The themes of 2016: a qualitative look at this year’s lyrics

Music can be transformative. It moves us, it facilitates connection and a shared identity. It can also be used to demarcate with whom we are not allied. A quick search on YouTube will reveal any shortage of nationalist songs, including several featuring former Eurovision participants. Including at least one winner.

But the Eurovision is about bringing people together through song. For this article we wanted to look at the extent to which certain themes might predominate in this year’s Contest. After listening to songs and viewing their performances online, most get a sense about what the themes are—but at 58points.com we are data kweenz™. We want to look at data, though we are not data snobs: data are data, be them quantitative (numbers) or qualitative (words or stories). For this article we focused on the latter, giving us a qualitative analysis of the lyrical content of this year’s entries.

Method

For this analysis we needed to do two things. First, we need to gather the lyrics of all this year’s entries. Second, we need to analyse them discursively, in terms of what words, concepts and themes are found. With over 40 entries, gathering the data themselves could have put us in cut-and-paste purgatory. But there’s an app for that, or, rather, several apps for that!

Here are the tools we used:

  • The amazing 4lyrics.eu, which is a great resource for all ESC and many national final songs
  • SiteSucker, a Mac application that allows you to grab all or part of a website
  • Atlas.ti, the pre-eminent qualitative data software application (take that NVIVO!)

Once we grabbed each song, we converted the html files to txt files, so Atlas.ti could “see” the words. We weren’t concerned with fancy formatting or embedded html links—just the words on each song’s page.

These pages include formatting words like title, chorus, home (as in “click here to return to the home page”) and other such words: rather than spending hours scrubbing these out, we’ve just excluded them from the analysis below. Atlas.ti also can map each unique word against all the files in the data set—against each song, in other words.

Because the site we used embeds translations of non-English entries (or segments of entries) into English, the word counts reflect the total number of times each word appears, including those translated.

Please note: we used only open access, forward facing materials on 4lyrics.eu.

Filtering

The initial analysis as effectively a word count: how many times across this year’s 43 entries (we’ve included Romania, out of solidarity) each word appears. Unsurprisingly, that meant a fair bit of rather unremarkable, quotidian words appearing a lot. Words like:

Word Count
you 456
i 449
me 226
we 203

In other words, articles, pronouns and common verbs. As well, words like the (665 counts) really tell us little about the substantive content—the themes, the messages, the meaning—of a song. In the end, around 2/3 of the words were scrubbed out. And what follows is an overview of what’s being sung about most frequentlyon the Stockholm stage.

Soldiers of LoveWave

Surprise, surprise, the most common theme of this year’s song is love. Which is lovely, isn’t it? The word love appears 129 times in all languages. That is a lot of love; it averages to three loves per 2016 entry. In total 26 songs have love as a theme.

And the most loved up? Bulgaria’s Poli Genova, whose If Love Was a Crime mentions love more than 30 times, including English and Bulgarian!

 

Svet jak muzika

Our next substantive theme is world. There are 71 instances where world is used. Mostly it’s used in a metaphoric sense, which too is lovely. There are several songs that integrate this theme, including If Love Was a Crime (good work wedging two popular Eurovision themes into one entry, Poli), Dona (Kalliopi), and Goodbye (Shelter; ZAA).

A bit further back is strong/stronger, which appears 61 times. Our strongest entry—literally—is J’ai cherché, in which Amir croons “you’re the one who’s making me strong” eight times.

Unsurprisingly, if we combine words like song, sing and music, the musical theme is also an important one: these words appear 157 times across the 43 entries. For this theme Amir’s J’ai cherché and Sandhja’s Sing It Away are both heavy hitters, with more than 25 occurrences in each.

Conclusion

Overall, the themes from the 2016 entries follow patterns found year after year: love, the world, and music. Some love songs are about heartbreak; some songs about the world are focused on hope or fear. However, once we drilled a bit further down, there were no discernible patterns of note.

This analysis tells us what’s in this year’s canon of entries. It does not tell us whether infusing these themes into an entry might predict success. In a later article (after this year’s Contest wraps up) we will take a look at which words win Eurovision. And are there any themes that skew results positive (viz. top 10 in the Grand Final) or negatively (failing to qualify).

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