Editorial: Always room for 3 to 5 ballads to qualify

Steef van Gorkum

The genre split between the songs that qualify from a Eurovision semi final has been extremely stable over the last eight years. Thus concludes ESC Daily’s Chief Editor Steef van Gorkum in his third editorial about ballads in Eurovision. “There is always room for 3-5 ballads in the envelop ceremony. Not more, not less.”

“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.

In last week’s editorial, I tested the hypothesis that ballads perform better when they compete against less other ballads. I mostly focused on the Grand Finals and promised to come back to semi finals today. So before taking a look at the numbers, I presumed that when there are less ballads in a semi finals, they have a better chance of qualifying.

And although this is indeed the case, it is not the most staggering conclusion from looking at the statistics.

How many ballads qualify?

For an overview of all the statistics per semi final, please check this link.

The thing that stands out most (in my opinion) is that the number of qualifying ballads is extremely stable. It is hardly affected by the number of participating songs in a semi final, nor by the genre split within that show. Out of the sixteen semi finals held within the 50-50 voting system, it happened thirteen times that 3, 4 or 5 ballads qualified. This range seems to be the default.

There are only three outliers. It happened twice that more than 5 ballads qualified (2010 and 2014) and once when there were only two (2014 again).

The two semi finals with more than five qualifying ballads both had many “blue” songs qualifying. These are songs where opinions within my focus group were heavily divided. In other words, it all depends on whether you consider songs such as “Maybe” from Valentina Monetta and “Drip Drop” from Safura a ballad. If the answer is “no”, then these semi finals are no outliers. They fit in perfectly with the others.

The last outlier is semi final 2 in the year 2014. It is the smallest semi final in the history of the contest. Out of the fifteen songs participating, only two were labeled as a ballad: “Rise Like a Phoenix” and “Silent Storm”. It was obvious that both would qualify, and even more obvious that no more than two ballads could qualify as there were simply no more ballads left in that show.

Early conclusions

What have we learned so far?

  • The year 2017 is a pretty ordinary year when it comes to the amount of ballads. There are not significantly more ballads participating than usual. 2011 was the year with by far the least ballads, while 2015 had a lot of them.
  • Within the 50-50 voting system (where juries decide half of the outcome), ballads have only won the Eurovision Song Contest when they were significantly outnumbered. Only in Grand Finals with less than 40% ballads, could a ballad take the trophy.
  • In almost every Eurovision semi final there is room for 3-5 ballads in the envelop ceremony. Not more, not less.

Let’s see next week how we can use these conclusions to our advantage when predicting the 2017 competition.

*”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.