Top 10: Best key-changes in ESC history

It’s safe to say I have been looking forward to writing this particular countdown ever since we commenced the top 10 series! One of the many things that the fans and the public at large tend to associate with Eurovision is the art of the key change – a musical aspect used to ramp up the drama, the epicness… and often the cheesiness of any given song. They tend to pop up a lot at Eurovision, would you believe it. So, as the contest has acquired something of a reputation for being a minefield littered with key changes of various shapes and sizes, we decided that they most definitely deserve the ESC Views top 10 treatment!

Which memorable key change will emerge victorious??
Which memorable key change will emerge victorious??

Just a quick note before we begin – we all pretty much associate the key change as a near-essential component of the pop and schläger entries that Sweden and The Netherlands in particular have churned out over the years, so for this countdown, whilst I haven’t been able to stop myself from including a few of these more typical key changes, I have also tried to examine the less obvious ways that artists over the years have included key changes in less cheesy ways. Prepare for a few unorthodox choices here!

Honourable mentions must go to Celine Dion, Lena Philipsson and our perennial favourite queen Zlata Ognevich, who JUST missed the cut for this top 10. It was so difficult to cut the list down, and they just weren’t *quite* fabulous enough!

But here are the lucky few who were…

10 – Mélanie Cohl – Dis Oui (Belgium 1998)

… and as if to prove my point about the variable nature of Eurovision key changes, enter Mélanie Cohl, with her charming sixth-placed Belgian entry from 1998. This is one of many entries that year which I listen to now, and think was bang in line with the majority of popular music released at the time. However, the entire chorus hinges on an inspired change of key between the second and third lines, giving the “et puiiiiiis” note an added air of originality which doubtless set it aside from some of the blander contributions in Birmingham. The beauty of this key change is how the arrangement subtly slides back into the original key for the verses, allowing this magic moment to happen again and again whenever Melanie reaches the chorus.. genius!!

9 – Nadine Beiler – The Secret Is Love (Austria 2011)

For a good many Eurovision ballad singers, the key change is the moment. The point where they just let it all out, standing there like “look what my voice can do!” (and, if your name is Chiara, this is accompanied by a totes necessary sassy head swish and cheeky wink, whilst seizing the mic stand and shoving it unceremoniously to one side like “BITCH I OWN THIS STAGE”… getting carried away, but Chiara, I love ya, mwah) *ahem*…. For Nadine Beiler, her key change was all that, and then some. Because she pulled it off seemingly effortlessly, and it sounded incredible! What was previously a brilliantly-delivered yet average Disney ballad suddenly became a brilliantly-delivered full-on gospel choir inspirational “let’s change the world” number – if you want an example of how a key change can really lift a song, here’s how to do it!

8 – Rachel – Le Chant De Mallory (France 1964)

There are sparkly schläger key changes, there are fantabulous Disney ones… and then, there are understated, spine-tinglingly brilliant ones like this. If you’re not familiar with the song – and it’s one I would really recommend having a listen to, beautiful composition – the key change in question occurs at the onset of the second chorus, and it’s accompanied by the feint introduction of backing singers and twinkly staccato sixties piano chords. The arrangement makes advantageous use of the orchestra to channel a kind of romanticised fifties-era movie quality to the song, which in combination with the wistful, reminiscent lyrics, converge to result in a truly captivating piece of music, in which the key change just adds to the magic.

7 – Olsen Brothers – Fly On The Wings Of Love (Denmark 2000)

Winner alert #1 here… yes, whilst this song would still likely have walked the contest in Stockholm, I am putting my neck on the line and saying that THAT key change was one of the many aspects of the song which captured Europe’s attention back in 2000. The song, as some may remember, was instant enough anyway, and we are lured into a false sense of security with that famously autotuned second chorus, where the beat drops entirely… And then BOOM, we’re back, and we’re up a key, and oh my god how fabulous is this song all of a sudden? Just listen to the reaction of the crowd in the hall, and imagine yourself being there. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is possibly why it won.

6 – Ira Losco – 7th Wonder (Malta 2002)

A similar tactic was applied here, in fact, with Ira Losco’s second placed 2002 effort for Malta (which, incidentally, remains the closest Malta have ever come to winning the thing, as Ira finished a mere twelve points shy of Marie N, whilst the aforementioned Chiara was 38 points adrift of Helena Paparizou in 2005) “7th Wonder” was a really sweet song, performed admirably by Ira Losco, and the brilliance of the key change is it’s placement within the song. See, we have the whispered “reality” complete with the glitter, and we think “oh, THAT’s the climactic point..” but no. A chorus later and BOOM (see the pattern here?), she hits us with the real moment, the modulation which sets off that catwalk strut. If anyone, even now, over a decade later, was still at a loss as to how this one did so well… there’s your answer.

5 – Carola – Fångad Av En Stormvind (Sweden 1991)

Aaaand here’s our second contest winner, and our first trip to the key change capital of the world: Sweden. Now, every single one of Carola’s three Eurovision entries has included a key change of some description, but for me, there is no contest over which one is the best. The 1991 winner is such a dynamic song in its own right, and the live vocals were flawless (not that she needs me to boost her ego any further of course) especially considering the sound problems she encountered on the night. The thing about this key change, aside from its shläger fabulosity of course, is that it is a very clever one. We launch into what feels like the final chorus, and are somewhat dismayed to find ourselves sticking in the original key.. but then no, it was a false start, we ARE actually going “u-u-u-u-uuuup” (kudos to Loreen). The brass player does screw it up a bit, but aside from that, it is one hell of a climax to one hell of a song.

4 – Jalisse – Fiumi Di Parole (Italy 1997)

You want key change drama, with harmonised perfection added in for good measure? You want Jalisse. Now, I am in no way letting my adoration for this song stand in the way of my key change judgement, but I struggle to find a single thing wrong with this. It’s another one which leads us on a wild goose chase for a bit, beginning the final chorus before we get the anticipated moment… It all cuts out. There’s a millisecond of nothing. And then. Then, they all come back in. A triumphant “FIUMI DI PAROLE!” as each singer finds their separate note and blasts it out, and we suddenly realise we’ve gone up a key, and remained in perfect harmony. That is talent.

3 – Luminita Anghel & Sistem – Let Me Try (Romania 2005)

Award for most underrated vocal performance everrrr in the history of the universe? LUMINITA! Bloody hell, she has some power in that voice, doesn’t she! Her confident delivery of what was and still is a superbly catchy song was already worthy of a place in the top three. But it’s that moment where we’re almost at the end, and she’s given us an Olsen-esque subdued chorus, just to whet our appetite for what we hope is to come. And then it does. Those three notes… “let… me…….. TRY” and there it is, she’s up higher, and still managing to belt it out with as much perfection as in the lower key. Is it just me who is genuinely astounded that she still has the breath to thank seemingly every single country at the end of her performance? After that key change, any normal human being would be left bent double gasping for air. But Luminita, nah, she’s a pro. She sings stuff like this for a warm-up.

2 – Charlotte Perrelli – Hero (Sweden 2008)

Okay, so, right up until the moment I finished writing about “Let Me Try”, this song was planned as the number 1. And, literally, within the last five minutes, I have reluctantly degraded it in light of the sheer fabulousness of today’s eventual winner. But first… time to return once more to Sweden and to feature the Frederik Kempe take on the institution of the key change. As evidenced by his other ESC compositions, his do tend to follow a formula. Middle-8 ends in a big note, the backing track drops out and when it returns we’ve gone up a key. Boom. However formulaic that may be, though, the final chorus of “Hero” is bloody brilliant, I think, all due to that modulation. It is the epitome of a Eurovision key change; an anthemic modern-schläger number with a stellar female vocal, plenty of sequins and no shortage of lasers. It is showy, it is cliché, it is calculated. But the end result is something that sounds exactly as a key change should. Nothing short of amazing.


But it’s not quite amazing enough. Oh no, for above all the key changes employed for show, or for impact, there is one other form of key change which streaks ahead of them all.

A key change as authentic as this:

1 – Anna Vissi – Everything (Greece 2006)

Here she is. Madame Anna Vissi, one of my all-time favourite recording artists, finally fitting the criteria for one of our top 10 lists – and, frankly, wiping the floor with the competition. “Everything” was as heartfelt and dramatic as it came in 2006, and Anna’s professionalism and experience, coupled with her remarkable vocal talent and distinctive performance style, managed to convey both ends of the emotional spectrum within the short span of the song. However, the moment where its sheer power was accentuated was at the key change. The note went up, she collapsed to her knees, and the final chorus was just like a snowball, gathering more and more emotion and power as it rolled towards the final note, which comes all too soon for my liking. Yes, there was pyro, yes there was a dramatic electric guitar, but this is without a doubt the most authentic key change I could find in Eurovision history. It wasn’t just a key change for the sake of it, it really brought an extra dimension to an already strong performance, and cemented Anna’s place in history as one of Eurovision’s all-time greats. And now, it has done so once again, as she is now the holder of a coveted ESC Views top 10 trophy!

Your Views:

What do you think of the key changes in our top 10?
What do you think of the key changes in our top 10?

Jukka Väisänen from Finland: Slovenia 2007 is much better. 🙂

Adrien Nalitch from Australia: Malta 2002

Oliver Dravenau from Germany: Jemini ^^

Svetlana Andriyenko from Ukraine: I say Charlotte Perrelli too, but “Take Me To Your Heaven” has a better key change moment 🙂

From the fan views collected, the familiar top 10 trend seems to be occurring – as we are only selecting ten songs from fifty-eight years’ worth of memorable music, we are bound to end up with some notable omissions, for which we can only apologise! The above top 10 reflects our personal highlights, but there are a plethora of unearthed key-changes you may want to add – feel free to comment below with your personal top 10! 🙂

8 thoughts on “Top 10: Best key-changes in ESC history”

    1. I think they are yeah, in that chorus just before the key change. Surprising they were allowed to do it really, auto-tune wouldn’t be allowed in the live performances nowadays..

  1. i think you have missed better key changes
    greece 2003
    albania 2012
    spain 2012
    spain 1995
    poland 1994
    poland 1995

    1. Thanks for your comment Kostas!

      Definitely agree with you that Spain 2012 was a fab one we missed, and the amount of interesting key changes in “Suus” (quite similar to “Dis Oui” in that they’re not conventional ones) definitely warranted a place in the list. As always, there were too many to choose from, and coming up with just 10 was incredibly difficult!! Sorry we missed such good ones off the list this time round – Poland 1995 did make it into our “most epic high notes” top 10 if you’d like to check that one out!

      1. It’s a great tonicisation to Eflat but for only 4 chords/3 bars it wouldn’t count as a key change as the root stays with C. It’s a great subtle use of modulation though, so well worth a mention! 🙂

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