In 2019, Sweaty Machines took hundreds of Eurovision songs and came up with an original song, “Blue Jeans and Bloody Tears”, using artificial intelligence. Featuring vocals from Izhar Cohen, the Israeli winner of the 1978 Contest, it strove to celebrate Eurovision’s “melodrama, kitsch and camp, its humor and its gimmicks” while pushing its innovative limits.
A year later, while the original Eurovision was canceled due to COVID-19, another contest, the AI Song Contest, came to fruition. Thirteen entries from eight different countries participated in this experiment, where each three-minute song was generated with AI, and the more it was involved with the songwriting, the more jury points it would accumulate. The first winner, Australia’s “Beautiful the World” from Uncanny Valley, merges electronic music with surrealistic lyrics inspired by the bushfires in Australia, written by both songwriters and computer engineers.
While Eurovision resumed in 2021, the AI Song Contest continued on; a fourth edition will take place in Coruna, Spain this November. Rules for the contest include being transparent on what algorithms the artists used for their new song, sharing said algorithms, and only concentrating on Eurovision-participating countries. The end results came in the form of audio files, without the live performances to accompany them.
However, what if these algorithms ended up playing a role in the flagship contest?
Instead of songwriting camps during the Eurovision offseason, we would see algorithm tests, which would seek out what’s popular on the charts and how to write a genuine song which reflects them. If not to that extreme, then AI in music has been used to enhance production, get stems from previously-existing songs, and mixing. A song wouldn’t have to have the vocals of a well-known singer, but it would allow a more level playing field for those who have the production resources and those who have not.
Once the representatives would have their semi-original song, it’s time to determine how to transform it to a live performance. How many people should be on stage? What types of LED designs should be there, if LEDs are used? What camera angles would emphasize the artist?
Every single Eurovision has the potential of rising above expectations with a strong performance, or falling apart because it doesn’t match the song. Using ChatGPT, a staging director could give a basic idea of how to transform a song into a beautiful performance. For example, to fix Sennek’s staging for “A Matter of Time“:
- Minimalistic Setting: “A Matter of Time” is a song with a haunting and melancholic quality. To enhance this mood, consider a minimalistic stage setup. A dark, simple backdrop, perhaps with a large clock face or time-related motifs, can serve as a focal point. Dim lighting with subtle changes in color and intensity can create an intimate and mysterious ambiance.
- Centered Spotlight: Place Sennek in the center of the stage under a soft, focused spotlight. This will draw attention to her and create a sense of vulnerability and introspection, which matches the song’s emotional depth.
- Solo Performance: “A Matter of Time” is a song that conveys a sense of solitude and reflection. The performance could focus primarily on Sennek, with little distraction. The visual emphasis should be on her emotive expression and the song’s lyrics.
- Use of Visual Effects: To enhance the theme of time, consider using visual effects. This could include projections of clock hands moving slowly, images of hourglasses, or abstract representations of time passing. These effects can be subtle and integrated with the lighting to avoid overwhelming the performance.
- Wardrobe: Sennek’s outfit should reflect the song’s mood. A simple, elegant dress in dark colors can convey the somber tone. Jewelry or accessories related to time, such as a pocket watch or hourglass necklace, could be incorporated to add depth to the performance.
- Movement and Choreography: Keep the movement minimal but impactful. Sennek could make deliberate and slow movements that complement the lyrics and the song’s emotion. These movements should be symbolic and meaningful rather than busy or energetic.
- Emotional Delivery: Sennek should focus on conveying the deep emotions of the song through her facial expressions and body language. The performance should capture the sense of longing, introspection, and melancholy that “A Matter of Time” embodies.
- Live Band or Backing Track: Depending on the venue and budget, you can have a live band or use a backing track. The arrangement should be minimal, allowing Sennek’s voice to shine.
- Audience Engagement: Encourage the audience to connect with the emotion of the song. Create a sense of intimacy by dimming the lights in the venue and encouraging the audience to focus on Sennek’s performance.
- Relevant Visuals: If using a screen or backdrop, consider projecting relevant visuals that complement the song’s theme. This could include images of nature, old photographs, or anything that represents the passage of time.
That way, the creative directors would have a good starting point to stage the song appropriately, or else tell a compelling story with the live performances.
In modern-day Eurovision, LEDs are just as important to the performance as the actual stage and performers themselves. Recently, AI art apps such as with Midjourney have taken steam thanks to their ability to generate artwork out of certain words, and could serve as inspiration for turning words into live visuals.
AI could take up many ideas and consolidate them into a cohesive multimedia performance, balancing studio cuts and live staging alike. It wouldn’t take away from the singer, as Eurovision is still a television show, but it could help them feel confident in their three minutes of fame.
On the other hand, just because a delegation can utilize AI, does it mean should they?
In a recent interview, the Deputy Director General of the EBU confirmed that the EBU was considering to ban AI usage at Eurovision, saying “creativity should come from humans and not from machines.” In addition, recent years have shown songs written by the artists themselves, or involving some input on their part, have climbed to the top. For example, the top six songs in 2021 had the artist contributing to the songwriting; this year alone, the entire top five had singers co-writing. Authenticity has become the name of the game, and generating songs through AI puts a dent on the sincerity of a song and performance.
Technology, while also a freeing factor towards new musicians, can also be punishing for the bottom line. As referred to with Teya and Salena’s “Who the Hell is Edgar?”, songwriters only get paid $0.003, which, when considering other songwriters involved and the production company, could leave singers with little to live off of. In the United States, AI work cannot receive copyright status, as art has to be made with human hands to warrant such. Ironically, this meant that an award-winning artist couldn’t get his work copyrighted, which could have serious implications for how singers of AI songs could receive royalties. Eurovision is frequently a stage through which locally famous artists could make their name, and having the resources to continue to make music is important, hence adding the risks of utilizing AI.
Finally, as Eurovision has made its name as a television show, having computer-generated songs would influence the contest as we know it. At its biggest extreme, it could revert Eurovision back to a radio show, not unlike that with the early contests. So to accommodate AI-generated songs, the overall show has to adjust too.
Eurovision has been able to adapt to different forms of technology, from television to televoting to LED screens and holograms. They have been frequently used and misused to improve performances, but they made the contest bloom, nevertheless. Artificial intelligence should be part of the next frontier of songwriting and staging, but with its ever-evolving abilities, it could overwhelm the contest and leave it irretrievably changed.
The contest has endured for almost seventy years with what it works best; a cautious approach to AI is needed. Its strengths could help enhance songwriting and have an overall more produced contest, but the human heart of competition should still remain in the end.