‘Nul Points!’: the words that bring a sense of dread to any intrepid Eurovision fan from the UK. This has only happened once, in 2002, but is why lots of people are hugely sceptical of the competition. Most of the time, the voting system has been relatively consistent in determining the best from the rest. Yes, it’s veiled in the extravagance of funky costumes, crazy dances and the all-important wind machine, but what the UK needs reminding of is that this is a song contest.
One of ‘The Big Five’, the UK, along with France, Germany, Spain and Italy, are automatically entered into the Grand Final. On the one hand, this presents a huge opportunity for the UK to showcase itself to the world on the big night. On the other, it means that our song doesn’t get the chance to pass the vital litmus test of the European audience beforehand.
This year, James Newman (John Newman’s older brother) is flying the flag for the UK with the song, ‘My Last Breath’. Considering that we have been placed at (or near) the bottom of the scoreboard four times over the past five years, many people aren’t holding out hope for the UK’s chances. But this is Eurovision, and anything really is possible.
Upon first listen, Newman’s entry does relatively little in comparison to the bangers submitted by the likes of Sweden and Belgium in recent times, and social media seemed rather conflicted about it when the song was released on Thursday 27 February.
Many people suggested that our entry is a middle-of-the-road, Eurovision staple. Not necessarily a hindrance, songs like these have the potential to fare relatively well on the international stage.
After this initial reception, ‘My Last Breath’ briefly landed a Top Ten spot on the UK iTunes Chart. Being received particularly well by pop stars and the public alike, the lesson here is to ignore the critics and embrace the competition.
Last year, Michael Rice’s ‘Bigger Than Us’ didn’t hit home, leaving the UK dead last on the final scoreboard. In comparison to some songs that sailed to the Grand Final, this was hugely disappointing. Other countries certainly stepped up their game in 2019, and after being left in the dust, it is clear that this perfectly competent entry was precisely not what Europe wanted to consume.
This pattern has been occurring for quite some time. Rice’s song had potential, like with SuRie’s ‘Storm’ in 2018, but the general consensus among Eurovision fans is that the UK has not been serious enough.
Undeniably, our recent cohort produced tunes which should have picked up more votes – but they simply didn’t. What both songs did well was convey a message, but they ultimately couldn’t compel audiences in the way that other tracks just have.
Similarly, Lucie Jones’ ‘Never Give Up On You’ had the power, uniqueness and intensity of a classic Eurovision song. It made waves across the continent, and was relatively successful, even though it was just an unsophisticated ballad with a clear message to express.
Utilising a professional panel and an open submission process, what these songs have in common is that they were all shortlisted and subject to the UK public vote before being selected. This year, the BBC reverted back to its internal process, collaborating with BMG to create their vision of the perfect tune for our 2020 entry.
Listening again, ‘My Last Breath’ doesn’t radically deviate from anything that we have sent in the past. Patience is a virtue, and it has the potential to stick in your head. Through mixing together all of the components you would expect from a UK entry, this song adds a contemporary twist to a classic formula – and could fare very well on the big night.
Disappointingly, some people feel that the UK is too blasé, expecting to win because of our music scene, revered the world over. Eurovision has been, but shouldn’t be the exception.
Newman’s tune isn’t in-your-face, nor is it weird or majorly cheesy. However, looking at its initial reception, a top-half result is perfectly achievable. The challenge now is to persuade voters that the UK is genuinely serious about Eurovision – and Newman’s tune certainly does that.
Image Credit: BMG/Victor Frankowski and Andrew Putting