We begin the series of reviews of nul points songs with the Swiss 2004 entry “Celebrate”
As indicated in the last post, I am going to start ESC Song Reviews with some of the songs that didn’t receive any points at all, and I begin with one of the relatively few Nul pointers from the 21. century, namely the Swiss entry in Eurovision 2004: “Celebrate”, performed by Piero and the MusicStars. The song competed in the semi final on 12 May 2004. Receiving no points at all, it failed to qualify for the final which was held three days later, on Saturday 15 May. The song frequently occurs in lists of “Worst Eurovision songs”. Let us take a look into it and maybe find out why it was so unsuccessful.
1. The composition: Form, melody, harmonics.
Two major pieces can be observed: a 16 bar chorus (“Clap your hands, oh clap your hands”) and a 16 bar verse (“Nobody knows…” + “Tomorrow you can…”). Apart from that, there is a short 8 bar intro with the same chords as in the chorus; as well as a middle piece with mostly percussion instruments and some vocal improvisation. The entire form is as follows: Intro – chorus – verse 1 – chorus – verse 2 – chorus – middle piece – chorus (1/2 note up, from C to D flat) – one more chorus (another 1/12 note up, to D) – another chorus (still in D) with the last line repeated three times (“cause the world…”). A very conventional form that puts most emphasis on the chorus which occurs no less than six times during the song.
The main key is C (major), in that the song modulates up to first D flat and at last D towards the end (a famous Eurovision cliché). Most emphasis is laid on the I and IV chords (the “tonic” and the “subdominant” – in C that is C and F respectively). F.e. the chords in the chorus are C-F-C-F-C-F-Dm(minor)-C, whereas the verse goes F-F-C-C-F-F-C-C-F-F-C-C-D-D-G-G. Emphasizing the IV-cord (F) more than the V-chord (G), it resembles blues harmonics, whereas the D-G movement at the end of the verse can be explained in terms of the so-called ‘functional harmonics’. As you can see, the harmonics in the song are relatively monotonous which means that the song will have to rely on other aspects to sound interesting.
Melodically, you will notice an outspoken tendency towards having downward phrases. F.e. in the chorus, all the melody lines are going down, as are the first two lines in the verse; only line three and four in the verse contains some up-going (f.e. “Everything is gonna BE alright”). The downward tendency makes the melody seem somewhat heavy, emphasizing the first words (“CLAP your hands”, “HAVE A wonderful time”). The composition of notes seem very natural though, so there is nothing “wrong” with the melody technically. The melody lines and chords in both chorus and verse can be explained in terms of the so-called AAAB-form, f.e. in the chorus: A: Clap your hands, oh clap your hands, A: Everybody just clap your hands, A: Clap your hands, oh clap your hands, B: Have a wonderful time.
All in all, the song is built on standard figures and templates, and there aren’t really any surprising or unusual elements.
2. Production / orchestration
Apparently the instrumentation on the backing track is mostly programmed on a computer. It contains a drumbeat which emphasizes all the “beats” in the pulse – another contribution to the “heavy” feel. It is also worth noticing some keyboard sounds that imitate the sound of wind instruments such as trumpets and saxophones, and which lead your thoughts towards Latin American music (examples are the riffs just before the first chorus and at the end of the middle piece). But since they are made on a keyboard or a computer, they don’t contain the dynamics and feeling that can be produced by real wind instruments. The chords are played by a hardly audible distorted electric guitar; one of the few “real” instruments on the track. Overall, the production sounds quite amateurish, and it is obvious that there hasn’t been put much effort in making an interesting soundscape: The drumbeat remains the same during the entire song, and it contains very little energy, partly because of its emphases: 1-2-3-4. It lacks both dynamics and variation, and so do the cheap brass imitations mentioned above.
3. Vocal performance
Piero’s singing is somewhat reminiscent to some of the soul and rhythm and blues singers from the 60’s, containing a raw, distorted sound quality that – at best – could lead your thoughts to singers like Otis Redding or Percy Sledge. But whereas these singers were normally able to deliver in a much more natural and emotional way, Piero seems to be forcing his vocal sound a lot. Doing so, he often gets out of key: f.e. after having yelled “ouw!” in the second chorus, he hardly hits any notes in “Everybody let’s celebrate”, almost sounding exhausted. Unfortunately he does not improve towards the end of the song, and when the song changes key twice, his singing gets even worse and exhausted. Apparently he is trying to pull some energy into the otherwise very dull music, but his soul’ish vocals don’t really fit the latin inspired production. That – combined with his often exaggerated raw sound and unhomogenous performance (both in terms of dynamics and in hitting the right notes) – makes his vocal performance very annoying overall. He almost sounds desperate in the middle piece, shouting “Clap your hands!”.
The lyrics of the song are:
Clap your hands, oh clap your hands
Everybody just clap your hands
Clap your hands, oh clap your hands
Have a wonderful time
Celebrate, oh celebrate
Everybody, let’s celebrate
Celebrate, oh celebrate
‘Cause the world is a beautiful place
Nobody knows what the future brings
So don’t you worry ’cause I know one thing
All your friends are right here by your side
Everything is gonna be alright
Tomorrow you can get deep on me
Teach me all about philosophy
I won’t mind to listen all day long
But for now I only want to say
CHORUS – MIDDLE PIECE – 3x CHORUS
The phrase “Clap your hands” appears no less than 32 times during the song: 30 times in all six choruses and two times in the middle piece. Again very monotonous. “Celebrate” occurs 30 times in that it only appears in the chorus. A phrase like “Clap your hands” is clearly a cliché, as are lines such as “Have a wonderful time” and “Everything is gonna be alright”. The message of the lyrics seems to be: have a party and leave the deep discussions to tomorrow (verse 2). Unfortunately, with words like “Clap your hands” and “Celebrate” being repeated over and over again, the call for a party seems forced – once again – and as an invited guest you might think: well, if there is so little going on at that party, then I would rather stay at home.
As the lyrics indicate (see above), “Celebrate” is meant to be a party song. Unfortunately there are so many aspects that work against the supposed party feeling: 1. Both composition (form, melody, harmonics), production and lyrics contain little variation, and the repetition of the chorus and “clap your hands” quickly becomes tiring. 2. The energy that could have made the song more living is missing completely in the production (a heavy, dull, programmed drumbeat, cheap keyboard imitations rather than real wind instruments). 3. The vocals seem forced and overdone, and Piero’s failure of hitting the right notes doesn’t do any good either. 4. The mostly downward melody lines work against the energy as well. In other words: the song fails to deliver what it promises on almost all parameters. Moreover the composition contains nothing outstanding at all. It is entirely built on standard templates, and there is nothing surprising or unusual about it.
Had it been produced with good musicians, f.e. a good drummer and a real brass section, and of course a more experienced singer, then the track could have had some more warmth and energy. However, it would not change the fact that both composition and lyrics are so uninspired.
7. So was the zero deserved?