Editorials & Opinion

Eurovision’s place on the map of modern music

What is the archetypal Eurovision song?
The answer, according to everynoise.com, is Hera Björk’s ‘Je ne sais quoi”.
“How does that work?” I hear you ask…

“Data alchemist” and engineer Glenn McDonald has produced a map of the sounds of the world’s modern music industry, plotting 1264 different genres of music available on Spotify. Among the broad spectrum that includes “slam death metal”, “hindustani classical” and “juggalo” sits a familiar word; “Eurovision” has been included as a genre in its own right. Whilst we know the event to include an eclectic compilation of music, what happens when algorithmic analysis is run on the Spotify releases by Eurovision artists as a whole? What characterises “Eurovision” music?
The map’s makers say that genres placed towards the top of the map are generally more “mechanical and electric”, with more “organic” music towards the bottom. Eurovision sits only slightly towards the more mechanical end, and in a median position between the “dense and atmospheric” left, versus the “bouncy and spiky” right.
So how does a piece of Icelandic pop appear as the representative song for the contest? Burrowing down into the “Eurovision” genre, we find Eurovision’s very own musical map, with Hera Björk at its centre. ‘Je ne sais quoi ‘ is very much at the more up-tempo end of the Eurovision spectrum, but the computer will judge that it fits in snugly with typical Eurovision ballads and some rock songs due to it’s A-B-A-B-C-B structure, and even a soulless computer thinks a good Eurovision song needs a key change. It’s possibly also one of those more timeless Eurovision songs, that could have participated in any of the last four decades, so the algorithms will show a strong connection between this and Eurovision entries both modern and ancient (or at least those available on Spotify anyway).
Hera Björk’s position at the centre of the Eurovision map is assured by her steadfast adherence to the Eurovision formula when it comes to her other releases, including Viña del Mar 2013 winner ‘Because you can and DMGP 2009 entry, ‘Someday. Bearing this in mind, it is interesting to see some Eurovision artists such as Fabrizio Fanello, Maria Haukaas Storeng and Olta Boka making the sample playlist for the genre, not through their Eurovision entry but with other songs. Olta Boka, for example, is placed in the “Eurovision” genre top ten for her song ‘Anna‘ from the playback-pop-friendly Kënga Magjike 2011 rather than her Festivali i Këngës winning song.
At the fringes of the Eurovision map, we find Emmy, whose 2011 entry for Armenia sits at the top of the map, therefore judged by the algorithms to be pushing the boundaries of “mechanical and electric”, even by Eurovision standards. She narrowly nudges out Pirates of the Sea and Xandee for this honour.
At the other end of the spectrum you’ll find the finnish folk duo, Kuunkuiskaajat, whose music is deemed the most organic by the algorithmic analysis. Accordions and accellerandi to the fore in their 2010 entry, ‘Työlki ellää’.
To the left of the map sits Eimear Quinn, whose music is deemed the most “atmospheric”, whereas to the right hand edge of the map sit the acts whose music is deemed the most “spiky and bouncy”.  So that will be Olivia Lewis, whose Vertigo‘ baffled the computer somewhat!

These algorithm technologies used by media and advertising corporations to help work out what makes us tick, musically. Whilst the computers may not be able to ‘feel’ a song like you or I, they can analyse how they are constructed, the beats, rhythms, instrumentations, melodies and harmonies used, picking out the characteristics that connect one song to another, whether the songs sound very similar or whether the connection is less obvious.
If you’re a fan of Eurovision music, the algorithms predict, shockingly, that you will like Swedish pop, as these two genres are most closely intertwined. The list view of the Eurovision genre shows the most and least similar genres, right down to number 1264. At the top we find a range of European pop and rock genres, but also, interestingly, Thai, Japanese and Korean genres. Another strong association is with a “talent show” genre. This won’t come as a surprise to Eurovision fans, given the glut of artists in recent years that have come from such a background. Algorithms suggest you should also take a look at genres such as “r-neg-b“, “ecuadoria“, “ukrainian rock” and “vegas indie“. Give them a try!
If, like myself, you need to end the month of May with a Eurovision detox, you’ll be interested to know that classical genres such as classical piano, are apparently the antithesis of Eurovision, with the masterpiece by Liszt below representing the typical characteristics of that category. Among non-classical genres, it seems that “deep tech house” is about as far removed from Eurovision as you can get. I expect, therefore, if it will be quite a few years until the likes of Mihai Bejenaru attempt to squeeze their works into 180 seconds.

This is, of course, a very objective analysis of a subjective matter, so there is no clear cut verdict. What we do have here though, is a fantastic tool to help us explore different genres of music and procrastinate when we should be doing other things. I hope you don’t have a pressing deadline to meet…
[If you’ve having trouble with the map: click on a genre or artist for a short sample. Click on the arrows that appear for a Spotify playlist of that genre or artist.]

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