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Be very careful when reading political messages into Eurovision voting

If you weren’t watching Eurovision on Saturday night, you missed a man in a hamster wheel, twins on a see-saw, some more men on a trampoline, a circular piano, someone rollerblading in the background for no apparent reason, plenty of ridiculous outfits and a winning performance by a drag act singing what sounded like a rejected 90s Bond theme. So just a typical year, really.

I’d like to note at this point that the winning act, Rise like a Phoenix by “bearded lady” Conchita Wurst, fits my theory of how to win. It stood out, not particularly because no one else was singing a similar song (although outright power ballads are definitely less common than they were), but because of the performer, and the surrounding controversy. This brought a lot of attention, and I strongly suspect it would not have won if the same song had been sung by Shirley Bassey. Among 26 songs on the night, it was clearly different, and received its reward. Read More…

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How to Win at Eurovision

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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. Read More…

The truth behind the myth of Eurovision’s political voting

Eurovision SmallIt’s Eurovision time again, that special time of year when cheese is on the menu all over Europe. If you don’t watch it, and especially the semi-finals where so many memorably bad acts go out, you’re missing out on either a massive celebration of Europop or a hilarious parade of some of the most awful songs ever, depending on your perspective. I usually view it as about half and half, but it’s never dull.

Interestingly, though, a straw poll suggests that the first thing most people think of in connection with Eurovision is political voting. “They all vote for their mates” is the general gist of the popular belief, concluding that the entire process is both corrupt and pointless, as well as implying that we are entirely innocent of such favouritism. Even allowing for a certain amount of humour and hyperbole, this reveals an impressive range of cognitive biases. Read More…

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