Entertainment & Arts

Eurovision winning song formula revealed

It confounds nations every year when their hopes for Eurovision Song Contest victory are dashed, but a British professor of musicology thinks he has cracked the winning formula needed to gain 12 points from the judges and Europe's voters, to claim the title.

"We know how well the Balkans have always done in Eurovision, and they seem to like moustaches.

"(The 2011 UK entry) Blue have not capitalised on what a moustache can do. If you want votes from Montenegro or Turkey you need a moustache," said long-haired, moustachioed Derek Scott, professor of critical musicology at the University of Leeds' School of Music.

Prof Scott has researched Eurovision entries from the past 50 years to come up with the qualities a successful entry needs - and although he accepted moustaches perhaps did not add to musicality, he said any kind of "retro" visual element could help sell a song to the audience and gain all-important telephone votes.

This year Eurovision is being held in Dusseldorf, Germany. Prof Scott has been watching the heats to see how the songs compare to those he has been analysing.

Prof Scott examined songs from around the continent including Cliff Richard's Congratulations (1968), Lulu's Boom Bang a Bang (1969) and Belgium's 1986 entry, J'aime la vie.

"I've been interested in the Eurovision Song Contest for a long time, and I've become more interested the more we seem to get dismal results in the UK.

"One mistake is to think Eurovision songs are 'national' songs - it was set up to be a showcase for national music, but these are entertainment songs. That's the crucial thing to bear in mind."

Leaving aside political voting motivations, the media circus and the overall stage show each act puts on, Professor Scott's research focused on the musical devices a successful song employed.

He found there were several musical themes that could be used to guarantee success - an "enjoy life" theme, as used in Congratulations and J'aime La Vie, a "leisure time" theme, as found in Sandy Shaw's Puppet on a String, an "anthemic or aspirational" theme like "Love Shine a Light" by Katrina and the Waves, or a "parody" theme, a la Boom Bang a Bang.

"These themes are tried and tested. If you go for one, you run in to fewer problems.

"Love is another - but love interest songs are a problem, as it's such a wide audience, where do you pitch it? Some people are married, others not. A broader approach gets more votes."

He found that including gestures in songs also helped with memorability.

"Everyone remembers Bucks Fizz having their dresses ripped off - it's good to incorporate gestures that will appeal. Strangely, this year a lot of countries have gone for fake trumpeters."

Prof Scott also believes the tempo of a song must be upbeat, but not too fast, so as not to alienate people listening to the songs for the first time.

He said most successful songs had a specific rhythm and also stuck to a tried and trusted 16-bar verse and chorus formula.

"This year more than half of the semi-finalists from across Europe have a two-beat rhythm."

He said it was easy to find common denominators that successful songs had, but what was harder was looking at Eurovision disasters to find what acts should avoid.

"Certainly there are things that rarely work, such as a three-beat rhythm, but then it did work for Dana's All Kinds of Everything (winning for Ireland, 1970)."

A successful song also has a key change "to crank it up" towards the end of the piece, something he said the Swedish entries were good at doing.

So has British band Blue employed enough of these devices to garner affection from across Europe and storm to the voting charts?

"Blue are one one of the strongest entries we've had from the UK in a number of years. They have a strong reputation throughout Europe and the Germans are very fond of them.

"Their song has got many of the features that make for success, the two-beat rhythm, a major key, it's got a retro quality because Blue are associated with a previous decade, it's got the aspirational words, I can, I will, I know... most people in foreign countries will know those verbs.

"What it doesn't have, is the rise at the end - perhaps they thought that it was overdone, and it has an usual 24-bar structure. Normally people go for 16 as it makes it more memorable.

"But the danger in that song is the awkward beginning - it is very difficult to work out exactly where to come in, and in a live concert this could be catastrophic.

Image caption Could the UK's 2011 entry Blue be missing a vital ingredient in the recipe for success?

"I remember the catastrophe that was Jemini - they tripped up at the beginning and the whole song fell apart."

Comedy or parody is a Eurovision stalwart, and Prof Scott said Finland's winning entry, monster-metallers Lordi (2006) fitted the bill. "Heavy metal has this moral concern, so to introduce comedy defies expectations."

Based on his findings, Professor Scott has written his own song, called Be Nice to Nice People, and it contains nearly all the elements he has identified - ideally to avoid the dreaded "nul points" scenario.

He said it was "a serious political and moral message guaranteed not to offend anyone" - a classic Eurovision tactic to win votes.

So will he put himself forward to compete in Eurovision 2012?

"Given I have long hair perhaps I could roar on to stage on a Triumph Bonneville," he said.

"But already my colleagues in the music school have started a collection to stop me releasing my song.

"I for one am totally sick of it."

Hear more on the Today programme on Saturday May 14 between 0700 and 0900 BST.

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