Editorial: Ballads can only win when they are outnumbered

Steef van Gorkum

Last week, ESC Daily’s Chief Editor Steef van Gorkum compared the number of ballads in the last nine editions of the Eurovision Song Contest. Today he takes the next step and draws a strong conclusion. Ballads only win the Eurovision Song Contest when there are less than 40% ballads in the final.

“In the last month before the 2017 Eurovision Song Contest, I take a look at ballads in the competition. As you can read HERE, I conducted a small focus group consisting of three Eurovision journalists and two people working for Dutch national radio stations and I asked them to classify every song in the last nine editions of the Eurovision Song Contest as a ballad or a non-ballad*. With that data set I will look into the role of ballads in the competition.

At the end of last week’s editorial, I noticed that the three mentioned years with a lower number of ballads (2011, 2014, 2016) were also the only three years that a song classified as a ballad won the competition**. The years when more ballads took part (2010, 2012, 2013 and 2015) were all won by non-ballads. The odd one out was 2009. This was a year with not that many ballads yet still an up-tempo winner in Alexander Rybak.

Show by show

However, those conclusions were based on the total amount of ballads taking part in each year. If we are looking to see if ballads perform better when they are scarce, it would obviously make much more sense to look at them show-by-show.

This is the number of ballads per Eurovision Grand Final. We see that the ballads percentage of 2009 has shooted up. Indicating that a lot of the participating ballads qualified for the final. This may have helped Alexander Rybak – as if he needed any help.

More interesting are 2011 and 2015, respectively the years with the least and the most ballads. It is quite plausible that the exceptionally low number of ballads in 2011 helped “Running Scared” win the contest. While in 2015, a year with more than 55% ballads in the final when using the wider definition, “Heroes” (labeled “red”) only narrowly beat “A Million Voices” (green) and “Grande Amore” (blue).

In general, the threshold seems to be 40%. Every year when the amount of ballads exceeded 40%, a non-ballad won, and vice versa. Real mathmaticians will (rightfully) say that the difference between 2014 and 2012 is too small to be significant. Yet the rule stands, and it has not been broken in the past eight years.

Semi finals

As I mentioned above, relatively many ballads qualified from the semies in 2009. However, if you compare the graph from last week (see below) with this week (see above), you will see the percentage slightly go up in almost every year.

This supports Daniel Gould’s theory that ballads perform better in semi finals than they do in finals. With the threshold being 40%, it is therefore interesting to see what the general qualification odds are for ballads in semi finals. After all the semifinal results (along with the BIG-5 selections) determine the exact number of ballads in each Eurovision Final. I will take a deeper look into that next week.

*For those people who are interested in my exact methodology, send a comment here or on the ESC Daily Facebook Page and I’ll gladly send you the exact results.

**”Running Scared” and “Rise like a Phoenix” were classified as a green ballad, while Jamala’s “1944” fell into the blue category. All other winners were labeled red.