Eurovision 2018 // The UK Shortlist

The BBC has released this year’s shortlist for the UK’s Eurovision entry and it seems as though – slowly, but surely – we are beginning to find our step with the modern competition. As ever, we’re armed with opinions, stats and theory in order to figure out what will give us our best chance in Lisbon in May.

Goldstone – I Feel The Love

Sounds Like: Little Mix singing Bang Bang
Looks Like: A three piece Girls Aloud tribute

This track has BBC Sound Library written all over it. Much in the same way that producers there use Elbow and Lemon Jelly whenever they get the chance, I Feel The Love could – in another life – have been the soundtrack to every ident that the BBC put out this year.

That thumping kick drum and frantic strumming just screams “Enjoy our Glastonbury coverage!”, “Check out Gareth Malone’s new series!” “Coming up on Children In Need!”. It could be used on every single episode of The One Show from now until forever and it would never sound out of place.

It’s an extremely slick piece of pop production – but for a full three minutes? It feels like something is missing. Like the soft side of a piece of velcro, it’s made up of plenty of stuff that looks as if it should be sticky, but really it’s in desperate need of some hooks.

The Technical Bit

Key: B Maj (Bad)
Key Change? No (Good)
Tempo: 129bpm (Bad)

We can deal with the perils of B Major elsewhere, so let’s look at the tempo marking here.

At the risk of beating this same drum a hundred thousand times, there is an ever present trap in Eurovision. That trap? Setting your song to 128 beats per minute.

128bpm is absolute poison. It has killed the chances of so many songs. Since 2000, six songs that have finished in dead last have been set at a tempo marking of 127/128bpm – and it might have been what robbed Russia of the title back in 2016.

Why do songwriters keep doing it? Well, there are actually some rather interesting mathematical, biological and cultural reasons the number keeps cropping up in pop music (we go into a little more detail about them here, if you really want to get into the weeds) – but we need to be stronger than that. We need to resist the allure of 128. It will be the death of us.

Asanda – Legends

Sounds like: More Little Mix
Looks like: This BGT finalist from 2013 (spoiler: because it is)

The one thing we’ve never quite managed to crack at Eurovision is a proper pop song that sounds current.

Often we try to sidestep the whole thing by sending ‘timeless’ ballads, but whenever we try to do actual pop (and Lord knows we’ve tried) it usually ends in disaster. Josh Dubovie took a song that wouldn’t have been out of place in Pete Waterman’s 1980s collection. Joe And Jake entered a song that sounded like it had been written for a Hollyoaks plot line about two lads trying to start a boyband. And the less said about Electro Velvet the better.

Songs with a more convincing contemporary style have been creeping into our annual shortlists recently (Shine A Little Light, in 2016, which was cruelly robbed; I Don’t Want To Fight, in 2017, which wasn’t) but they haven’t tended to make the final cut.

This is the year we should probably think about changing that.

The Technical Bit

Key: C minor (Mixed)
Key Change: No (Good)
Tempo: 114bpm (Mixed)

Minor keys are all the rage at the moment, and they have long been the key to success at Eurovision. Despite the happy-clappy, shiny, sparkly reputation the competition (still) has, if you want to win, your best bet is to go moody.

Of the last 18 winners, 13 have been in minor keys, while just five have been in major keys. (And, what’s more, major keys increase your chance of coming dead last.)

There also appear to be winning and losing ranges. Lots of winning songs cluster between the keys D and G, whereas the keys of A and Bb seem to churn out loser after loser.

Although Asanda is in C (not an ideal pitch), she is in a minor key – so wins the bigger part of the battle. And who knows? If people like it, maybe we can convince someone backstage to shift her backing track up a tone to put her in the primo spot of D minor?

Raya – Crazy

Looks Like: A semi-professional Katy Perry lookie-likey
Sounds Like: Something Turkey or Azerbaijan would enter

A lot is made of the ‘political voting’ in Eurovision, but much of it isn’t actually that political. A lot of it can be put down to something much simpler. That smaller, neighbouring nations often share similar musical tastes.

Since the Eurovision has grown over the last few decades, with more and more countries from Eastern Europe getting involved, this sort of slinky, worldbeat, ethno-fusion pop has become a very welcome staple. And because the highest concentration of points lies with those smaller, neighbouring nations, it’s a pretty canny move for an isolated island nation like us to try to tap up some of those countries for points.

Crazy certainly has a Eurovision friendly sound. The only question is: can we pull it off convincingly?

The Technical Bit

Key: A minor (Pretty bad)
Key Change? No (Good)
Tempo: 96bpm (Bad)

This hits up against a number of snags. 96bpm is not a great tempo (very close to Knut Anders Sørum’s losing entry, High). A has spawned five losers since 2000 (joint with Bb for most prolific losers) – but it is at least in a minor key.

So in terms of winning potential, things are fairly scant. However, it might be the sort of thing that might prove to our bitter and despairing people that all of Europe doesn’t hate us. And you can’t really put a price on that, can you?

Liam Tamne – Astronaut

Looks like: He’s about 15 years older than he’s meant to be
Sounds Like: Something Ireland would try to enter, then not qualify with

Oh, fucking YAWN.

The Technical Bit

Key: C# minor (Not great)
Key Change? No (Good)
Tempo: 90bpm (No data)

There is really no point dissecting this one. However, seeing as we have the graphic, let’s take a quick look at lyrics.

For some inexplicable reason, songs about flying tend to do really well at Eurovision. Songs about walking or running or other modes of travel do badly; but songs about flying often go on to win.

Here we have a song about an astronaut – a person whose job pretty much boils down to one thing: FLYING IN SPACE – yet the lyrics somehow manage to avoid mentioning the topic of flying almost entirely. (There is one fleeting mention of letting your worries fly away in the first verse – but that’s it.)

A scuppered opportunity.

Jaz Ellington – You

Looks like: If Questlove got really into slam poetry
Sounds like: Primetime Radio 2 fodder

Last year, Salvador Sobral romped home to victory with his tender, jazzy ballad Amar Pelor Dois, drawing douze points from the length and breadth of the continent, from juries and televoters alike. Yet – with the possible exception of monster metal act Lordi – it is one of the most unlikely winners of the modern competition. It sounds like the sort of thing that might have won the competition back in the 50s.

So jazzy ballads certainly have their place at Eurovision – but two years on the trot?

While You is probably the strongest song of the six in terms of its composition, performance and general package, in the shadow of Salvador, it might be asking a bit much of the ESC audience to repeat the feat.

The Technical Bit

Key: F# Major (Bad)
Key Change? No (Good)
Tempo: 77bpm (Good-ish)

This is the second of the two tracks to play around with the paper-thin edge between B minor and B major.

I Feel The Love features a melody line which passingly uses the notes of B minor (while still being in B Major) to give it a bit of a bluesy, RnB feel. You, on the other hand, puts the chords of B major and B minor next to each other in the progression – temporarily modulating the song to give it a sentimental, heartfelt moment of sadness.

None of which is particularly important, save for the fact that it looks like we’re getting more sophisticated songwriters to try out new things these days. Which can only be a good thing.

(FYI: This type of chord change is having something of a moment in the sun right now. The Lana Del Rey/Radiohead dispute which alleges that Lana has ripped off Creep uses this same major-to-minor flip in its progression…)

SuRie – Storm

Sounds like: A Firework-era Katy Perry B Side
Looks Like: Pink, if Pink sold essential oils for a living

Eurovision wouldn’t be Eurovision if there wasn’t any thinly-veiled pastiche of a radio hit from a few years back. Last year Germany chucked in a half-hearted take on David Guetta’s Titanium. (They also tried to rip off Loreen’s Euphoria back in 2013 too).

So it’s nice that we might be in a position to provide that entry this year.

Hitting all the hallmarks of a 2012 EDM-pop track, Storm is perfectly serviceable as both a pop song and a Eurovision entry, but – because of that – it runs a real risk of not being anyone’s stand-out track. Thanks to the way the votes are totted up, if you aren’t in anybody’s Top Ten then you get nul points. So, in that regard, you’re better off throwing in something peculiar, because at least you’ll get some novelty points.

The Technical Bit

Key: B Major (Bad)
Key Change? No (Good)
Tempo: 116bpm (Not great)

B Major is among the very worst keys you can write a Eurovision entry in, yet every year we seem to insist on trying. It was the key of Joe And Jake’s You’re Not Alone – and it’s the key of two of this year’s shortlist.

It makes for extremely upbeat and uplifting pop music, there’s no doubt about that, but B is slap bang in the middle of the losing range – and the only songs to have won in B have been in B minor.

(Storms are good to mention in the lyrics though; so it’s not all bad…)