What the term “band heavy year” really indicates

One of the narratives around Eurovision 2023 is that it’s a band heavy year.

But is that really the case?

Not actually!

First of all, let me explain my definition of a band – which is:

  • an act that features more than one member and
  • where instrumentalists (not a DJ) are a part of the act

By this criteria, Let3 is a band. Albania’s Albina and Family Kelmendi, who are a group of vocalists only, are not a band, and TuralTuranX, who are not listing the instrumentalists who appear in their video as part of the act, are not a band.

So with that in mind, I looked at 2022 acts vs 2023 acts. Math is not my strong suit, but this is what it looks like to me:

In 2022, there were 10 acts that could credibly be considered bands - 25% of total acts. In 2023, there are 9 acts that can credibly be considered bands - 24.3% of total acts.

Weirdly enough, it turns out that last year was slightly more band heavy than this year. And yet I don’t recall much of a discourse around bands last year. In fact, I think a lot of us were surprised that the “Maneskin Effect” was not more pronounced, with Bulgaria’s Intelligent Music Project appearing to be the only act that was cravenly hopping on the rock train.

And looking at 2021 numbers, it appears that was also a year with a not insignificant number of bands. 8 of the 39 2021 acts could be classified as bands, as opposed to a generous reading of 4 in 2019 and 6 in 2018* and 2017. So while there’s been a slow uptick in bands in the past few years, it looks like it might be reflecting broader trends in music, rather than reflecting any given winner.

So if the numbers are roughly similar between 2022 and 2023, why is 2023 getting a reputation as a band heavy year? One theory I had was that the music performed by bands was wildly different. But I don’t necessarily think that’s the case. Yes, Systur brought the soothing country, which is missing from this year’s contest. But We Are Domi are doing electropop like Sudden Lights. Vesna is bringing the ethnic banger sounds like Kalush Orchestra. Lord of the Lost are doing the emo metal thing like The Rasmus. Let 3 are (according to some) fulfilling the CIrcus Mircus vibe this year. Even Piqued Jacks is fulfilling the Intelligent Music Project slot of “rock I’d probably hear at a New Jersey dive bar.” It’s not a one to one comparison, but the similarities are there.

Instead, I have another theory as to why this year feels more band-heavy than previous years. And – surprise suprise – it has to do with gender.

In 2022, 5 of the 10 bands - or 50% - had a member that used she/her pronouns. In 2023, 2 of the 9 bands - or 25% - had a member that used she/her pronouns.

The Eurovision website lists preferred pronouns for acts on its webpage. Using the assumption that people who use she/her pronouns identify as women, I looked at the percentage of bands last year that included at least one woman. It was 50% of them. But in 2023, that number has dropped precipitously – only 2 of the 9 bands, or 22%, have women as members.

Those numbers don’t tell the full story – we’re looking at acts in the aggregate, rather than individual artists. So I looked at the number of women in the larger pool of artists who make up the bands. So, for example, Wild Youth would count as four separate artists, because they have four members.

In 2022, there were 48 people in bands, 10 of whom - or 21% - are women. In 2023, there are 41 people in bands, 7 of whom - or 17% - identify as women. But if you take out the all-female group Vesna, that number drops to 3%.

On the surface, the numbers look broadly identical – 21% women in 2022 vs 17% women in 2023; a drop from 1 in 5 band members being a woman to around 1 in 6 band members being a woman. But the presence of a single all-woman band – Vesna – skews the results somewhat. If you take them out of the calculation, we are left with one single woman out of a pool of 35 people, or a mere 3%. And that is a significant and unwelcome drop in women’s participation.

Aside from the fact that this statistic is pretty shitty, I also wonder if it’s why we’re feeling like this year is a more band-heavy year. Part of me wants to think that we’re still subconsciously viewing bands as guys with guitars. When we have something that deviates from that model – even if they are playing rock and roll, like REDDI – we tend to not perceive them as a “proper” band.

And this also explains why I’m feeling such resentment and anger toward the band-heavy characterisation of this year. I came up in the Riot Grrl movement, where the notion that women could command the stage, instead of simply being ‘the girlfriend’, was so liberating. I’m a veteran of several shitty bands, where I was a very inept bass player and vocalist.** So to see a year when we have so many bands, and yet so few women in those bands, makes me incredibly sad. It feels like Eurovision is reinforcing gendered roles, where women are pop girlies and divas, men are sadbois and rockers. And we should be beyond that!

TL:DR – 2023 is a year when we’ve taken a real step back on gender representation, and the inadequate vocabulary we have to describe it translates to “wow, it feels really band heavy.”

*Strangely enough, this does not include Ethno-Jazz Band Iriao!

**Ask me about the Kevin Bacon tribute band I was in. All evidence of it has been scrubbed from the Internet, but I swear we were a real, honest to goodness thing.

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