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Let's hear it for the backing singers!

20 May 2021 at 09:00 CEST
Daði og Gagnamagnið, Iceland, Second Rehearsal, Rotterdam Ahoy, 13 May 2021 EBU / Thomas Hanses
The rules regarding backing vocalists have changed over the years, so what’s the situation at the 2021 Eurovision Song Contest?

For the first time in the history of the Eurovision Song Contest, pre-recorded backing vocals have been allowed on a one-year trial basis. This is help to reduce the number of people travelling with a country’s delegation

The rule states that “the accompanying backing track may optionally contain backing vocals as long as they’re not lead vocals, lead dubs or any other vocals that would have the effect of, or aim at, replacing or unduly assisting the lead vocals during the live performance on stage”. This has been approved as part of the measures to ensure the sustainability of the Eurovision Song Contest.

Let’s analyse what this might mean for the Contest.

Jendrik with backing vocalists giving him a hand EBU / Andres Putting

The traditional choir in a pop performance is something we have seen in Eurovision since the halcyon days of Cliff Richard back in the 1960s: three to five backing vocalists with matching clothes and sometimes sharing one microphone, singing along as they bob and sway to the music.

Cliff Richard represented the United Kingdom in 1968 BBC

Although this year there’s no mic sharing, Denmark’s Fyr og Flamne opted for the traditional backing trio. Here you can see Line, Marcel and Tilde moving hands to the rhythm of Øve Os På Hinanden during one of the rehearsals at the Rotterdam Ahoy.

Watch: Fyr Og Flamme's Second Rehearsal, Eurovision Song Contest 2021

Israel used to be the masters of a choreographed backing vocal, best demonstrated when they won in 1978 with the unforgettable A-Ba-Ni-Bi, performed by Izhar Cohen and the Alphabeta.

Russia's Manizha is bringing a contemporary version of the backing singer line-up by getting them to perform around her in a circle on stage. Israel are having dancers encircle Eden Alene this year, but they are not singing with her. Other countries that opted for this choice include Croatia, Cyprus and Azerbaijan, which have backing dancers on stage and pre-recorded backing vocals on the track.

Manizha, Russia, First Semi-Final, Rotterdam Ahoy, 18 May 2021 EBU / Andres Putting

Another way to give your song a boost is with backing singers hidden off-camera. This move helped pave the way to victory for Euphoria, Heroes, and Arcade. This year Blas Cantó will be accompanied by a strong 5-piece backing choir - you will certainly hear them, but you won’t see them as they’ll be eclipsed by an enormous inflatable moon.

Blas Cantó, Spain, Backstage, Rotterdam Ahoy, 13 May 2021 EBU / Andres Putting

Iceland's Daði Freyr headlines his performance with supergroup Gagnamagnið which includes Hulda and his younger sister Sigrún as vocalists. It is more difficult to picture all of the backing vocalists that we will hear in the song 10 Years, as Daði used a choir of thousand people who had submitted their vocals via email for the backing track. Among them are Daði's older sister, his mum and dad and even his two year-old daughter Arora.

Gathering so many people together seemed to get out of hand for Daði, who didn’t expect such a response from people sending in their voices, so he had to hire somebody to put it all together eventually: “first I was going to do it myself, but I just realised there were so many voices… thank you for that!”

Watch: Music First with Ana Soklič

And, finally, returning to the new rule introduced this year, we have artists like Ana Soklič who explained to us in our series Music First that the rule allowed her to explore the dream she had of having an authentic gospel choir on her song Amen.