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26 February 2016

How the UK can win Eurovision

We don’t do badly in the Eurovision Song Contest because everybody hates us – we just haven’t been analysing the winning songs in enough detail. Luckily, one of the six hopefuls for the UK entry is in D minor…

By Kit Lovelace Kit Lovelace

Tonight, for the first time in five years, the BBC will ask the British public to decide which song we send to Stockholm to take part in this year’s Eurovision Song Contest.

This privilege was briefly rescinded (not unreasonably) after we collectively plumped on entering Josh Dubovie in 2010, who sang the Mike Stock/Pete Waterman catastrophe “That Sounds Good To Me”. However, as the BBC proved they couldn’t really do any better without us – their own internal selection process being responsible for a string of disastrous “heritage” acts and last year’s abysmal Potato Waffle-sounding song – we have been welcomed back in to the fold.

This, I’m pleased to report, is a good thing. For though it would be easy to lose hope looking back at our track record over the last twenty years, there is a song on the UK shortlist this year which fits the profile of a winning Eurovision entry almost perfectly. We just have to make sure it doesn’t get overlooked.

What does a winning Eurovision entry look like? I’ll tell you.

First of all, we have to rid ourselves of this long-held idea that Eurovision is a bright, smiley pop romp. It isn’t. The mood of Eurovision has changed dramatically in the twenty-first century and if we want to win, we need to keep up with it.

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Since 2000, songs that have been written in a minor key (moody, brooding) have been three times more successful than songs written in a major key (bright, majestic) – winning 12 of the last 16 competitions. Only one of the six hopefuls in tonight’s UK shortlist is in a minor key.

To get even more specific, songs in the key of D minor do incredibly well. Disproportionately so. Of the 24 unique keys there are in Western tonal music, songs in D minor have defied the odds to win the competition four times since the turn of the century (in 2007, 2009, 2010 and 2014).

That same song on our shortlist? Also in D minor.

To dispense with any suspense here, the song in question is “Shine A Little Light” by Bianca.

Your casual Eurovision viewer might think that because the title sounds a bit like “Love Shine A Light” (which was the UK’s last winning entry by Katrina and the Waves back in 1997) it might be a good omen. Well, there is actually something to that theory.

There are certain keywords that crop up time and time again in Eurovision winners – and other lyrics that seem to mark out losers.

For example, songs about storms, thunder and lightning have done better than songs about pleasant weather. Songs about taking something in your arms have done better than songs about holding something in your hands. Crucially for Bianca, songs about eyes, vision and seeing (the very purpose of shining a little light) do a lot better than songs about hearts, heartbeats and loving.

It doesn’t end there either. Over the years, clear patterns have emerged to do with the tempo (ie the speed) at which Eurovision entries are set. Though there is no winning tempo as such, there is one very definite tempo to avoid. 128 beats per minute has caused four songs in recent memory to come dead last (2014, 2013, 2011 and our very own Jemini in 2003).

Another of tonight’s shortlisted songs tonight has walked headlong into that trap (sorry, Joe & Jake), but not Bianca. She’s outpaced that problem with a tempo marking of 144bpm (which, incidentally, just so happened to be the winning speed in 2002).

To say that we will never win at Eurovision because everybody in Europe hates us, or because we are incapable of writing a good song, is nonsense. We’ve had the key to winning all along. We just haven’t been paying enough attention.

Our future in Europe depends on your vote. Use it wisely.