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XTRA Debate: Is there a problem with ‘bops’ in the Eurovision Song Contest?

Can there be too much of a good thing?

For a long time, the Eurovision Song Contest has become synonymous with a party. A party for everybody, well before a set of Russian grannies made it homely and adorable. For any conventional party, an abundance of ‘bops’ are required to dance along to. However, has the success of both ‘Toy’ and ‘Fuego’ detrimentally warped our expectations for Eurovision 2019?

As we welcome the new month, we enter the height of selection season. It is an exciting, yet strange time for fans. Songs are simultaneously being revealed to us, while also being knocked out of national finals across the continent. A musical revolving door, of sorts. With so many songs already released, in many ways we are just waiting for the next super Saturday wave to get us closer to confirmed acts. However, one trend I am noticing across the fandom is a craving for ‘bops’.

Bop it!?

A personal confession, I kind of hate the word ‘bop’. A quick reference to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) gives the definition of a ‘bop’ as ‘a dance to pop music; a party or other occasion for this style of dancing’. A colloquial term, the OED also reveals the first known usage of the term was back in 1956. If only a pan-European contest started in the same year…

Tin-foil hat claims aside, the link between Eurovision and pop is undeniable. Journalists trying to describe the type of music you typically hear in the contest do so by splitting it into three categories: ‘power ballads, ethnic rhythms and bubblegum pop’. Obviously, as fans we know the contest is a rich tapestry of musical styles and genres.

However, some of my fellow ESCXTRA teammates were desperate for High15 to succeed in Melodifestivalen last night. Being one of two uptempo tracks in the semi-final, the catchy song was elevated to qualify ‘DTF’ or at least reach Andra Chansen, while other songs were dismissed for having a lower tempo.

Although this is just one example it does outline a potentially dangerous trajectory. If Eurovision fans fixate too much on the musical precedent and direction of one result, like Lisbon 2018, the contest can suffer. Other genres or styles can be shunned, as the fandom wants/demands Feugo 2.0 with broadcasters eventually taking note.

Repetition = stagnation

It is fairly rare that the top two songs on the scoreboard are aimed at an incredibly similar market. Although Netta and Eleni are very different people and performers, their Eurovision entries tap into very similar thematic and conceptual veins. An English high-energy song that teases elements of national identity, empowers women and other marginalised groups in society with forms of self-confidence. I can almost guarantee when all 42 songs are confirmed, at least ten of them will try to emulate some of the above criteria.

Sure, the dancefloor of Euroclub will have a fresh line-up for patrons. Sure, the party atmosphere in the arena will be something to behold. But when it comes to the contest itself, I think an excess of high-energy pop/dance tracks will harm the potential success of a country than heighten it. In the wake of Lordi’s victory, many countries landed in Helsinki with a rockier edge. For many countries like Moldova, 2007 remains the only time a country dipped into a soundscape some claimed in the 1950s was the ‘devil’s music’.

However, you only need to check the scoreboard to see this tactic was not as successful as many delegations thought. Montenegro failed to qualify. The Czech Republic came last. Moldova scraped into 10th place. Meanwhile, Finland (criminally) only received 53 points.

Fast-forward to the final in 2011. The first-half was saturated with uptempo pop songs. Although Jedward and Eric Saade did break into the top 10, I do wonder if they would have scored better had four pop songs not been placed back-to-back.

Repetition or regurgitation can too easily backfire.

The secret weapon of Eurovision 2019?

Looking at previous Eurovision winners, you don’t often see a single style of genre of song winning consecutively. An argument could be made for Sertab, Ruslana and Helena, who all sang uptempo pop songs. I would probably counter that by suggesting that while there are degrees of similarity, the integration of ethnic instruments, costume and choreography creates a clearly defined distinction. ‘Wild Dances’ looks and sounds nothing like ‘Everyway that I can’. Given the assumption that some countries will try and ride on the success stories of 2018, I think countries should instead focus on the gaps of genre and music that won’t automatically be represented. A ballad in a sea of bops will have a stronger impact. Rock, country or something totally left-field could appear to be more special or unique in a saturated semi of uptempo.

Nick: The danger of strategy

Thinking about this topic has had my mind in all sorts of corners and ideas. And to be quite honest, my eventual conclusion has surprised even me. For a delegation, I think it’s dangerous to come up with a strategy.

As Oliver highlights above, a ballad will have a stronger impact inbetween a load of uptempo songs. At the same time, an uptempo song will shine when it’s on in a show full of ballads. So it’s always good to stand out from the pack in terms of genre.

And that’s immediately the point. Whether you’re selecting through a national final or an internal selection, 90% of the countries will have chosen their songs before the field is complete. So it’s quite useless to think about what others might do and what you need to do to stand out. Just pick what you think is the best song. Going into the process thinking “We need a power ballad” could lead to a tunnel vision in which you ignore that one ‘bop’ that just doesn’t fit your genre criteria.

However, when it comes to fans, Oliver has a good point. We don’t just need ‘bops’. We need good music. And what that is for me, might not be good for you. I might love the song you have dead last, that song that makes your ears bleed may brighten up my day. Focussing on genres is never good. Just think about when ‘rock queen’ Anouk entered Eurovision and brought… “Birds”. We don’t need ‘bops’ only, no matter how much we like to party like a mother, as Jessica Andersson would say.

What are your thoughts? Does the desire for a bop problematise the contest as a whole? How long does a set of results hold a mandate before the contest moves forward? Let us know in the comments or on social media @ESCXTRA!

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