Whenever Eurovision season comes along, one comment critics tend to make is that the contest isn’t reflective of the current music scene to be relevant. Songs that don’t seem to be in ‘the 21st century’ or ‘sound like the last year’s summer bop’. You’ve definitely seen something like that in the comments section. However, objectively speaking, does the Eurovision reflect the wider music scene?
I think the question is a conflation of different issues and layers.
Much like the Eurovision Song Contest, the music scene (both local and continental) is an ever evolving beast. In an increasingly modern and instantaneous world, trends and tastes change rapidly. This includes how we consume music. Go back a few years, Spotify wasn’t massively popular. Similarly, go back a decade or so and only a handful of charts were considered to be relevant: a single and album chart. The evolution of music consumption and the breadth of charts allows a more nuanced view.
Going up up up up? Global/Local musicalities
I think it is far too easy to judge the success of a song, and therefore the contest as a whole, on chart performance. Yes, it’s true that some songs like “Waterloo” went global. Other winning songs such as “Euphoria” or “Fairytale” have also enjoyed vast success in many countries… but does that automatically diminish every other song that doesn’t reach those successes? Earlier in the year “Toy” went #1 in the U.S. dance charts. Does that make it more or less reflective of a music scene?
Meanwhile, over a year after its debut to the world, “City Lights” went double platinum in Belgium. In fact, if you go to the restaurant adjacent to the Globe Theatre in London, you will find Blanche is in their playlists! Songs that break the top 10 in the final tend to stack up millions of views – each going viral within their respective genre. Clearly, the success of these songs and many more is indicative of a contest that reflects a broad spectrum of musicality and music scenes.
Culture and tradition
However, it goes without saying, I do not think all Eurovision songs are written for the contemporary music scene. I don’t think it would be realistic to expect 40+ songs to become huge chart hits each year. To me, that is only a good thing. The song contest should not be used as a vessel to homogenise music.
I remember a few years ago Snapchat did a feature on every country. One feature of an ex-Yugoslav nation included an adorable story in a pub. The patrons were all singing along to musicians. The song? Adio! I can’t seem to find any stats of how Knez’ ballad fared in the charts, but clearly the song resonates with the Balkan culture. Chart success clearly is a helpful, but not exhaustive method to consider the ways in which the contest keeps up with musical taste.
When Jana Burčeska released her “Dance Alone” in 2017, it is safe to say the XTRA team was officially shook.
Winning our song review last year, the song was generally praised for how ‘modern’ it sounded. It’s success seemed to be based on how untypically Macedonian it was? Now, I totally get it and to some extent agree, but leaning towards being slightly ‘old fashioned’ or ‘traditional’ led Portugal to its first win…
However, it is absolutely true that there are some songs that do sound like they’ve exited a wormhole of time. Even then, I would assume it would’ve sounded dated then… The less said about those songs… the better!
Of course, some songs do well in their country, and sometimes even outside, at least in Europe. I remember someone who told me he knew “Aphrodisiac” and who also knew it was a Eurovision song – quite a feat, really –. I remember hearing “You Let Me Walk This Road Alone” on German radio in August, and even “If I Were Sorry” on French radio. However, the last global Eurovision success are from the 1970’s (“Waterloo” and “Save All Your Kisses For Me”), which is a shame, really, because there are Eurovision song that are far better than Justin Bieber’s hits…
Anyway, even if the actual picture is not as dark and gloomy as some could believe, the majority of Eurovision songs seem to be doomed with low recognition outside of the Eurosphere or outside of Europe. But then, is it such a wrong thing? Why don’t they always work on the market? Well, maybe because they aren’t always designed like this. A “good” Eurovision song (a song that can and usually does do well on the night) isn’t necessarily a radio hit or a dancefloor bop: it’s a package of music, singing capacities, staging, and a bit of storytelling/PR. “1944” is a wonderful Eurovision package, which combines all of those element, but obviously doesn’t work well in charts. And the same could be said for many winners (even Fairytales, which really did well only in Northern Europe) and other songs.
I’m not saying having no big chart success is a good thing, but it’s not that bad. The contest has its own unspoken rules and criteria, it’s become its own musical world, not completely close from the rest of the world, but still a bit unique. And there are always a few Eurovision or Eurovision-related songs that do well elsewhere than in their home country, which is, to me, good enough.
We would love to know what you think! Does Eurovision keep up with the music scene? Should entries do more to reflect or deviate away from what is in charts? Let us know in the comments or @ESCXTRA!