For a contest with a history that spans over sixty years, it’s unsurprising that there have been a diverse range of winning entries spanning countless genres and languages. But what is it that makes a Eurovision entry a winner? Over the last ten years or so winning entries have included Portuguese jazz, Italian rock, and Swedish pop. On the surface it seems difficult to make any form of generalisation behind what makes a winner.
Before continuing I highly recommend having a look at the interval act from the 2016 contest held in Stockholm: in ‘Love, Love, Peace, Peace’, hosts Mans Zelmerlow and Petra Mede hilariously parody what makes a good Eurovision song in perhaps one of the most memorable intervals in recent years.
The first question is what language should someone sing in? Many would suggest that considering English is the most spoken second-language in Europe, then that is the obvious choice for getting popular to relate to the song and therefore vote for it. However, I’m not sure this is necessarily true. Some of the most famous winners, such as Rybak’s ‘Fairytale’ (Norway, 2009) and Loreen’s ‘Euphoria’ (Sweden, 2012) have been English, but the highest scoring winner ever was actually Salvador Sobral’s ‘Amar pelos dois’ (Portugal, 2017). Similarly, in 2021 four out of the top five songs were sung in languages other than English, including the winners Italy. Personally, and I am sure many would agree, I actually prefer it when countries send songs in different languages as it adds a greater level of diversity and excitement to the contest. Plus, who doesn’t want the opportunity to pick up the occasional phrase from another language?
As alluded to genre it really seems that anything goes. Eurovision isn’t the cliched, generic display of pop music that its detractors like to paint it as. You can have as much success sending a dance-pop track about female empowerment like Israel did in 2018 as if you were to send a heartbreaking ballad such as 2019’s winner ‘Arcade’. To once again look to the most recent contest as an example, the top ten in Rotterdam had acts ranging from Ukrainian electro-folk to French chanson and Finnish nu metal. In a contest that is all about standing out, having a unique and memorable song is really the minimum that needs to be done to get a good result, let alone win!
Although having a great song is all well and good (it is a music contest after all) it’s also Europe’s biggest television event. It doesn’t matter how good you sound if you don’t have a memorable looking performance, and staging has often been the make-or-break factor behind many acts. In 2021, Malta was one of the overwhelming favourites to win, and bookies weren’t focusing too much on Ukraine and Italy. Then came rehearsals. Both Ukraine and Italy hugely impressed audiences with their staging whilst Malta felt somewhat lacklustre. The end result? Malta came seventh, whilst Ukraine and Italy were fifth and first respectively.
Perhaps the greatest staging that the contest has ever seen was Sergey Lazarev’s in 2016. Although he didn’t go on to win the entire contest, he was the winner of the televote and finished in a very impressive third place. The concept of the performance was relatively simple: it involved him performing in front of an interactive screen. Doesn’t sound all that exciting, does it? Well, he eventually starts climbing and singing on the wall itself. If that’s not memorable, I don’t know what is! A more recent example of incredible staging is Kate Miller-Heidke’s in 2019. For her dramatic pop-opera ‘Zero Gravity’ she was placed, alongside two dancers, on large poles that they would use their body weight to move, giving the impression of them almost floating in the air. That, in combination with the space-themed visuals made a truly stunning performance.
I feel like it’s impossible to talk about what makes a Eurovision winner without looking at the most recent example, and probably the most successful Eurovision act since Celine Dion and ABBA. I’m talking, of course, about everyone’s favourite Italian band Måneskin. Firstly, for everyone who says that taking part in Eurovision is damaging to an artist’s career, I’d like to point them to the two BRIT nominations that Måneskin received,as well as their upcoming Coachella performance. But what made them win, and how have they gone on to become so successful outside of the Eurovision bubble?
I can distinctly remember listening to their song, ‘Zitti e Buoni’ after their victory at Sanremo and being pleasantly surprised, rock music has never been the most common genre at Eurovision, which has the benefit of making it easy for rock entries to stand out. It quickly entered my top ten favourites prior to the contest, but even then I wasn’t expecting too great things from them. As enjoyable as the song is, and it even ended up near the top of my Spotify Wrapped for 2021, it was going to face tough competition from the likes of early frontrunners France, Iceland and Lithuania.
And then came rehearsals, and everything changed.
As mentioned, staging can make or break a performance, and for Måneskin it certainly did the former. It elevated what was already a great song into something polished, professional, and Måneskin certainly seemed to be challenging for the victory with their dynamic performance. It really comes as no surprise that they soon found themselves climbing up the odds and eventually emerging the winners on the night of the final.
It seems fitting that the secret to winning at Eurovision appears to be quite simple: sending something authentic that stands out, and you’re on your way to a winner.
Image Credit: Bruno, CC BY-SA 2.0