Editorial: Are “modern” songs cursed at ESC?

Well, I’m gonna have to start by apologising for the fact we haven’t had any articles up over the weekend! It’s been a busy few days for both of us, but normal service is resuming as of today. And, if it’s any consolation, I have one hell of a debate to post today, so fasten your seatbelts: I will be investigating the purported curse hanging over the more modern entries at ESC – why do so many of them end up with disappointing results if they push the boundaries of contemporary music?

"12 points go to the AMAYZIN CYPRUS!" ... but it wasn't enough
“12 points go to the AMAYZIN CYPRUS!” … but it wasn’t enough…

Australian ESC fan Jordan pointed out to me a few weeks ago that his personal favourite “Glorious” was just the latest of many modern songs which have fallen flat at Eurovision; suggesting there could be some sort of disadvantage to sending an up-to-date genre of song. I did a little digging and found that whilst I wouldn’t necessarily attach a full-on “curse” to the phenomenon, there is definitely an issue at play here with the apparent mis-alignement between the contest and the charts.

First of all, I should attempt to define what I’m referring to as a “modern” song – for it doesn’t necessarily have to be an up-tempo electro-dance number to qualify as modern. I’d simply describe it as a song which wouldn’t sound out of place in the charts at the time of its release. So much as I adore it, I accept that a song like “Gravity” is never going to set the international market alight. Neither is “Quédate Conmigo”, neither is “What About My Dreams?”, neither is “Hero”. Fabulous though they all are, they’re all a little too dated or generically off-centre to challenge for top 10 positions worldwide.

The contest has had no shortage of such songs, especially in the last fifteen years; and these are the ones which – in the interests of this article – I am referring to as “modern songs”. Any of the following would, in my book, have easily stormed the charts if they had the Eurovision tag removed:

Gina G – Ooh… Aah… Just A Little Bit (UK 1996) – 8th place
Paul Oscar – Minn Hinsti Dans (Iceland 1997) – 20th place
Marlain Angelidou – Tha’ne Erotas (Cyprus 1999) – 22nd place
Malene Mortensen – Tell Me Who You Are (Denmark 2002) – 24th place
Nicola – Don’t Break My Heart (Romania 2003) – 10th place
Natalia Podolskaya – Nobody Hurt No One (Russia 2005) – 15th place
Ortal – Chacun Pense À Soi (France 2005) – 23rd place
Elena Risteska – Ninanajna (FYR Macedonia 2006) – 12th place
Hanna Pakarinen – Leave Me Alone (Finland 2007) – 17th place
Anonymous – Salvem El Mon (Andorra 2007) – SF 11th place
Waldo’s People – Lose Control (Finland 2009) – 25th place
Christina Metaxa – Firefly (Cyprus 2009) – SF 14th place
Jessy Matador – Allez! Ola! Olé! (France 2010) – 12th place
Femminem – Lako Je Sve (Croatia 2010) – SF 13th place
Alexey Vorobyov – Get You (Russia 2011) – 16th place
Getter Jaani – Rockefeller Street (Estonia 2011) – 24th place
TWiiNS – I’m Still Alive (Slovakia 2011) – SF 13th place
Yüksek Sadakat – Live It Up (Turkey 2011) – SF 13th place
Ivi Adamou – La La Love (Cyprus 2012) – 16th place
Trackshittaz – Woki Mit Deim Popo (Austria 2012) – SF 18th place
Cascada – Glorious (Germany 2013) – 21st place
Krista Siegfrids – Marry Me (Finland 2013) – 24th place
Who See feat. Nina Zizic – Igranka (Montenegro 2013) – SF 12th place
Hannah Mancini – Straight Into Love (Slovenia 2013) – SF 16th place

(of course, this is far from an exhaustive list, and I apologise for any glaring omissions!)

Judging by this list, it would appear that the data not only highlights that the problem exists, but suggests that it is becoming more and more common. In 2013 alone, there were four entries I’d describe as modern which met disastrous results; whilst the top 10 featured a number of less commercially viable numbers. Now, the contest is not exactly supposed to be a contest of commerciality, but even when accompanied by stellar vocal performances and stunning visuals, some of these modern numbers still fail to impress.

So: why is this!?

I’m going to use Ivi Adamou as an example here. “La La Love” was undoubtedly one of the most modern sounding songs of the 2012 contest. It managed to avoid the dubious “fanwank” label in the run-up to Baku, and once it reached the stage it was accompanied by a bizzare yet polished stage show which emphasised the energy of the song. It cruised through the semis, yet once in the final it slumped to a disappointing 16th place.

In the months following the contest however, it became one of the songs of the summer across the globe, officially charting in thirteen countries and reaching the top five in Greece and Sweden. It’s phenomenal post-contest success cements the fact that the song was a contemporary hit single, however it raises questions as to its final placing in the contest.

Why did it fail then?

With Ivi Adamou, let’s be honest, the vocals weren’t brilliant. She held the tune, and that was about it. You’d expect a jury evaluating “vocal capacity and performance” to mark it pretty low – but the genre and energy is pretty much tailor-made for a televoter. And yet… when the split results were revealed, it turned out she had been ranked higher in the jury scores than the televoting. So we can’t blame the “outdated views of the juries”… Was the performance just a little too weird? There’s no denying that the whole dancing on a pile of books thing didn’t exactly match the hyperactive electronic music, yet there’s no way we’ll ever know if this was to blame for the disappointing result.

No, the reason I personally think “La La Love” finished so low is that it was simply too modern for Eurovision.

I know ESC doesn’t go out there to deliberately regress European musical taste, and has in the past shown signs of attempting to embrace more up-to-date styles, but we have to consider that to be crowned Eurovision winner, a song has to have a universal appeal. Every song has upwards of forty nations to impress, and sometimes what one person considers to be the cutting edge of musical innovation can come across as an absolute atrocity to others.

Take “Igranka” for instance. I personally adore it. The majority of the Balkans apparently love it. Hell, the majority of YouTube apparently loves it. But it wasn’t even deemed worthy of a place in the Eurovision final. You couldn’t fault Nina’s live vocal, and whether you’re into rap or not, the boys conveyed the energy and rhythm of the song through the spoken sections too. The song was just too experimental and, again, too modern for the contest. It’s aimed at a very niche market, and it would appear that Eurovision is just not ready for dubstep yet. The middle-8 of “Love Kills” seems to be the closest thing to dubstep we can handle at the minute. But this three-minute Montenegrin-language spacesuit-clad atom bomb seemed to be a little too far.

Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, and just because there are so many modern failures doesn’t mean that we haven’t had a single modern success in recent years. Look at “Euphoria” for example; a bang-up-to-date slice of dance music which catapulted Eurovision back to the forefront of chart music. We had “Satellite”, we had “Drip Drop”, we had “Diva”… but for every “Euphoria”, there are at least five or six “Running Scared”s… Just look at what else rounded out the top 5 in 2012… three piano-led lounge ballads and a pack of Russian grannies. Point proven, methinks.

So, in answer to the question concerning modern entries to Eurovision, I’d say the answer is pretty straightforward. There isn’t exactly a “curse”, but there is certainly an issue with songs being ahead of their time at the contest. We’ve had emulations of American teen rock in “Firefly” and “Nobody Hurt No One”, we’ve had what appears to be a purpose-built chart hit in “Get You” or “Rockefeller Street” and we’ve had Rihanna-esque R&B ballads in “I’m Still Alive” and “Lako Je Sve”… but the thing with modern songs is that they are, by definition, new and different. New and different isn’t always everyone’s cup of Eurovision tea.

Your Views:

What do you think the problem is with modern songs at ESC?
What do you think the problem is with modern songs at ESC?

Michael Romano from Australia: I’d say it’s because of the juries, juries don’t really like modern songs as opposed to ballads. They tend to have the mindset that the only type of entry that can be judged on vocal talent is a ballad and the rest isn’t worth giving points to.

Mattias Pålsson from Sweden: At least Sweden gives modern songs 12p: germany 2010, ireland 2011, cyprus 2012 and norway 2013 🙂

Svana Lístí Agnarsdottir from Iceland: Eurovision is typically a place that’s filled with cheese, but when modern genres are entered, we feel a little invasive.. 😛

Jordan Alexander from Australia: I just find it disappointing that the contest will never move forward or be taken seriously by the music industry. I mean 90% of modern songs rarely do well in the contest. I don’t expect a modern song to win every year. I just think that it deserves a better result.

So, there’s definitely a disadvantage for some kinds of modern songs, but does it constitute a curse? Feel free to share your opinion below!

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15 thoughts on “Editorial: Are “modern” songs cursed at ESC?”

  1. I don’t think that there is any failing of modern songs. Of all the songs you listed 90% had a horrendous live performance! La La Love was forgettable and it’s draw along with Ivi’s horrible singing made the Cypriot entry get what it deserves. I am not happy that you only tried to focus on the negative “modern” entries of this year. I Feed You My Love was the most modern song of this year and it managed to get 4th. You also failed to mention that Ingranka got 4th place in televoting so the failure is not with the voters there. I highly disagree with your arguments and I find that most of the modern songs get what they deserve in the contest. I am more of the opinion that the songs that are rooted in national folk and also ballads and aren’t modern at all are the ones that fail most at the contest. And in regards to the song that started this article. “Glorious” had two problems which made it fail. One: the staging, it was horrible! It is a dance song and all you have is Natalie standing on some glass stairs moving her torso in a dress that was highly unflattering. Two: The song itself was horrible! It was a generic dance song! Germany was expected to do well because of the Artist!
    Sorry but for me this article has no weight unless you actually examine the successes of “modern” songs

    1. Thanks for your comment AustralianESCFan 🙂

      I agree with you that Norway 2013 was one of the most modern-sounding songs of the whole show, but if you look at the left-hand side of the scoreboard, it is in a minority. I’d say only Malta and Belgium also qualify as sufficiently “modern”; therefore in 2013 there were more negative stories than positive ones. Furthermore, I did cover this counter-argument, though using 2012 as a more concrete example. The success of “Euphoria” mirrors “I Feed You My Love” to some degree, whilst the majority of the other successful entries in 2012 stuck to more traditional or comfortable genres.

      You’re absolutely right that not all modern songs fail simply because they are modern, but from the examples I listed, there are some with good vocals (Ortal, Hanna Pakarinen, Nicola, Cascada) and others with polished performances to compensate for any vocal failures (Krista Siegfrids, Jessy Matador, Ivi Adamou, Getter Jaani). It is only in those cases where I would *personally* consider their chosen genre to be a slight disadvantage due to its lack of wide appeal.

      As for the folk songs/ballads point, there are many examples to prove this too, however working under the assumption that Eurovision is a contemporary music contest, these styles can be expected to have less success. One would assume that a more modern style of entry would have a higher chance of success (nobody predicted Ireland 2013 to finish dead last did they…) therefore, this was the justification to focus the editorial on the one particular style.

      This topic was always going to cause a bit of a debate, owing to how subjective it is, but I thank you for sharing your views, you have brought up many interesting points to consider 🙂

    2. @AustralianESCFan

      First – What a load of crock! “La La Love” was forgettable? What a joke! It was an instant hit in Europe after the contest last year. It may not have achieved international success like “Euphoria”, but it still managed to knock “Euphoria” off the charts in some countries.

      Second – Have you ever heard the phrase “Don’t believe what you see or hear on TV”? Ivi sounded great in the arena, it was the TV performance that didn’t make her voice sound good.

      Third – Of course 90% of modern entries fail at Eurovision! It’s very rare for a modern song to get a good result in the contest. Your comments are just utterly redundant and arrogant to say the least.

      Fourth – “Glorious” was an ice-breaker in between the countless of boring and repetitive ballads this year. Yes, it’s a generic dance song. BIG WHOOP! “Glorious” isn’t horrible. There’s nothing wrong with the song. Everyone has different taste in music, most have the taste of a wet sock. Yes, Cascada’s stage performance was weak and could have been improved. Yes, Cascada’s vocals didn’t appear that good on TV when in fact she sounded great in the arena. However, those two issues weren’t enough to knock Germany down to such a low result. The audience gave Germany the biggest ovation – more than they gave anyone else that night. Germany came 4th with 195 points in the OGAE results and 16th in the average televote. It was those ridiculous accusations that ruined Germany’s chance of a good result.

      Fifth – Take a look at Ireland and Finland… both failed. Yet they achieved quite a lot of success in the charts across Europe. The fact is that a lot of modernized songs fail in the contest. It will never be taken seriously by the music industry because these kind of mishaps are just proof that the contest will never move forward. “Igranka” is a typical song that you would hear from the Balkan music industry. “I Feed You My Love” was a typical song you would expect from Eurovision.

      Sixth – The split results (whether they have been tampered with or not is a mystery since the EBU refuses to release individual votes from all 39 countries) is just proof that the jury are the ones to blame for a number of songs for failing this year.

      1. Jordan, Clearly you don’t grasp the idea of someone expressing their opinion that doesn’t align with yours. You don’t need to attack my views and opinions. I expressed my views on this well written article in a respectable way and you attacking my opinion shows the level of class you have.

        I disagree with your views on Igranka and I Feed You My Love. Both are modern for the contest!
        Igranka is a rap song, Rap itself is not modern but for a contest that is basically schlager pop I feel like it fits into the “modern” area for the contest same goes with Finland 2006 it being “modern” for the CONTEST only. For me I Feed You My Love is NOT typical for the ESC it was pegged as the most contemporary song at Eurovision.

        Also on my views on La La Love they are MY views! But it is extremely evident that her vocals were not on point and yes Glorious did not deserve 21st, the Jury for me scored it low at 20 but the Televotes scored it too high at 16th. The OVERALL performance should have given it at least 18th place.

        Finally you need to learn to respect other peoples opinions, you sound pathetic attacking my views, you called me arrogant? That is hypocrisy at it’s finest!

  2. Why haven’t you listed Euphoria as modern 2012?
    Note that most viewers vote for their favourite only. I think that creates a shadow effect for other songs in the same genre. Same with many equally good songs in same genre, viewers vote for one but different ones…

    Think you should concentrate on the modern songs that done well instead.

    1. Thank you for your comment RL 🙂

      It would appear you missed the paragraph which covered the modern successes and juxtaposed them against the modern failures; using “Euphoria” as a specific example. I’m not saying that no modern songs ever do well, but they are a minority when compared to the modern songs which do badly.

      However, I think your point about songs in a similar genre being overshadowed is a very interesting one, and would certainly go some way to explaining the result of “La La Love”. You’re absolutely right that this happens across all the genres, which would suggest that the top five or top ten in any given year may then end up being very generically diverse, if most viewers simply voted for their one favourite. If you take 2012 and 2013 though, this stylistic diversity at the top of the table is simply not present, and it is in the “modern” genre that both scoreboards seem to be lacking. Henceforth, the focus of this article is justified 🙂

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