Advice on how to win Eurovision [op-ed]
Eurovision can be downright confusing at times, and I’m not talking strictly about the costumes.
Australia is somehow allowed to compete, sure; we all acknowledge the geographical jazz involved in that decision.
But did you know Celine Dion won in 1988? Makes sense, right? She is a great singer. Well, she won for Switzerland, a country she has absolutely no connection with or allegiance to, with a song named ‘Ne partez pas sans moi.’
It seems that back in the freewheeling, big-hair era of Eurovision, you could just compete on behalf of a country that you don’t hail from or live in. The song was co-written by a Turkish songwriter and sang in French by a Canadian.
In 1994, the winner was a song called ‘Rock and Roll Kids’, a ballad sang by two Irish men in their late forties, both at pianos, both in suits, with the sincerely-sung chorus lyrics: “now we never seem to rock and roll anymore.” And they don’t.
In 1981, Bucks Fizz won with ‘Making Your Mind Up’ and a performance that makes them seems like patient zero for The Wiggles epidemic.
But despite the seemingly glitter-strewn chaos, there are nevertheless some common themes that pop up time and time again in the winner’s circle. In service to our country, I have studied tape from all 64 Eurovisions and highlighted the aspects you need to include in your entry, in order to make it a winning one.
Sidenote: If you watch multiple tapes for review purposes, it is called ‘studying tape’, singular, as decreed by Coach Taylor from Friday Night Lights.
Okay, here is the breakdown. If you follow these lessons to a tee, don’t be surprised if you suddenly find yourself at the Eurovision finals, covered in glitter, holding a trophy, and being blinded by flash photography.
Eurovision is not the platform to moan about heartbreak. Sure, last year’s winner ‘Arcade’ by Netherlands’ Duncan Laurence was a sad tale, but he used so many penny arcade metaphors that it just made most people think about Donkey Kong for a bit.
Here are the titles of a selection of winners from the past 20 years:
Heroes, Rise Like A Phoenix, Euphoria, Fairytale, Believe, Fly On The Wings Of Love, Only Teardrops (sounds sad, but the ‘only’ minimises the impact of said teardrops, and is actually about rising up from heartbreak – another Eurovision staple), Everybody, My Number One, Prayer, Take Me To Your Heaven.
Incidentally, a good shortcut would be to ask, ‘Would this song feature on a Hillsong album?’ and just go from there.
USE ACCIDENTAL POETRY
The Swedes are the masters of accidental poetry, those whimsy-filled turns of phrase that occur when English is your second language. There are false friends galore, literal translations, and just some great metaphors that get away from the writer and are all the better for it. Take, for example, these lines from Roxette’s ‘The Look’:
Walking like a man/hitting like a hammer/she’s a juvenile scam/never was a quitter/tasty like a raindrop/she’s got the look.
You know what this means, even if it literally doesn’t make sense.
Sometimes you run into trouble here, like when Max Martin made the Backstreet Boys ask “Am I sexual?” or when Ace Of Base sang “All that she wants is another baby,” meaning, of course, another lover.
Eurovision winners are jam-packed with this type of accidental poetry.
Sticking with the Swedes, let’s take 2015 winner Mans Zelmerlow and his uplifting song ‘Heroes’. Here’s a taste.
I make worms turn into butterflies/ Wake up and turn this world around in appreciation.
What if I’m the only hero left/ You better fire off your gun/ Once and forever.
It’s great. Don’t parse it too hard, just enjoy the implied meaning of it.
You don’t need to worry too much about people rushing to prescribe meaning to it, either. Take this line from Netta’s 2018 winner ‘Toy’.
Look at me, I’m a beautiful creature/ I don’t care about your modern-time preachers
Now, it’s clear what she means. But this interpretation by a Genius.com user is next level.
“Here Netta parallels the beauty industry and social pressure to conform to a ‘modern day preacher’. By doing so she suggests that subscribing blindly to beauty standards is akin to a religion.”
As John Lennon said about pseudo-intellectuals trying to unravel the nonsensical lyrics in I Am The Walrus, “Let the fuckers work that one out.”
The best-known winners throughout Eurovision history tend to be groups: ABBA, Bucks Fizz, Katrina and the Waves. But these are outliers. Playing the percentage game, you’ll have much better odds if you fly solo. In 64 years, groups have only won Eurovision 11 times. Five duos have won, but these don’t count as groups, cos they are duos. The odds are even lower if you consider that five of these groups came in the direct wake of ABBA’s win and subsequent worldwide success, and were basically enjoyable carbon-copies of ABBA, sans divorce.
In fact, ABBA were actually the first group to win, and it took 19 years for Eurovision to crown a group. After they won, it completely changed the feel of the competition. Nondescript ballads gave way to quirky groups like (the quite great) Teach In, who, as you can see below, very much studied the ABBA playbook of beards, pop, and shiny costumes. They won in 1975, the year after ABBA.
And these guys and girls won in 1976.
A group has not won since 2006, and they won with a Finnish glam-metal tune. Which brings me to my final point.
BE AS RIDICULOUS AS POSSIBLE
Finnish metal band Lordi won Eurovision in 2006 with a metal song named Hard Rock Hallelujah that opens with the lyrics: “The saints are crippled.” They wore costumes that made them look like extras in the Star Wars Cantina scene, and unleashed harmonies that Queen would be jealous of.
2008 winner Dima Bilan, from Russia, performed his winning song as a figure skater did laps around him on ice-skates, and a guy played violent violin. Similarly, the 2009 winner from Norway, Alexander Rybak, belted the song down the camera while two guys in suspenders did somersaults behind him.
1984’s winners were Swedish group Herreys, who also fall into the proto-Wiggles category with their matching shirts, golden boots, and a song named Diggi-Loo Diggi-Ley. It’s actually quite good.
OR … JUST WRITE THE GREATEST POP SONG OF ALL TIME
How is this not an all-time classic? Why isn’t WS-FM playing this right now? Plus they are called Bobbysocks!
I was wrong. There is no discernible pattern to be studied, no secrets to unveil, no lessons to unpack. Eurovision is chaos, an unchartable wild west type environment that doesn’t even take geographical boundaries into account.
The final will be on May 16. I cannot wait. Go Montaigne.