Why did people hate Madonna’s 2019 ‘Eurovision’ performance? A professional singer explains

23 May 2019, 15:48 | Updated: 23 May 2019, 15:51

Madonna at Eurovision Song Contest 2019 - Grand Final
Madonna at Eurovision Song Contest 2019 - Grand Final. Picture: Getty

By Rosie Pentreath

We asked Classic FM presenter and soprano, Catherine Bott, if Madonna’s Eurovision half-time performance was good or bad from a professional singer's point of view. Her take on the vocals is pretty controversial...

Reviews of Madonna’s Eurovision performance last night are mixed at best.

After the Queen Of Pop’s performance of ‘Like A Prayer’ and her new single ‘Future’, the majority opinion seems to come down on the side of Madonna’s performance having been poor, with people believing she sang flat and missed the mark on everything from costume and pitching to political message.

Indeed, on first listen we can’t help noticing that Madge opted for some unusual pitches to hang her well known hit 'Like A Prayer' on. The notes she uses in lines like “I hear you call my name” and “you know I’ll take you there” are much lower than the ear expects.

But, was Madonna’s Eurovision performance actually bad?

We’ve recruited Classic FM presenter and pro soprano, Catherine Bott, to help us unpack the controversial half-time set.

“I was interested to see the Madonna show because I'd seen reports that she sang flat/out of tune throughout her big number,” Catherine says.

“Not so – those constant tell-tale upward flicks in pitch before important notes told me that creative and deliberate use was being made of pitch modification software which in itself was perfectly fine, and her actual voice had more depth and texture than I was expecting”.

That’s what Catherine had to say about the version of the performance Madonna has posted on her YouTube channel, at least: a tick for the quality of Madonna’s voice itself and unsteady pitching saved only by auto-tune added after the fact.

“I didn't do the Eurovision experience on Saturday night,” Catherine explains and on searching for the video a day later, she had come across the edited version. “It had clearly been auto-tuned to within an inch of its life," she laughs in retrospect.

“I have just played the original clip and there are none of those synthetic grace notes. This is Madonna au naturale and very badly tuned indeed.” You can watch the original version of Madonna's performance above.

Madonna & Qauvo perform at Eurovision Song Contest 2019 Grand Final
Madonna & Qauvo perform at Eurovision Song Contest 2019 Grand Final. Picture: Getty

In the interest of full disclosure, Catherine admits to not really “getting” Madonna because of “all those visuals not backed up by a voice of substance or interest”.

“For me the ‘horror’ of her performance was its banality. She clearly still thinks she's being transgressive – with all those robed, chanting figures, the gas-masks, our heroine prostrating herself like a Bride of Christ before revealing the traditional corset – but the production only achieved maximum tastelessness”.

Ouch, our Catherine doesn’t mince words.

Why was Madonna’s Eurovision performance so controversial?

In spite of Eurovision having a strict “non-political” stance, Madonna highlighted ongoing Israeli-Palestinian tensions in her performance by dressing backing performers up in Israeli and Palestinian flags and flashing the words ‘WAKE UP’ over the stage at the end of her performance.

The European Broadcasting Union (EBU) and local public broadcaster, KAN, were by all accounts caught by surprise by the political message and claimed it “was not part of the rehearsal”. EBU released a statement confirming “The Eurovision Song Contest is a non-political event and Madonna has been made aware of this.”

This all comes after activists had called for Madonna to boycott this year's Eurovision due to its being held in Israel at a time of ongoing conflict with Palestine.

Madonna's outfit, featuring a cloak, leather armour, fishnet tights and eye-patch, added to the attention-grabbing spectacle.

“Sorry”, our experienced soprano says, “but [Madonna’s performance] came across like the Lower Sixth Drama Soc's ‘controversial’ end of term show. She really should have grown out of trying to shock people by now.”

“Kudos to her for doing all those stairs with trip-hazard flowing robes and an eye-patch, though.” Amen to that.

Watch the original, unedited version of Madonna’s Eurovision 2019 performance above.