What It Takes To Write A Eurovision Winning Song The often over-the-top Eurovision song contest is taking place this week and winners will be announced Saturday. Several songwriters discuss what it takes to write a Eurovision winner.
NPR logo

What It Takes To Write A Eurovision Winning Song

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/610529465/610529466" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
What It Takes To Write A Eurovision Winning Song

What It Takes To Write A Eurovision Winning Song

What It Takes To Write A Eurovision Winning Song

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/610529465/610529466" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

The often over-the-top Eurovision song contest is taking place this week and winners will be announced Saturday. Several songwriters discuss what it takes to write a Eurovision winner.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

To Europe now and the annual Eurovision song contest, which may not be well-known here in the U.S., but tomorrow's finals are expected to draw 200 million viewers worldwide. Those viewers will hear everything from Dutch country to Estonian pop opera. The competition, as you may be gathering, is quirky. It is over the top, and the music covers a lot of ground. But there are some common elements that go into writing a Eurovision hit. Rebecca Rosman went to Lisbon, Portugal, where the competition's being held this year, to find out what those common elements are.

REBECCA ROSMAN, BYLINE: First, let's start with the numbers.

DORON MEDALIE: You have three minutes. That's a rule.

ROSMAN: Israeli songwriter and composer Doron Medalie says each act has three minutes or less to make Eurovision fans and judges care.

MEDALIE: You need to have something very catchy immediately at the beginning and a catchy chorus that you can sing along to. And in three minutes, you have to give the audience an amazing pop experience (laughter).

ROSMAN: Medalie's a Eurovision veteran. And his latest three-minute masterpiece, Israel's 2018 entry "Toy," is sung by 25-year-old Netta Barzilai.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE EUROVISION SONG CONTEST")

NETTA BARZILAI: (Vocalizing).

ROSMAN: Which brings us to the second ingredient of a Eurovision hit, the sound.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE EUROVISION SONG CONTEST")

BARZILAI: (Vocalizing).

ROSMAN: What starts with a series of chicken clucks and popping noises quickly transitions into an energetic pop anthem with a MeToo punch.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE EUROVISION SONG CONTEST")

BARZILAI: (Singing) I'm not your toy, not your toy, you stupid boy, stupid boy...

ROSMAN: I'm not your toy, you stupid boy, Netta sings, wearing a multicolored kimono onstage during the competition's semifinals.

MEDALIE: I call it the new feminism. And Netta agrees with me. We are not into hurting men. We just want to say if you act like this, I'm not in the game anymore. And I'm smiling about it.

ROSMAN: Bookies have listed "Toy" as one of the favorites to win tomorrow's grand final. It's got a strong hook, a powerful singer, and its feminist cry makes it especially current.

WILLIAM LEE ADAMS: If you look at recent winners, they've all touched on the social and political backdrop.

ROSMAN: William Lee Adams has been following the competition since 2009, when he founded Wiwibloggs. Today, it's one of Eurovision's most popular fan sites. One of his favorites this year is France's entry, "Mercy."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE EUROVISION SONG CONTEST")

EMILIE SATT: (Singing in French).

ROSMAN: Which tells the true story of a baby born on a migrant rescue ship in the Mediterranean.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE EUROVISION SONG CONTEST")

SATT: (Singing in French).

ADAMS: In the song, mercy becomes merci, a thank you to the Europeans who saved this child's life and that of her mother. The refugee story is so relevant right now. Europe's borders are closing. Nationalist - right-wing nationalists are being elected in places like Hungary, in Poland. And the vision that they have of Europe is so counter to the vision that Eurovision has of Europe, of open borders, of humanism.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE EUROVISION SONG CONTEST")

SATT: (Singing in French).

ROSMAN: After all, this is why Eurovision was created. The competition started in 1956 as a way to unite Europe following the destruction of World War II. But all this still isn't enough on its own to deliver a winner. Which brings us to the final element of a true Eurovision champion, individuality.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE EUROVISION SONG CONTEST")

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: (Foreign language spoken).

ROSMAN: The haunting opera ballad "La Forza" checks that box. It's sung in Italian, but it's Estonia's entry.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE EUROVISION SONG CONTEST")

ELINA NECHAYEVA: (Singing in Italian).

ROSMAN: One of its writers is Mihkel Mattisen.

MIHKEL MATTISEN: We didn't follow the rules, and we didn't try to make a hit song or something. It was just from the bottom of our hearts.

ROSMAN: It's about the force of love. And for him and his songwriting partner Timo Vendt, not following the rules has paid off. Estonia made it through to tomorrow's finals, as did the Netherlands' entry, "Outlaw In 'Em" by Waylon, who's named himself after American Waylon Jennings.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Speaking Dutch).

(CHEERING)

ROSMAN: In the fan village, Unich Vandekoor (ph) is one of the thousands who gathered to watch the results of yesterday's semifinals.

UNICH VANDEKOOR: Vote for Waylon. We love Waylon. Yeah.

ROSMAN: Waylon's a long shot, especially considering that the entry from Cyprus has snuck up on everyone to become a fiery favorite.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE EUROVISION SONG CONTEST")

ELENI FOUREIRA: (Singing) Take a dive into my eyes, yeah, the eyes of a lioness. Feel the power. They ain't lying.

ROSMAN: "Fuego" will compete with 25 other entries in the Eurovision grand final tomorrow. For NPR News, I'm Rebecca Rosman in Lisbon.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE EUROVISION SONG CONTEST")

FOUREIRA: (Singing) Ah, yeah, ah, yeah, ah, yeah. Yeah, ah, yeah, ah, yeah. Fuego.

Copyright © 2018 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.