How to Win at Eurovision

Eurovision Small

It’s Eurovision time again, and I do love me some Eurocheese, so like last year, it’s time to address another of the great unanswered (and mostly unasked, for obvious reasons) questions about Eurovision. This is a question that’s asked particularly in the UK, when we’re not complaining that the voting’s all rigged anyway: What sort of song is most likely to win?

Everyone has their own theory, generally based on analysis of previous winners or a memory of the sort of song that was common or did well over the previous year or two. Maybe it was a strong drum beat, or wistful songs to folk instruments. Perhaps it was unabashed cheese, or epilepsy-inducing trance. Power ballads never seem to go completely out of fashion, and nor do costume gimmicks or key changes. There must be a magic formula in there somewhere!

Before getting too deep into that argument, though, committing yourself to a preference for serious or camp, hard or soft rock, drums or strings, I’d like to ask you to pretend you’re a game theorist.

At first sight, game theory may not seem to have much to do with Eurovision – where’s the room for strategy? Well, it’s in your choice of song. As I’ve discussed before, a song needs to generate positive acts of support, not just a generally favourable opinion. To do that, it needs to stand out from the crowd of 20-odd songs one after the other. This may mean the winner is not the best song from a purely objective point of view, but the most memorable.

After last year’s final, I heard a lot of mockery of Cezar’s Romanian entry (a sort of falsetto Dracula act, of which it was rightly said “Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should”), and outrage that it beat our song. But I can remember that song vividly a year later, while ours is a total blank in my mind. It had stickability. And it doesn’t matter if 9 in 10 people hate the song or laugh at it, as long as the tenth person picks up the phone to vote for it.

Related to this, never, ever try to copy last year’s winning song, or even the one before that. The most important reason is that there are always several other entries doing exactly the same thing, and you will easily become “one of those ones.” By going head to head with these other cloning attempts, you also dilute the pool of potential votes and split the vote. When Lordi stood out as unusual, there were enough votes for their brand of metal/monster rock to win. When there were several similar acts a year later, none came close.

This applies equally to choreography. It all adds up to making a song stand out as different, and worthy of support. When half the songs look much the same, it doesn’t matter whether they’re best described as “woman in white dress standing still” or “silhouetted men throwing shapes inside boxes”. If your song can easily be described as “one of the ones that…” you’re unlikely to win.

If that sounds too easy, it is. The crucial factor is still to have a good song, with a decent tune, good performance and ideally a catchy chorus for the brief recaps at the end. My Lovely Horse isn’t going to win, however much you work on the choreography, or whatever the balance of the other entries. But that’s obvious, and unhelpful. Writing a good song is still the hard bit, but following these basic strategies can at least maximise your chances.

Image by Amio Cajander, used under Creative Commons Generic Attribution License 2.0

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About Recovering Agnostic

I'm Christian by upbringing, agnostic by belief, cynical by temperament, broadly scientific in approach, and looking for answers. My main interest at the moment is in turning my current disengaged shrug into at least a working hypothesis.

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