Macedonia and Armenia: Questing for Modernity

Two ostensibly similar Eurovision entries. Uptempo, slight ethnic overtones grafted onto conventional pop material, similar rhythm. Yet one is at the very top of the betting firms' odds, and the other is at rock bottom. In this post I'll have a shot at explaining why, and why those small differences in rhythm are more significant than one might think.

These are two of the most modern songs in the competition from one way of looking at it. But what does "more modern" mean in a pure pop context? It's not being the music that's the most boundary-pushing, that's for sure. (It's questionable whether that's even a possible definition of modern in the first place. Chart pop ten years ago was arguably more boundary pushing than today, depending on which boundaries you count.)

Nor is the music that's seemingly ahead of its time, which is incredibly hard to predict of course (are we heading towards funky or dark dubstep?). And it's probably not even relevant in this context. To pull an analogy with, I dunno, the late sixties, "Cold Sweat" and "Here Comes The Fleas" were definitely symbols of the future. But if we look back at that time and think "what sounds the most 1966?" or whatever, we're gonna nevertheless be stuck with something like "Scarborough Fair". This "modernity as sounding like your time" is probably best represented so far this year by Usher's latest hit.

I think this kind of modernity is what Macedonia are aiming for.

Tamara feat. Adrian and Vrcak - Vo Ime Na Ljubovta

Listen to the rhythm here. For most of the song it's a semi-regular, Eastern European three-grafted-onto-two beat (with hits on the first, fourth, fifth and seventh quaver). But in the scene-setting first verse that beat is reduced to just a 3+3+2, a change that together with the singing rappers signal some sort of assymetrical dancehall or reggaeton. I know that trend is not exactly new but it's still signalling being ahead to the conservative Eurovision audience.

But there's one more conception of modernity that's probably even more relevant to that audience. And that's the idea of not sounding outdated. Something like Iceland's entry this year is never going to work because it sounds like something that went out of fashion long ago, but Armenia has really gone to lengths to sound universal in a current way. And yes, the result sounds a bit like some sort of Shakira song.

Sirusho - Qele Qele

Now, listen to the rhythm on this one. This one also has that slight ethnic assymetry in the rhythm, but it only appears every other bar and the four-on-the-floor is much more heavily emphasised. It's saying - "I'm current, but I'm also a normal pop song with the safe symmetric beat."

And that's why it's an odds-on favourite and Macedonia is tipped to fail. Or it could be that it's much more memorable and that the Macedonian rappers are distressingly out of tune. But whatever.

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