I’ve harboured a not-so-secret ambition to be part of the UK’s Eurovision entry for a number of years now, my closest moment being liveblogging the UK’s “Song for Europe” style show Eurovision: You Decide on BBC Four back in 2016 when Joe and Jake’s “You’re Not Alone” won the public vote. A song with a decent start and a Coldplay-like piano line, it whimpered before the U2 inflections of the second verse guitar kicked in due to – quite frankly – a cheese fest of a chorus and a totally unambitious, charisma-vaccum approach to its vocal performances. Musically the mood of the time was the sparse beats of Zayn’s Pillowtalk and Drake’s infectious One Dance. Meanwhile, You’re Not Alone seemed to reference a school talent show.
The Joe and Jake entry, despite earning enough points to place 24th out of 26th rather than the hallowed “nul points” is an excellent example of what doesn’t work at Eurovision as it breaks the unwritten rules of what near-guarantees failure in this modern era of Eurovision – we’re talking 2012 onwards, so don’t send me Olsen Brothers clips ok? Here’s some of them:
Two singers aren’t better than one
Contestants in Eurovision have three minutes to sell themselves to 39 territories. It’s hard enough to discover one personality in that time, let alone two. Serbia also made this mistake in 2021. The only way to differentiate between their singers for the uninitiated was hair colour. Meanwhile, Malta’s entrant Destiny didn’t have the most original or standout song of the competition with Je Me Casse, but was marked out for success by the potent energy of its 18-year-old performer’s star power. In fact, if she’d carried the Lizzo style of the bridge through as the running theme of the song rather than the dated electro swing power pop of a few years ago, she might have had even more impact. As it was, she only able to win the battle of powerful women in fringed bodysuits. But you’ll remember her. Do you remember
Jake and Paul? Joe and Jake?
Keep it current
Ever wondered why Sweden typically does well each year? Well, apart from throwing talent at the situation and having a well-established talent selection show Melodifestivalen, dating back to 1959, they are a pop powerhub, known for pioneering the EDM sound made popular in the last decade. This year Tusse’s entry referenced a slowed down version of The Weeknd’s Starboy, but without the edge or essential bite to drive home such a mid tempo track. (I’ll talk about earnest numbers in a bit.)
Sweden’s decision to stick to what they know, despite disco being the biggest pop trend to return in 2020 (think Dua Lipa), leaded them to sound underwhelming rather than stunning. On the other hand The Roop’s Discoteque, Lithuania’s entry, perfectly encapsulated the current music era (think BBC 6 Music rather than Radio 1), like a sped-up Gorillaz style production in the chorus (look up the track Stylo) with the intensive beat of a Chemical Brothers number and the oscillating ingeunity of Kraftwerk.
In fact, so good was Lithuania’s effort that I’m geniunely affronted by the 55 total points awarded across the national juries. Thank you general public for seeing sense with your 165 points. Lithuania, you were genuinely robbed. As was Switzerland’s Gjon’s Tears, whose Tout l’Univers was my winner for managing to convince me that future Bond songs should all be sung in French and giving me my only goosebumps of the evening. I’m convinced this would have won in 2019 if up against the Duncan Lawrence’s Acade. Sorry Netherlands.
(The look on Gjon Muharremaj’s face as he sings that last line when he realises what he’s pulled off hits me right in the feels.)
This year Italy’s winning entry sounded like something you’d hear on the radio today because, in the words of Måneskin’s lead singer “rock and roll never dies”, it just references the past over and over, taking influences from the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Black Keys and Rage Against the Machine. (Finland, step away from the noughties nu-metal next year and you could have a crack at the top.)
Europe doesn’t give a shit about world peace
Or messages for togetherness. They simply want to feel something. That could be awe like EDM peak popularity winner Heroes by Måns Zelmerlöw with his magic interactive light show accompanying the rising urgency of the song’s production, Loreen’s Euphoria making her audience feel exactly that in 2012, or Barbara Pravi’s sheer passion in her delivery of French entry Voila. In 2016 Jamala’s 1944 brought home the trophy for Ukraine through the sheer power of its storytelling and its dignified anguish. It wasn’t a cheesy call to “come together”, it was a demand for a better future. Unfortunately Joe and Jake and Molly’s 2014 “power to the people!” chanting in Molly’s 2014 entry UK Children of the Universe sank failed to spark a result.
Staging is important, but camera work even more so
Remember what I said about getting a personality across earlier? The best way to do this from a technical perspective is camera work. The audience at home are voting, the audience in the arena are enjoying the show. Everything about Barbara Pravi’s performance for France was choreographed to perfection, from a subtle hard guesture in the second verse captured in close-up, to the frenzied physical arm guestures of the final chorus. When there is such a tight focus in the performance, every detail can be made to count. Meanwhile 2013’s Danish victor Emmelie de Forest’s Only Teardrops lacked fancy choreography but made the audience fall for its simply dressed singer with shots that priorities her over her backup drummers and Netta played her quirks directly into the camera to bring it home for Israel with Toy in 2018.
The best songs come out on top (or at least, top five)
One of the things to always remember about Eurovision is that it’s a song contest. The clue’s in the title. There is something to be said about political voting, and yet countries without the UK’s unpopularity have still struggled to bring the contest home – Italy’s previous win was in 1990 (although in that time they did have a 14 year absence) and France have competed at 63 of 65 competitions but haven’t won since 1977. 2021 had barely any duds in the pack. James’ Newman’s UK number Embers was too dated in its synth sax stylings to make a true impression, channelling a 2015 Jess Glynne. So while it didn’t deserve the humiliation of “nul points”, it didn’t deserve to win and would never have picked up the points it to either.
In conclusion, the UK really can win again
We need to think carefully about what will win, rather than sitting on our arses and going “what do you mean we got nul points again!?”
I confess in 2016 I met Hugh Goldsmith, who led the search effort back then and he gave me his email address – and I didn’t email him – because I’m an idiot who didn’t think I could have an impact and didn’t want to overstep. But every year I watch, analyse what works, what doesn’t and I regret my lack of chutzpah. I, putting it bluntly, sat on my arse. So if there was any way I could write, perform or just somehow be part of the UK’s next Eurovision effort, you can bet I wouldn’t waste the opportunity. Pick me, BBC!