*I’ll be posting a ‘special edition’ for Valentine’s Day on Wednesday!
First off, the Eurovision Song Contest (ESC) is an annual musical contest which currently takes place in May every year. The contest, which was to bring together a war-torn Europe after WWII, features a single song submitted by public broadcasters (who are European Broadcasting Union [EBU] members) to compete and see who has the best song. The song, which must be 3 minutes or shorter, must also be released after September 1st of the previous year (e.g. this year’s contest must feature songs released after 1 September, 2017, although there are some controversial things going on right now, and there were some exceptions based on language/finished product), and may be in any language as long as it doesn’t bring the Contest/EBU into disrepute.
The current voting system (which is briefly explained in ABBA’s section) involves two sets of points (12, 10, 8-1 points given to the top 10): one set by a national jury of 5 members and another set by the voting public of any given country. The jury points are announced individually, while the public votes are pooled together and announced from the lowest amount to the highest. Since 2008, two semifinals are held for countries aside the Big 5 (France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and The U.K., who make the biggest financial contributions to the EBU) and the winning/host country (Portugal this year) to qualify 10 countries per semifinal (for a total of 26 to compete on Saturday’s Grand Final).
2016 saw the song 1944 win (Jamala, Ukraine), which was contentious due to its subject matter (the exodus of Crimean Tatars under the rule of Stalin); this year songs about refugees (Madame Monsieur, Mercy, France) and war/terrorism (Ermal Meta & Fabrizio Moro, Non mi avete fatto niente, Italy) have already been chosen, both of which are fan favorites. However, more countries are selecting songs in one of their national languages after Ukraine’s win (featuring Crimean Tatar) and Portugal’s win thereafter (entirely in Portuguese); in addition to the winners, all songs featuring a language other than English qualified to the Final in 2017.
Now, some songs which helped shaped Eurovision (and a song which brought about a pop revolution in The U.K.):
Waterloo – ABBA
Any ESC fan, whether casual or more invested, will probably know ABBA came from the ESC (Brighton 1974) with this exact song. A low-scoring contest which also involved a previous winner (Gigliola Cinquetti, Italy, Non ho l’eta, Copenhagen 1964) who happened to be censored (Si, Italian for ‘yes,’ was considered subliminal propaganda for a divorce referendum held around the time the ESC aired that year; finished 2nd), as well as a future Hollywood star (Olivia Newton-John, UK, Long Live Love; finished 4th). Ultimately, the Swedish act won and successfully launched an international career which also spawned their namesake musical Mamma Mia! based on their music.
Their win also prompted a voting change brought about in Stockholm the following year, where the ESC moved to its more well-known 12, 10, 8-1 scoring system for a given country’s top 10 songs. Fun fact #1: in Stockholm 2016, the scoring system was once again revamped, giving the jury and voting public equal weight by awarding two sets of points rather than one set.
Poupee de cire, poupee de son – France Gall
Composed by Serge Gainsbourg in 1965, the song won the ESC that year held in Naples. Gainsbourg was already a successful composer by that time, and the upbeat ye-ye ‘pop’ style introduced by both Gall and Gainsbourg was the catalyst for ‘modernizing’ the ESC from that point forward; until then, parlor songs and other slower light compositions were the dominant musical style. It paved the way for The U.K.’s future first win in 1967 with Sandie Shaw’s Puppet on a String, and is credited for inspiring other already-established composers to join the contest. The double-entendre filled lyrics (which Gainsbourg was known for) also proved to be a hit, as it filled future songs in the coming years.
Ne partez pas sans moi – Celine Dion
It’s usually shocking to those who don’t know the ESC (even for casual fans) that Celine Dion came from the contest in 1988 with this song. Representing Switzerland in Dublin (after Johnny Logan’s second victory), she beat out The U.K.’s Scott Fitzgerald by 1 point thanks to the Former Yugoslavia. This allowed her to come back the following year to Lausanne’s opening ceremony and premiere her English-language (U.S.) debut track Where Does My Heart Beat Now, and as the cliche goes, the rest is history. Imagine her losing by 1 point instead, and us not having a Las Vegas show, My Heart Will Go On, Beauty and the Beast, or any other Celine Dion-related material!
Fun fact #2: an artist representing a country/broadcaster for the ESC can be any nationality—it’s up to the broadcaster selecting the act to impose their own restrictions. For example this year, two Albanians will be acts for two separate countries (Ermal Meta as part of a duo for Italy and Eleni Foureira for Cyprus).
Personally, this is one of the craziest songs/situations because so much was reliant on other people/countries, and she really wasn’t the favorite going into the Contest (it was Scott Fitzgerald). To have won the way she won, then launch a highly successful international career is mind-blowing…
Euphoria – Loreen
Composed by Thomas G:Son and and Peter Bostrom (who have become mainstays in the contest since Loreen’s win), this song easily won the ESC held in Baku in 2012. Attaining a record number of douze points (12 points, the top score) and becoming the second highest score (372 points) for the 1975-2015 voting system (Norway’s Alexander Rybak got 387 with Fairytale in 2009), the song stormed the charts all over Europe and was even released in The U.S. and Japan (I missed a concert because I wasn’t in the country… T.T). Most critics, as well as fans, credit Euphoria for bringing the second wave of modernization to the Contest (after the aforementioned Poupee de cire, poupee de son); ESC Radio, which runs the annual ESC Top 250 on New Year’s Eve, has crowned Loreen’s song winner since its debut in 2012 (for a total of six years). 2017 winner Salvador Sobral’s Amar pelos dois debuted at #2, which may signal another shift in trends to self/intimately-composed/written songs as the song was written by his sister Luisa Sobral; only time will tell whether or not this trend will prevail (although the recent success of artists like Adele, Childish Gambino/Donald Glover, and Ed Sheeran may already signify it).
Sound of the Underground – Girls Aloud
I’m not sure whether or not this trips me out more than Celine Dion’s song or not, but I feel like I can definitely say Girls Aloud was not supposed to even be a thing, let alone have a successful 10 years in The U.K. (as well as spawning the successful solo careers of Cheryl and Nicola). The song, composed by Xenomania (mentioned in Music Monday II), has been acknowledged as ‘the most innovative reality show winning single ever,’ and as a song which ‘doesn’t make you want to do your head in.’ Formed on the show Popstars: The Rivals, the girls handily beat the boy band One True Voice, and soon went on to release 5 successful studio albums, more than 20 singles, and earn a BRIT award in the process. The kicker? Nicola Roberts and Kimberley Walsh almost didn’t get through the top 10/live shows, and got in through the virtue/misfortune of others (one girl quit because she didn’t agree with the contract, and another was pregnant/just over the age limit imposed by the producers). Favorite Javine also lost out at the last hurdle to Sarah Harding, which most of the other girls were shocked about, too. Cheryl was in the bottom 2/3 almost every week, so the fact that these five girls even made it together, let alone had a successful career post-show, is nothing short of miraculous.
Their symbiotic relationship with Xenomania also helped both flourish; the girls ended up trusting the duo after Love Machinei became their most well-known hit, while Xenomania were able to mold Girls Aloud into whatever they wanted and got to experiment with all sorts of sounds (which worked out in the Girls’ favor). This resulted in a highly distinct sound for the Girls and a fun time for the producers–a match made in heaven, I’m sure.