The tempo is the heartbeat of a song, the rhythm to which it works. In a competition where you have a strict three-minute upper limit to adhere to, choosing your tempo is therefore a critical decision. The one you need to avoid? 128 beats per minute. It is the kiss of death. Why? We'll explain...
In 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014 all of the songs which placed dead last were all paced at either 127 or 128 beats per minute (bpm)
Conversely, all of the winners since 2000 have avoided those tempos completely – dodging the 128bpm death trap by 4bpm on either side.
Coincidence? Or is there something else at play here?
(SPOILER: There’s something else at play here.)
128 is an interesting number in musical mathematics because it marks the point where a few important staples of timing, structure and tempo all intersect.
Without getting too complicated about it all, if you’ve got write a song which can’t be longer than three minutes (the upper limit for Eurovision entries) then putting it in 4/4 at a tempo of 128 beats per minute means that your three minute song will fit exactly – down to the very last beat – into 96 bars.
A 96 bar framework is incredibly helpful and versatile to work within as a lot of the musical phrases that we understand best work in fours, eights, twelves and sixteens. Working with 96 bars at 128bpm, the whole process of compiling a three minute pop song becomes like a child’s jigsaw – the composer slotting big, simple and standardised phrases of music together.
There are all sorts of permutations you can make within that framework – adding and removing sixteen bar verses, and eight bar choruses, and four bar bridges, and middle eights and intros and instrumentals and all sorts until you are happy.
Finished your song on bar 92? Stick a four-bar solo piano intro at the top of it. Problem solved! It fits perfectly and sounds classy as heck.
Finished your song on bar 80? No worries! Just whack the whole song up a semitone and repeat the chorus a couple more times. Job done.
There is a lot more to say about this entire method of song production, and why 128bpm has become the tempo of choice for a lot of EDM (some of which we touched on in this article about Zac Efron) because the patterns and numbers and theories involved are really quite interesting – but why is it such a death-knell in Eurovision?
Because it sounds formulaic. It sounds generic. And, subconsciously, we must recognise it as being such as we consistently vote these songs to the bottom of the pack.