, so this blog post is a preview of some of the early findings, with some song excerpts, and commentary on the songs from the 2020 contest that never was, and also some analysis of the songs from the movie.

Songs for Europe: a music and lyric analysis of 259 finalists from the Eurovision Song Contest 2010-2019

A research project in progress 2020-2022

Project Summary:

Two musicologists[1] have published the early findings of academic research analysing the 259 songs that have appeared in the Eurovision Song Contest finals 2010-2019. They used a combination of computer analysis, music transcription, immersive listening, and lyric interpretation to identify every song’s lyric theme, style, and musical attributes, and then analysed the data to explore the characteristics of the songs that attract the most votes in the contest.

Headlines:

  • There are six broad ‘archetypes’: Euro-pop, Ethno-pop, Ballad, Anthem, Schlager and Chanson.
  • There are six broad lyric subjects: Love, Unity, Self-Assertion, Partying, History and Music, with love songs accounting for 69% of the whole, and 83% of the top 3.
  • The most popular styles are Euro-pop, Ballad, Ethno-pop and Anthem, accounting for 79% of the total. The older styles (Schlager and Chanson) account for less than 5% of finalists.
  • The classic Eurovision cliché of a key-change in the final choruses is alive and well, appearing in almost 20% of the finalists, but not among any of the winners.
  • Eurovision appears to enjoy sadder songs in recent years – “winter” love songs have been more popular since 2018.
  • The most successful finalists are Azerbaijan and Sweden, who qualified 9 times out of 10 (UK, Germany, Spain, Italy and France aka the ‘Big Five’ are guaranteed a place in the final).
  • 65% of all songs were in a minor key; of these, more than half used the Aeolian mode aka natural minor scale.
  • The mean average tempo is around 104 BPM, although the actual tempos tend to group around 70BPM (Ballads) and 125 BPM (Euro-pop).
  • Eurovision winners are slowing down; the average tempo of the top 3 scoring songs dropped from 148 BPM (2010) to 76BPM (2019), helped by some successful Ballads in 2017 and 2019.
  • Many popular styles of music outside Eurovision (metal, hip-hop, rap, punk, trap, country, techno) are almost completely absent from the contest, although they have an influence on the production of the archetype styles. Eurovision song styles appear to have ‘evolved’, in the cultural Darwinism sense, independently from mainstream global pop music. The researchers speculate that this is due to the particular cultural and structural factors at play in the Contest, in contrast to the more unregulated market forces that decide the popularity of mainstream hits.

A Night At The Opera: The Music of Queen #berklee

On December 5th 2019, Berklee staged its annual Singers’ Showcase, and the theme this year was A Night at the Opera—The Music of Queen. As a lifelong fan, I was honored to be asked to write the program notes for the evening’s performance.

Each song entry features a reference to the original Queen recording, and the official video embedded, plus a description of the approach the students took for the Berklee version. Selected excerpts from the show itself will appear online sometime in the future, but for now you can get a great behind-the-scenes flavour of the quality of the performance by watching Marshall Lilly’s terrific drumcam footage.

The Berklee student performers, with special guest drummer, Berklee President Roger H Brown.
Photograph: Kelly Davidson Studio


Drumcam video: Marshall Tilly

Introduction: “I see a miniature libretto from a fan”

Anatomy of the Hit: Bruno Mars and Cardi B ‘Please Me’

[JB note: This article was originally commissioned by TIDAL, and is part of a series – see links below. Parental advisory: adult themes in the lyrics.]

  • Songwriters: Cardi B / Bruno Mars / James Edward II Fauntleroy / The Stereotypes (Ray Charles II Mccullough, Ray Romulus, Jeremy Reeves, Jonathan Yip)
  • Tempo: 67BPM
  • Run time: 3:21
  • Chord loop: |Bm7    C#7(#5b9) | E/F#    F#7(b9) |
  • TIDAL audio: Please Me

Today, we will be talking more about the music than we will be talking about the sex – I mean, the lyrics. Usually with a song analysis, I try to figure out how the words and music work together, and highlight particular phrases that stand out in the musical arrangement. But given that Please Me is a ‘slow jam’, we don’t want all this musicology to kill the mood, so we will mostly let Cardi’s x-rated rapping (and Bruno’s vocal paroxysms) speak for themselves. TIDAL is all about the fidelity, so along with master-quality audio we’ve included the full, un-bleeped lyric. Insert your own asterisks according to taste.

Anatomy of the hit: Ariana Grande’s ‘7 rings’

Anatomy of the Hit: Ariana Grande’s “7 rings”
Fact_File

As a music theory geek, I love to get inside songs and figure out why we like them. There’s something beautiful about the ability of a mainstream hit to bring people together. And when the songwriter and singer is as extraordinary a talent as Ariana Grande, we can be sure we’re putting the very finest pop product in our ears.

So let’s dive in, intro first, middle bit in the middle, and outro at the end, as has been the way since the dawn of time.

TIDAL video

Intro – 8 bars [0:00]

We hear a single reverbed synth sound playing half notes, with occasional 8th note passing notes, and no indication of what’s to come. That’s sparse, even for a trap-pop intro. At this point, we don’t even know if we’re hearing 140BPM (fast pop) or 70BPM (slow ballad).

Popular Music Education: Foreword

The Bloomsbury Handbook of Popular Music Education

This post is taken from my foreword to The Bloomsbury Handbook of Popular Music Education: Perspectives and Practices (Bloomsbury, 2019). Editors: Zack Moir, Bryan Powell, Gareth Dylan Smith. Used by permission.


Popular Music Education. These three words, even though they have been at the center of my professional life for more than 25 years, continue to challenge and intrigue me because each one generates questions. What do we mean by ‘Popular’? Popular with whom, and for how long? Popular in the sense of widely distributed, or in the sense of culturally influential? When we say ‘Music’, which music… and whose music? The consensus reached long ago in conservatoires about the centrality of the European ‘common practice period’ has no easy parallel in PME, and popular music has evolved into so many forms and sub-genres that it is arguably impossible for any teacher or student to have knowledge of it all. And when we talk about ‘Education’, what, exactly, are we teaching? PME in high schools and in higher education deals variously with listening, performing existing music, creating original music, music technology, the commercial music industry, and (often controversially) the history of various canons, styles and traditions. Which of these should we choose to teach? Each answer to these questions breeds further questions. If we decide that our curriculum supports creativity, then our students will probably need to be songwriters, the song being the dominant creative product in most popular music. But how does one build a suitable grading framework for songwriting, when songs represent personal expression? What if the teacher’s definition of a good song is different from the student’s?

Microrhythms and Microsounds in African-American Popular Music

I always love to hear Anne speak. Alas, I live-blogged her entire hour-long keynote today, complete with examples, and due to a horrible WordPress browser fail (including no success with autosave reversions) I lost all the text and examples!

So to recreate it from memory, Anne discussed some of the musical characteristics of black popular musics, as articulated by Wilson (1983), and then used these to trace a 50-year timeline of rhythmic accuracy in African-American popular music, particularly focusing on the cusp of digital tools (from early 1980s). Trends were traced, from the quest for super-accurate grooves (e.g. Prince’s Kiss), through the muddying/blurring of the beat (examples include Snoop Dogg, D’Angelo, Destiny’s Child, Tyler The Creator).

For more on this fascinating field, take a look at Anne’s researchgate profile and RITMO/UiO profile, and her various books and publications on micro-rhythm in popular music.

 

 

Meaning in vocal timbre #arp

 

The (Dis) Embodied Voice: hearing meaning in vocal timbre

Simon Zagorski-Thomas (London College of Music, UWL)
Keywords: Vocal timbre, ecological perception, embodied cognition, sonic cartoons

Leonardo da Vinci - Virgin and Child with Ss Anne and John the Baptist.jpgABSTRACT: It can be argued that since the persona of the performer is widely perceived to be the locus of meaning in popular music – as opposed to the more indirect voice of the composer in the western art music tradition – that the timbre of the voice and its control during performance should be the focal point of popular music analysis. This paper uses a framework combining the ecological approach to perception (Gibson, 1979; Clarke, 2005), embodied cognition (Lakoff and Johnson, 1999) and the neural theory of metaphor (Lakoff and Johnson, 2003; Feldman, 2008) to explore how the disembodied sound of the recorded voice in popular music is interpreted as a schematic representation of a human entity and action: a sonic cartoon (Zagorski-Thomas, 2014).

Sample replays… #arp #sampling

Sample replays and their implications for producers and listeners

Justin Morey, Leeds Beckett University

ABSTRACT: There is evidence that the cost of clearing the recording copyright of a sample (the master clearance) has risen significantly in the last 20 years (see, for example: McLeod and Di Cola, 2013; Morey, 2014), with one result being the increasing use of sample replay services, which create a sound-alike of a sample at a fraction of the price of clearing the original. A further recent development is that producers (hereafter sampling composers) whose records originally used cleared samples have found that on expiry of the term of clearance, record label demands to authorize an extension have become financially prohibitive, leading to a choice either to create a version with the sample replaced by a replay, or have the record disappear completely from streaming services and broadcast media.

Using qualitative data from practitioners involved in sampling, sample replay services, and sample clearance, this paper explores the implications of developments in the industrial management of copyright on the creative practice of sampling composers and the canon of sample-based music available to listeners, and considers issues of the aura and authenticity of an original recording in terms of sampling and sample replays.

Keywords: digital sampling; copyright; creative practice

Service Models in Popular Music Production Education #arp #songwriting

Collective Creativity: A ‘Service’ Model of Contemporary Commercial Pop Music

  • Paul Thompson, Leeds Beckett University, UK
  • Phil Harding, Leeds Beckett University, UK

Keywords: Creativity, Pop Production, Songwriting

Thewantedifoundyou.jpgABSTRACT: A commercial pop music production is rarely the result of a single individual and pop music producers and songwriters are often part of a larger creative collective (Hennion, 1990) in creating a musical product. A team leader typically manages this group activity. That team leader requires an appropriate level of cultural, symbolic and economic capital (Bourdieu, 1984) so they can effectively evaluate the contributions of the rest of the team and guide the project towards commercial success (Thompson & Harding, 2017). This study explores the role of the team leader within the creative production workflow of pop songwriting and production since the 1990s and investigates the ways in which pop songwriting and production teams work within a creative system of pop-music making. Building upon previous studies in this area (Harding and Thompson 2017) the ‘Service Model’ flow system is illustrated with distinct linear stages that include the processes of pop songwriting, pop vocal recording, post vocal production and then mixing. However, within each of these production stages the ‘highly nonlinear dynamics’ (Capra and Luisi, 2014) of the creative system (Csikszentmihalyi; 1988, 1999) can be viewed in action as the team work together to make the pop record. Drawing upon a series of interviews and data gathered during a Practice Based Enquiry (PBE) conducted at Westerdals University in Oslo, this paper presents the pop music ‘Service Model’. Importantly, the model underlines the value of the collective (rather than individual) in the commercial pop songwriting and production process.

This is Phil and Paul’s third presentation about this project (related to Phil’s PhD) – and represents bringing the research up to date by talking about contemporary pop production. For background, you can read about last year’s paper and/or pick up Phil’s book PWL from the Factory Floor.

Plagiarism: Musicology’s Proof of the Pudding #arp #iaspm

IMG_1391 2.jpgFranco Fabbri, University of Milan and Conservatorio ‘A.Boito’, Parma

Our opening keynote for the conference is the much-loved Franco Fabbri, a much-celebrated musician, educator and musicologist. I was particularly interested to hear this one, because Franco is talking about Forensic Musicology, and with a particular focus on Italian case law.

Here’s my live-blog of his hour-long talk, with YouTube examples where I could find them:

Plagiarism: Musicology’s Proof of the Pudding

All the conferences, all the time #arp #iaspm #musicresearch

I’m in Huddersfield!

This is, for the first time, a mashup of four popular music research conferences, all hosted here at the University of Huddersfield. These are:

My own solo presentation is about sample detection in methods for plagiarism copyright disputes – more to follow on this when I get it written up, or failing that an abstract and some links.

PME & McDonalization #apme2018

Popular Music Education as an antidote to McDonaldization

John Kratus, Professor Emeritus of Music Education, Michigan State University.

John begins with an overview of the concept of McDonaldization (Ritter 1993) – defined as a rational process combining efficiency, calculability, predictability and control, starting with McDonalds itself, and then extending the metaphor towards the ‘template’ that he suggests represents typical K-12 music curricula in the USA.

He cites Ritter “people are the greatest threat to predictability” and suggests that McDonaldized curricula need to suppress students’ agency.

Popular Music Education… #apme

Advocating for Popular Music Education – where do we go from here?

Steve Holley, Music educator

Steve begins with an overview of US music education generally, including high schools and universities, asking ‘why adapt now?’ and describing a necessary journey toward curricular adaptation. He takes us back to the mid-20thC innovators (USC, Miami, Berklee) who ‘took a chance on jazz’, and observes that the music education community thought they were crazy. Within 50 years of those early adopters, jazz in music schools had become mainstream. Steve believes that popular music education today is where jazz music education was in the 1950s, and predicts a similar trickle-down effect in future years, giving examples of schools where this is already starting to happen.

(Some of these ideas are explored in Steve’s recent NafME blog posts.

Steve’s overview of PME elements – a kind of manifesto for the opportunities he suggests institutions now have.

The Art of Listening To Songs #apme2018

Randy Klein, songwriter and SongU coach.

Randy introduces himself and talks briefly about his work in music education, including his publications, talks, and his experience of listening to other songwriters’ work over many years. Today he’s sharing with us the structure of his 16-week songwriting course, and he begins with the philosophy of definition i.e. the question ‘what is a song?’. He suggests that most technical descriptions of a song fall short of the mark of describing its subjective effects on listeners, noting how difficult this intangible would be to achieve. He provides a traditional melody-lyric-harmony definition of a song (i.e. omitting the Sound Recording or arrangement), and then asks the potential student question “If [a song is too intangible to hold], then how can I learn about it?”.

To the great amusement of the audience, Randy now talks us (literally, talks us) through the whole of the lyric to James Brown’s ‘I Got You’, demonstrating that it’s clearly a love song. He now separates the [love] song from the arrangement, describing the horn lick and Brown’s vocal as ‘ear candy’, building on the core lyric’s emotional intent.

Designing a BA in Popular Music #apme2018

Evan Tobias, Arizona State University

Evan begins by describing the program beginning with a ‘chicken and egg’ situation in his institution. A committee was formed to figure out how to launch a popular music degree – but no-one on the committee had a popular music background. The committee pushed ahead, based on the institutional promise from ASU that faculty would be hired when the decision had been made to launch.

Teaching Song Production Analysis #apme2018

Misty Jones, Middle Tennessee State University

Practical Production Analysis: Helping Students Produce Competitive Songs

Misty opens by describing her particular students as ‘in the box’ producers – that is to say, they create the entire sound recording in a Digital Audio Workstation. The problem she’s trying to solve is this: the students’ recordings are just not ready yet [for the commercial marketplace]. So today, she will be sharing her approach to helping students to make their song recordings competitive, in the genre they want to produce in.

The approach starts with the assumption that students ‘have their chops down’ – that is, they can write melodies & lyrics, understand harmony, and can program beats. With this out of the way, the students are asked to work on these four areas:

  • Form/Arrangement
  • Instrumentation
  • Texture Variation
  • Production Techniques

Musicality and Creativity in Curriculum

‘Keeping Musicality and Creativity at the Heart of Curriculum and Assessment’

Presenter: Matthew Cossey (ICA Nexus / University of West London)

Matthew opens with a discussion of the role of curriculum in popular music education, noting that the skills musicians gain in Higher Ed are arguably much more important than the qualification. Like the industry, he says, we must be ruthless in prioritizing meaningful musical career skills, rather than focusing on those elements that are the easiest to teach, or have heavily established pedagogies.

Association for Popular Music Education #apme #songwriting

Conference roomI’m in Nashville, at the #apme conference, hosted by Middle Tennessee State University. Popular Music Education is still a relatively young field, at least in terms of having its own conference (launched ~10 years ago) and journal (launched last year). More about AMPE at popularmusiceducation.org. Conference schedule here.

Coming from Berklee, perhaps I’ve become too comfortable with the idea that everyone talks about popular music pedagogy all the time. A lot of colleagues here are from institutions that have a long history of classical music education, but have only recently launched popular music programs. They are often seen as mavericks in their schools, and are viewed with some suspicion by more traditional teachers and departments. So there’s a palpable sense of community here, and even during this first morning of day 1 I’ve frequently overheard the phrase: “I’ve finally found my people!”.

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.

Eurovision 2018 preview – top 10

It’s Eurovision eve!

[For any Americans who are unfamiliar with the ESC, here’s the background]

Image result for eurovision 2018 logoBack in 2010 I live-tweeted some song commentary as the show was going out. Since 2011 I’ve been live-blogging the show, with real-time music analysis and commentary, and attempting to predict the winners before the voting begins.

Since 2015 I’ve been in the USA, and for the last two years have had to pre-blog due to work commitments and the time difference, but this year I’m pleased to say true live-blogging is back and I’ll be sitting down at 3pm ET/8pm UK time to be live-blogging. So please go to http://www.joebennett.net at those times and refresh your browser after each song. I’ll be chord-analysing, BPM detecting and quality-scoring each song as we go.

Here’s a preview of the top 10 watched YouTube Eurovision song videos in April. I note that an early favourite was Belgium, who didn’t make it through the semi-finals.