Gert Waterink, a Eurovision journalist who works with the Dutch-language ESF Magazine, loves the variety of music at Eurovision. But he understands the theory of “different strokes for different folks”. In this special report he identifies 20 “quality” songs that deserved to do well at Eurovision based on their uniqueness, simplicity and the vocal abilities of the singer. Then he reviews the scoreboards to find out which regions of Europe embraced them, and which regions looked the other way.
From rock to pop, from classical music to movie scores, each musical genre has its fans and its haters. That’s how it goes with Eurovision as well. The simplicity of the format—a contest where you can sing whatever song and genre you like—gives you variety. But it also gives you a lot of questionable music.
That’s why I think readers will perhaps be critical of the “quality” Eurovision songs I’ve chosen to analyze below. It’s a selection of recent Eurovision songs that have been performed between 2009 and 2013, in the era of 50% juries and 50% televoters. They share some common characteristics. (And yes: Some people will think certain songs don’t belong in this selection and that others should actually be added. I accept that this isn’t black and white).
Songs and Selection Criteria
The songs I’ve chosen are: Estonia 2009, France 2009, Bosnia 2009, Belgium 2009, Georgia 2010, Ukraine 2010, Italy 2011, Ukraine 2011, Denmark 2011, Germany 2011, Albania 2012, Estonia 2012, Germany 2012, Italy 2012, Spain 2012, Norway 2013, Italy 2013, Malta 2013, Netherlands 2013, and Hungary 2013. (It may help you to download the photo chart below. Simply click on it to expand and then save it to your desktop).
- All of these Eurovision entries did pretty well in the grand final. All of them made the TOP 10, but only few of them made the TOP 5.
- None of these songs won (Perhaps only a 100% jury result could make that happen?)
- All of these entries did extremely well with juries, but far worse with televoters. In many instances they finished outside the televoters’ TOP 10.
- These songs typically received a healthy number of points. They never received fewer than 80 points, making a BOTTOM 6 finish highly unlikely. But they also couldn’t break the 200 points threshold.
- When looking at the style/genre of each of these songs, they were quite unique (Perhaps too unique? Or a very welcome uniqueness?).
- Similarly, many of these songs benefited from fantastic vocals, and often from the fact well-established artists were performing them (….but not always).
- The staging of each of these songs was surprisingly down-to-earth and avoided Eurovision staging stereotypes, like busy choreography and excessive LED-visuals/pyrotechnics.
- These are typically the kinds of entries that bookmakers and professional betters are reluctant to back. Placing a bet on one of these songs might prove too risky (I disagree, as a true music reviewer can actually predict the outcomes down below quite easily).
- These songs deserve real credit. They bring necessary diversity and quality to the Eurovision stage. Those factors put 4.8 million (of almost 17 million) Dutchies on the edge of their seats this year as they hoped Anouk could end the 14-year curse of bad results, which stemmed from a complete lack of musical quality.
Blocs and Patterns
After you have taken a good look at it, you’ll be able to find some other interesting demographic facts about these songs. I have divided the countries into regional ‘groups’ or ‘blocks’. Please, don’t feel offended: It’s merely a rough outline! But it does show us something:
- On average, the group ‘North-western Europe & Nordics’ give the most number of points to the songs from this list (It translates to an average of 12th place out of around 46 voting nations through the past five contests). A list that also includes high-quality songs from Bosnia-Herzegovina, Georgia, Ukraine and Albania.
- On average, the group ‘South-western Europe & Far East’ gave the least number of points to the songs from this list (It translates to an average of 29th place). A list that also includes high-quality songs from Belgium, Italy, Germany and The Netherlands.
- On average, the groups ‘Baltic’s + Central Ex-Soviet Block’ and ‘Central-southern Europe’ are right in between the above two groups, an average 24th and 20th place respectively.
- In every ‘group’, there are still some countries who consistently have a ‘different’ kind of musical taste. Have a look at the points cast by The United Kingdom, Moldova, Austria (2003, anyone?), Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, Spain and, most interestingly, Azerbaijan (the standard bearers of ‘Eurovision taste’?).
- Also, every ‘group’ includes a country that is more consistently casting huge number of points to the songs from the above list: Iceland, Ireland, Lithuania, Russia, Greece, San Marino, Switzerland and France (the standard bearers of ‘quality’?)
It is hard to draw ‘black and white’ conclusions from this list. But one can understand why in the most recent years countries like Turkey (for the first time since 1994 broadcaster TRT decided not to enter the 2013 edition), Belarus (complaining about voting irregularities), Montenegro (also complaining about voting irregularities), Serbia, Armenia, and F.Y.R. Macedonia have felt a little agitated by this development. It surely didn’t help their usual strong showings among televoters, as nowadays the juries have a 50% stake in the end result.
But for that same reason, countries like The United Kingdom, Ireland (Julian Vignoles, head of delegation Ireland), The Netherlands (Ruurd Bierman, former head Eurovision Song Contest Reference Group) and Austria (Austria didn’t show up on the 2006, 2008, 2009 and 2010 editions) have criticised the 100% televoting era (1999 – 2008). The European Broadcasting Union, then headed by executive supervisor Svante Stockselius, strongly opposed the return of juries for several years. Their feeling was that they “didn’t facilitate true transparency and democracy”. In the end, the EBU gave in and the above countries won their plea to bring back the professional juries.
One can perhaps say that in a contest in which 39+ nations are participating, not one single country can be satisfied 100% of the time. And perhaps it takes several years, maybe even decades, before Eurovision participants stop waving their fingers at the EBU and other countries and start looking at themselves and their sometimes lacklustre song choice. And perhaps the finger pointing will never stop. In that sense Eurovision is just like European politics: Both suffer from a huge variety/backlash of cultural/demographical differences. But for me that’s also the strength of Eurovision, and its charm. Otherwise we would not have the ‘list of songs’ I have just mentioned above.
And on top of that, the list shows what countries can do to provide major improvements to their poor showings in the Eurovision Song Contest. Because in the end a good high-quality song, no matter how subjective that may sound, can still find its way to the TOP 10.