Shifting songs of Eurovision

Illustration of the Eurovision Song Contest with a family on a sofa watching performers and a disco ball

Shifting songs of Eurovision

After a year’s hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Eurovision Song Contest resumes for its 65th edition, adding to a collection of more than 1,600 songs that have ranged over the decades from dance tracks to energetic ditties and happy melodies to love ballads.

Performers representing 39 countries will take to the stage in the Dutch port city of Rotterdam to serenade a limited studio audience and millions of home viewers. The annual event produced by the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) draws a television audience of about 200 million.

Ukrainian drag persona Verka Serduchka performs in 2007
Lena of Germany performs in 2011
Linda Wagenmakers from the Netherlands in 2000
Jedward of Ireland during the 2011 Eurovision Song Contest
Poland's 2005 entry band 'Ivan & Delfin'
Domenico Modugno in 1958 sings for Italy
Dana International 1998 win for Israel
Emmy of Armenia sing at the 2011 semi-final
Latvia’s Pirates Of The Sea at the 2007 finals
2009 winner Norway's Alexander Rybak
2014 winner Conchita Wurst of Austria
1981 winner, Britain’s Bucks Fizz
2008 winner Dima Bilan of Russia
Buranovskiye Babushki of Russia in the 2012 Eurovison Song Contest
Greece's Helena Paparizou wins the 50th Eurovision
Scooch from Britain perform at the 2007 Eurovision Song Contest

How does Eurovision work?

NATIONAL SELECTION

NATIONAL SELECTION

NATIONAL SELECTION

Every participating country first selects one band or singer to represent them in the competition. There are no set rules on how countries choose their Eurovision hopefuls. Some broadcasters appoint a committee to decide, and others host a national song contests much like Eurovision. Some countries have a mixture of the broadcaster selecting the artist and leaving the song for the public to decide. Each country can select a group with up to six members.

SEMI-FINALS

SEMI-FINALS

SEMI-FINALS

Once they get to the competition, performers compete in two semi-finals – this year there will be 16 entries in the first semi-final and 17 in the second – where judges representing each country and national TV audiences will award them points. The 10 highest scorers from each semi-final will move forward to the grand final.

GRAND FINAL

GRAND FINAL

GRAND FINAL

Joining those 20 acts in the final are a handful of countries who automatically qualify – France, Spain, Italy, Germany and the United Kingdom – and the host country, this year the Netherlands. The five automatic finalists represent the five countries who are the largest contributors to the EBU.

Beyond the songs themselves, a lot of the preparation goes into the on-stage performance. There are a few rules to consider: Live animals are banned from the Eurovision stage, but wind machines, confetti cannons, fog machines, smoke jets and pyrotechnics are all fair game.

WINNER

WINNER

WINNER

Victory is sweet and the winner performs an encore at the end of the show. The spoils are mostly the glory and international exposure, but the winner also gets a glass microphone trophy to take home and the winning country gets first rights to host the competition the following year, and thereby guarantee a place in the finals.

Allocating points

In the semi-finals and the grand final, participating countries award two sets of points to their peers based on their live performance. A set of jurors from each country allocates 12 points for their favourite performance, 10 for their second, and then points 8 to 1 down the line.

Since 1998, viewers watching at home from all the performing countries can also phone in votes for their favourite acts, but are excluded from voting for their own country. A second set of points from televoting is distributed again, 12, 10 and 8 to 1.

So a country can award as many as 24 points to another country based on the judges and audience votes. At the other end of the scale, some countries will hear the dreaded “nil points” or “nul points” when their performance fails to score.

The nature of the system has led to complaints that some countries cast their votes for another based on regional favoritism, for example, or alternatively mark a country down to reflect artist or political rivalries. But for many watching, the politics of voting is half the fun of the competition.

Who has competed?

Since the first Eurovision Song Contest was first held in Lugano, Switzerland in 1956, 52 countries have entered the contest, singing over 1,600 songs.

Entry into the competition is not dependent on being in Europe but rather being part of the European Broadcasting Union, so this year keep your ears open for four-time winner Israel, 2011 winner Azerbaijan, and Asian hopeful Australia.

Founding countries

1960

1980

2000

2020

Germany

France

UK

Belgium

Netherlands

Switzerland

Spain

Sweden

Norway

Finland

Ireland

Austria

Portugal

Denmark

Italy

Israel

Greece

Cyprus

Luxembourg

Turkey

Iceland

Malta

Yugoslavia

Croatia

Estonia

Slovenia

Monaco

Poland

Russia

Latvia

Lithuania

Romania

N. Macedonia

Bosnia

Albania

Hungary

Belarus

Moldova

Ukraine

Armenia

Azerbaijan

Bulgaria

Georgia

Serbia

Montenegro

San Marino

Czech Republic

Slovakia

Andorra

Australia

Serbia & Mont.

Morocco

Founding countries

1960

1980

2000

2020

Germany

France

UK

Belgium

Netherlands

Switzerland

Spain

Sweden

Norway

Finland

Ireland

Austria

Portugal

Denmark

Italy

Israel

Greece

Cyprus

Luxembourg

Turkey

Iceland

Malta

Yugoslavia

Croatia

Estonia

Slovenia

Monaco

Poland

Russia

Latvia

Lithuania

Romania

N. Macedonia

Bosnia

Albania

Hungary

Belarus

Moldova

Ukraine

Armenia

Azerbaijan

Bulgaria

Georgia

Serbia

Montenegro

San Marino

Czech Republic

Slovakia

Andorra

Australia

Serbia & Mont.

Morocco

1960

1980

2000

2020

Founding countries

Germany

France

UK

Belgium

Netherlands

Switzerland

Spain

Sweden

Norway

Finland

Ireland

Austria

Portugal

Denmark

Italy

Israel

Greece

Cyprus

Luxembourg

Turkey

Iceland

Malta

Yugoslavia

Croatia

Estonia

Slovenia

Monaco

Poland

Russia

Latvia

Lithuania

Romania

N. Macedonia

Bosnia

Albania

Hungary

Belarus

Moldova

Ukraine

Armenia

Azerbaijan

Bulgaria

Georgia

Serbia

Montenegro

San Marino

Czech Republic

Slovakia

Andorra

Australia

Serbia & Mont.

Morocco

1960

1980

2000

2020

Founding countries

Germany

France

UK

Belgium

Netherlands

Switzerland

Spain

Sweden

Norway

Finland

Ireland

Spain is the country to participate the most number of times in a row since their debut

Austria

Portugal

Denmark

Italy

Israel

Greece

Cyprus

Luxembourg

Turkey

Iceland

Malta

Yugoslavia

Luxembourg, one of the founding participants, hasn’t returend to Eurovision after 1993’s relegation.

 

Croatia

Estonia

Slovenia

Monaco

Poland

Russia

Latvia

Lithuania

Romania

N. Macedonia

Bosnia

Albania

Hungary

Belarus

Moldova

Ukraine

Armenia

Azerbaijan

Bulgaria

Georgia

Serbia

Montenegro

San Marino

Czech Republic

Slovakia

Andorra

Australia

Serbia & Mont.

Morocco

Australia’s not European, but this Oceania country was invited to participate in the 60th Eurovision Song Contest and hasn’t left since. In fact, Australia’s secured participation until 2023.

And who has triumphed?

With remarkable success in the 1980s and 1990s, Ireland holds the title for the most Eurovision wins with seven, but Sweden is not far behind and in the 21st century has become a dominating force — since 2010 the country has only twice failed to make the top 5.

What about those trailing behind? Russia, having finished in the top 5 on 9 of its 20 grand final appearances, is one of the most decorated countries by points allocated. Russia’s sole victory came in 2008.

Points won as a percent of available when competing

Eurovision wins

7

Ireland

Serbia & Montenegro

Serbia & Montenegro

9.2%

6

Sweden

Bulgaria

7.3

5

UK

Russia

7.0

5

France

Italy

6.3

5

Netherlands

Sweden

6.2

5

Luxembourg

Monaco

6.1

4

Israel

Australia

5.8

3

Norway

Ukraine

5.7

3

Denmark

Ireland

5.6

2

Italy

Azerbaijan

5.1

2

Germany

Switzerland

4.8

2

Ukraine

Yugoslavia

4.7

2

Spain

Netherlands

4.7

2

Switzerland

Israel

4.7

2

Austria

Latvia

4.7

1

Russia

Armenia

4.5

1

Greece

Belgium

4.4

1

Belgium

Norway

4.4

1

Turkey

Denmark

4.3

1

Portugal

Greece

4.3

1

Azerbaijan

Estonia

4.3

1

Estonia

Moldova

4.2

1

Finland

Luxembourg

4.2

1

Serbia

UK

4.1

1

Latvia

Malta

4.1

1

Yugoslavia

Serbia

4.0

1

Monaco

Turkey

4.0

France

4.0

Germany

3.7

Bosnia

3.7

Romania

3.7

Austria

3.5

Portugal

3.5

Iceland

3.5

Cyprus

3.4

Croatia

3.3

Georgia

3.3

Czech Republic

3.3

Macedonia

3.3

Hungary

3.0

Albania

3.0

Spain

2.8

Poland

2.7

Lithuania

2.5

Finland

2.4

Slovenia

2.3

Belarus

2.0

Montenegro

1.8

1.4

San Marino

1.0

Slovakia

0.6

Morocco

Points won as a percent of available when competing

Eurovision wins

7

Ireland

Serbia & Montenegro

Serbia & Montenegro

9.2%

6

Sweden

Bulgaria

7.3

5

UK

Russia

7.0

5

France

Italy

6.3

5

Netherlands

Sweden

6.2

5

Luxembourg

Monaco

6.1

4

Israel

Australia

5.8

3

Norway

Ukraine

5.7

3

Denmark

Ireland

5.6

2

Italy

Azerbaijan

5.1

2

Germany

Switzerland

4.8

2

Ukraine

Yugoslavia

4.7

2

Spain

Netherlands

4.7

2

Switzerland

Israel

4.7

2

Austria

Latvia

4.7

1

Russia

Armenia

4.5

1

Greece

Belgium

4.4

1

Belgium

Norway

4.4

1

Turkey

Denmark

4.3

1

Portugal

Greece

4.3

1

Azerbaijan

Estonia

4.3

1

Estonia

Moldova

4.2

1

Finland

Luxembourg

4.2

1

Serbia

UK

4.1

1

Latvia

Malta

4.1

1

Yugoslavia

Serbia

4.0

1

Monaco

Turkey

4.0

France

4.0

Germany

3.7

Bosnia

3.7

Romania

3.7

Austria

3.5

Portugal

3.5

Iceland

3.5

Cyprus

3.4

Croatia

3.3

Georgia

3.3

Czech Republic

3.3

Macedonia

3.3

Hungary

3.0

Albania

3.0

Spain

2.8

Poland

2.7

Lithuania

2.5

Finland

2.4

Slovenia

2.3

Belarus

2.0

Montenegro

1.8

1.4

San Marino

1.0

Slovakia

0.6

Morocco

Points won as a percent of available when competing

Eurovision wins

7

Ireland

9.2%

Serbia & Montenegro

Serbia & Montenegro

6

Sweden

Bulgaria

7.3

5

UK

Russia

7.0

5

France

Italy

6.3

5

Netherlands

Sweden

6.2

5

Luxembourg

Monaco

6.1

4

Israel

Australia

5.8

3

Norway

Ukraine

5.7

3

Denmark

Ireland

5.6

2

Italy

Azerbaijan

5.1

2

Germany

Switzerland

4.8

2

Ukraine

Yugoslavia

4.7

2

Spain

Netherlands

4.7

2

Switzerland

Israel

4.7

2

Austria

Latvia

4.7

1

Russia

Armenia

4.5

1

Greece

Belgium

4.4

1

Belgium

Norway

4.4

1

Turkey

Denmark

4.3

1

Portugal

Greece

4.3

1

Azerbaijan

Estonia

4.3

1

Estonia

Moldova

4.2

1

Finland

Luxembourg

4.2

1

Serbia

UK

4.1

1

Latvia

Malta

4.1

1

Yugoslavia

Serbia

4.0

1

Monaco

Turkey

4.0

France

4.0

Germany

3.7

Bosnia

3.7

Romania

3.7

Austria

3.5

Portugal

3.5

Iceland

3.5

Cyprus

3.4

Croatia

3.3

Georgia

3.3

Czech Republic

3.3

Macedonia

3.3

Hungary

3.0

Albania

3.0

Spain

2.8

Poland

2.7

Lithuania

2.5

Finland

2.4

Slovenia

2.3

Belarus

2.0

Montenegro

1.8

1.4

San Marino

1.0

Slovakia

0.6

Morocco

The early years

The song contest started not to find the greatest voice, but, according to the official Eurovision website, as an opportunity for the EBU to push the boundaries of live broadcasting. So stage performance as well as the music itself has always been at the forefront of the competition.

Before 1975 only 21 countries had competed in Eurovision contests, with 12 of those victorious, including a four-way tie of 1969. Sweden snatched its first win in 1974. Abba’s “Waterloo” quickly became a global hit and has remained one of Eurovision’s biggest chart toppers.

Visualising the sounds of Eurovision

In order to understand what makes a successful Eurovision song and how that has changed through the decades, we analysed the historical points awarded to songs since 1975, focusing on grand final performances successful enough to gain at least 5% of the vote for that competition.

Metrics from Spotify on how dance-friendly a song is (danceability), how much energy it has (energy) and how positive or negative it sounds (valence), were matched with the top songs to characterize their overall sound.

Danceability

DANCEY

NOT DANCEY

2020

2010

2000

1990

1980

Energy

ENERGETIC

SLUGGISH

Valence

UPBEAT TUNES

SAD SONGS

Danceability

Energy

Valence

DANCEY

ENERGETIC

UPBEAT TUNES

NOT DANCEY

SLUGGISH

SAD SONGS

2020

2010

2000

1990

1980

Danceability

Energy

Valence

DANCEY

ENERGETIC

UPBEAT TUNES

NOT DANCEY

SLUGGISH

SAD SONGS

2020

2010

2000

1990

1980

Danceability

Energy

Valence

DANCEY

ENERGETIC

UPBEAT TUNES

NOT-SO DANCEY

SLUGGISH

SAD SONGS

2020

2010

2000

1990

1980

Available Spotify metrics account for 88% of the 376 entries in 45 years representing 47 different countries.

According to Spotify’s metrics, the 1980s sounded more “happy, cheerful and euphoric” while by the 2010s the mood had turned more sad, depressed and angry.

The 80s eurodance dance?

Eurovision in the 1980s favoured upbeat songs. Analysis of Spotify metrics found that 50 of the 68 songs gaining 5% or more of votes in their grand finals were positive and above the midpoint in the “valence” index.

Three of the four most positive songs in the 1980s were from former Yugoslavia, a stark contrast to the economic crisis at home.

Yugoslavia also produced the danciest Eurovosion song ever, according to the Spotify index of danceability, with “Mangup” which came 6th out of 21 songs at the 1988 Eurovision Song Contest.

DANCEY

NOT-SO DANCEY

1980

But not all winners in the 1980s were cheerful tunes. Early in her career, Canadian singer Celine Dion performed "Ne partez pas sans moi” and won the 1988 contest for Switzerland, one of the year’s least upbeat songs.

The sad Celtic tiger of the 90s

Ireland was the top Eurovision victor of the 1990s, winning 4 of the 10 contests, more than any other country in a single decade. Only France comes close with 3 wins in the 1960s.

So how did Ireland do it? With some not-so-energetic, not-so-happy power ballads.

UPBEAT TUNES

ENERGETIC

SAD SONGS

SLUGGISH

IRISH songs were the 2nd least energetic on average

IRISH songs were the 5th most sad sounding on average in the 1990s

UPBEAT TUNES

SAD SONGS

IRISH songs were the 5th most sad sounding on average in the 1990s

ENERGETIC

SLUGGISH

The 2nd least

energetic

DANCEY

NOT-SO DANCEY

And the 10th

least danceable

UPBEAT TUNES

SAD SONGS

IRISH songs were the 5th most sad sounding on average in the 1990s

ENERGETIC

SLUGGISH

The 2nd least

energetic

DANCEY

NOT-SO DANCEY

And the 10th least danceable

Ireland’s biggest export from the Eurovision Song Contest didn’t come from the singers, but from 1994’s intermission performance of the Irish dance phenomenon Riverdance.

Oughties upbeat Eastern bloc

While the European Union saw its largest expansion with the accession of Eastern European states, Eurovision saw its own shift. Seven of the decade’s winners – Estonia, Latvia, Turkey, Ukraine, Greece, Serbia and Russia – were Eastern European.

According to Spotify data, energetic songs flooded the Eurovision Song Contest at the start of the 21st century.

Energy was in the music of the noughties – 65 of the 76 top songs were more energetic than not.

Lordi’s 2007 win for Finland nearly hit the ceiling of the Spotify energy scale with their song “Hard rock hallelujah.” 2007 also saw high-energy songs from Ukraine, Russia and Belarus.

ENERGETIC

SLUGGISH

2000

In 2004, the modern semi-final stages were introduced, which expanded the competition and allowed more EBU member countries to participate in the song contest.

2010s and some sad energy

In the last decade Sweden has secured its place as one of Eurovision’s most successful participants, winning in 2012 and 2015.

The top songs maintained their high energy from the previous decade, but the big shift was in the songs’ “valence” - Spotify’s measure of how positive or negative a tune sounds. 54 of the 71 top songs sounded more sad, depressed and angry.

UPBEAT TUNES

SAD SONGS

2010

Of the top songs analysed, Sweden’s 2012 winning song “Europhoria” by Loreen has the 6th lowest valence score, and the lowest of any winning entry.

According to Spotify data, this year’s selection of songs is fairly typical of what has come over the last decade, with a range of high-energy and sad-sounding songs to see us through.

Sources

Spotify; Imanol Recio Erquicia via kaggle.com; European Broadcasting Union (EBU)

Additional work by

Prasanta Kumar Dutta, Matthew Weber

Edited by

Jon McClure, Mike Collett-White