An expat survival guide to the Eurovision Song Contest 2022
When six men from Finland, dressed up like ogres and monsters from a fantasy horror movie won Eurovision in 2007, they were given huge credit for "disrupting" the trend and going against the grain of the Eurovision status quo. With their eclectic metal hit Hard Rock Hallelujah, the band could hardly be called a typical Eurovision act. And yet, 15 years on, their image has forever amalgamated itself into the DNA of the contest and has become akin to a synonym for Eurovision itself.
And with the annual ESC2022 once again at our doorstep, everybody is once again getting into the Eurovision fever, wondering what surprises this year’s edition will bring. And with that in mind, I thought I’d write on the subject - partly due to my own admiration for the show - and in part to help readers understand “what all the fuss is about".
What’s all the fuss about with Eurovision?
For most of the past 30 years, major label bosses and the top brass of the radio stations were the ones deciding what the “average” listener heard in public places, on the radio, in supermarkets, on streaming platforms, and of course on TV.
Tucked away in a boardroom, they would make the decisions quietly, without emotion and personal preference, and based purely on numbers. As such, they would divide the artists into pots, much like the lottery numbers, and pick the ones they’d want to push as “A-list”, “B-list”, “C-list”, “best newcomer” and so on.
These decisions would then determine how many times you’d hear a track in public places throughout the day. To hear your favourite indie band played on mainstream radio in primetime would be unheard of, unless of course they had become mainstream - Coldplay is one such example. And hearing a dance track played after a glam-rock song, followed by a chanson, would spell an instant dismissal for any Radio DJ who’d dare to go against the guidelines of the radio station. Such is the model of modern-day music capitalism which we got so used to.
Eurovision Song Contest: The day the bets are off
Bearing all of that in mind, imagine you get one day in a year, when all bets are off, when the label and radio bosses all get a day off and the music world descends into a complete anarchy (musically speaking). You’d feel like Alice in Wonderland, or a character from The Purge movie - whichever analogy you prefer. You can literally pick any track you want and it will get airtime. Wouldn’t that be fun?
For me personally, Eurovision is exactly that, and watching it on telly makes me feel like Charlie in the Chocolate Factory. There are no limitations as to the genre of the song or the language in which it must be sung. The few rules that exist are: the songs cannot exceed a three-minute limit, it must be sung live, there can’t be more than five participants on stage, and the song can’t have any direct political message. Apart from that, anything’s fair game (sort of).
A brief history of ESC
The first show aired in 1956 and in the time since it has seen some world-renowned artists perform, including the likes of Celine Dion, Abba and - erm - Blue. When Eurovision’s popularity was still relatively low in the early 2000s, the show had an almost amateurish feel that at times made it almost cringe-worthy. Badly-written songs coupled with terrible backing tracks, amateur vocalists and staging reminiscent of a school production would dominate the show, giving its audiences lots to laugh about and inadvertently creating a great evening of entertainment for the viewers.
The absence of a financial incentive in the ESC has always been one of the main reasons why labels and big names generally avoided the platform. But over time, this gradually began to change.
Indeed, as Eurovision’s popularity grew, so did the quality on and off the stage, eventually reaching the same hallmark of quality as professional mainstream productions. Suddenly artists and labels alike turned their heads to Eurovision, seeing it as a potential springboard to launch careers or restart old ones. Famous producers started getting involved too.
Loreen, who won the 2012 ESC for Sweden with her Eurodance song Euphoria, is one such example. Produced by Peter Bostroem, the guy behind classic Eurodance bands such as Etype, the winning number was also co-produced by Carola and other Swedish and European “stars-of-the-90s”. Another heavy-hitter - Max Martin - the guy whose blueprint has dominated the Anglo-American billboard charts for the past 20 years, is another example.
In fact, by 2018, it got a bit too much, bordering on the ridiculous. If I remember correctly, at least four songs in the finals sounded pretty much like they were made from the same template by one producer-guy (because they were).
The voting system
In the past, the voting process was painstakingly long; mainly due to the fact that each participating country would apportion scores of one to 12 to their favourite acts, and then reel these off, one by one, live on TV. It was yawn-inducing. Many presenters also saw this score-giving moment as an opportunity to seize the limelight, resorting to comical cameo performances no one wanted to hear or see. Obviously, this took forever to conclude and the show dragged on and on.
Since 2016, however, a new voting system has seen the organisers cut down the scoregiving segments to just the three top points for each country (eight points, 10 points and 12 points). Other optimisations have included putting the televoting results at the end, rather than at the beginning, all in one fell swoop, from the lowest to the highest score. This has created more excitement and a bigger climax towards the end of the show, as well as solving the issue whereby some votes were irrelevant if the winner had already accumulated more than enough points to win.
Last year the Italian glam-rock band Maneskin won over television audiences across Europe with their original song Zitti e Buoni. A renaissance of live performance with a full band on stage, great energy and youthful zest; one that Axel Rose would have been proud of.
And what of Germany's Eurovision entry in 2022?
This year, German hopes lie with the German-American singer Malik Harris, who won the selection process and the live TV show final with his mainstream rap hit Rockstar. The selection was disappointing to many German fans, who felt the overall preselection of the German finalists was too safe and too “middle of the road”, little to do with the spirit of Eurovision and a lot more to do with labels pushing their up-and-coming rookies.
It was particularly disappointing, because Germany did have a gem - something which excited the fans and felt really fresh. The electro-metal band called Electric Callboy, and their latest hit We Got the Moves ticked all the Eurovision boxes, not the least for the quirkiness and boldness of the music video.
Alas, since the initial selection was done by the NDR-appointed panel of “experts”, evidently they thought the mixture of catchy electro sounds with heavy metal growling was not what the European public needed.
Watching Eurovision can be a great learning experience for anyone who wants to broaden their musical horizons beyond what goes on in the English-speaking world. There are plenty of similar elements which emerge year after year.
For example, Eurodance as a genre has always been popular. Many countries incorporate that together with local elements, such as beats, percussion, different languages and traditional instruments.
Other popular genres include power ballads, pop and chanson. Indeed, the songs picked by each country are often indicative of the local taste in music, their culture and geographical location. And as such, certain cliches have emerged throughout the years based on recurring elements. I’ve decided to poke fun at some of these, but obviously don’t take them too seriously.
- Finland - Heavy metal, English language, big unshaven wildebeests.
- Albania, Georgia & Azerbaijan - Scantily-clad female singers, Eurodance flavoured with central European and Eastern percussive elements.
- Greece - Old men and women sing another rendition of “Syrtaki” dance.
- Armenia - A strange combination of adult songs with pyjama party costumes.
- Sweden - Mainstream dance or pop, unless three big mommas apply (in which case they can sing whatever they want).
- Denmark - Teenager bands, singing about hope and love.
- Netherlands - Usually a love duet or songs about flowers (pretty, but never in the top 10).
- Germany - A positive message, socially responsible, but often very bland.
- France - “Proud to be French” or something in that vein. Mostly chanson and in French, obviously.
- Russia - Whatever the State decides to put out.
- Ukraine & Moldova - Self-deprecating Eastern European Disco.
- Portugal - Chanson, in Portuguese, real craftsmanship, jazzy.
- UK - Never-want-to-fit-in with the rest of Europe attitude, heavy reliance on soul artists. Overly proud of their musical success as a nation, and inevitably always a major FAIL.
- Ireland - Folky pop tunes with accents most non-English speakers will never understand.
- Israel - Something something Hallelujah, sung in Yiddish.
- Norway - What does the fox say? still reverberates in their sometimes outrageous sarcasm. Luv it!
- Baltic States - Bad imitations of Sweden from the previous year.
- Spain -Eurodance and pop in Spanish. Women with swords.
- Iceland - Quirky computer nerds and Will Farrell.
- Belgium - Music that your parents listen to (old) in French.
- Switzerland -Tall, big men, probably related to Arnold Schwarzenegger, dressed in black.
- Australia - Superb vocalists, artistic songs, but what the heck has Australia got to do with Eurovision?
What to expect at Eurovision Song Contest 2022: Winners and losers predictions
The fun part of watching the ESC is the fact that you never know which way the voting is going to go. Despite being a professional composer and a keen music analyst, I have never been able to pick the “winning horse”, so to speak. Still, like every year I’m going to have a go.
Of course, there are favourites and those tipped for glory based on their popularity during the semi-finals and the rehearsals, but since the show uses a 12-point voting system, part of which is determined outside of the performance theatre, it’s not easy to pick the winner outright. Despite that, there are some safe bets that have been consistent throughout the ESC competition and could give you an insight into this year’s competition:
- Ukraine will get everyone's vote: It is hard to bet against Ukraine getting the votes from pretty much everyone, so my money would go on this year’s show becoming a vote of solidarity.
- The UK will fail: Being one of the founding members of the competition, the UK is guaranteed a spot in the final, come what may. Unfortunately, their musical superiority complex coupled with their strong reliance on soul as a genre hasn't managed to impress anyone to date.
- Sweden will do well: Whatever happens, it’s always right up there, near the top. Their musical production giants coupled with their ability to write good melodies has not deteriorated since the days of ABBA and is always a good bet.
- Portugal is a good bet: Saudade is definitely this year’s dark horse; an understated song with a chill-out vibe that is instantly recognisable.
Incidentally, this year I also submitted a song for the Eurovision. A mixture of Boni M and Rammstein with lyrics about Greta Tunberg. Though it didn’t get selected by the jury, I’m still quite proud of it (there’s always next year).