The Revamp, an unproven path to #eurovision victory

As is often the custom, in the weeks between the Heads of Delegation (HoD) meeting in mid-March and the first rehearsals two weeks before the Grand Final, we are being treated to a trickle of “Eurovision versions” of the already identified songs.

In many instances these constitute remixes of what we’ve already heard: the rules currently don’t allow a delegation to change language or lyrics or song structure after the HoD meeting. Sometimes known as the Maymon rule: Shiri Maymon brought a bilingual Hebrew/English version of her entry Hasheke Shenish’ar to Kyiv after singing wholly in Hebrew during that year’s Israeli national selection:

Hasheket Shenish’ar – Kdam version (Source: YouTube/escvault)

Hasheket Shenish’ar – Eurovision version (Source: YouTube/Eurovision)

There was a lot of consternation in Kyiv about this. Israel 2005 was not the first instance of this, but it was was the entry that catalysed a rule change: hence the Maymon rule. As a result, any other sort of revamp requires the Reference Group’s OK. In recent years we’ve not seen any substantive shifts from the HoD versions.

Submitted versus released

However, we do not always get to hear the submitted version of an entry by mid-March. Sometimes versions of entries are circulated, but there’s no official mechanism of publicly releasing whatever is submitted officially. Until the official CD is available to purchase/download/stream. This year that date is 15 April.

Eurovision.tv only circulates content that has been provided for preview purposes–and what they can harvest from national selections. Just because a version of an entry is on the official YouTube channel does not mean it’s the version we will hear (and see) in Lisbon.

In fact, for those late-to-conclude selections, like Melodifestivalen and Norsk MelodiGrandPrix, there is no time for a revamped version, unless there’s one already in the can. These selections end less than 48 hours before the submission deadline for HoDs.

For selections completed earlier, there is often enough time to do some sort of revamp. In rare instances (Albania 2015), a wholly different song is submitted as the entry. The only restrictions on this sort of change are those of the participating broadcaster: so long as what they submit meets the rules, the EBU does not care how it is chosen. Most of the conditions are placed at the national selection level.

In revamping an entry, the mix can change: pump up the bass on a banger, or bring the vocal to the fore of a ballad. So too can the lyrics, either because the feedback from fans has been negative, or the use of language considered too crass, or perhaps a slightly improved English translation.

But there is one element of the rules that forces many of the most obvious revamps…

Tyranny of Time

The three minute Eurovision rule is where the producers are particularly focused; to be fair, their fixation on the clock is appropriate. If everyone’s entry has an extra minute, the Grand Final is 26 minutes longer. There is, by the way, no equivalent minimum song length. Every Way That I Can won with a running time of 2:34. Sertab Erener’s classic is a rarity in pop music: a complex, complete song in less than three minutes.While we here at 58points.com would welcome stripping out the seemingly endless interval elements of the Saturday night show to increase the time constraint by thirty seconds, there seems little producer interest in that shift.

One might then think that it makes sense to have the three minute rule as part of your national selection criteria. Ideally you would only accept entries with no more than perhaps a 10 second over-run. At the very least you might require participants to agree to provide said version upon being selected. And many participating broadcasters do exactly that.

Or you could do what Albania and Italy do. Year after year. Read on.

Festival as Selection

Both Albania and Italy have focused their Eurovision selections on existing domestic song festivals. In both instances those festivals have existed independently of the Eurovision. Italy’s Sanremo largely inspired the Eurovision and has run since 1951. Albania’s Festivali i Këngës began a few years after the Eurovision (1962 versus 1956), when Albania was a highly isolated totalitarian state. In both instances, neighbouring states that also prominently used their languages (Switzerland, Slovenia, Croatia for Italian; Serbia, Macedonia and Montenegro for Albanian) were also viewers.

Italy has inconsistently used Sanremo to select their entries. To date, only Gigliola Cinquetti’s 1964 Sanremo winner Non ho l’eta has gone on to Eurovision victory. Since returning to the Contest in 2011, some element of Sanremo has been used to select the Italian entry in most years. Sanremo allows a longer running time so most entries have had to be revamped time-wise…or alternate songs have been used. Nina Zilli’s Per Sempre was her Sanremo entry, but it was the 3:01 L’Amore é femmina (Out of Love) was used instead.

Italy

Let’s take a look at the Sanremo and Eurovision running times when the song itself was used in both competitions:

Year Artist Song Sanremo time Eurovision time
2011 Raphael Gualazzi Follia d’amore 3:35 2:59
2013 Marco Mengoni L’essenziale 3:41 3:01
2015 Il Volo Grande amore 3:45 3:01
2016 Francesca Michielin Nessun grado di separazione 3:39 3:01
2017 Francesco Gabbani Occidentali’s karma 3:37 3:08
2018 Ermal Meta & Fabrizio Moro Non mi avete fatto niente 3:28 3:02

Every Sanremo entry had to lose 25 or more seconds to comply with the three minute rule. Two of these–2015 and 2017–were considered contenders for victory at the Eurovision. Grande amore finished third (winning the televote); Occidentali’s karma was sixth.

Bearing in mind that Italy does not need to worry about qualification, All of these entries except 2016 (16th in the Grand Final) and 2018 (TBA), were in the top 10 in their given years. Not a terrible result…but no winners either.

Albania

Albania has two tasks: getting out of its semi-final, except 2005 when they were pre-qualified thanks to the 2004 result). Let’s take a look at the Festivali and Eurovision running times when the song itself was used in both competitions

Year Artist Song Festival i time Eurovision time
2004 Anjeza Shahini The Image of You 4:30 3:02
2005 Ledina Çelo Tomorrow I Go 3:40 3:00
2006 Luiz Ejili Zjarr e ftohtë 3:27 3:00
2007 Frederik Ndoci Hear My Plea 4:30 2:59
2008 Olta Boka Zemrën e lamë peng 3:35 3:00
2009 Kejsi Tola Carry Me in Your Dreams 3:40 2:58
2010 Juliana Pasha It’s All About You 2:59 2:59
2011 Aurela Gaçe Feel the Passion 3:04 3:00
2012 Rona Nishliu Suus 3:50 3:00
2013 Adrian Lulgjuraj & Bledar Sejko Identitet 3:26 2:59
2014 Hersi Matmuja One Night’s Anger 3:32 3:00
2016 Eneda Tarifa Fairytale 3:23 2:58
2017 Lindita World 2:56 2:56
2018 Eugent Bushpepe Mall 4:26 3:00

Albania’s had two top 10 results: 2004 and 2012. Both songs required a major revamp time-wise; in 2004 the song was translated into English as well.

If we consider winning as the main goal of participating in the Eurovision, a sole top five result in 2012 means something (or several things) Albania’s doing isn’t working. If the goal is getting to Saturday night, five of thirteen entries were successful. Of the three entries that were within or close to the three minute rule, only one – Juliana Pasha’s It’s All About You is the only one to qualify: she was 16th in that year’s Grand Final.

Looking at language, switching to English does not seem to help much either. Three English songs have qualified whilst two that remained in Albanian did too. Looking at it another way…six songs revamped to English failed to qualify, only two left in Albanian failed to qualify.

Eugent Bushpepa’s Mall seems to have survived its chop well and it’s stayed in Albanian. It will be interesting to see how it does in Lisbon.

Excellent, if a bit long (Source: YouTube/Antoine Carballo)

Time revamps do not win

Looking at the Italian and Albanian entries of recent years, selecting songs that subsequently need to be time chopped is not a recipé for winning the modern Eurovision. In fact, in the semi-final era we have not had a single winner majorly revamped–particularly with respect to the 3 minute rule. If the goal is to win, start with a 3 minute entry.

If the goal is something other than winning…perhaps hosting a showcase for song in your national language, with participation in the Eurovision a secondary aspect…that’s OK. And might just surprise you one year.

Which is why we’re off to Lisbon in a few weeks!

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