We found out on March 20th that, due to the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 edition of the Eurovision Song Contest was to be cancelled. We wish everybody well during this difficult time.
Planning for the future is currently difficult. That though hasn’t stopped broadcasters in confirming that they plan to send the same artist for the following year. Within hours of the cancellation Spain had confirmed their desire to send Blas Canto, who was due to sing the song ’Universo’ in Rotterdam, to the 2021 edition. Many others have followed suit, and as of writing there are 13 artists confirmed by their broadcasters for the next Eurovision Song Contest. It would be little surprise if that confirmed list grew further in the coming weeks and months.
But it won’t be the same as just coming back a year later. The Reference Group for the Eurovision Song Contest decided that the songs from 2020 would not be eligible for any future competition. This decision was made because the songs would have all been released commercially in this 2020 season, and therefore would break the rules of the Song Contest. That means that these returning artists will have to bringing a fresh three-minutes of music to the competition.
The artists have a long time to prepare for the next Eurovision Song Contest. Usually most acts only get selected or confirmed just a few months before the competition each May. These thirteen will have over a year to write and tweak their latest creation, and presumeably many will want to release more music during this time as well.
Can They Escape The ‘Eurovision’ Hashtag?
Perhaps this is my native British bias kicking in here (James Newman, the United Kingdom representative for 2020, has not been confirmed by the BBC at this point), but I do have concerns about how these artists progress the next 12 months of their career. Throughout the next year these artists will be making lots more music, how will they know when they have ’the one’? Will ’the one’ be something that is held back for Eurovision or released early in the selection season? Will an artist choose to release that absolute smash hit in August….and then not find that same magic again until it is too late?
Furthermore I ponder how will the artists be treated by the rest of the media. Will being labelled as next year’s Eurovision artist so long in advance lead to more bookings and opportunities…or less? Will everything they do not linked to Eurovision be sidelined…or will everything they do be sidelined because of that Eurovision stigma? Will the artist be able to do anything different to their Eurovision entry this year, and is there any way to avoid that side-by-side comparison?
The Year Of The Advantage
This isn’t all negative however, and we must remember that none of us reading this has any clarity as to when the world resembles any sense of normality with gigs and concerts to look forward to. Yet with all this delay comes great opportunity. As a songwriter going into lockdown may give you the time to tell that powerful story or create that killer hook that will set 2021 on fire. 12 months is a long time for our predominantly young artists to grow, develop and mature. Come next year the artistry and songs they present may be an even better symbiosis.
Consider our 13-strong list. For some of them this ’dry run’ at the Song Contest will help some more than others. Some are more likely than others to find their sound in the next twelve months. Others meanwhile will struggle to find the same allure just one year ahead.
Ready For Round Two
Let’s return to Blas Cantó. ’Universo’ with its more electronic production was a departure from Cantó’s recent releases. The result was a song that sounded like it had been adapted to ’sound Eurovision’ with all the traps such as design can fall into. Production wise the song does much without tapping into any clear emotions. This is an artist with many years of professional experience behind him from one of the biggest music industries in Europe, so we have deliverd. But I’m actually confident that a year’s hiatus will result in Blas Cantó bringing a song more in keeping with what he can do best, rather than trying to be something he isn’t.
I feel precisely the same for Vincent Bueno, set to represent Austria. A charismatic and talented bubble of energy, ’Alive’ was a slick yet ultimately unremarkable number without a defining sound to latch onto. While I would be extremely surprised if Vincent Bueno doesn’t come up with something as energetic next year, I’d expect the sequel to ’Alive’ to be more edgy and bold.
In terms of who has confirmed for 2021 that I really see developing in the next twelve months, I have to name Stefania, the Greek representative. The former Dutch Junior Eurovision artist was set to kick start a solo pop career with ’SUPERG!RL’ and I’m sure a jaw-dropping choreography was planned for Rotterdam. Eurovision can be place to kick start a career and create a new star. However, assuming the same team behind Stefania with their Eurovision pedigree, I can imagine making a project for her for 2021 the pinnacle of her career and artist direction.
The final act I wish to highlight is Hooverphonic from Belgium. ’Release Me’ was distinctively them, moody and melancolic without pandering to the tropes of the Song Contest. Criticism of ’Release Me’, in particularly it’s monotonous timbre throughout the piece, was responded to by the band by comparisons to successful yet sparse Eurovision songs from both Blanche and Salvador Sobral in recent years. The nuance I can hear in the comparison of their style to Hooverphonic’s is about dynamics. The emotions in Eurovision songs can be small, but it’s incredibly easy to lose the emotional connection when that isn’t signalled to the listener. Stylistically I think Hooverphonic’s vibe oozes class and can be a hit at the Song Contest, but in this case I can actually hear ’Release Me 2.0’ being a song that captivates many more.
Too Much Eurovision Too Soon
On the other hand, there are artists already confirmed for 2021 who will have a real challenge to bring something as powerful as this year’s three minutes.
The first is Jeangu Macrooy. ’Grow’ is an incredibly personal ballad with a buge build and an intriguing progression through the song, both lyrically and in terms of production. There is an incredible rawness to the three minutes of storytelling that makes it the kind of song that doesn’t come along very often for an artist.
Yes, a year is a long time and could inspire such creativity once more. But my fear here is how the selection process is now different. For 2020, the Dutch broadcaster had gone through a big process to find the act that included finding the song. Selecting Macrooy was a process that was as much selecting the song as it was the artist. Now it is only as an artist that he returns, and the song part of the package needs to be created once more. Will the broadcaster have, or want to have, any say over the style of song that Jeangu will now present, knowing he has the ticket?
I have similar worrying vibes over Victoria, who was set to perform for Bulgaria this year. ’Tears Getting Sober’ was a popular song and beautifully orchestrated to make the naive melody sound poised and enchanting. My concern here is that Victoria, within the music video for her Eurovision entry, had reached such a perfect zen with herself and the music encompassing her. They were at one with each other. Where does Victoria’s music go from here?
The Billie Eilish comparison has been done all too much, and understandably so. After all, that is one of the most popular sounds of late 2019/early 2020. But there’s no guarantee that the world’s tastes will remain where they are today. The instinct is that Bulgaria will want to send ’Tears Getting Sober 2.0’ to the Eurovision Song Contest in 2021. This temptation to send the same sound yet again is going to be immense for Bulgaria. Will music be in a same place next year to have the same effect?
More Time To Prepare
The current global situation is a loss for everybody. Putting life on hold is not a decision our world leaders have taken lightly, and am sure all of us will appreciate life’s freedom much more once the situation returns to normal.
What I wish is everyone puts aside the ‘Contest That Never Was’ when eventually songs for 2021 are revealed. Everybody will grow through these pandemic. Our world is paused, but none of us will be the same on the other side. It will be easy, perhaps too easy, to compare songs that were written before and written after. We can’t expect artists to produce carbon copies of whatever you had already fallen in love with.
What I will say though is this. We’ve never had better opportunities for songwriters and artists to prepare. These thirteen will have longer than anybody ever has had before to prepare their Eurovision song. There are fewer creative outlets in the world right now. There’s every chance that in twelve months time we are listening to some of the greatest Eurovision entries of all time.
That thought is one of the positives I am clinging on to in these dark times.