EUROVISION WINNING - A PERSONAL VIEW

With the 2017 Eurovision on the Horizon, I've been wondering if I'll see the kind of winner I hope for. We all have different ideas on what that should be, but I've been trying to work out what it is that makes Eurovision tick for me - what kind of winner do I want. 

So, what makes a Eurovision Winner? What do I expect from a Eurovision winner? What do you expect from a Eurovision winner?

The 1974 Eurovision Song Contest is the one that got me hooked on Eurovision and 40+ years later I am still a huge fan of Eurovision.

Abba’s win in Brighton provided the song ( Waterloo ), the performance (stand-out and mind blowing at the time), the group (my beloved Abba) and the feeling (wow!) that has made Eurovision an annual high point in my life.

Waterloo ’ remains one of the stand-out winners in Eurovision’s 60 year history. It was ‘of the time’ and fresh and it enlivened the 1974 Contest like no other song had done before. It made me feel like I belonged to the generation that updated Eurovision. It brought Eurovision to the top of the charts with young and old alike enjoying the sound of the moment. It fitted the current glam-rock image of pop at the time and it fitted the power that this 11 year old was looking for. Most of all, it made me an overnight Eurovision fan and I wanted more.  

So, what of the winners since then, or even before? What am I looking for from my Eurovision winner and why do I always (seem) to get it wrong?!

Eurovision in the 50s and 60s homed in on the gentle ballads and rhythms and sounds of the time. Although some sound very out-dated now, most were acceptable sounds of the time. Eurovision in the 70s moved more to the novelty sound (with the exception of 1974 of course), which may have been the fault of the UK with ‘Boom Bang-a-Bang’ in 1969. In the 80s, Eurovision sometimes moved into the surreal and certainly away from the chart sounds of the time. The UK in 1981 started another new Eurovision craze (which still lives today), that of costumer reveals and special effects during the performance – Bucks Fizz really stood out at the time, even if the singing was questionable. In the 90s, trying to become more serious, Eurovision lost its way a little with a great deal of the decade spent on Celtic musings and violins, not the chart topping sounds I was hoping for. Since 2000, we have heard more styles at Eurovision than ever before and that makes for a more interesting selection of songs. That has a lot to do with opening the Contest eastwards and everything that that allows.

In short, I have been looking for another Abba since 1974 – not necessarily the perfect voices and image, but more a song that fits the time and that suits the moment and that represents a generation.

Certainly, I am no longer the generation of the moment, but it doesn’t stop me hoping for a winning song that can bring Eurovision back to the headlines and the top of the charts – in a positive way.

Over the years, I have attended many Eurovision finals and was lucky to be a member of the UK Jury back in 1986. Other years I have been a TV viewer, but every year I am looking for the elusive Eurovision belter that could even knock ‘ Waterloo ’ from its ‘Best Eurovision Winner’ position. I’m looking for a song that knocks me off my feet or at the very least wants to make me dance (slowly or quickly!).

So many winners have bemused me. Sometimes it’s obvious that a song’s performance gained it more points than if it had been sound alone. Indeed, a great performance can give a mediocre song a giant push and that has certainly happened over the years.

So, what should this elusive winning song be like?

The song needs to grab you from the first moment, so that every time you hear it, those first few bars make you smile, or tingle, or jump up to dance (while picking up your phone!).

It needs a flowing structure with no jerky interludes or out of place bridges (UK 2005 for example) and an easy-to-remember hook of some kind, like a chorus to join in with / clap along to, or a gentle heart-tugging flag-waving slow number that soars to a crescendo.

It needs to have understandable lyrics, which are easily learned, but not too simplistic, plus a title that in this day of instant communication can cross languages, religions, lifestyles, ages and end up timeless.

It needs to sound like it could sit in the top 3 of the international Music Charts and iTunes playlists and sound like it belongs there, but not in a novelty way.

It needs to have a full-on modern production and be something that the ‘youth of today’ will grab hold of and appreciate, and that radio stations will be happy (and gagging) to play - so that Eurovision will gather new followers.

I often feel that the best songs are those which seem to hit me like a rock (Grande Amore 2015), or make me a little teary (rare, but it happens – Kuula, 2012). Neither of these won the contest however.

Dare I say it, the song needs to be cool, or at least on the edge of cool – and very importantly be very well performed, with a smile or with passion or whatever the song deserves.

For me, ‘ Waterloo ’ was all of these things in 1974 when I was the ‘youth of today’, so why doesn’t this happen every year?

The one thing that Waterloo did not have to contend with was the boundless set options that now exist for the artists – to find the best way to present their song. Some countries have made atmospheric use of the set options provided to them. Russia seems to be exceptional at it. Sweden ignored the main set and brought their own effects to the 2015 contest (and won!). The visuals need to be spot-on for the song and should not detract from it (eg UK 2015).

The song that started me writing this (in January 2014) was the song ‘Cheesecake’, selected as the entry from Belarus to the 2014 Contest . This song meets most of my criteria for a worthy winner, with one or two fails, namely the easy to join in lyrics and a title with some longevity. There were many negative comments from fans of Eurovision about this song, something I relate to the need of many fans to see a pop number sung by a euro-princess with a learnable dance routine. This is (not always) for me.

TEO , the performer of ‘Cheesecake’ had a modern slick image and a seemingly strong voice. His performance of the song was relevant and cheeky – certainly he was likened to Robin Thicke, the chart topping American-Canadian singer who had a huge hit in 2013 with ‘Blurred lines’ – the tag came from people who liked and disliked the song. I considered TEO 80% of the way there to a winning formula. I would however have changed the title, ensured that the lyrics were crystal clear and tighten up the slick performance. I feared they may add some dizzy dancers that would add nothing to the song. Anyway, Belarus managed a disappointing 16th place in the final (having finished 5th in the semi final). Not the winner I had considered it to be, even at 80%. I still like it, though I may be the only one!

In 2015, there was one clear winner for me – Italy , with amazing voices, a great image, a powerful performance and punchy use of the set. It was the people’s winner, but for some reason the juries didn’t agree. In fairness, the best song presentations of the night finished in the top 3 ( Sweden , Russia , Italy ), but were they the best songs? A year on and they seem to be becoming Eurovision classics, but will have they reached the psyche of Europe and become everlasting hits – I think not.

The 2016 contest again begged the question - is the elusive evergreen amongst the 43 songs this year? There certainly were some great songs last year and several potential winners (subject to their choice of staging, use of the set and ability to get 16,000 people on the Globe Arena on their feet and the whole of Europe on their phones). Russia , Italy , Serbia , Australia , France , Bulgaria , Cyprus , Latvia , Hungary and Azerbaijan made up the top 10 of the Jury Vote on this website (link). But the winner was not one of them. Russia came closest to meeting my 'worthy' criteria and could become a Eurovision classic, if not the big international hit I always hope for.

Judge for yourself…

So what of winners past – have I always agreed with them as winners? No, I have not.

Musical taste is a very personal thing of course, so these opinions could be very different to anyone reading this. Now that you know the kind of thing I am looking for though, I would hope that my opinions make some sense…

The song that has come closest to my ‘worthy’ criteria is Sweden ’s ‘Euphoria’ from 2012. It had everything except sing-a-long verses, but the uplifting, high octane chorus got Europe on its feet and it subsequently performed superbly in the charts all over Europe . Loreen (the artist) has not made a huge international impact however, so will this song have longevity away from the Eurovision fraternity? (let's not mention Loreen's 2017 attempt for Eurovision).

Some winners that have come close for me are:

Turkey 2003 (Everyway That I Can) with a great full-on production and use of oriental rhythms which got the audience on its feet and Europe voting it number 1.

Germany 2010 (Satellite) – although I never saw this winning, it certainly fitted the sound of the time and pulled in votes from across the continent to make it the victor.

Israel 1998 (Diva) – a disco-stomper which filled the dancefloors around Europe – not a great performance (a bit like Bucks Fizz) but the stand-out performance.

Many winners remain a mystery to me however and in many cases I would have preferred a different song to win (as many fans of the Contest do) but it is usually more because I cannot see many winning songs doing anything positive for the Contest.

Some recent examples of this are:

Azerbaijan 2011 (Running Scared) which although had lots of ‘Oh Oh’ bridges (very current) otherwise lacked most of the criteria I look for. Compare that to the UK or Hungary which have more impact and relevance in 2011….

Denmark 2013 (Only Teardrops) which I can honestly say had me bored the first time I heard it and it still feels irrelevant. Compare that to the power and awe of the Norwegian entry which finished 4th and was close to my ‘worthy’ tag.

I was honoured to be one of the fans involved in shortlisting some of the entries for the 2016 UK Entry. While I was happy with the selected song and supported it all the way, I do think that there were better songs amongst those I was able to review, which in itself points to a selection shortcoming, or is it just that someone else’s opinion is not as valid as mine? I concede that I should accept the validity of someone else's opinion, but as enjoyable and welcome as the UK final 2016 was, it did feel very safe in terms of the style of song. Fingers remained crossed for Joe and Jake – the song certainly got the audience going, which was great, but I feel that the staging was under par and did not help their cause. It takes a wow song, a strong performer and an imaginative presentation to pull Europe from its sofas towards the phone – something that did not happen in 2016. The 2016 winner was also a shock to me - not a style that will become a huge hit or be good for the future of the Contest. I remain in hope of the Abba magic returning.. Maybe in 2017? Please? It has been too long!

My My… here's hoping for that new classic in 2017– the one that appeals on a huge scale to fans and the wider public at the same time. The one that brings the artist into music discussions worldwide, the one that will still be played on dancefloors and bars 40 years from now, the one that everyone knows the words to. Is it an Impossible Dream? Its one I can’t give up and in the meantime, I will continue to love plenty of the songs that do seek that level of appreciation – personal classics that will be played here in my head and my home for years to come…., but regardless... Eurovision – You Are The Only One!