When winners from Dana to Dana International and Johnny Logan to Lordi all share Eurovision honours, it’s tempting to put victory down to sheer good luck on the night. Or, if you’re a defeated Brit, to rationalise, well… nobody likes an island.
However, success, or lack thereof, is actually more scientific than that — which means the UK can help ourselves musically, even as we ponder our popularity politically.
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Ballad or banger? Doesn’t matter. Recent winners include Sweden’s EDM-influenced Mans Zelmerlow, Austria’s bearded balladeer Conchita and Ukraine’s soulful soprano Jamala. But we do know that pop’s most standard beat — 128bpm — often comes last.
While you might assume Eurovision triumph requires something full of bounce and bop, that’s a trap the UK fell into in 2003, with poor Jemini earning exactly nul points
Since 2000, 12 winners have performed in a minor key, including 2017’s gentle Salvador Sobral, who won for Portugal with a woebegone jazz waltz. And three recent winners — well up on average odds — were in the key of D minor, including Conchita.
If you’re going to opt for a weathery metaphor, make it a gloomy one. Rain, not sunshine, gets the votes. Winners also sing about flying — take Celine Dion, who won for Switzerland in 1988, with Ne partez pas sans moi, a stonking power ballad that had, yes, a key change…
Ah, the fabled key change. Well, it turns out it really is a fable. It didn’t used to be, but now — unless you’ve got the lungs of Celine — you really don’t want to go there. Only three winners this century have done it. For the rest, it’s a sign of ambition over imagination. And if there’s one thing the discerning Eurovision audience can’t abide after all these years, it’s a cliché.
Eurovision Song Contest: Grand Final Saturday is on at 8pm on BBC1 and Radio 2