24
March
2019

Why The Eurovision Song Contest Needs Strong Internal Selections

Why The Eurovision Song Contest Needs Strong Internal Selections

All 41 entries are known, the first favourites are bubbling up to the surface, betters and traders are working long hours, and Juke Box Jury is back in session Looking back on the more successful National Finals gives us an idea of their importance as a showcases for local music.

As a Dutchman however, the memories of the Dutch songs rom the early 21st century National Finals leave me with a bitter taste. For The Netherlands the ‘Nationaal Songfestival’ is very much deeply buried in the Eurovision Song Contest graveyard. The national broadcasters, first NOS, then TROS, lost the power to keep up competing with better music productions like The Voice (created by Dutch media mogul John de Mol). Not to mention the Dutch audience, who at times seems to have a rather lethargic and questionable taste in electing a competitive entries for the Song Contest

I feel more comfortable with the current selection format that The Netherlands have adopted since 2013. That resulted in a ninth place and was almost perceived as a victory (that fact alone should ring a bell). Since then things have gone more smoothly,  not just at the Eurovision Song Contest, but also in the Dutch music charts. More and more Dutch artists, both well-known and relatively unknown, are aching to use the Song Contest as a platform for their music.

An internal selection, although it isn’t the most democratic format to say the least, has some built-in advantages.

A Creative Canvas

First of all, there is a creative argument on why an internal selection should be considered. Sometimes a National Final simply doesn’t do any favours in representing the best of national music scene.

It is true that Melodifestivalen offers a platform to a long list of Swedish artists. There’s a clear idea behind the whole concept. For record companies Melodifestivalen has become a business interest , almost as much as audition shows like The X-Factor and The Voice. The production is tightly knitted together with extensive TV scripts. And yes, it’s an event the Swedish public and media love!

But in some instances it might feel a bit too calculated, too polished. Most entries in this year’s Melodifestivalen were wonderfully staged and found its way in the Swedish charts. But can a song like ‘Too Late For Love’ really become a bigger hit across the continent? Have we heard another ‘Euphoria’ or ‘Heroes’ as of late?

Broader Musical Styles

To me a National Final should be a platform for more musical genres than the ones that are guided by a big record company or a tightly produced format. How would songs like ‘Calm After The Storm’, ‘1944’ or ‘Amar Pelos Dois’ fare in a line-up like the one from this year’s Melodifestivalen? Perhaps they would do well, perhaps not. But SVT could, or should, look a bit more outside the box for new music styles and genres.

Salvador Sobral

With an Internal Selection, a broadcaster can steer the country towards one specific music genre. It can be perceived in the media as both daunting and daring: risk over calculated efforts, exclusion of the public vote instead of including them.

After a whole decade of misfortunes for The Netherlands, it was exactly that kind of behaviour need to get one of the founding fathers of the Eurovision Song Contest back on track. In the event Europe was introduced to new music that at first seemed very a-typical.

Looking At The Cost

Participating in the Eurovision Song Contest by only focusing on a less complicated internal selection is not just desirable from a creative point of view, it can reduce the financial burden to (smaller) national broadcasters, For The Netherlands for instance, which has the added disadvantage of being part of a complex public broadcasting system (AVROTROS is not a task-based ‘state’ broadcaster like NOS, it depends on funding from its members) the internal selection method proves cheaper.

For the 2016 Song Contest, the cost was estimated at €550.000. For The Netherlands these costs were roughly divided into two parts:

a €250.000 ‘entrance fee’ payable to the EBU (which varies from broadcaster to broadcaster, taking into account the member’s relative financial status. That part is paid by the umbrella organisation NPO that (financially) oversees the task of every member-based broadcaster, like AVROTROS.

€300.000 investment costs from broadcaster AVROTROS. This is paid for by contribution fees from its individual members (almost 700.000 individual members) and investment returns from publishing materials (online and physical). These costs can include (but are not limited to) hotel accommodation, staffing costs, creative costs, and promotional material.

In an environment where smaller broadcasters are struggling to get the financial budget approved for a Eurovision participation (such as those from Bulgaria, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Portugal, Cyprus, Serbia who have all skipped Contests in recent years), an internal selection is one option to reduce costs, albeit the participation costs in May remain.

The 2019 Selections

SVT’s Melodifestivalen and SBS’s Australia Decides have proven popular to fans and offer a national showcase for those who enter. The are powerhouse productions that can easily compete with the rush of reality-TV singing shows But are John Lundvik’s ‘Too Late For Love’ and Kate Miller-Heidke’s ‘Zero Gravity’ really this year’s frontrunners from a creative point of view? Are they really the entries that will come out on top in this year’s ESCtracker?

Of do this year’s Internal Selections have the upper hand when it comes to YouTube hits, betting odds, and Spotify streams? These all factor into creating hit potential. The Netherlands (Duncan Laurence with ‘Arcade’), Switzerland (Luca Hänni with ‘She Got Me’), Cyprus (Tamta with ‘Replay’), and Greece (Katerine Duska with ‘Better Love’) all offer something that makes them stand out with a bang at this very moment.

Improving The National And International Platform

For me the Eurovision Song Contest is a destination for European music, and not just National Final winners. Lately the Song Contest has leaned into reality TV tropes to generate more excitement and entertainment (such as the changes to the voting announcements). Perhaps it is time for the European Broadcasting Union to focus the Contest more on being a competitive music platform rather than light entertainment. What about adding a worthy financial cheque to that trophy? And silver and bronze medal recognition for all those runner-up’s and 3rd placed entries?

By doing so the Eurovision Song Contest could become an important platform for European music: for European newcomers and for European talent that otherwise would not make it within the framework of a tightly produced and record company-supported national final. Such entries tend to be more riskier, especially musically, but that makes the Eurovision line-up more diverse.

Obviously you can’t have all 41 nations to have one singular selection format. But having two broadly different approaches (National Finals and Internal Selections) maintains a certain degree of musical diversity on the Eurovision stage.

Internal Selections have the advantage of directing the focus of a national broadcaster and the selected artist. This can improve the status of the Song Contest at a National level and that of the local music scene. It can pave the way to re-introducing strong National Finals in the long-term. Or it can mix all of these.

The Internal Selection process is just as important to the ebb and flow of the Song Contest as a National Final.

Categories: ESC Insight

20
March
2019

Eurovision Insight News Podcast: There’s No Camp This Year

Eurovision Insight News Podcast: There’s No Camp This Year
http://archive.org/download/escinsight_20190318_news_615/escinsight_20190318_news_615.mp3

A quiet week on the news front, but I’m sure the artists and delegations are hard at work rehearsing the songs, practicing the stage moves, and getting ready for Tel Aviv!

Eurovision Insight News Podcast: There’s No Camp This Year

Everyone is rehearsing this week, but there’s still news on the Eurovision camp site, the power of fans, and a dash of epic promise. It’s Ewan”s turn with a Eurovision Thought this week as he talks about song reviews and communities.

Follow these links to find out more about Eurovision in Concert, London Eurovision Party, Riga’s Eurovision PreParty, Moscow’s Eurovision Party, Spain’s Preview Party, and Glasgow’s Ne Party Pas Sans Moi.

As the delegations prepare for May, you can stay up to date with all the Song Contest news by listening to the ESC Insight podcast. You’ll find the show in iTunes, Google Podcasts, and Spotify. A direct RSS feed is  available. We also have a regular email newsletter which you can sign up to here.

Categories: ESC Insight

15
March
2019

Have We Entered The Era of The Eurovision Stan?

Have We Entered The Era of The Eurovision Stan?

Ever since the Eurovision Song Contest began counting public votes, we’ve been discussing who is voting and why. We discuss the power of the diaspora (votes cast for the home country by those who live elsewhere), geopolitical voting patterns, and what impact staging has upon the public votes. We talk about the influence of past songs upon the current crop, and we even talk minutiae like bpm and camera angles.

I’m curious about what I see as a sea change in how we choose the acts that sing the songs we dissect so much.

If I Can Make It There, I Can Make It Anywhere

The 2010s has been a decade of memorable contestants who started on TV talent shows. Ruth Lorenzo, Conchita Wurst, Guy Sebastian, Dami Im, Måns Zelmerlöv, Jamala, Salvador Sobral, Saara Aalto, Loreen, Jedward and Krista Siegfrids are just a handful of the many acts who got their first break through participating in a talent show. Appearing on a TV show meant they were already familiar with how TV works (know your marks, work the camera) and were comfortable on stage. It also ensured that the viewers at home were familiar with the singers themselves and had a story hook already. In the case of the names mentioned, this proved beneficial as they all made it to the contest’s Grand Final and some even won. For others, their appeal proved very local — such as Iceland’s Ari Olafsson who failed to make an impact at Lisbon 2018 — or they struggled even on the national stage.

The past few years we’ve begun seeing another type of contestant: the social media star. Justin Bieber was discovered on YouTube back in 2008 and his success gave rise to other social media discoveries like Shawn Mendes, Alessia Cara and 5 Seconds of Summer (as discussed previously on ESC Insight).

In the interim 11 years Instagram has joined YouTube as a creative outlet for young music talent. Aspiring pop stars no longer have to audition and go on semi-scripted reality TV shows to get a story and find an audience. The talent can now record themselves singing in their bedrooms, tell their own stories, and build their own audiences who can interact with them.

Bilal Hassani of France is one of those young talents. He did compete in The Voice Kids in 2015, but it was not until he had amassed nearly 1 million subscribers on his YouTube channel and roughly 500,000 followers on Instagram that he made the leap to Eurovision. He won with ‘Roi’ due to an overwhelming public vote share — out of his 200 points, 150 came from the public vote.

In Sweden, we nearly saw the same thing happen with 16 year-old Bishara. He finished second overall thanks to an impressive public vote: his overall score was 107 with 69 being from the public. However, if we take a closer look, Bishara’s numbers look different. His YouTube channel has only 16,000 and his Instagram account is followed by 185,000. Surely, this should not have been enough to catapult a practically unknown boy to the runner-up spot in Sweden’s most popular TV show?

Let me introduce you to the concept of the Stan.

Just To Chat, Truly Yours, Your Biggest Fan

Depending upon who you ask, the concept of the Stan either stems from Eminem’s song of the same song or as abbreviated form of ‘superfan’. Either way, a stan (noun) is an enthusiastic fan who is connects with others online who also stan (verb) someone.

The online phenomenon really began with One Direction whose meteoric rise to fame was propelled by stans who consumed as much online content as possible, thus paving the way for a third-placed X-factor boy band to become the biggest British export in the US since the Beatles. While fannish spaces have existed on the internet since its inception, and websites such as LiveJournal and DreamWidth enabled fans to connect, social media sites like Twitter and Instagram made staning a much more organic and focused pursuit.

New Zealand based fandom & tech expert Sacha Judd has studied the stan phenomenon and argues that staining is one way of honing and developing tech skills. One Direction stans infamously hacked airport security cameras so they could watch their idols chill before a flight and Lady Gaga’s Little Monsters staged a Starbucks scam to get her a number one single. More benevolently, stans frequently organise complex campaigns to win awards and have songs played on radio, but fundraising is a big part of stan culture, though, with wider societal issues such as LGBT+ rights, structural racism, and women’s rights often high on the agenda.

Watching the results in France and Sweden, I found myself thinking about the stan phenomenon at Eurovision. Both Bilal and Bishara belong to a new generation of contestants — vocal talents who are wildly famous to a certain demographic and completely unknown to anyone who do not live in certain pockets of the internet — and they are loved by the generation of stans who are used to participating in “voting attacks” with social media accounts devoted to generating hashtags and hits. These stans are primed for weaponising their numbers, even if they are voting via apps or by calling numbers. They are not casual Saturday night viewers nor are they just tuning in. These stans know the story even before they have heard the song or seen the performance, and they are poised to gain their fave as many votes as possible.

As National Final season gears down, the local TV producers will begin to look for the next batch of possible stars. Social media will play a massive part in their search as a built-in following guarantees good viewing figures on the night. As we’ve seen in France and Sweden, their profiles might also result in solid public votes. Interestingly, Sweden has changed how their voting system works: they are now giving preferential treatment to acts who gain votes from a wider range of demographics. This could be a reaction to previous years’ ‘voting attacks’ though it does not require fans to verify their range. Bishara still ended up with a large share of the public vote (only beaten by the inevitable winner).

It’s A Teenage Rampage?

I can hear ESC fans screaming already at the prospect of seeing ‘their’ Song Contest invaded by teenage girls armed with mobile phones. Well, there is more to this story.

Stan behaviour is not limited to a specific age nor gender. We already see stan behaviour on ESC social media with campaigns such as the successful ‘#mamood4eurovision’ which sought to persuade the Italian contestant to participate in Tel Aviv 2019 after he had voiced doubts. We have also seen fan generating massive hype around certain contestants before they’ve even released a song and finding leaked content before the official unveiling.

Social media has and will continue to change the Eurovision Song Contest. We already have our online fandom communities, fan media, leaked songs, streaming figures, access to National Finals across Europe and beyond, and instant access to .. whoever manages the social accounts of the contestants. When I started watching Eurovision, none of this existed but the changes have made for a more engaging and immersive experience.

And who is to say that a teen girl’s passion for a queer French-Moroccan Muslim boy is less valid than another fan’s passion for Big Balkan Ballads? If we truly celebrate diversity, we should not be gatekeepers. Opening up the Song Con test to new voices and new fans makes for a more exciting Contest that will keep evolving.

Categories: ESC Insight

15
March
2019

Laka celebrates 50th birthday with a new song about getting old

Laka celebrates 50th birthday with a new song about getting old

Laka

On his 50th birthday, Elvir Laković Laka, who represented Bosnia and Herzegovina at the 2008 Eurovision Song Contest, has released a new song today titled “Ostarih”, which deal with the issue of getting things done before it’s too late.

Ostarih, which in English translates to ‘I Got Old’, is a love song about how important it is to get things done before it is too late.

The video for the song has been filmed in the National Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina in Sarajevo. Edvin Kalić, who has collaborated with Laka many times before, directed the video for Ostarih. Laka performers his new song with the inseparable member of his band – his 14 years younger sister Mirela.

Laka and the Eurovision Song Contest

Elvir Laković Laka was born in 1969 in Goražde (Bosnia and Herzegovina). He attended music school where he was studying guitar, but he disliked the school’s teaching methods and views towards music, and then subsequently quit the school. Laka recorded his first song, MaloSamSeRazočar’o, back in 1998. This song made him famous nationally. In 2004, he moved to New York, where he tried to start a band, but returned to Bosnia and Herzegovina unsuccessful and disappointed after two-and-a-half years. Short time after, he then released his first solo album Zec in 2007 – and soon followed Eurovision.

Back in 2008, Laka was internally chosen by the Bosnian and Herzegovinian National Broadcaster, BHRT, to represent the country in the contest, which was held in Belgrade. The title of his entry was Pokušaj. Laka finished 9th in the semi-final and in the grand final he came 10th with 110 points.

He was also the spokesperson reading out the results from Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2009 and again in 2012.

We wish Laka a very happy birthday and we hope to see ham and his native country Bosnia and Herzegovina back on Eurovision stage soon. Below, you can watch the video for his new song Ostarih:

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Categories: Eurovisionary

13
March
2019

Eurovision Insight News Podcast: The Songs Are Locked In

Eurovision Insight News Podcast: The Songs Are Locked In
http://archive.org/download/escinsight_20190311_news_613/escinsight_20190311_news_613.mp3

We’ve heard the winning song of the Eurovision Song Contest 2019, but which one is it? The 41 delegations are working on staging, promotion, vocals, choreography, and everything else required for their three minutes in May so we can find out.. The competition is well and truly under way!

Eurovision Insight News Podcast: The Songs Are Locked In

The national selections are over and the 41 delegations have submitted their songs to the EBU. As well as going over the final announcements and results, ESC Insight’s Ellie Chalkley has our latest Eurovision Thought as she talks about the one weird trick for Song Contest success.

Follow these links to find out more about Eurovision in Concert, London Eurovision Party, Riga’s Eurovision PreParty, Moscow’s Eurovision Party, Spain’s Preview Party, and Glasgow’s Ne Party Pas Sans Moi.

As the delegations prepare for May, you can stay up to date with all the Song Contest news by listening to the ESC Insight podcast. You’ll find the show in iTunes, Google Podcasts, and Spotify. A direct RSS feed is  available. We also have a regular email newsletter which you can sign up to here.

Categories: ESC Insight

12
March
2019

Successful National Finals Must Dream Bigger Dreams Than Eurovision

Successful National Finals Must Dream Bigger Dreams Than Eurovision

The Eurovision Song Contest’s community regularly praises SVT’s Melodifestivalen as the barometer of all National Finals. Its mere name holds a hallowed place for many because of its sheer scale, its ability to produce more hits than misses at the Song Contest and it transforms all of its artists into household names both in Sweden and across Europe.

It is often cited as the one National Final that our own national broadcasters should emulate… whilst in the next breath criticising it when it fails to give Eurovision fans what they demand.

As international viewers of Melodifestivalen, indeed of all the National Finals that lead up to the Song Contest, I believe we are missing the point.

Anton Ewald once more on the Melodifestivalen stage (Photo: Olle Kirchmeier, SVT)

M. E. L. F. E. S. T.

Many of us tend to forget that the primary reason of Melodifestivalen – or indeed the likes of Sanremo, Festival I’Kenges and Eesti Laul – is about the opportunity for artists to gain exposure in what is one of the most watched programs of the year in each nation.

These shows are not provided to pander to a livestream audience of a few tens of thousands. They exist at a national level, to showcase local talent to a local audience. The successful national final formats are not built around being selected for the Eurovision Song Contest; rather they are about capturing ratings for the broadcaster; the ability to build on production techniques; and create development opportunities and increase sales for the artists. Picking up a ticket to represent the nation at the Song Contest is unlikely to be near the top of the outcome list.

As Aftonbladet’s Tobbe Ek explained on a recent Insight Podcast’s ‘Eurovision Thought’, Melodifestivalen is a success not just because SVT spends money on making a big show. It is a success because it is a nurturing home for artists, it offers something unique to music publishers, and it supports the mainstream media by providing long running celebrity story lines that promote high levels of engagement online, in print, and in broadcast.

Melodifestivalen 2019 saw John Lundvik lift the trophy. That follows on from his debut at Melodifestivalen 2017, arguably an apprenticeship year where the pressure was not necessarily to win, but to get to grips with the circus, to become comfortable as a TV singer and the associated social media intrusions, and build up a specific set of skills.

The vast majority of the Swedish music industry will not release songs from any major act during the first calendar quarter unless its a Melodifestivalen track. That’s the relationship the Swedish show has over the industry. For a quarter of the year, it is the industry.

And don’t forget that the media knows this as well. There is a virtuous circle of music being released, artist promotion, stories in the media, more sales and awareness, more promotion, and so on.  The show has a mutually beneficial relationship with the media.

Do it like Melodifiestivalen‘ is the demand of many fans, but the simple fact is that being a big TV show is not the reason that Melodifestivalen is a success, or why Sweden is on a hot streak at the Song Contest. Melodifestivalen respects the acts, provides a training ground, offers a unique outlet for record labels and has the respect of the media and the public.

You don’t replicate that just by moving your National Selection into a slightly bigger venue with a bit more money.

The view from the back of Friends Arena during the 2014 Melodifestivalen Final

The view from the back of Friends Arena during the 2014 Melodifestivalen Final

Compare And Contrast Two New Formats

Let’s wind the clock back to earlier in the 2019 National Final season to examine the approach of two selection shows. One which was just about selecting a song for Eurovision, and another that was looking towards building a national platform for music alongside the Tel Aviv decision.

The United Kingdom’s ‘Eurovision: You Decide’

Although it kept the moniker of ‘You Decide’ for a fourth year, 2019 saw the BBC scale down its production from a theatre setting to a television studio, as well as introducing a new tactic of having six acts performing three songs.

The songs came first, and were the result of a songwriters camp alongside an open call for submissions. The singers – all alumni of previous TV talent shows – were only approached following the three songs being chosen. A three-person jury was responsible for choosing which was the best performance of each song, before opening it up to the public to make the final choice between three acts.

The inclusion of celebrity juries to act as talking heads means that the focus is lost on both the song and artist. Rather than celebrate the music through the show and then choose a victor, we are forced to listen to others opinions and judge constantly in the same way as we witness many other talent shows.

Count the number of acts who are eager to appear competitively in multiple editions of Melodifestivalen, even though they lost, and compare that to the count of returning acts at You Decide.

You Decide as a model delivered a song and performer to represent the United Kingdom, but the feeling that the show is part of a larger musical and media narrative is not present. The songs were not officially released in their own right for streaming on the major services such as Spotify until early March. With limited promotion on television and radio, there was no ability for the artists to use ‘You Decide’ as a platform to build their career and visibility while they were in the spotlight.

SuRie described her business relationship with the BBC bluntly in an interview with Vice magazine during her time as the UK act for Lisbon 2018:

Back in London, I [Journalist Michael Segalov] brought up the financials of representing Great Britain with SuRie, having assumed there would be a substantial contract and pay package given the workload she has to take on. “I get a one-off fee for the show itself, but that’s it,” she’d told me bluntly. “I just need to survive. If I had a waitressing job they’d have said, ‘Keep your shifts and we’ll work around it.’

These issues are ultimately compounded with the years of the Song Contest being seen as something to be ridiculed. One simple example is the stark difference in how Graham Norton approaches the musicians on both his TV and radio shows compared to how musicians are discussed in his Eurovision commentary. You can still have fun and present Eurovision as light entertainment while offering the performers on the Eurovision stage the same artistic respect as Norton’s sofa.

How the Eurovision Song Contest is spoken about by the BBC is intrinsically linked to the way the public, artists and those internally employed perceive its value. Whilst this current presentational style and lack of investment in the artists continues, the ability of attracting any known serious talents will be left wanting. Without a valid and quantifiable outcome, be it for future career or financial opportunity, it shall continue to be ignored by artists of the calibre seen in other national selection shows.

SBS’s ‘Eurovision: Australia Decides’

‘Eurovision: Australia Decides’, whilst admittedly also existing as a single show to select an entry for the  Eurovision Song Contest, has a vision goes beyond the remit of finding a Eurovision song. Its rhetoric and approach to artists and the public differs greatly from the approach seen at the BBC.

Australia shares much of its Eurovision history with the United Kingdom, having taken the commentary of previous BBC commentator Terry Wogan for twenty-five years.  When this changed was in 2009, as the team began the journey of changing local perceptions by employing its own commentary team. Whilst it continued to view Eurovision with a side eye and humour, gone was the element of ridicule.

Once Australia achieved participant status in 2015, the frames of reference and style again stepped up to become more serious in nature.

Guy Sebastian | Eurovision 2015 Australia

Guy Sebastian at Eurovision 2015 (Photo: Eurovision.tv)

Australian Head of Delegation and Production since 2009, Paul Clarke, was instrumental in the change of perception about the Song Contest, and now has the first ‘Australia Decides’ under his belt. He openly acknowledged that the selection show took its cues from Sweden, but rather than jumping to bring on Swedish scriptwriters and hosts, it instead reached out to Mr Melfest himself, Christer Bjorkman as a consultant and then juror in the process.

The production chose to utilise the same voting methodology as the Song Contest, with 50 percent jury score and 50 percent televoting that emulated the Contest as much as possible, offering viewers something that they instantly recognised and associated with the Eurovision format.

Why Did Australian Acts Take A Chance?

What of the performers? Why were so many artists of status willing to risk their reputations at an unknown National Final? As it stands, Australia is entirely lacking in live music performance outlets on television and radio. Great music performance shows like Countdown in the 1970s & 1980s, and Recovery in the 1990s (which was produced by Paul Clarke) have long disappeared from local television.

The Australian music industry therefore is hungry for an new outlet, and the possible benefits gained stand to outweigh any reputational damage. Despite Jessica Mauboys poor showing at Lisbon 2018, her career within Australia continues to flourish. Armed with the knowledge that a poor Eurovision result is not career-ending, coupled with a selection show in the trusted hands of long-time TV professional, the music industry regards the rewards as outweighing any risk.

The faith of the untested format locally was well highlighted in a post from George Sheppard, lead singer of competing band Sheppard prior to the jury final:

If you’re a new artist trying to make a name for yourself in Australia, you realistically have one of two options – Triple J [the Government funded alternative radio station], or commercial radio. Triple J doesn’t often go for pop music and commercial radio doesn’t often touch unknown artists. This means we have a pretty big void in the market that leaves very little opportunity for upcoming pop artists to flourish in Australia.

[‘Eurovision – Australia Decides’] essentially gives us a rare outlet to celebrate pop music, in a country where it’s not widely accepted or celebrated… it gives us all a brand new avenue to celebrate this kind of music. It gives up and coming writers and performers a new opportunity to showcase their original songs, and it give us a way to start building a whole new lane of Australian music culture for the next generation of artists coming through who don’t want to go on a reality TV show, or sign away everything to a major label.

Clearly, the approach and reasons given for Australia Decides to be held resonated with several artists, reaching well beyond the promise of Eurovision fame.  When the team from SBS made a national call out for submissions last October, it resulted in 700 submissions in a period of just 3 weeks. The inaugural show gathered ten diverse contestants ranging from the above chart-topping darlings Sheppard to newly discovered talent like Leea Nanos. Recognised artists in the genre ranges of EDM, opera, rock and RnB were keen to get involved, which also added to its appeal and opportunity to build reputation in public.

Australia Decides reached 813,000 people,  resulting in approximately 70% increase on usual Saturday night reach for the channel, and also was the tenth most watched program across Australia on the day.

The selection show trended globally on Twitter throughout the Saturday evening and held seven out of ten of the top trending hashtags in Australia.  For the artists themselves, following the show, Sheppard, Kate Miller-Heidke and Electric Fields all held a top 20 positions in downloads, with Leea Nanos, Courtney Act, Alfie Arcuri also featuring in the top 100.

This measurable success should ensure that the format returns next year, and likely to remain in place for the five years of the negotiated invitation Australia now has to the Eurovision Song Contest.

Ignore Sanremo At Your Peril

It’s understandable that Melodifestivalen is the show that the Eurovision fans turn to when looking at National Finals, but I want to point out that there is one other show that delivers the three key elements highlighted – namely artistic support, music industry support, and mainstream media support. And that’s Italy’s Sanremo.

The RAI Orchestra at Sanremo

The RAI Orchestra at Sanremo

Every year Eurovision fans turn on to the final night of Sanremo and get lost. They don’t see a replication of the Song Contest format as a National Final. It’s long and bloated, packed with guest singers in awkward places, the occasional interview with Italy’s oldest midwife, and comedy sketches occasionally lifted from old Morecambe and Wise sketches. But it shares the same mythical power as Melodifestivalen.

Sanremo is an Italian institution, and you see the same building blocks. You have a show that artists want to appear in, and are happy to keep returning to throughout their careers. You have a huge audience watching on television, with over fifty percent market share for each show. You have the music industry working to get their acts either in competition, or invited as guest singers. And you have the Italian press eager for any piece of news about the acts appearing, the songs, and the drama. Oh and all the other television channels know that there’s no point trying to compete, and throw up a mix of classic films, repeats, or their own coverage of the festival.

Sanremo has the respect of the music industry. It delivers a show that the Italian public is comfortable with. And its media coverage pushes other stories well down the editorial schedule. That’s why it continues to work.

Choose A Three Minute Song Or A Strategy For The Ages

What we can see is that the shows that have endured most and achieved great success are those that have taken a step away from the reality TV mould, that look beyond fads and instead employ best practice techniques, that choose to focus on the artist and song, and prioritise the celebration of the local music scene in all its forms.  On it’s first outing it seems Australia has done so, and thus there is no reason why others cannot follow suit. A country that already has plenty of opportunities where pop is celebrated, artist development is encouraged and seemingly boundless amount of talent to draw upon, such as the United Kingdom, needs to create a new outlet that will be respected in the industry.

Even Eurovision as a contest focuses on something more than just crowning its winner – it trusts in its foundation of utilising music as a way of bringing Europe closer together, the testing of new technologies in broadcast and providing artists a platform for exposure to a greater audience.

So as a final thought, I believe that instead of seeing Melodifestivalen as the ‘selection’ show to mimic, one should look beyond the size of the show and instead learn from how a national selection can benefit the artists and the artistic fabric of a country, and can stand alone as a key annual televisied event.

The concept of a successful National Final should be more than ‘we need three minutes for May’. The best options are where the goals include, but are not limited to, the Eurovision Song Contest. It’s bigger than us.

Categories: ESC Insight

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