Eurovision 2020 was unsurprisingly cancelled due to the pandemic, but AI has stepped in to fill its glittery shoes. Dutch broadcaster VPRO has just wrapped up a Eurovision-inspired AI Song Contest, with 13 teams from Europe and Australia training algorithms to become budding pop stars while experts judge their output. As BBC and Bloomberg point out, the results are a mix of surprisingly well-done and frighteningly dystopic tunes... a bit like the real thing, really.
The winning entry came from Australian team Uncanny Valley, whose song “Beautiful the World” was built by an AI trained on a mix of Eurovision hits and local animals affected by wildfires, including koalas, kookaburras and Tasmanian devils. It has the same catchy dance pop riffs you’d expect to get the full douze points from a Eurovision vote, just with nonsensical lyrics. Mind you, “ding-a dong sweet song thank you darling” wouldn’t be out of line with what you’ve heard from human performers.
Other tunes are, shall we say, less than comforting. The song from runner-up Germany, Dadabots x Portrait XO’s “I’ll Marry You, Punk Come,” is about as disturbing as you’d expect from an AI trained on acapellas, death metal and a fake news generator — “extinction is the only way” isn’t exactly the feel-good lyric of the year. The Netherlands’ entry, Abbus’ “Can AI Kick it,” called for revolution. And last-place Switzerland’s team New Piano’s “Painful Words,” which relied the most on pure AI, lives up to its name with an atonal mish-mash of dialogue.
None of these tunes are likely to climb the charts any time soon, and it won’t be surprising if the AI Song Contest loses prominence if and when the flesh-and-blood Eurovision returns in 2021. Still, this is a good look at the current state of AI music generation. And look at it this way: at least here you know the outcome wasn’t skewed by political and cultural rivalries.