Everyone knows and understands the ‘Eurovision’ in Junior Eurovision, but what about ‘Junior’, and when is an artist or a song junior enough?
The Junior Eurovision Song Contest is bound by the age limit of performers. Through the history of the Contest it has changed. but has settled on 9 to 14 for the last few years. As fans listen to the songs, they are not just judging if the music is good or not good. They are judging a secondary factor which is the appropriateness of the song for the age range of the competition.
This is no science. The differences between 9 year olds and 14 year olds are far more vast than the simple five year difference suggests. Efi Gjika, Albania’s entrant last year, was world’s away from the artistry that Belarus’ Daniel Yastremski offered last year.
As a general rule, few songs are criticised for being too youthful but many are criticised for being too grown-up.
ESCUnited’s Zach Kerr wrote an editorial on the topic following Roksana Węgiel’s victory in Minsk last year. He argues that, as the requirement for songwriters to be under 16 has been removed, so too has the youthful nature of the songs.
It has evolved into a show that lines up children to sing song after song with lyrics that may be far too much older than their age and maturity…a lot of these acts seem to either try too hard to sound too adult…and it comes off a bit fake and posed
Zach isn’t alone in having this mentality that some Junior Eurovision acts sound ‘too adult’. I want to look at this in more depth. Using data, I’m going to look at what sound Junior Eurovision should be going for and to try and analyse the misconceptions many people have about what makes a Junior song ’Junior’.
Two Juries, Two Different Rooms
The first piece of evidence that I wish to present comes from Junior Eurovision itself. We have to go back a few years, but there was one example where Junior Eurovision used a voting system where we could divide jurors by their age.
After the 2016 competition I wrote a piece on ESC Insight called ‘Learning From A New Voting System‘. The 2016 competition was 100 percent jury, but the decision was split by traditional adult juries in each country, child juries in each country, and an expert jury watching in the arena itself. The two juries in each participating country watched the show in different rooms and had different results.
The results that came out were surprising to many people. The adult jury gave much more love to the winner ‘Mzeo’ but also proportionally gave far more points to the heavily choreographed acts from the Netherlands and Belarus. Before the competition the thought was that the latter of these would do better with child voters, and that the acts were designed to appeal to children.
In fact the songs that relatively did best with the child juries were those from two of the most technical songs in the competition representing Russia and Malta. Again, this was expected to be the other way around.
As adults, I can argue that we are more cautious in looking for a song that fits our preconceived notion of if a song is ’Junior’ enough or not. That concept appears very different for those from the actual age range itself.
Sadly for the purposes of this article and statistical heaven, the EBU changed the voting system the following year, with the Kids’ Jury being replaced by the online vote.
However in 2019 a country not competing in Junior Eurovision created a voting system that also split voters by aged, and published the data to prove this further.
Välkommen till Sverige
It is Sweden’s SVT and their behemoth Melodifestivalen. This year had a transformational change to its voting system. 87.5 percent of the points available in each show were decided by use of the Melodifestivalen smartphone app, where viewers vote up to five times for each of the entries. I explained more about how the app works in this piece from January.
The caveat for 2019 is that when you sign in to the app, you need to give your age. Your age puts you into one of 7 different groups, the youngest being from 3 to 9 years old, and the oldest being over 75. Each age represents a different ’voting bloc’ and the highest scoring song in each bloc gets the coveted ’douze points’. The aim from Swedish broadcaster SVT is to find a song that ’all of Sweden’ supports.
The two age groups I plan to focus on are the 3-9 and the 10-15 age ranges. I want to use the difference between these two results as a proxy to assess how different the opinions are between the age limits of Junior Eurovision.
The following table is a table of relative ranking difference of each of the 28 songs in the 2019 Melodifestivalen qualifiers. A positive score of +2 means that the song was ranked two places higher from the 3-9 bloc than the 10-15 bloc. A negative score of -3 means the song was ranked three places higher from the 10-15 bloc than the 3-9 bloc. Basically, the more positive the song is the higher the performance was relatively ranked by the younger bloc.
For further data analysis, songs in bold received the top score from the 3-9 bloc, and songs in italics got the top score from the 10-15 bloc.
|Låt skiten brinna||+2|
|I Do Me||+1|
|Army Of Us||+1|
|Not With Me||0|
|Ashes to Ashes||0|
|Mina Fyra Årstider||0|
|Nakna i Regnet||0|
|Too Late For Love||0|
|On My Own||0|
|I Love It||-1|
|Kärleken Finns Kvar||-1|
|Who I Am||-2|
|Om om och om igen||-2|
There is much agreement between the two blocs. There are seven songs that take part in each Melodifestivalen heat, and none of these songs have a difference spanning more than half the field. However, the total relative ranking difference is 26 places. The relative difference between the 3-9 bloc and 10-15 is larger than any other difference between any other adjacent age category.
It is little surprise that Dolly Style with the song ’Habibi’ is top of this list. Dolly Style are a group with a huge following of loyal young supporters and they picked up the top score from the 3-9 age group, but few points elsewhere. Generally speaking the 3-9 bloc shows success for plenty of uptempo pop songs in different styles, but I accept the relative success of ’Låt skiten brinna’ is an anomoly in this regard.
On the other end of the spectrum we have Jon Henrik Fjällgren’s ’Norrsken (Goeksegh)’ as a big relative favourite amongst the 10-15 year olds. It is somewhat harder to group together common traits here, but the songs at the bottom of this table offer less conventional song structures than those at the top.
Both age groups agreed that Wiktoria’s ’Not With Me’ and Bishara’s ’On My Own’ should have won their respective heats. Older voters supported the bigger vocals and emotion in ’Who I Am’ and ’Hold You’ compared to the bops of ’Habibi’ and ’I Do Me’.
If I drop this back into a Junior Eurovision context, this is where similarities lie with the results I pointed out from 2016. The older bloc of 10 to 15-year-olds voted like the child juries in Junior Eurovision. The younger bloc of 3 to 9-year-olds votes similarly to the adult juries.
The conclusion here is that, when adult juries try to think about ’what is a suitable Junior entry’, adult juries impression of Junior is way younger than the taste of most of the competitors.
Six Weeks Of Melodifestivalen Competition
12 of the 28 songs reached the Melodifestivalen final. In the final there were some wild swings in the voting in this age group compared to the what the previous table suggested.
The following table shows the relative ranking difference from the 12 songs competiting in the Melodifestivalen final.
|Song Title||Relative Ranking Difference|
|I Do Me||+1|
|On My Own||0|
|Ashes To Ashes||0|
|Too Late For Love||-3|
|Not With Me||-4|
These results are incredibly surprising. Jon Henrik Fjällgren’s song ranked 5th place amongst the 3-9 year old age group in its heat, but in the final of Melodifestivalen moved up to 3rd place. Wiktoria won the 1st heat, but was ranked down with tenth with the same voting group in the final – all the while Mohombi, who qualified in the same heat as Wiktoria, was ranked 2nd in the final.
The results are all over the place compared to the heats. I can see a trend that shows the 10 to 15-year-old group has voted for more technical songs (’Not With Me’, ’Hold You’, ’Too Late For Love’) but I can’t get away from the fact that there are also huge differences.
Let me offer two possible explanations for the differences. Firstly the voting in the heats could be determined more by the relative love of other acts. Dolly Style’s presence in the same semi final as Jon Henrik could have resulted in huge swings in the votes had the girl group not been taking part.
The second explanation could be to do with the huge presence Melodifestivalen has. Through February and March it is an inescapable force on TV, radio, but also the after-school clubs and classrooms. Is there anything in the idea of adults reinforcing the stereotypes of what children would like? Was Mohombi given extra interview slots with the children’s TV channel? Was ’Hello’ played on repeat across preschools from Luleå to Lund?
All possible. And I fully accept that one could use this data to disagree with my previous point – that at Junior Eurovision adult jurors are thinking too young when it comes to what Junior Eurovision should be. I think the point still stands. I think there’s a different point to make here. That point being that it’s actually really hard to accurately predict how the tiniest of Melodifestivalen voters will vote. The 10-15 year old range alters less from heat to final, and I would conclude is a more accurate indicator of taste.
So, What Makes a Junior Eurovision Song ‘Junior’?
What the Melodifestivalen app quite clearly shows is that there is a huge difference in taste between the two youngest voting blocs, bigger than any other voting group. There is the most youthful group from 3 to 9 years old, liking bright pop songs with dance routines and the older 10 to 15 year old bloc voting more for technical songs and impressive artisty.
Which group is the most Junior? If you ask adults to judge our data most likely they will judge Junior Eurovision most like it is aimed for the 3 to 9 year old group.
I would argue this is the wrong way of judging Junior Eurovision. Most of the competitors are in the older category, with this year, with only Russia’s Tatyana Mezhentseva aged 9. Back in 2016, the EBU revealed that the target audience for Junior Eurovision was a teenage audience – 13 to 16 year olds. Nowadays a more general ‘young children and their families’ is used by the EBU. A loose term, but as 9 to 14 year olds compete I’d argue making a show for them to be proud of has to be aim number 1.
To me, what makes a song junior is exactly the same as what makes a song adult. A captivating lyric, a powerful hook, a passionate performer. Zach Kerr from ESC United commented about how it felt the song was trying too hard, and ended up sounding fake. That can happen with all music, but I strongly object to attributing that to age.
Being a young person is difficult, and growing up is different for each one. When I’m watching and judging Junior Eurovision I am looking for acts that can do so confident in who they are, with the voice they have and the artist they are. Not my impression of what it should or should not be.
We all need to do the same, because frankly speaking, we are pretty terrible judges of young people’s actual taste.