Eurovision

Looking and reflecting on a Eurovision decade: 2010-2019

Last week marked the end of a Eurovision decade, which sounds weird. We started the 2010s on the May 25th in Oslo, where the infamous ‘epic sax guy’ aka Sergey Stepanov greeted us into the decade. We ended the Eurovision decade with Miki’s Spanish anthem (with some flatpack real estate and a creepy robot on the side!). Both songs came 22nd. This bookending is purely coincidental, but lends itself to a wider moment of reflection. How was our thoughts and experiences shaped by the 2010-2019 Eurovision period? What worked for us, and what needs to be looked at?

The decade has seen some radical changes: song quality/diversity, staging capabilities, voting changes, Australia and more! But there have been a number of challenges. Issues that have pervaded almost every single contest: politics, money, procedures and rules just to name a few. Some of the team have reflected on the 2010s – see what you think!

Statements in standouts

I think we can all agree as a whole that the contest has improved for the better this decade. Thanks to the role of social media and streaming services, the contest has become much more of a mainstream event. Slowly but surely, the contest is losing any stigma of the past. Instead, it is becoming a respected pan-European platform for artistry and entertainment.

I’m sure there are many in the team that would immediately jump to Loreen or Conchita as a standout songs/performances. But for me, three songs encapsulate the decade musically: Kostov, Blanche and Jana Burčeska.

Kristian Kostov - Beautiful Mess (Bulgaria) LIVE at the 2017 Eurovision Song ContestKristian Kostov – Beautiful Mess (Bulgaria) LIVE at the 2017 Eurovision Song Contest

The reasons behind this choice may be less obvious than it may seem. One trend I’ve noticed in many Eurovision entries – especially towards the end of the decade is an appeal to melancholy. These songs, generally in a minor key, fit under the fluidly broad umbrella of ‘pop’.

Kit’s fantastic thread outlines the hidden importance of musicality

However, the lyrical content, messaging or visual concept are one of loss, anxiety, fear and lamentation. There is something so pleasurable about the juxtaposition of a rousing, almost uplifting melody being dragged down with more complex content. Rather than a song that is slightly light on the meaning, the decade has been saturated with these types of songs. But why?

No Soft politics

We all know Eurovision is meant to be free of politics.

I think most readers also know the above sentence is a mutable paradox. Eurovision and soft politics go hand-in-hand. The longer and closer you are to the contest, the more it becomes apparent.

The decade has been tough on Europe. The hangover of the financial crash and the grip of capitalism, the migrant crisis, celebrating diversity, dialogues of national identity and historic conflict have all been tackled by Eurovision entries. Without much effort, almost every country has sent a song with a deeper socio-political meaning… to varying levels of success.

Madame Monsieur - Mercy (Clip officiel)Madame Monsieur – Mercy (Clip officiel)

However, will the ‘message’ song become a cliché like the tired ‘peace song’?I don’t know. But in the tumultuous global landscape we find ourselves in, there needs to be an outlet for wider discourses. I feel this is an inevitability the contest needs to be slightly more flexible about.

Bilal’s performance this year celebrated diversity © Tomodo Photography

Out with the old, in with the new

The split of televote and juries is a good step towards transparency and an exciting television show… Although I’m not convinced by the remodelling this year. That said, I think the contest could afford to make adjustments. Upping the maximum people on stage to 7 or 8 would be a simple start. It helps create a better vocal… especially for chorus-like entries we’ve heard in recent years! It also allows delegations to create visual symmetry in performances, a bugbear for many.

Gone are the powerhouses of decades past. We have seen previous surefire countries such as Russia, Romania, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Azerbaijan and Armenia all fail to qualify. This seemed impossible last decade. Controversially, I think this is a fantastic thing. These non-qualifications indicate the taste of audiences are not being dictated by big names, historic success or widespread diaspora.

Instead, we’ve had a resurgence of countries who have previously struggled to qualify or do well on the big night. Belgium, Czech Republic, San Marino, The Netherlands, Bulgaria, Hungary, Cyprus immediately come to mind.

Duncan Laurence
Duncan Laurence (The Netherlands) © Tomodo Photography

I’m under no illusion that these countries have risen and fallen as the 2010s have progressed… I would like to see more successful renaissances. Perhaps even the UK?

Movers and shakers

This decade has seen the sad departure of Turkey, Bosnia, Bulgaria and Slovakia. As it stands, will not be returning to the contest next year. Adding in Andorra, Luxembourg and Monaco there is a portion of the contest who are missing out. Ideally, I want them all to make a comeback. However, this doesn’t seem realistic.

However, the addition of Australia who have guaranteed their participation until 2023 has been most welcome. Australia have approached the contest perfectly as demonstrated by the quality and results of their entries. An 80% top 10 record and 100% qualification rate is incredible. The fact the fandom have asked ‘where would the contest go if Australia wins?’ for at least three years speaks volumes. I am desperate to see Kazakhstan make a debut to the adult contest ASAP!

Kate Miller-Heidke at Eurovision 2019 – Tomodo Photography

Costa

This decade was a pivotal moment for the contest.

With the landscape of content-consumption, social media and broadcasting shifting beyond recognition over the last 10 years, there was every chance of the contest spiralling into decline. In spite of this, I think the EBU has done a phenomenal job at developing the contest both in terms of the quality from a production standpoint, as well as recalibrating its position within pop culture. The development of Eurovision ‘stan Twitter’ alongside the contest, though easy to dismiss as trivial, is the key to keeping the contest relevant for an emerging generation of Eurofans. Although I first recall watching the contest as early as 2005; 2011 was the first contest I truly paid attention to.

The decade was one of unprecedented quality. I think much of that can be attributed to – you guessed it – Loreen’s Euphoria.

Loreen - Euphoria - Sweden - Live - Grand Final - 2012 Eurovision Song ContestLoreen – Euphoria – Sweden – Live – Grand Final – 2012 Eurovision Song Contest

I’m sure you’re tired of hearing about how much of a game-changer Euphoria is. But tough luck because it was, and I’ll continue to shout it from the rooftops as I rock a black wig with a fringe and accompanying cloak. I remember watching it as a 13-year-old in my living room and being utterly blown away; even then, I knew I was looking at something truly special.

From there on, the standard had jumped, alongside my expectations of the contest. Unfortunately, the leap wasn’t exactly quantum, as the following year saw one of the blandest, least-exciting and underwhelming winners in history – Only Teardrops.

Even when the winners weren’t to my standard, each of the subsequent editions of the contest have contained gems. Songs like City Lights, Love Injected, 1944, Origo, Feed You My Love, Soldi which can be deemed fresh, modern and even mainstream.

Joci Pápai - Origo (Hungary) LIVE at the second Semi-FinalJoci Pápai – Origo (Hungary) LIVE at the second Semi-Final

Decade of visual expectations

We’ve also seen the expectations and capabilities of the contest regarding staging change dramatically. From interactive LED screens, to augmented reality and [multiple] projection dresses, artists and delegations are continuing to develop upon one of the founding principles of the contest, to experiment with the boundaries of live broadcasting. Yet, the most notable staging of recent years came in a year with one of the most simple set-ups. You guessed it – Fuego! The slickness of the choreography. The seamlessness of the camera cuts. The precision of the hair flips. The electricity of performance. Will anything ever come close? We’re gonna have to wait and see.

That said, I will still stand by LoveWave by Iveta Mukuchyan as my favourite entry of the decade. The song and presentation prompted the most visceral reaction for me than any other entry thus far.

Future sight

Going forward, I need the contest to continue to produce such moments. As long as the member states of the EBU continue to produce talent, the contest will continue to be the ultimate platform for international cooperation and collaboration through art. Looking to the future, I would love to see the likes of Bulgaria and Bosnia & Herzegovina return. Both brought a level of vision and salience of identity that was sorely missed from the 2019 contest.

Seeing the quality and hunger that Kazakhstan brought to Junior Eurovision, I would love to see them join the adult contest. It would also be great to see the contest capture the face of modern Europe. A turbulent landscape in the face of political crises, but also birthing a new generation of citizens. A demographic wiser and more creative than their predecessors. This year, Mahmood, Bilal and Conan gave us a glimpse of the Eurovision I want to see in the future. However, but the inability of the latter to succeed in the current format makes me (and others!) wonder if we’re quite ready…

Conan Osiris has his first rehearsal on stage in Tel Aviv. © Thomas Hanses

Gone are the days where renting producers and writers from Sweden is enough. The contest must be a platform for countries to showcase their very best in order to stay relevent in a world where many established arts and culture-adjacent institutions are falling into decline.

Rigmo

More than just a slogan found on overpriced T-shirts from 2017, diversity of SOUND is something that has really evolved as the contest has gone on.

Sure, hearing different genres is not unique to the 2010s. However, there had long been a sense that Eurovision was restricted to a limited set of sounds. People scoffed when Salvador won FdC, even the ones who liked the song were worried that it just “wasn’t a Eurovision song”. I mean you couldn’t even find a single key change in there anywhere!

Game of Risk

The same happened with acts like The Common Linnets, ByeAlex, Young Georgian Lolitaz, AWS or even Hatari. Yet all of those entrants ended up being successful in one way or another. Inspiring artists who would otherwise roll their eyes and start laughing hysterically at the mere mention of Eurovision, to reconsider the contest. The concept of what is and what isn’t a “Eurovision song” has changed for the better.

Iceland - LIVE - Hatari - Hatrið mun sigra - First Semi-Final - Eurovision 2019Iceland – LIVE – Hatari – Hatrið mun sigra – First Semi-Final – Eurovision 2019

Slowly, more countries are taking risks by sending songs that would seem out of place in a contest dominated by bubblegum pop and emotional ballads. Frequently those risks pay off by either those countries qualifying, ending up in the top 10 or even winning. Even when the risk doesn’t work out, these songs still enrich the contest.

Listening to The Shin and Mariko rehearse for a week left me scarred in ways no amount of therapy can ever fix. However, I will always defend their chance to be heard on the big stage and bring something new to the contest.

The Shin and Mariko - Three Minutes to Earth (Georgia) 2014 LIVE Eurovision Second Semi-FinalThe Shin and Mariko – Three Minutes to Earth (Georgia) 2014 LIVE Eurovision Second Semi-Final

The days when you could pick out Eurovision songs on the radio like raisins in cereal without even seeing the contest are starting to fade away. That is ultimately something I hope the contest continues doing as it goes forward into the next decade.

Taking more risks. That’s what I want. Finding more artists willing to introduce new sounds/genres that deviate from the norm while exploring the full spectrum that music has to offer us. With the occasional key change still thrown in, of course. It’s a festival of music after all and music deserves to be celebrated in all of its many many forms.

Tim

Where do I even begin, with regards to describing how the decade went for the biggest non-sporting event in the world. This decade began with me thinking Eurovision exists only on the Saturday (yes, me, I thought that and so does most of the world at times).

But after 2012 I became hooked. I wanted to know and learn more about the contest. This decade bought us the biggest show for a while, giving us a great variety of genre of music that in some years the scoreboard was wide open. Everyone deserved their win, regardless of what anyone would say.

However, other than Loreen, one entry was so good enough that my wig was incinerated so many times. Fuego. I was initially sceptical on she wasn’t going to pull it off. But oh how I was proven wrong and I cannot believe my eyes when I saw it in Lisbon.

Eleni Foureira - Fuego - Cyprus - LIVE - Grand Final - Eurovision 2018Eleni Foureira – Fuego – Cyprus – LIVE – Grand Final – Eurovision 2018

If we ever get an All Stars version of Eurovision, I would love for Eleni to come back and win it!

This decade also bought a lot of changes, an example of this was the voting. I know a few people don’t like the current voting system, but I’m one of the few ones who agree the need for it.

From fan to press

Eurovision has also brought some amazing experiences in my life. In 2016, I attended my first contest in Stockholm and had the most fun-filled first Eurovision experience. Last year, I had the most amazing experience being fan accredited. In 2019 I had the chance to be press accredited, which was amazing! Looking forward to 2020, I hope there is an easier system for interviews and more accessibility so more people can watch the contest (America looking at you!).

Tom O

To me the 2010s were a turning point for the contest where we now have Eurovision producing more quality across more countries. As a result everyone has to up their game and those previously unsuccessful are finding their way. Most notably: Portugal, Bulgaria, now North Macedonia and The Netherlands.

It also means Eurovision can better connect with the music mainstream and not be cast as a joke or irrelevant. However, it is a shame that the UK and its media still seems to be stuck in the past.

Chronology of highlights

Lena broke the idea that you needed big staging to win. Germany’s 2011 contest was a spectacle and great chance for a Big 5 country to freshen up Eurovision. ‘Euphoria’ in 2012 clearly changed the game. Sweden in 2013 stopped the trend of ever bigger venues and showed a quality contest can be done on a smaller scale. Sweden’s powerful influence on the music and the format itself of the contest is deserving of it’s own analysis. 2014 and 2015 gave us unique stages and a desire to spread the contest further – hello Australia!

My personal highlight, Stockholm 2016, felt like a peak of the contest. I think we need to look back at such a great year as a potential model of a modern contest.

Kyiv, Lisbon and Tel Aviv in some ways felt like ‘safe’ contests mostly following the same formats, staging styles etc. 

The Netherlands have an opportunity in 2020 to bring fresh ideas and set the bar for the decade ahead. I hope for a new style of stage, well chosen and sensible number of hosts and a celebration of diverse Dutch (& beyond) music. I think some countries will react with more colourful fun entries of years past. However, I still fear UK will join in with a joke entry of sorts. But the smarter countries will see Duncan’s win and Macedonia’s jury win as a sign tastes are moving away from slick staging and the typical ‘Eurovision pop’.

Isaac

The 2010s is a strange one for me in Eurovision.

When I first got into the madness properly at the start of this decade, the recent past was full of really strongly good and strongly bad acts. There was a contrast between it and the decade that came before. Looking back over the ten years since, I find far less of the latter, particularly in certain years.

Fluctuation of quality

2013 comes to mind as there was really nothing that year that stood out as really bad, something that continued to a lesser extent for the next two years. Which meant by contrast, everything felt together, like a somewhat blander mess – when everything is good, nothing is, to an extent. And I’d extrapolate that out across the decade, bad entries resurfaced of course, but the quality generally, kept going higher.

It’s good and bad, it’s where I felt that we’d briefly, finally, moved beyond cheesy Eurovision, because nothing there was, but I felt less connected to many of the entries there as a result. And merely a year before, I was blown away by so many of the songs in 2012, quite possibly my favourite contest if partly for nostalgic reasons, but I can identify several entries in that year’s lineup that are horrendous.

I think since those contests have acted as a turning point, pushing towards polished pop and I do think that that’s a good direction for the contest. It needs to keep innovating and having something for everyone who tunes in, there needs to be party acts, but there needs to be high quality music winning at the end, ideally from as many genres as Europe and current musical trends allow.

Striving for difference

I think the biggest challenge over the next few years will be working out how the juries can be regulated better so that they’re seen as a fair and equitable part of the contest that cannot collude and certainly cannot cause embarrassing moments as seen with Belarus this year. It is my opinion that they are too few in number at five per country, for the power they have.

There are also too focused on a certain type of music that it’s too easy for certain countries (Sweden) to pick prescriptive jury fodder, which makes the contest too predictable. Originality needs to be front and centre of jury scoring. A Eurovision contestant that deserves to win will not be following recent contest trends too closely. They would have won their selection and promoted their song fairly across all countries, while relying as little as possible on pre-existing conceptions of the artist/country from either voters or juries. Instead, they will have provided an entry that gets people talking: presentation, lyrics, sound or overall package, gets people talking.

National shame?

It hasn’t been a good decade at all for me to support my country, being British, and at many times I’ve actively refused to as the songs are so far away from what I enjoy in music (boring, mostly) that I cannot. But we all know that. For the rest of the countries, it is at a good size. I’d like to see some countries that haven’t entered for a while back but only Bulgaria and perhaps Slovakia in a Czech-style change of heart seem close.

However as much as I’d like to see all of Europe come in, the timings with everyone back would make the already long shows torturous for casual viewers. I reckon that the contest is thriving and will continue to throughout the 2020s – each new host will bring enthusiasm and the drive for something different to the role, as long as it isn’t the BBC, that is.

We miss you Bulgaria!

What are your big takeaways from the decade? Let us know on social media @ESCXTRA!

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