For the past 8 years, the sound of Eurovision has been the slick precision of English language Swedish pop. But things are changing. In fact, things have already changed.
Change is a funny old thing. Sometimes it hits you all at once, but.sometimes it creeps up on you without you noticing it. You can even write a whole article proclaiming something to be the future sound of the Eurovision Song Contest in February and have totally missed the real story, unfolding under your nose.
The future sound of the Eurovision Song Contest is already here. It’s already won two successive contests. I’m talking about exquisitely produced, three-dimensional music with a real flavour of its origin. I’m having a real trouble working out what to call it, because it’s not world music, and it’s not ethno-pop (that’s such an othering phrase) so for our purposes just now, I’ll call it the future sound.
The first Future Sound Eurovision winner is Jamala of course. 1944 fits all my criteria. It’s in Jamala’s family language of Crimean Tatar, it was self-composed, it blends traditional instrumentation with neat, futuristic beats and it tells a real story that Jamala is personally involved in. It’s, whisper it, authentic.
And then in 2017, the future sound really takes off. We get 100% qualification for all the songs not in English language, and three of them making the top ten. Bulgaria send a beautiful young man with a song that hovers and lifts off like an emotional spaceship. Armenia’s commitment to sounding really, really Armenian deepens, Belarus send their best ever song which also happens to be the most culturally Belorussian song they’ve ever sent, Azerbaijan turn up with cutting edge experimental pop and a big box of conceptual art, Hungary bring us the astonishingly intense Origo, and of course, Portugal go and win the whole thing by doubling down on their idiosyncratic approach to Eurovision and sending a song which is already becoming a standard and a singer/composer duo that refresh and provoke with their unstarry attitudes.
2017 was the year the future sound took over, and in 2018 we’ll hopefully see a lot of excellent responses to this invisible shift away from the Stockholm hegemony. I’d like to see Estonia, Malta and Iceland sending songs in their own beautiful languages. I’d like to see some Sami representation from at least one of the Nordics. I’d like to see other minority populations representing their countries. Let’s have some Turkish language pop rock from Germany, let’s have a British Asian representing the UK, let’s get Ireland to send something that sounds Irish without going the full fiddle-de-dee.
Let’s let Belgium and the Netherlands get on with it, because they clearly have something good going on, but maybe get them to share their staging person’s card with the French delegation. Let’s have some Big Balkan Ballads back, let’s let Greece sound Greek. Let’s wait and see what Hungary, Poland and Bulgaria have in store for us and let’s hope that Latvia and Lithuania can sort out the messes of their national selection processes. Let’s hope that Russia returns with something that has a bit of authenticity and soul to it. Let’s actually celebrate diversity and get some faces of colour in the artist and songwriter line-up. Let’s celebrate art produced by women like Jamala and Loreen and Luisa Sobral. Let’s not just buy in a G:Son any more.
The contest could also change the way it works to accommodate the special staging requirements of the future sound. I think one of the most important things to have is a reconfigurable performance space that allows small songs by solo performers to feel as intimate as Salvador’s song did on the B-stage in Kyiv, but that also allows performers with a couple of contemporary dancers to have a medium-sized space they could fill. Imagine if it could be expanded out to give a big space for lavish interval acts or an orchestra! I bet you could do it easily and cheaply by having projection curtains that can be dropped down to shape the back of the stage, and I bet it’d look great. A reconfigurable stage doesn’t have to be as wild as the video embedded below, but gosh that’d be nice.
We should also hear as much about the songwriters as we do about the artists. The significant involvement of Luisa Sobral in front of the camera made us all think about Amar Pelos Dois as an artistic statement, rather than as a single product offered to us out of context. Hearing her talk in a press conference about the mechanics of writing the song with no gendered verb endings so that she or her brother or anyone could sing it was really interesting. I want to hear more technical songwriting details, and maybe some more emotional songwriting details too.
Including members of the delegation in the postcards in 2017 was one of my favourite bits – not only did a couple of friends get some brief flashes of screen time, but it brings home to the audience how much of a team effort pop music is. If I get the chance to do some Eurovision 2018 coverage, I think I’ll be chasing interviews with songwriters and choreographers and staging experts as well as the main act. I also don’t want to sound like too much of a ‘real music’ bore either, but I’d like to see some more bands at the Contest – rock bands, folk bands, metal bands, indie bands, and even jazz funk bands if Lithuania insist upon doing that again. The onstage chemistry between people who’ve gigged up and down the continent in a van can’t be faked, and if the future sound requires us to keep things real, then that’s what we need to do.
And if you think I’ve got myself over-excited about patterns that aren’t there? I’ll see you down the front in Lisbon. It’s going to be really, really real. The future sound is here already.