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XTRA Debate: The great return of the songwriters?

Is it time to regulate songwriters, and bring in new blood to Eurovision?

As Eurovision fans, we appear to particularly enjoy any artist that returns to Eurovision. Perhaps it is because we are familiar with them; perhaps it is because we want them to have their vengeance over their previous result. Whatever it might be, we welcome them warmly. However, behind each artist there is usually a team of composers and lyricists creating masterpieces.  Sometimes, some songwriters will compose more than one song per contest, trying again year after year. Is it time for broadcasters to truly open up the competition to new talent? I believe it is.

It’s bigger than us, it’s bigger than the UK and Sweden

I started wondering about this topic when I learned at John Lundvik (Sweden, 2019) also composed the UK entry for 2019. Whilst it shows that he is exceptional songwriter who resonates with people, it also means that he as an individual has a stake in 5% of entries of this year’s contest. Both songs bare some resemblance, meaning that one of the songs might suffer on the night of the final.

Then, we have another returning songwriter Borislav Milanov, who also composed Bulgarian entries in 2016 and 2017, as well as the Austrian song in 2018. All three achieved very formidable results – 4th, 2nd and 3rd respectively. This year, Azerbaijan and Malta bare the honour of having Milanov as one of the songwriters. In this instance, we again notice a pattern of similar styles among these entries. They are modern and sometimes dark, but generally clearly made for Eurovision. Ergo, whilst a good result might be more or less guaranteed, each consecutive entry appears to be an enhanced copy paste of the previous entry.

Other composers, with a far longer Eurovision journey, such as Ralph Siegel or Thomas G:Son have a more mixed bag of results, yet include winners such as Euphoria. Their style has become outdated following their zenith. Yet, despite these results, they appear to hold a big stake in some countries and year after year compose songs for them. This means that the barriers of entry for less renowned composers are high and Eurovision as a contest is unable to move on from the “Eurovision concept” which often includes music that regular audiences might not always register.

Whilst anecdotal, I do find it problematic that some songwriters have made their careers out of Eurovision, and thus are stopping the contest from evolving to representing the actual music scenes of the 40 off countries taking part in the contest. Being different often gives entries a competitive edge, and creates a more exciting contest generally. In fairness, songwriters such as Milanov and G:Son do a great job, but their expeditions outside of their home countries also mean that the entries are less authentic.

Love Injected that stopped at Heartbeat

Talking about returning songwriters, I must admit that my own country has benefited quite a few times. Martins Freimanis and Aminata Sovadago have both entered the hall of fame in Latvia among the most successful Latvian Eurovision composers. Yet, despite achieving formidable results, the songs often sounded very similar. Hence, there was a lack of diversity in some of our recent entries.

Aminata has since written songs that have reached Supernova finals, and they always have similar components – but they no longer guarantee fanfare or success. This, in my opinion, is a good thing as she illustrated to other Latvian songwriters that new talent can do well and represent the country. Whilst I might miss Latvia in the Eurovision finals, I do appreciate the fact that we manage to show Europe the quirkiness that resides in the country.

And that’s how you write a song

I discovered Eurovision in 2000, aged five and I recall asking my grandmother, with whom I used to watch the contest, whether my favourite singer at the time (Lauris Reiniks) would represent Latvia. She told me we had a rule that once you represent your country, you cannot do it again. I was confused at the time. I wanted him to represent Latvia each year. But accepted the fact that once you go to Eurovision, you don’t come back – letter, this would be proven wrong.

Whilst I support creativity and expression of arts, I do think that broadcasters should remove the barriers for entry for new composers, and actively engage them. My grandmothers words do resonate with me now – you cannot be stuck in a bubble (as much as we like it in the Eurovision world) and repeatedly send the same style of songs year in, year out. Eurovision needs diversity, and it needs to attract new styles and genres. This is only possible if we encourage new songwriters to venture in the contest and produce innovative entries that we might not initially appreciate.

This strategy might not always deliver good results, but by creating behemoths of Eurovision, we risk of producing entries that sound the same (and score the same). I also do believe that some broadcasters would benefit greatly from introducing a rule that limits a representing songwriter (e.g. Milanov) from entering the competition again for at least 1 year, in order to allow for new styles and genres to be conveyed to the audiences. This would drive innovation and ensure that different national elements are represented.   

Yeah, yeah….opinions of others, though?

Oliver:

This is an interesting concept and I think many fans have similar anecdotes. Watching with family/friends and a commentator briefly mentioning a returning act/songwriting team to hear comments like ‘that’s unfair’ or ‘have country X got no other songwriters?’. I do think it would be somewhat odd if Sweden contracted all future Eurovision entries to ‘The Family’ or Norway the same with G:Son. Yes, many of their entries are adored by the fandom, but there are many other musical talents in each country. However, there is a nuance Aivis is missing.

Logistical issues

Let’s jump to San Marino. Of the 10 Eurovision entries, 60% have been performed by Serhat or Valentina. Focusing on the latter, Ralph Siegel contributed to all of Valentina’s entries and ‘Chain of Lights’ from 2015. I am sure there are many acts from the microstate who, like Miodio, write their own music. But viable groups/songs may not be available to do the contest.

Valentina Monetta on the left and Ralph Siegel on the right pose for a photograph.
Ralph Siegel and Valentina Monetta

Similarly, to enforce a rule stating ‘a songwriting team once submitted to Eurovision can no longer return’ places a lot of pressure on countries to find fresh talent. A part of the success story of the modern contest is a returning songwriter, giving the fandom a chance to see where their artistry may have taken them. If a team provided strong results, why change tactics next year?

Dark moody pop? Fan of ‘City Lights’? Pierre Dumoulin has you covered!

National selections are a thing!

The purpose of a national selection is to filter out the best song from a crop pre-selected by a broadcaster. Most national finals include a televote and some form of jury, in varying formats. At that point I kind of feel all the songs should have an equal opportunity to win based on merit, rather than docking someone points because they previously were part of the songwriting team. Of course, if a broadcaster chooses to enforce some form of ‘break clause’ on a songwriting team on a national level: fair enough. But unlike language rules (which usually favour/enforce the national language/dialect to ensure some form of national identity is represented) there isn’t much benefit to enforcing a repeat songwriting rule.

I think the contest should stimulate artistry and creativity, both for acts and songwriters. To stifle that may potentially have merit, but to me it seems counterproductive to the purpose of the contest!

Nick:

Oh dear, I find this a very interesting, but complicated topic to say anything about. It’s all a matter of feelings in this case and then I find myself in doubt from case to case.

I know it’s common practice in the music business to pass songs onto other singers when you ‘don’t want them’. When John Lundvik entered his “Bigger Than Us” to Melodifestivalen and got rejected, was it really the right move to then send it to the United Kingdom? In terms of results: Yes, because it won. But the story will always come back for Michael Rice and we just don’t know what it means for him.

I have similar thoughts with the constant involvement of Thomas G:son or Ralph Siegel. I applaud them for their dedication to the Eurovision Song Contest, but at the same time I feel they’ve become a ‘cheap’ mechanism to make things work. Is your song a terrible demo with schlager opportunities? Call G:son!

On the topic of “Bigger Than Us”: We see another name on there we see more than once. Laurell Barker has got no less than three songs in this year’s contest. She’s co-written the United Kingdom’s entry, but has also contributed to Germany’s song “Sister” and Switzerland’s “She Got Me”. I have less issues there. All three songs are so vehemently different that it’s not going to disadvantage one or the other. It’s the second year in a row that she has a song there after “Stones” for Zibbz last year.

In general, I think it’s important to separate rules from feelings. I would prefer seeing Twitter comments (or making them…) with “Ugh, another G:son song” than to see the EBU forbid it. You basically call for an intervention in the freedom of choosing a song and that’s not what I want the song contest to be.

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