Switzerland has released the audio of its entries, and countries from Ukraine to Latvia have leaked details of their participation at Eurovision 2013. As participating countries figure out how to win Eurovision next year, here’s a simple guide to making the Top 10. Note: These rules don’t apply to Spain and Greece, who should probably just focus on raising money to send someone (anyone) to Malmö
The first thing to keep in mind is that ESC is incredibly competitive. Everyone makes fun of it. Everyone denigrates it saying it’s a bubble gum pop factory. But it’s not. An act has to be incredibly good and countries have to pick acts that respect that. Gimmicks don’t win Eurovision.
Let’s start with what not to do.
1. Do not copy Sweden’s Loreen or Russia’s Buranovskiye Babushki. Every year a couple of countries copy the previous year’s winner and that never works. Singing grannies once is marginally cute. Ten singing granny acts next year will have people running for the exits. Loreen was amazing and unique. Ten Loreen clones with ten wind machines? Not so much.
2. Do not send anyone back again. Jedward were better this year than last, but voters do not respond well to someone they saw the previous year. ESC rewards the new and different (unlike most pop music where listeners keep purchasing similar songs regurgitated by the same artists).
3. Do not send has-beens who want to resurrect their careers (U.K. – are you listening?). Every year the U.K. and occasionally one or two other countries send acts that are past their prime, acts that have retired, or acts that have not done anything new in decades. Placeholders never do well.
4. Do not send some totally out-there act (sometimes known as a “gimmick”). Yes it worked well for Russia this year. But more often it’s a good way to end up in last place (or second to last, just ahead of the U.K.).
5. Don’t have a song similar to a neighboring country. Cyprus and Greece both had really good acts in 2012 that were very similar – and so they split the vote. (But not in our Eurovision Death Match Poll).
6. Do not have an accordion in the act.
Now let’s turn to what acts should do.
1. The artist needs to be incredibly talented. Look at the top entries this year (Russia excluded) – absolutely amazing talent. The ESC vote, especially the judges, strongly rewards raw talent. Even the Albanians who glue dreadlocks to their breasts.
2. The act should be little known outside of its home country. ESC voters are looking for something a little different, and a familiar face simply is not different. This is why returning acts always do poorly – everyone has seen them before. (This is also why established pop artists—hello Blue!—finish below expectations at ESC.)
3. The act should be pop/something, not just pop. Loreen did pop/techno. A number of top acts did pop/ballads. Italy had what could be described as pop/jazz. It needs to be mixed up a little. Valentina Monetta just did pop, and we all know how that ended.
4. Keep the staging simple. Loreen had one of the more complex numbers of recent winners, and while there was a lot to it, it still came across as a very simple, almost stark, presentation.
5. The act needs to be original and different (but not too different). Even for a soloist, the best ones tend to present it a bit differently from before.
6. The song has to reach the viewers. Grab hold of them, reach deep into their soul, and not let go (at least until the voting is over).
At the end of the day only one act can come in first. And 42 countries cannot all make the final. But ESC does reward the best acts. The best example of this in 2012 was Moldova’s Pasha Parfeny. He sang really well, was unknown before Eurovision, and presented a seriously different pop/ballad. His stage act (lots of stoned cavewomen) was more complex (which I think hurt them), and the song did not grab you emotionally the way Pastora Soler’s did. But 11th place is very impressive, and well deserved.