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.

Eurovision 2019 – live musical analysis

[update – the day after]

I correctly predicted the winner (Netherlands), but my second and third place predictions (Sweden and Australia) were a little further down the list: Sweden was 6th, Australia 9th. Not bad.

Here’s an interactive infographic of the final scoreboard. The final top 9 were as follows (last column shows my prediction):

#CountrySong/artistScoreJB #
1NetherlandsArcade 
Duncan Laurence
492 1
2ItalySoldi 
Mahmood
465 
3RussiaScream 
Sergey Lazarev
369 
4SwitzerlandShe Got Me 
Luca Hänni
360 
5NorwaySpirit in the Sky 
KEiiNO
338 
6SwedenToo Late for Love 
John Lundvik
332 2
7AzerbaijanTruth 
Chingiz
297 
8North MacedoniaProud 
Tamara Todevska
295 
9AustraliaZero Gravity 
Kate Miller-Heidke
285 3

[Original music analysis below]

Welcome to the 2019 Eurovision live musicology blog, now in its ninth year. This site has provided live (or pre-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, 7 hours behind Tel Aviv, where the show takes place.

The Contest can be watched on YouTube, and across many European and US networks and time zones. Parts of the blog post are typed as-live, but I’ve uploaded everything in advance so you can follow along with the show. For any non-Europeans who are unfamiliar with Eurovision, the Wikipedia page gives a great overview.

As before, I have 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.

This year I’m including more of the chord loops, so that keyboard/guitar people can play along. These chords are transcribed at speed, and are sometimes slightly simplified for text purposes (e.g. there aren’t always 2nd/3rd time bars etc).

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).

My predictions – (added before voting begins)

  • Winner: Netherlands
  • 2nd place: Sweden
  • 3rd place: Australia

1 Malta: Michela: Chameleon

  • BPM:   98        Key:     Bbm
  • Verse: | F | Bbm / / (Gb) | F | Gb |
  • Pre: | Gb Bbm | Db Ab | Gbmaj7 Db | Ab | x2
  • Chorus:            F | Bbm | F | Gb | x 2

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.

 

Eurovision 2017 : live blog

1280px-eurovision_song_contest_2017_logo-svg

Next morning: the results

[edit – posted the next morning, Sunday 13th May 2017]

  1. Portugal
  2. Bulgaria
  3. Moldova
  4. Belgium
  5. Sweden
  6. Italy

My predictions were:

  1. Portugal (correct!)
  2. Italy (actually 6th)
  3. Sweden (actually 5th)
  4. (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.

[———–edit ends———–]

[original pre-live blog below, with videos embedded]

Predictions

[Written at at 9:14pm GMT on May 13th 2017, before voting begins]

  1. Portugal
  2. Italy
  3. Sweden

(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.

 

Live blog

(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.

51%

Eurovision 2016 live blog

t1_2016[Next morning]

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.

THE WINNERS

  1. Ukraine
  2. Australia
  3. Russia

THE PREDICTIONS

  1. Russia
  2. Australia
  3. France

ORIGINAL PRE-LIVE BLOG

Eurovision 2015 live blogging

Esc2015 logo

[Comment 23:52]

So I got a home run for the first time – the top 3 correctly predicted, and in the right order. See you again next year!


OK here are my predictions, which I’m making at 22:21 before the voting opens. The actual results will be posted here after the voting is complete (and I’ll leave my wrong predictions here for the record).

My predictions 2015 [posted at 22:21]

  • 1st: Sweden
  • 2nd: Russia
  • 3rd: Italy

(I think Cyprus and Serbia could do well (charming melody and self-assertive lyric respectively) but will be further down the ranking)

Actual results 2015 [posted at 23:52}

  • 1st: Sweden
  • 2nd: Russia
  • 3rd: Italy

Eurovision 2014 live blogging

eurovision-2014-logo[This is a live blog – hit ‘refresh’ in your browser at the end of each song throughout the evening and the most recent one will appear at the top. As in 2013, each song will be scored as we hear it. Geeky musicological commentary will be added wherever possible. As always I’m going to try to pick a winner.]

So, here are my predictions. I am typing this at 22:04 on the night (before voting begins), and will, as in previous years, leave my (inevitably wrong!) top 3 here for posterity, and afterwards will post the actual winners below these. If you’re reading this you can stop hitting refresh now. I got two of the top 3 right in 2012 and all my top 3 were in the top 5 last year, and got the winners right for both years. I’d like to see the UK do well of course but I can’t honestly say we’ve got the best song. For me, it’s between The Bearded Austrian Lady, Swedish Apple-Z Chordsmiths and The Dutch Cowboys, although the Danes’ Bieberisms are in with a chance too. I’m going to play safe and put the Swedes at the top. But #3 could be Austria or Denmark. What to do…? I’m going with Austria – the 007/beard combo swings it.

Predictions 2014:

  1. Sweden – Undo
  2. The Netherlands – Calm After The Storm
  3. Austria – Rise Like a Phoenix

———–[edit 23:28]———–

I got the top 3 spot on for the first time! Admittedly mine were in a different order. The actual order was this:

  1. Austria – Rise Like a Phoenix
  2. The Netherlands – Calm After The Storm
  3. Sweden – Undo

—————[ends]————-

26: United Kingdom – Children of the Universe (Molly)

The loop is ii IV | I V | in F# major and the title hook is very well used here. The fact that the melody is constantly descending in each chorus phrase means that, for me, it seems to keep running out of energy at the end of each line, and the singer then needs to belt out the high C# to lift it again. But this is better than many a UK effort and I’m pleased that we’re writing better material this year. Although if it wins I imagine the Swedes will be miffed (Molly wrote it with Anders Hansson).

64%

25: San Marino – Maybe (Forse) (Valentina Monetta)

Eurovision 2013 live blogging


Logo[This is a live blog – hit ‘refresh’ in your browser throughout the evening and the most recently performed song will appear at the top. As in 2012, each song will be scored as we hear it. Geeky musicological commentary will be added wherever possible. As always I’m going to try (and will probably fail) to pick a winner.]

So, to the predictions. I am typing this at 22:07 on the night, and will, as in previous years, leave my (inevitably wrong!) top 3 here for posterity, and afterwards will post the actual winners below these. I got two of the top 3 right in 2012, but I’m worried this was a fluke. I really want Greece’s ‘Alcohol is free’ to do well, but I fear that there may not be enough irony in mainland Europe to fuel its deserved propulsion up the ranks. I’m also concerned that my grumpiness about Ireland may be misplaced – people might just buy those lyric clichés. They’ve done it before, and will carry on… till the end of time…

2013 Eurovision – my predicted top 3

  1. Denmark
  2. Norway
  3. Russia

—————- [edit – 23:30pm]

2013 Eurovision – actual top 5

  1. Denmark
  2. Azerbaijan
  3. Ukraine
  4. Norway
  5. Russia

So all of my top 3 were in the top 5 – but I missed two big songs (Azerbaijan and Ukraine) by a fair distance, only scoring them as 61% and 64% respectively.  But the blog successfully predicted the winner in both 2012 and 2013 (albeit after a total disaster in 2011, where I failed to get any of the top 3).

Overall, I thought the song quality was way higher in 2013 than in previous years, with a general consistency of good quality songwriting across the board. See you next year!

—————– [end of edit]

26 Ireland • Ryan Dolan • “Only Love Survives”

Live blogging Eurovision 2012

22:16 – Live blog now complete. If you’re reading this there’s no need to hit refresh now. If you’re not reading this, the current sentence may not be available to you.

[This is a live blog – hit ‘refresh’ in your browser throughout the evening. Each song will be scored as we hear it. Geeky musicological commentary will be added wherever possible. As always I’m going to try (and, as always, fail) to pick a winner. I never listen to the songs before the show, so these are all first impressions.]

——–

22:06 – voting about to begin

OK I’m going to predict my top 3. I promise not to change these as the voting patterns become clear – you can check the post dates! So as last year, I’m going to commit, and then leave my inevitable wrongness online for the world to see forever!

EUROVISION WINNER PREDICTIONS 2012

  1. Sweden – Euphoria
  2. Germany – Standing Still
  3. Russia – Party for Everybody

—————

[edit] ACTUAL EUROVISION WINNERS 2012

  1. Sweden – Euphoria
  2. Russia – Party for Everybody
  3. Serbia – Nije ljubav Stvar

[end of edit]

—————

21:59 – Moldova – Lautar – 51%

Finally, a song with a gratuitous forced key change at the end. Lots of fun, this, but I’m not sure the lyric phrase ‘this trumpet makes you mine girl’ will enter the European zeitgeist anytime soon. There are some great melodies on the fiddles. I enjoyed singing along to this, but it’s not sophisticated or contemporary enough, even for Eurovision.

Live blogging Eurovision 2011

Blog complete – if you’re reading this there’s no need to hit ‘refresh’ now.

21:58 All complete – my top 3
I’m going to stop updating this post now and watch the voting. I’ve not predicted the winner accurately for many years; my last success was Denmark’s Wings of Love in 2000 (I wasn’t blogging back then so you’ll have to take my word for it!) but at least my top few have never got ‘null points’.
So I’m going to commit to a top 3, and will leave this post up in its unedited form, so that my utter wrong-ness can be preserved for posterity.
  1. Iceland – Coming Home
  2. Estonia – Rockefeller Street
  3. Denmark – New Tomorrow
21:53 Georgia – One More Day