Eurovision: 2019

Every year, like clockwork, the British public is astonished when we absolutely spoon our annual entry in the Eurovision Song Contest – but the BBC is changing things up for 2019. Now, more than ever, the Popbitch patented Eurovision method is going to be vital in ensuring we pick a winner. So let’s pull apart the songs and see what we’re working with here, shall we…?

For the last few years, the BBC – in its infinite wisdom – has asked the British public which song we think we should send off to Eurovision.

Every single time, we have managed to balls it right up.

So this year, they’re changing things around a bit. In a novel twist (that we most likely nicked from current champions, Israel) the BBC is only going to put forward three songs for consideration, but it’s going to provide two very different versions of that song – performed by different artists – which a panel of experts will whittle down first.

Confused? Yeah. You’re right to be. It’s looks like a bit of a weird set-up. But we’ll walk you through it – and show you what we need to do to have our best chance of winning.

The Cold, Hard Stats

What’s important to keep in mind through all of this is that the sort of song that wins the Eurovision Song Contest these days is worlds away from the sorts of songs that won in 1974, or 1988, or even 1999.

If you immediately think of Bucks Fizz, or ABBA, or (heaven help you) Katrina And The Waves when you think of Eurovision, then you are a long, long way behind the times.

The modern Eurovision winner is an entirely different thing. This is what they look like these days

1/ Key

Brits often expect a typical Eurovision winners to be a glittery, happy, clap-along pop song where, in fact, most winners from the last 20 years have actually been written in a minor key.

Minor keys are nearly three times more likely to win, where major keys are more than twice as likely to come in bottom place. Last year’s winner, Toy: Eb minor. Last year’s loser, O Jardim: Bb Major.

Furthermore, there are three keys in particular that seem to do disproportionately well. Although there are 24 possible ‘standard’ keys in the Western pop canon (12 of which are minor) songs in D minor, G minor and A minor have all won three times each since 2000.

So, ideally, we want to pick out a song that’s in one of those keys.

2/ Key Changes

Historically considered a staple of the competition (and always taking the centre square of your office sweepstake Eurovision Bingo Card) key changes are actually poison to a song’s chances.

There hasn’t been a winner that’s used a key change in over ten years – and for very good reason.

A Eurovision song cannot be longer than three minutes, which is really not that long. If your song is dragging so badly that by the 2:30 mark that you need to bang in a key change to keep an audience interested, then the problems with your song are much bigger than you realise. They can’t be fixed by belting the same stuff out a semitone higher.

Key changes are a hack trick, and audiences can see right through them. So don’t give into temptation.

3/ Tempo

The beat of a song is so, so crucial. The slightest change in tempo (bpm, or beats per minute) can be the difference between a song sounding sluggish and sloppy, frantic and manic, or hitting exactly the right groove.

There is no hard and fast rule as to which tempos play well with audiences – but there are a couple which are really unpopular. 128bpm and 85bpm.

Between 2010 and 2017, every song that came in last place was either marked at 127/8 bpm, or at 84/5pm. They are absolute bear traps. Give them a clear berth.

4/ Lyrics

Because most Eurovision entrants choose to sing in English (to give themselves the best chance of being understood to a pan-European audience) we should be at a natural advantage when it comes to writing lyrics. However, we really don’t seem to be making the most of it.

Here are some of the best and worst lyrical tropes to invoke.

There are some other factors to consider when we get to the international stages of the competition – but, for the sake of the UK national selection, that’s more than enough to be getting on with for the moment.

So let’s apply this knowledge to the songs that the BBC have offered up for us and see which ones we should (though not necessarily will) be sending to Tel Aviv this May.

Song 1: Bigger Than Us

Under this new selection process, each song comes in two different varieties, with each version being performed by a different act.

If we’ve read the rules correctly, a panel of ‘experts’ will decide which version of each song goes forward to the public vote. Then we – the plebs – get to pick our favourite of the three that the jury sends up.

So which version of the first song, Bigger Than Us, should they choose? Let’s put them side by side.

Version A

Artist: Holly Tandy
Key: F# Major (Pretty bad)
Tempo: 95bpm (Bad)
Key Change? No (Good)

Sending songs in a major key is one of the UK’s most consistent stumbling blocks. Despite the evidence clearly showing that Europe prefers its Eurovision bangers to be in swirling, moody, minor keys we always seem to be drawn to major key compositions (Storm by SuRie; You’re Not Alone by Joe And Jake; Bonnie Tyler; Englebert Humperdinck; Josh Dubovie – all in major keys).

Not only that, but F# Major is a particularly bad one, as F# has caused two songs to come dead last since 2000. Add that to the 95bpm time-marking (the albatross tempo that caused Norway to finish last in 2004) and things don’t look wildly peachy for Holly Tandy.

But let’s not speak too soon…

Version B

Artist: Michael Rice
Key: C Major (Bad)
Tempo: 80bpm (Mixed)
Key Change? Yes (Awful)

To Michael Rice’s credit, although this is still technically in a major key, it does at least feature some of the trappings of a sad song. A slower tempo; low, muddy piano chords; a much sparser orchestration which uses a prominent minor voicing in the progression.

Clearly the writers and producers are trying to mimic the success of last year’s jury favourite, Nobody But You, with this version of the track – even if it actually comes off sounding a little more like a cheerful Sam Smith.

The insurmountable problem here though is the key change. A big, awful, showboating key change which is exactly the sort of thing that is going to make Europe even more confused and upset with us than it already is.

Which Should The Juries Pick?

It may be the least interesting version, but at least Holly Tandy didn’t resort to the cheap trick of key changing. If we’re still falling for that old ruse in big, big 2019 there is no hope for us. None. At all.

Song 2: Freaks

Of the three compositions this year, Freaks is the most ambitious, making use of the most interesting chords and progressions (including relatively rare ones like minor-major-7ths).

The Portuguese jazz singer who won in 2017 proves that we do have an appetite for these sorts of complex chord constructions – but a chorus that sounds like Pachelbel’s Canon? It’s probably going to be a little much to swallow.

VERSION A

Artist: Jordan Clarke
Key: Db Major (Not great)
Tempo: 83bpm (Very bad)
Key Change? No (Good)

Freaks seems to have paid a lot of attention to the lyrics. Any song which has a sort of doom-and-gloom, outsiders-versus-the-world feel to it plays extremely well at Eurovision – and there are lines in this that sound precision engineered to be winners.

Mentioning kings and queens is good; religious symbolism is surprisingly popular; and tossing a little nod to the French with the tu/vous/moi bit might be a decent way to butter them (and the Belgians) into giving us a couple of pity points. Chucking the odd word of a foreign language in worked wonders for Fuego last year.

That all said, the opening lines that rhyme “locker” and “soccer” (soccer, for fuck’s sake) could be the most irritating couplet in Eurovision history.

VERSION B

Artist: Maid
Key: D Major
Tempo: 80bpm
Key Change? No (Good)

Maid are trying to add a spooky Portishead-lite vibe to their version (sparse, creepy, trip-hop sounds have been hot shit in Latvia in recent years) and they do keep the listener on their toes with chorus, switching between G Major and G Minor chords to give the melody line an especially haunting sound.

However, this is all slightly undercut by the fact the song is pitched in D Major – the very key that Pachelbel’s Canon is famously played in – which might make the whole thing a little too distracting to be successful.

Which Should The Juries Pick?

Solo artists tend to do miles, miles better than groups at Eurovision – so, if they’re struggling to decide which of these abominations to send, Jordan Clarke.

Song 3: Sweet Lies

Sweet Lies sees the most contrast between versions: one of them being a slow, wobbly, breathy piano ballad; the other being a huge dancefloor stomper that could set the whole arena alight.

Our winner is here. Can you guess which one?

VERSION A

Artist: Kerrie-Anne
Key: G minor (Very good)
Tempo: 125bpm (A little sketchy)
Key Change? No (Good)

Every year there is a song in our national selection that proves we could – if we weren’t so hell-bent on humiliating ourselves in front of our friends and neighbours – actually turn in quite a good showing at this godforsaken contest.

Yet every year we overlook that song in favour of something shit.

The smart choice for 2019 sounds to be Kerrie-Anne. It is the only song among them that sounds like it could be something you’d actually hear on Spotify and the first thing in years we’ve sent that sounds contemporary.

The slight quibble is that it is skirting dangerously close to the 128bpm danger zone, tempo-wise, but if we can convince someone at the BBC to just knock the click track back by even 1bpm, we could be looking at our strongest entry in a decade.

VERSION B

Artist: Anisa
Key: F minor (Good)
Tempo: 100bpm (Good)
Key Change? No (Good)

We always try as hard as we can not to get too swayed by our own personal tastes as to what we’d like to hear at Eurovision – and stick instead to the pure numbers. Stay devoted to the stats. For what is the point in having a Eurovision Model if you’re going to ignore it whenever a song that slaps comes and turns your head?

A great question – but an even better question is: what is the point in having a Eurovision Model at all? Full stop?

None, as far as we can see. So let’s throw caution to the wind and toss Anisa’s very safe – but very wet – entry to the floor. Sorry Anisa. Maybe you can get the next John Lewis ad?

Which Should The Juries Pick?

Kerrie-Anne – as should we, the voting public. We’ve embarrassed ourselves far too hard in Europe these last few years. Now’s the time to shine…