The Eurovision Song Contest has employed a 3 minute rule on songs since 1960. Whilst this rule may have suited the competition 57 years ago, the usage of it now ages the context and restricts entries to a specific format. This makes the contest somewhat formulaic and archaic. Unfortunately, it is this rule that is killing the contest. In a year where we are Celebrating Diversity, it is time to welcome musical diversity into the contest by removing the old-fashioned 3 minute rule.

Assessing the three minute rule outside the Contest

I ask a question to you, the reader. How many hit songs can you name from the last 12 months that have a timestamp of ~3:00? For clarification, I am asking for any song that has charted in the top 10, of a major nation in the last year, that had a duration of 3:10 or less.

Whilst an exact figure is extremely difficult to calculate, a quick sweep of my iTunes shows that Dua Lipa’s low-charting “Blow Your Mind (Mwah)” clocked at 2:59, Zara Larsson’s most recent release “So Good feat. Ty Dolla $ign” at 2:47, “Wherever I Go” by One Republic at 2:50, “Treat You Better” by Shawn Mendes at 3:08 and “Perfect Illusion” by Lady Gaga at 3:02 are the only five songs in my library from the last six months that fall into this threshold. Charting places for these in the UK are #30, #44, #29, #6 and #12.

Perhaps only one of those can be called a hit.

I am not disparaging any of these songs, particularly, but the last 12 number ones in the UK clock in at the following times:

  1. Justin Bieber – “Love Yourself” – 3 minutes, 53 seconds.
  2. Shawn Mendes – “Stitches” – 3 minutes, 27 seconds.
  3. ZAYN – “Pillowtalk” – 3 minutes, 23 seconds.
  4. Lukas Graham – “7 Years” – 3 minutes, 59 seconds.
  5. Mike Posner – “I Took a Pill in Ibiza (Seeb Remix)” – 3 minutes, 19 seconds.
  6. Drake – “One Dance feat Wizkid and Kyla” – 2 minutes, 55 seconds.
  7. Major Lazer – “Cold Water feat. Justin Bieber and MØ” – 3 minutes, 5 seconds.
  8. The Chainsmokers – “Closer feat. Halsey” – 4 minutes, 4 seconds.
  9. James Arthur – “Say You Won’t Let Go” – 3 minutes, 31 seconds.
  10. Little Mix – “Shout Out to My Ex” – 4 minutes, 6 seconds.
  11. Clean Bandit – “Rockabye feat. Sean Paul and Anne-Marie” – 4 minutes, 11 seconds.
  12. Ed Sheeran – “Shape of You” – 3 minutes, 53 seconds.

These twelve songs, incidentally, were not selected because 12 is an important Eurovision number. In fact, these are every UK number one from January 2016 until now, March 2017. Yes, really. Only two of those songs we could say are “Eurovision ready”. From a whole twelve months of music, only two of these selected hits above are eligible.

What happens though if we make the 3 minute rule into a 3 minute, 30 seconds rule? By my reckoning that makes half of the list Eurovision ready.

Three minutes restricts songwriters into using certain patterns of songwriting to fit all the expected parts of a song into the designated time. Verse, chorus, verse 2, chorus 2, middle-eight, final chorus. To fit all of that into three minutes, you have to pick a fairly high tempo, which rules out slower mid-tempo songs which are the nouveau music trend of the late 2010s. Don’t be deceived by a ballad, just because the instrumental is slow doesn’t mean the tempo is slow.

I get your point on contemporary music but Contest songs are fine as they are

Sure, there’s always going to be a gem you can write in 3 minutes flat. The Drake and Major Lazer songs listed above charted at number one in the UK for a total of 20 weeks between them.

But if you want to write a tropical house song, a mid tempo EDM track or a non-formulaic pop rock entry, you need more time than 3 minutes to complete your song to an acceptable level of musicality.

Kygo’s most recent EDM/tropical house track, featuring Selena Gomez clocks in at 3:41 and has a tempo of roughly 100BPM. In the first week of combined chart sales, this song charted at #9 in the UK.

If we want to get right down to the hit of the moment, the song in vogue, “Shape of You” by Ed Sheeran is a tempo of 96 BPM, has an introductory instrumental of almost ten seconds and fulfils the typical format of verse, chorus, verse 2, chorus 2, middle-eight, final chorus. Yet this song, allowed to develop naturally to a conclusion, is 3 minutes, 54 seconds. This song has been number one now for 7 weeks in the UK. You can also notice that “Shape of You” has clocked roughly 2 minutes, 55 seconds by the time the second chorus has finished. Whilst this example is still too long for the extension I’m proposing, there would be a much easier cut to 3 minutes, 30 seconds than to 3 minutes flat.

There are, of course, Eurovision entries – or national final songs – that finish far too soon to allow them to show themselves off to their fullest. Some of these were originally closer to 3:30 than 3:00 and had to be sycthed apart to fit to the rules of the competition and others just clearly lack an ending that they weren’t afforded by the time constraint.

Here are three examples.

Guy Sebastian – “Tonight Again” 🇦🇺

The début Australian entry was cut down by thirty seconds, not allowing a natural progression for an ending as originally intended.

Amir – “J’ai cherché” 🇫🇷

Last year’s French entry won the hearts of fans when it was first presented in its full 3 minutes, 32 seconds form.

Mariette – A Million Years 🇸🇪

This Melodifestivalen finalist just ends a chorus too soon. If you listen to it with the typical song progression mentioned earlier in mind, you’ll notice it ends after the middle-eight and has no final chorus which “A Million Years” really needs to show itself off in style.

And many, many more…

I’ve picked just three prominent example but others that could have just as easily been included were Il Volo’s “Grande Amore” which was cut for the contest from 3:30, as was ZOË’s “Loin d’ici” from 3:22. Even “Sound of Silence” by Dami Im, the runner-up in 2016, had a different, more drastic cut to the Eurovision entry than the single version of the song. It can be argued that both these entries found a natural way of cutting these entries down to 3 minutes but my question is why bother? Why not allow songs to show themselves off to their fullest extent?

Hm, I see what you mean – those songs all lack a natural ending

There is becoming a more commonplace practice that songs are picked which were never intended for Eurovision in the first place and therefore they have to undergo a form of editing in order to climax at the right time for the competition rules.

Is there an argument that by taking a semifinal of 18 and only selecting 9 qualifiers, or a semifinal of 16 and only selecting 8 qualifiers, we would be afforded extra minutes in the final? Four songs fewer earns us 12 minutes. That’s 24 songs being extended by 30 seconds.

Yup, it’s that simple.

Of course, this major rule change would need to be cleared well in advance of the next contest – well in advance of the submissions window opening in September – but it would allow artists to be able to work more creatively on their songs and submit masterpieces that are complete and of varied styles and genres to their relevant national broadcasters.

Surely some broadcasters won’t be happy with their probability of qualifying being reduced by having less positions available in the final?

I understand that point of view. Another method is to remove the extended interval acts that very few people pay attention to. Maybe even extend the broadcast time of the semifinals by another 10 to 15 minutes in order to comfortably accommodate 19 songs which range up to 3 minutes, 30 seconds. Perhaps a combination of the two ideas above would still be enough to allow the change in time restriction.

If we are totally honest, not every country will pick a song that extends past 3 minutes. What I’m asking for is recognition from the EBU that much of the music world now does not write songs that have a 3 minute duration. If we are to modernise the contest and move it forwards, progressing with the music world, we must be able to embrace modern day music rather than retain a rule that has stood for 57 years.

I wonder if Aminata had had another 20 seconds, she might have been able to creatively capture more hearts and minds than she did. I think the same about Amir. Now, I’m just left wondering what will happen to Francesco Gabbani (Italy) when his song is inevitably cut apart before March’s submission deadline at the Head of Delegations meeting.

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2 Comments

  1. Hulk

    February 28, 2017 at 12:49 am

    VERY MUCH TRUE!

    Far too many ESC-songs have a quite samey…and rather dull / predicatble structure…slow start…building up. Verse /chorus/chrous, birdige….a bloody annoying key change…then the chorus reapated 2-3 times.

    I am 100 % sure it would have been more different, complx and interesting without the “cram everything in withim 3 minute strss”. Seriously, how many song writes have to sue a stop watch to make songs??

    And – how many pop / rock songs made during the last 20-30 yars last for UNDER 3 minutes. OUTSIDE ESC? maybe 10 %…unless it’s a punk song, it’s rare.

    I sometimes miss more crealticitiv in the arragements…long intros. long instrumetal passages. More suerpriises….but that’s an utopica with this rule. look at FIK (The Albanian NF). they have no such rule. The songs then get a WAY more natural develpoment, it’s easy to hear. More unsual song sctructures, surprises, instumental solos.

    I have been waiting for this old-fashioned rule to be skipped for decades..nothing has happeed. I am sure many other music fans would have prefered that. In the 60s it was OK. popsongs were shorter…but not today

    Reply

  2. Stephen

    February 28, 2017 at 1:35 pm

    I don’t see how an extra 30 seconds magically allows song writers to be more creative? Even with a longer limit, most entries will still follow well-trodden, predictable patterns just because countries don’t have the time or money to write anything more “special” than they do now.

    And don’t forget the most important part – without the 3 minute limit, we would have had to suffer Joe+Jake or Rykka or Serhat for another 30 seconds or more!!!

    Reply

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