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Eurovision 2009 – Alexander Rybak – Fairytale

NB.I’ve since written a follow up to this post which can be found here

I watched Eurovision 2009 on Saturday. I even drank Bucks Fizz and managed to get through the interminably long scoring section without getting bored and turning over.

I’ve watched Eurovision for the last three or four years, and the standard is getting better. Now the rules have been changed to mollify the geographical bias of some countries, it’s nearer to being a song competition than it has for a while.

Were there any world beaters this year? No, even the best songs were merely okay. For this post, let’s take a look at the winner ‘Fairytale’ by Alexander Rybak to see if there are any songwriting ideas worth taking.

I know, I know. He’s obviously cut from the same charmingly-ugly mould as Zac Efron – he’s got the sort of face that little girls love and everyone else wants to hit. That was an unfortunate factor in his favour, as this probably wasn’t the best song of the night. However, it is a catchy little number.

  • Chords: The song is in Dm and uses just the one chord progression: Dm Gm Bb A. This is a very strong, familiar chord progression. The basic journey from I to VI to V in a minor key (eg. Dm Bb A) has been used in countless songs and has a vaguely ‘folk’ feel to it.
  • Bass Line: Again, very strong and familiar – constant motion from root to fifth and back again on every chord.
  • Violin refrain: Another folky element, the violin refrain with it’s constant pedal note on the A string. This we hear at the beginning of the song and after every chorus, including a small solo section after the second. It usesjust three notes apart from that open string: E F and G.
  • The Chorus Melody: Placed right at the top of Rybak’s voice, to make it sound passionate. This melody uses only E F and G and is simple and memorable enough to be catchy.
  • The Lyrics: These scan well enough for English written by a non-english speaker. Personally I’m much happier when the lyrics are in native languages, but that’s just me. The verses almost tell a story. Well… in the first verse he’s in love with his fairytale, in the second they argue a bit… and that’s it.
  • The Arrangement: There are some nice little moments, such as the pause before the second chorus. But like almost every song in this competition, Fairytale just fizzle’s out after the second chorus. There’s no attempt at a bridge or any real contrast and after the solo violin refrain it just leaps into another chorus.

If you’re looking for songwriting ideas to steal, the chord progression and bass line are up for grabs, as is the use of a recurring refrain. Placing the chorus melody at the top of your singer’s range can also be very effective if you want the song to sound passionate and heartfelt.

The ultimate effect of the song, given it’s week arrangengement after the second chorus, is to leave you feeling frustrated. Yes it’s a nice little chorus, yes the song mixes pop and generic folky elements well, but where’s the beef? Where’s the emotional journey. It might be pop, but that doesn’t mean you can short change the listener by not going anywhere.

To be fair, only a couple of songs in the competition did have anything to say after the second chorus, one of them Iceland’s contribution, the other the Uk’s, both of which I might write about in the next two posts.

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