Eurovision winners are usually about love, study shows

You might be forgiven for thinking the Eurovision Song Contest doesn’t lend itself to rigorous academic analysis. After all, this can be a competition by which six elderly women in national dress once earned Russia second place by performing an ethno-pop ballad called “Party for Everybody,” which featured the refrain “Come on and boom, boom,” sung ad nauseam.
But a couple of scientists have attempted to do the impossible and assign logic to Eurovision, the glittery, camp kitsch-fest that serves a continent-wide obsession every May.

And they’ve figured there are a few sure-fire ways in which countries can enhance their chances of glory. The most critical? Sing about love, demonstrably.

Love was the prominent theme in an enormous 69% of Eurovision entries in the past decade, but it featured in an even higher proportion (83%) of top-three entries, found musicologists Joe Bennett of the Berklee College of Music in the US and Simon Troup of music publisher Digital Music Art UK.

Sweden’s John Lundvik with fans through the 2019 Eurovision contest. He sang “To Late for Love” and came 5th place. Credit: Guy Prives/Getty Images Europe/Getty Images

Their study also highlighted a number of trends in successful Eurovision entries between 2010 and 2019 — a place that the brains behind the United Kingdom’s efforts should probably start watching.

Eurovision winners are slowing down, they note, with the average tempo of the most notable three scoring songs dropping from 148 beats each and every minute in 2010 to just 76 beats per minute a year ago. And, while one in five entries sticks to the classic Eurovision key change, none of the recent winners has employed that trick.

The coronavirus pandemic meant Eurovision was canceled this year for the first time in its history. The research was commissioned by Netflix to promote its polarizing movie “Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga,” which premiered on Friday.

The researchers “used a combination of computer analysis, music transcription, immersive listening, and lyric interpretation to identify every song’s lyric theme, style, and musical attributes, and then analysed the data to explore the characteristics of the songs that attract the most votes in the contest,” they wrote.

They discovered that the event has stubbornly resisted trends in popular music, bravely forging its own path in terms of musical experimentation.

“Eurovision song styles appear to have ‘evolved’, in the cultural Darwinism sense, independently from mainstream global pop music,” the researchers noted, speculating that was “due to the particular cultural and structural factors at play in the Contest, in contrast to the more unregulated market forces that decide the popularity of mainstream hits.”

That explains, then, why Poland once entered an all-female group who inexplicably churned butter throughout their performance, or why Estonia’s 2008 performance featured dancers in bikinis holding up images of onions, or why this happened:

The researchers identified six main themes behind the bulk of Europe’s entries: Love, Unity, Music, Self-assertion, History and “Dance Party.”

Love was such an all-encompassing theme which they broke it down into four separate sub-categories: songs about looking for love, being in love, having troubles in love, and heartbreak.

Next year’s Eurovision is set to occur in the Netherlands, following this year’s Rotterdam event was scrapped. “We regret this situation very much, but I can promise you: the Eurovision Song Contest will come back stronger than ever,” organizers said when they announced the news.