Editorial: Where to now for the Big 5?

France Barbara Pravi Eurovision 2021
Barbara Pravi, France, First Rehearsal, Rotterdam Ahoy, 13 May 2021 — EBU / THOMAS HANSES

Italy became the second country from the Big 5 to win the Eurovision Song Contest since the introduction of the rule in 2000. They join Germany, who won in 2010 thanks to Lena and her song Satellite. So where to now for the Big 5, and which country might be the next to win the contest?

The introduction of the Big 5 has ensured the contest remains financially secure and rewards France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom with direct entry in the Eurovision Grand Final. This year’s contest had Italy and France lock out the top two spots, in a contest that saw native languages and singing styles thrive. There is plenty for the remaining Big 5 delegations to take from Italy and France’s success and push for better results in the coming contests. 

France

Last five results:

2nd 2021, 16th 2019, 13th 2018, 12th 2017, 6th 2016

Overall, France has had a positive recent run at Eurovision. In the past five contests, only two entries have been sung entirely in French, with the other three fusing French and English. Barbara Pravi’s 2nd place result this year is proof that the French language is no barrier to success – and if anything, is a benefit. Voilà was distinctly French, and both the jury and public responded positively, which might encourage France to send songs in the future that fall into the classic ‘chanson’ genre.

France appears to be on the right track and is arguably the most likely member of the ‘Big 5’ to win the contest next. They have not finished below 16th on the scoreboard in the last five contests and even claimed two top-ten finishes in 2016 and 2021. They have momentum, so a French victory may not be too far away…

Germany

Last five results:  

25th 2021, 25th 2019, 4th 2018, 25th 2017, 26th 2016

What stands out from Germany’s past few entries is that they are all sung in English, having last sung in German in 2007. As for results, there has been one major outlier. They have finished last or second-last in the Grand Finals of 2016, 2017, 2019, and 2021. Meanwhile, Michael Schulte’s entry in 2018 bucked the trend, where he finished in 4th with his ballad You Let Me Walk Alone.

And it is not like they have not experimented with their songs – they have sent a mixture of soft ballads, power ballads, pop songs, and alternative songs. However, what Schulte’s result in 2018 might suggest, is that simplicity is key for Germany. By sending a simple song with a clear message, they received their best placing since Lena won for them in 2010.

Germany’s constant shifting between a national final and internal selection has not paid dividends for them, either. The challenge for Germany will be finding consistency and developing momentum from that. As we know, it can just take one strong entry to change the fortunes of a country at Eurovision.

Italy

Last five results:

1st 2021, 2nd 2019, 5th 2018, 6th 2017, 16th 2016

It felt like it was simply a matter of time before Italy won the Eurovision Song Contest. Achieving four top-ten finishes in four years is extremely impressive and was ultimately topped off with Måneskin’s victory in Rotterdam. They have remained consistent in singing in their native language, which paid off for them.

The Sanremo Music Festival has also been key to their success at the contest, ensuring they are regularly sending high-quality artists and songs. Although the winner of the festival is not required to compete for Italy at Eurovision, they usually do, which shows how much Italian artists value the contest. The consistent quality that comes from Sanremo is reminiscent of Melodifestivalen, which is renowned for producing successful Eurovision entries without fail.

The major question is whether they can maintain this form. If they continue with Sanremo as their selection format, there shouldn’t be any issues with song quality. However, after hosting the contest – and spending a large amount of money doing so – there is potential that the same enthusiasm to push for victory will not be there.

Spain

Last five results:

24th 2021, 22nd 2019, 23rd 2018, 26th 2017, 22nd 2016

It has been a tough run for Spain in the past few years, failing to navigate themselves from the right-hand side of the scoreboard. On a positive note, they have sung primarily in their native language in the past five years and have developed a distinct Spanish identity at the contest. However, this has not translated into any form of success results-wise.

It is hard to understand exactly what is behind Spain’s recent struggles at Eurovision. Maybe it is the fact that their selection process changes from year to year, which includes internal selection, national finals, and reality shows. Or maybe it is due to a lack of risk-taking – a number of their entries have been strong, and arguably deserved a spot in the final, but have not stood out to push for a placing out of the 20s.

Their most recent top 10 finishes came in 2012 and 2014, with Quédate conmigo and Dancing in the Rain, which were both fan-favourite power ballads. Those results came almost a decade ago, but it may be worth revisiting what made those songs so popular and re-build off that. 

United Kingdom

Last five results:

26th 2021, 26th 2019, 24th 2018, 15th 2017, 24th 2016

Ah, yes…. the United Kingdom. It has been a rough run during recent years for the country which has a love-hate relationship with Eurovision. James Newman received the infamous and dreaded ‘nul points’ from both the jury and public votes this year, which was arguably undeserved. The charting success of Newman’s song after the contest proves it was a strong entry but just did not click with juries and televoters on the night.

As per usual, the theories behind another disappointing result began to come out of the UK, including political voting. With past winners including Italy, the Netherlands, Israel, Portugal, and Ukraine, it is evident that the quality of a song and performance outweighs any political biases.

There does, however, appear to be a slow culture shift around the contest in the UK. Mainstream radio stations are starting to promote and air the nation’s competing song, with a sense of support and optimism. Both of Newman’s entries – for 2020 and 2021 – were written by himself, and as songs that he would normally release, regardless of Eurovision. This may hold the key for the United Kingdom is they want to become successful at the contest in the future. Nowadays, there is no such thing as a typical ‘Eurovision song’, with successful songs often written by the artist themselves. If the UK continues to evolve and focus on the music first, a top ten finish could be sooner than we may expect.

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