Let’s Talk About: Numbers on Stage

Pete Turton from EuroVersy talks us through the numbers of performers on stage following the change in rules for the 2021 contest onwards, and asks “did it have the desired effect?”

The COVID-19 pandemic affected many areas of life and society, and the Eurovision Song Contest was not left unscathed. As Rotterdam’s Ahoy Arena was being hastily converted into a field hospital, discussions were going on behind the scenes about the whether the contest could go ahead, with the contest ultimately being cancelled.

When the contest returned to the Netherlands in 2021, a new rule was created, supposedly as a safety feature against spreading COVID-19 during the contest. The rule changed the requirement for all vocals to be performed live, meaning that from 2021, the backing track could contain vocal elements. The theory was, if you put the backing vocals on the backing track, you won’t need backing singers to turn up to the contest. The reduced number of people turning up on stage would then reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19. Easy.

Such was the success of the rule, that it was retained for the 2022 contest, so we investigated whether the rule changes actually had an effect on the number of performers on stage.

Using the data from the excellent sixonstage.com, we counted how many artists were on stage for the two years before the pandemic, and the two years after the cancelled contest.

In 2018 and 2019, there were 441 artists on stages from 84 delegations, and in 2021/2, there were 333 artists from 79 delegations.

So it worked right? One hundred and eight less people turned up to Eurovision? Taking a simple mean average, the average delegation put 5.25 people on stage before the pandemic, and 4.22 people after, a reduction of 1.03 people.

Now, having 0.03 of person disappear is a bit weird unless it means Sam Ryder had a haircut, so we’ll go to medians – the median number of people on stage before the pandemic was 6, and 5 after after. This also helps us count how many delegations sent groups of different sizes to the contest.

The graph shows how much the rule affected the number of people on stage for each delegation – around 60% of delegations put the maximum 6 people on stage pre-pandemic, and this falls to below 30% post pandemic, albeit with a slight increase in the number of delegations sending 5 on stage. Interestingly the number of solo artists dramatically increases post pandemic. What we don’t know from this data is how many of those soloists had backing vocals on track, and whether the groups of 5-6 post pandemic were all lip syncing and focussing on the dancing.

So, it looks like the strategy paid off – over two years 100 or so fewer people performed at Eurovision. What we’ll never know is whether it had any real impact on containing the spread of COVID-19. You could argue that Iceland watching their own rehearsal from a hotel lobby rather than performing live on the night is a failure of the policy, but you could equally argue the Icelandic positive test was brought from Iceland, and the rule change wouldn’t have affected that.

Moving on from the pandemic, the rule is still in place. Backing vocals can be live or on tape. The cynic would suggest that the saving on not paying 50-odd artists per year makes the rule worthwhile, or allows artists to be more creative with vocals on the tracks that the human voice can’t provide.

Ultimately, the change did what it wanted to do, reduce the number of people coming to the contest – if they wanted to do that AND keep the backing vocals, they should have just chosen a smaller arena….


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