Editorial: Not that many ballads in 2017

Steef van Gorkum

The 2017 Eurovision Song Contest does not have significantly more ballads than previous editions. Thus concludes ESC Daily’s Chief Editor Steef van Gorkum in an editorial today, after doing meticulous research into the genres of the songs.

“Over the past few months, when the songs for Kiev started to drop, I have read it so many times. ‘This year is gonna be a year of ballads’. ‘We’re gonna see mostly women with sad songs’. ‘Half of the countries is gonna send another Jamala’. Et cetera.

People on the forums have found a million different ways to highlight the same phenomenon: 2017 supposedly has a lot of ballads among the competing songs. I wanted to test this thesis. And in order to do so, I needed to define two things: What is “a lot”? And what exactly is “a ballad”?

The first one was easy: I wanted to compare the amount of ballads in this year’s contest to the previous years within the “jury era”, so everything from 2009 onwards. The second definition, “what exactly is a ballad?”, was much more difficult. In my own opinion, a ballad is a straight-forward formula genre, and therefore it does not include songs like “My and My Guitar” (acoustic/singer-songwriter) or “Nije Ljubav Stvar” (ethno/folk). However, I realized that many people would disagree with my strict definition.

Focus Group

Therefore I decided to create a small focus group consisting of three Eurovision journalists and two people working for Dutch national radio stations. I asked them to classify every song in the last nine editions of the Eurovision Song Contest as a ballad or a non-ballad. 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. For now, however, let me just say that the overwhelming majority of the songs got a unanimous classification, and the few that did not, ended up in the middle category I decided to label “low tempo”.

And there we have it. The amount of ballads in every Eurovision year between 2009 and 2017. Those who prefer a stricter definition of the word “ballad”, should look at the green line. And those who opt for a wider definition of lower tempo songs, should include the blue category. However I must say, the conclusions stay pretty much the same.

2017 is a pretty standard year

The amount of ballads in 2017 is comparable to that of 2010, 2012 and 2013, and almost 10% lower than the peak year of 2015. On the other side, we see that 2011, 2014 and 2016 were the years with a relatively low number of ballads. 2017 falls in the “sub-top”, not exceeding the number of lower tempo songs that is standard for a recent Eurovision edition. We do, however, have more ballads this year than we had last year. This might have caused the confusion in the online community.

Interestingly enough, 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*. This could mean that ballads only win when they are outnumbered (and thus more special), or that televoters and juries tend to vote for the minority song. However in order to be more specific about that, I will need to continue this research. And since I now have a pretty good data set to work with, I promise to get back to you later this month with some more stats!”

*”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.