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Quit Your Hot Takes and Actually Listen: Reacting to the UK Song Reveal Written by on January 25, 2017 | 15 Comments

As the performers gather in London, the UK fans have six songs to select from in ‘Eurovision: You Decide’ this Friday. Ellie Chalkley reviews the songs and examines the progress made by the BBC’s Eurovision team.

This week the United Kingdom makes its biggest democratic decision of the year: which song to send to Kyiv 2017 and the  Eurovision Song Contest. As everyone knows, the UK delegation are currently in the process of rebuilding their Eurovision participation from the ground up after a few tough years. The Class of 2017 for ‘Eurovision: You Decide’ gives us an idea how it’s going, and for me things are going pretty well.

Let’s look at how far we’ve come – we’re no longer allowing novelty hits anywhere near the selection, we’re attracting modern pop songwriting talent, and we’ve got a great selection of performers. Ok, so the perennial fanboy dream of a be-sequinned Sophie Ellis-Bextor delivering a discotastic futuristic pop number for the UK isn’t coming true any time soon, but at least she’ll be in the building when we choose this year!

However, from the totally out of proportion reaction from Eurofans and the UK press you’d think that we were being asked to choose between six different Scooch album tracks. I really disagree with the negative tenor of the debate this time – we wanted the BBC to show that they understood what the modern Contest sounds like, and that’s exactly what they’ve done.

If it’s ok for other countries to work with international songwriters, how come that becomes unacceptable when we look at the UK? If Eurofandom is willing to cheer Saara Alto on the UK X Factor and Aminata on The Voice of Russia, how come it’s not okay for people to go the other way? If the BBC wants to send a singer with real experience of the sheer terror of delivering perfect vocals on live TV, as well as handling themselves around the press in a reality show format, then surely a graduate of the X Factor exactly fits the job description? Obviously, as an old school Fame Academy obsessive, I’d love it if the BBC had an in-house format that aimed to find an artist who can deliver on the songwriting as well as the performance aspect, but this is an imperfect world and we do the best we can.

It might be a coincidence in terms of timing, but I found it useful to compare the newly released UK songs with the Icelandic songs. Both countries have underperformed in comparison to their expectations in recent years, and both countries have managed to get back up to speed with the modern Contest. Where Iceland has gone for songs representing specific genres that have performed credibly at recent Contests (modern country, Sia-style electro ballads, solo male electropop) the BBC’s approach goes right to the heart of the Contest – the mid-tempo inspirational song that aims to fill hearts with hope, ears with earworms and get all the LED wristbands waving in the arena.

In my view there are things to love in all six of the UK songs this year and that while a bit more of the (dare I say it…) X factor is needed in order to get a win, the signs are all there that we’ve got a team that understands what the modern Eurovision Song Contest is all about. Specifically that it is in tune with current pop trends and that is genuinely trying to get the UK a good result and put Eurovision back in the minds of the pop industry as a valuable showcase that delivers a lasting career for an artist.

Darline (Eurovision: You Decide 2016)

Last year’s You Decide performers Darline will play the O2 on Valentine’s Day

Appearing Tonight, We Have…

I’ll take you through all the songs now, in an attempt to persuade you to ignore the received wisdom of your pals on Twitter and the banshee howls of the Daily Express. You might even want to do an experiment with me and imagine that these songs represent Slovakia or Luxembourg’s triumphant return to the Eurovision scene, so that you can listen to them without all the general fan nonsense and baggage associated with the UK.

Freedom Hearts, performed by Olivia Garcia


This one is exciting. In a turbulent year for the wider world we’ve got a potential UK entry that sidles up to the edge of the ‘political message’ rule. Judging from other National Finals, lots of songs this year will have more of a ‘Peace Peace’ than a ‘Love Love’ message and it’s great that the UK can do it with a song that has a touch of Loreen’s ‘We Got The Power’ about it, as well as a superb middle eight that is just begging for dramatic lighting cue and a big silly gold pyro curtain.

I’m a bit concerned that Olivia is very young to be handling all the non-singing aspects of being a Eurovision contestant, but if she’s chosen I’m sure that the UK delegation will at least help her deflect people’s attempts to badger her regarding #Brexit.

Wish I Loved You More, performed by Holly Brewer


This is the one which people are saying sounds like Beyonce’s ‘Halo’, but I think they’re only half right. Where ‘Halo’ was attempting to capture the rush of perfect love, ‘Wish I Loved You More‘ is going for a more poignant emotion – the desire for a feeling of perfect love that just isn’t there. Holly’s studio vocal is incredibly powerful and if she can recreate it on stage then the moments where the song swells, builds and then falls away to silence will generate goosebumps.

Never Give Up On You, performed by Lucie Jones


This is presumably one of the results of Emilie de Forrest’s widely reported participation at the UK songwriting camp. It’s got a skipping folky vocal rhythm that I really love, and think that the simplicity of the arrangement will lend itself to a beautiful, stark staging concept that lets Lucie’s wonderful voice shine.

I also think that this is a song for which there’s an obvious arms-aloft Euroclub dance mix, which I’ll leave the reader to imagine.

Light Up The World, performed by Danyl Johnson


It can’t have escaped anyone’s attention that last year an upbeat, inspirational song from Bulgaria did really well, thanks to the incredible charisma of Poli Genova and the joy of an easily chanted chorus. I think this is the sort of vibe that I’m getting from ‘Light Up The World.’ I don’t think I watched any of Danyl’s series of X Factor, so I’m not privy to his charisma, but this is a song with plenty of opportunity for joyous crowd interaction, serious smoulders down the camera, charming dance breaks and a huge pull zoom out to the whole arena waving their LED wristbands as he goes for that big note in the middle eight.

A potential chart hit too.

I Don’t Wanna Fight, performed by Salena Mastroianni


One of my big predictions for the 2017 National Final season was that we’d be hearing a lot more of the tropical post-dancehall sound that everyone realised they loved once Margaret’s ‘Cool Me Down’ was no longer in the 2016 competition.

This has the whole package – an insistent why-o-why hook, a huge chorus, a message of non-violence and a bass line that simply will not quit. A fellow Eurofan on Twitter said that they could imagine dancing shirtless to this while pogoing and yelling ‘We should put down our weapons!’. I can imagine the same, but I think I’d probably keep my top on. My insta-reaction on the first play of this was to tweet “World peace Dua Lipa”, which isn’t a complete sentence but you catch my drift.

What Are We Made Of?, performed by Nate Simpson


This is the most traditional of our selections – a manly piano ballad with stirring strings and a really cool modulation into the chorus. We know from Poland’s 2016 entry that you can do very well with quite a traditional ballad provided that it really connects with the televoters.

This song could really come alive when Nate gets the chance to really tear into the chorus melisma on stage on Friday.

Waiting For The Scores On The Doors

So who gets your pick for the United Kingdom’s Song for Europe? How did it go for those readers pretending that these were the Slovakian songs? And don’t we have six songs with absolutely cracking middle eights? And isn’t it nice to actually be offered something close to what we wanted?

You decide!

About The Author: Ellie Chalkley

Ellie Chalkley is an all-round music, media and culture enthusiast and citizen of the internet. As an overly analytical pop fan and general knowledge hoarder she finds the Eurovision Song Contest bubble to be her natural home. She comments gnomically and statistically on Eurovision matters at @ellie_made.

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15 responses to “Quit Your Hot Takes and Actually Listen: Reacting to the UK Song Reveal”

  1. Alison says:

    I 100% agree with you that the negative reaction has been over the top. I don’t think any of them could win Eurovision but like you say people are acting as though it’s 6 Scooch entries. I could see some of them getting mid table which would absolutely be a step in the right direction for the UK. Ugh.

  2. Ben Cook says:

    Yeah I also agree with you Ellie. It’s not fair to say the BBC haven’t made the effort this year – the team really are trying their best to find songs that will do well in Eurovision.

    They haven’t completely succeeded. I’d have preferred them to take Iceland’s approach – their line-up is far more interesting than ours. But the songs are respectable enough and I see it as the second in a 5 year plan for the BBC.

  3. Eric Graf says:

    This is fine … if UK’s goal is a respectable result in the Slovakian national final. In fact, if you entered these six songs in the Swiss NF, they’d most likely be your top six. I don’t think anyone (at least anyone looking at this rationally) is disputing that. They’re all reasonable specimens of paint-by-numbers Eurovision entries – in a couple cases, above-average specimens.

    But if UK’s goal was to win Eurovision, they’ve already blown it. We’re just three songs in, and Belarus has already chosen a song that should easily clobber any of these entries. Now imagine these songs going up against a Jamala, or Dami Im, or Sergei Lazarev, or even Laura Tesoro. They’re just not in that league. They’d get crushed, and deservedly so.

    One of the lessons that UK (and many other countries as well) hasn’t learned, despite the overwhelming evidence, is that the safe and bland songs don’t get top five – especially when they go a particularly safe and bland route that you just KNOW a lot of the other creatively-challenged countries are also going to try. (See: Georgia.) “We’re finally doing exactly what everybody else is doing” isn’t a feature. It’s a bug. You’re benchmarking to the middle-of-the-pack-ers. That’s not a recipe for success.

    For the record, I think Freedom Hearts is promising, not in a “win the contest” way, but in a “respectable left-side-of-the-board finish” way. (It might even have a chance against Laura Tesoro if the performance and presentation are top-notch.) The other songs? I think you’re badly overestimating them. Opinions and all that.

    Of course, whatever wins will still have to survive the efforts of the BBC’s crack staging team, so all this discussion of the songs and performers may be moot.

    What will make me happy is to see the BBC fix the most obvious issues that torpedoed last year: The appalling production values of the national final, and the aforementioned horrible staging and presentation. I wish I had faith that they were going to do that. But any benefit of the doubt they ever deserved has expired. They had a lot of public and fan support before, during, *and after* Molly’s run in 2014, but they crushed it the moment the opening bars of “Still In Love With You” went out over the Red Button on March 7, 2015. So now they’re just going to have to fix it without us.

    Catastrophically bad decisions have consequences – and they aren’t undone by celebrating mediocrity as some kind of victory for the UK. Even if it is an improvement.

  4. Alex C says:

    Eric’s kind of already said this already but I agree that the problem isn’t that they’re all objectively terrible (far from it). It’s just that they’re all different flavors of the same thing (low to mid tempo pop music all with vaguely “inspirational” lyrics and messages) and that the thing that they’re all trying to be is almost definitely going to be done far better by other countries in the game (hell, once Georgia and Albania get revamped I’d say we’re already outclassed in that department). Throw in the fact that the BBC insist on always having bands/instruments on stage in the performance to add a sense of ‘realness’ that’ll just clutter the screen and that they never seem to invest in revamping the song (that’s another thing, they all sound like demos of songs rather than finished products – the vocal mixing on Danyl’s song is completely amateurish) then we’re already at a disadvantage. Not impressed.

    I’ll concede that the once chance of making progress here is probably Lucie’s song through a “less is more” bare stage west-end musical style vibe but even that would require the BBC to break their habits of a lifetime so I’m not willing to cling to that false hope.

  5. Hi @Eric – the major goal of the UK delegation at the moment has to be dealing with the low opinion of the contest in the UK music scene, the wider media and the public at large.

    The way that things stand, no major act or songwriter is going to take a risk on doing Eurovision for the UK because of the guaranteed tabloid blasting, fan moaning, public disdain and reputational hit. I think that the UK does have to recalibrate its ambitions as far as Eurovision is concerned – there’s this idea that the contest owes us success somehow, which is part of the toxic mix that results in reactions like the one we had this week.

  6. Hi @Alex C – it might be the case that something outstanding didn’t make the UK shortlist because it didn’t fit the mid tempo inspirational template, which would be a pity.

    To be honest I’d rather that the UK have a year where there’s a sort of cohesive creative idea behind the whole thing. No selfies. No random drummers. A song that fits the singer. Really good PR campaign, support from other parts of the BBC & radio plugging around Europe.

  7. Eric Graf says:

    The BBC has to understand that there’s no worse reputational hit than to put an unknown singer on a stage on live television, and mix their audio so poorly that they sound like they don’t know how to harmonize or sing on pitch. The general public doesn’t recognize when the audio mix is screwing things up – they only hear bad sounds. So how are they supposed to evaluate which act is the best one?

    I said at the time (in a tweet as the broadcast was airing IIRC) that if I were managing an artist and heard that audio mix, I’d NEVER allow them to get within 100 miles of doing Eurovision for the UK, no matter how badly they wanted to do it. Other countries, sure. But not UK.

    Given the Wogan Effect and other factors, I think it’s quite plausible – even in 2015 – that the BBC really did present the best of the bad options available to them, and if that’s the case, then they have my sympathy – to a point.

    This year, I have my doubts. Six solo acts, all doing songs THIS similar? I think Alex may be onto something – that these songs were written-to-order (or at least chosen) based on an imposed template for What The BBC Thinks Would Make A Good Eurovision Entry (2017 Edition). It’s essentially an internal selection with six alternate iterations. “You can have any color, as long as it’s beige.”

    Which brings up the other factor that I didn’t bring up before, because I was (and am) blathering away enough as it is: This is deja vu. Rewind a year, and things were exactly as they are now: Six mundane, uninspiring soundalike songs by six unknown and untested performers. We’ve seen this movie already, and we know how it ends. Where is the progress they keep promising? Perhaps they don’t owe us success, but they DO owe us that.

    Anyway, TL;DR: Overwrought it may be, but at this point the negative fan reaction is entirely justified, methinks, until the BBC/UK delegation demonstrates that they really do have a handle on where the problems are, and that they have the will, the capability, *and authority* to correct the ones they have control over – especially the staging. We trusted them before and got bit in the butt for it. Now they have to prove themselves. I promise I’ll be the first to applaud them if they do.

  8. Chance says:

    Great post. But also, none of these songs have a shot in hell of winning. Almost guaranteed another bottom 5 for UK with this group.

  9. Ellie, I applaud you for your positivity and finding all the good bits of the “UK 6” and you are spot on that everything has been so, SO negative about our possibles, almost on a par when Electro Velvet were revealed (as Alex and Bianca, not even their stage name!).

    On first listen however I was positively underwhelmed by them all (http://eurovisionthroughtheages.blogspot.co.uk/2017/01/lmbto-eurovision-you-decide-2017-six-uk.html) – I hope beyond hope that we have just heard a ‘demo’ version of these songs and that the staging and live performances add to their value immensely – giving us a Lena 2010, rather than most UK entries in the 21st Century. I will be there at the Eventim Apollo on Friday evening and I hope that something magical happens, that one of these entries hits the right note/spot/whatever…

    If Lucie can have a ‘Common Linnets’ tight focus staging or Salena mimic Polina/Boggie for heartfelt believable connection in her lyrics then we might have an entry that won’t let us down. I am hoping upon hope that Eurovision:You Decide 2017 doesn’t become all car crash tv, as the improved billing this year needs an improved spectacle to continue the belief that BBC is still taking this seriously…

    By the way, give us a wave if you are there… 🙂

  10. Eurojock says:

    Really thought-provoking post, Ellie. There was some evidence last year that the BBC was trying to ‘educate’ the British public about modern Eurovision. This is to be applauded but then they go and undo their good work by hiring Mel Giedroyc to send the whole thing up.

    This year’s six songs are better than last year, although I agree with the comments that there are no Eurovision winners or (probably) left hand side of the boarders among them. Many Eurovision songs I would imagine are written to a formula, but the best of these add something extra and engage with the emotions. For example, there is a song in the Latvian Supernova Final called Little Weird. It may not even be selected but for Kiev. I mention it because it ticks all the Eurovision boxes but at the same time also manages to evoke Gregory’s Girl style images/memories of first love. For the UK 6 the only images I’m getting are those of teams of songwriters contriving songs to fit a real or imagined brief.

    I believe this year’s UK selection is wide open. All 6 of them are in with a chance and it will probably come down to who stands out on the night by way of vocal and stage presence (also staging, but if last year’s You Decide is anything to go by, none of them will be strong in that department!).

    The most credible songs are probably Lucie’s and Nate’s. Lucie’s song probably represents our best (perhaps only) chance of a left hand side result. Like many commentators I think the production sounds like a demo tape. The arrangement desperately needs a makeover with more layers and build. Either that or pare it down further, just her vocal and a piano – risky but at least it may help it stand out from other acts in Kiev.

    Nate’s song and recorded vocal does occasionally threaten to engage the emotions. My main worry is that it feels like a dated soul ballad not a genre known to do well at Eurovision. As a ballad it is already competing with Albania and Georgia. Both of these could be regarded as fairly weak entries, but I’m not even sure Nate’s ballad would garner more support than either of them.

    Salena’s song is the only other one that for me has a prospect of doing anything – if (and only if) the staging is right (for me this is the closest we have to a Poli Genova/Margaret style entry which may be the sort of thing that will do well this year). But it is not a great song and juries in particular could well punish it for being too simplistic, repetitive and frivolous.

    Of the other’s Holly’s takes a while to get going (a Eurovision no-no) and has a chorus that I struggle to remember. Olivia, has a more memorable chorus but the song is lacking something and I too worry about her age and inexperience. Danyl’s song for me slightly looks back to Katrina and the Waves and former glories of the 1990s – not a recipe for modern Eurovision success.

  11. there’s another factor that you have not put into consideration. ESC fans (especially uk fans) have a bias against a eurovision entry for the uk. many factors come into it, the Hugh expectation for an adele or a [insert famous uk artist here] to enter the contest; a cloud of negativity against europe in general and fickle nature of he fans.
    they cant be satisfied with anything. they complain that we didn’t use uk x-factor contestant, they complain if we do. they complain the we dont get a vote, they complain if we do. it’s a vicious circle. winning is the only option and second is just first at losing. and it goes around europe and beyond.
    now, the BBC is not blame less in this. while the NF is a step in the right direction and the song are more and now (to the point that people think it’s ‘bland’ and it should be flight attendant want to offer you something to suck on), staging is still a blind spot for them. i do hope they hire more than one creative director to get a distinct perspective on each of the songs. and do it during the NF not after. and they should also trash the default ‘this is a concert’ camera angles and experiment on other form of directing this.

  12. Matt says:

    I agree that the reaction to these songs has been somewhat overblown. I didn’t listen to them until yesterday but having read the reactions online first I honestly thought we were going to have 6 elecro velvets. So I was surprised to find myself listening to 6 credible pop songs(in my opinion).

    This however is the problem….’Credible’ ‘safe’ doesn’t stand out at Eurovision and unless whoever wins here pulls of a miraculous performance it’s going to be right hand side of the scoreboard again easily.

    The x factor reject thing doesn’t bother me. Nobody who is well known is going to do this in the UK. That already limits BBCs options(admittedly some if this is BBCs own doing with Wogab etc). People need to get past this ‘name’ thing. It’s been proven time and time again that you don’t need to be a known to do well or win and if you were trying to find people with at least some experience on stage who have a decent voice chances are your going to get people who have been on talent shows before. So the ‘oh it’s an xfactor reject lol’ is a rather lazy point I think.

  13. John Egan says:

    Thanks Ellie. I think a lot of the UK fans are as frustrated and disappointed as the Irish fans. Both countries produce global superstars and massive hits. Many of the acts from other markets–including Sweden and Germany–would see UK success as having arrived. English language rock and pop remain the gold standards.

    So all the reasons why the BBC have these serviceable finalists are to many excuses and justification. Lloyd-Webber put his hand up and the UK were top 5 with a very good song and ingenue. Waterman dusted something off that would have been a Kylie B side in 1985 and finished bottom 5. Blue choked for the jury final, were top 5 in the televise and just missed the top 10 with a strong song and entry. It only takes one: a good act with a good song staged well.

    So fair play to those who put their hands up. And shame on those unwilling to do so…and perhaps on the BBC for being unwilling to pay them for occupying 10 days of their time in Kyiv. Besides it could be worse…you could be Irish. 🙁

  14. Andy says:

    As Hugh Goldsmith told this very website, the aim isn’t to win yet but to get a decent result, something you can show to credible songwriters and say “This is a viable platform.”

  15. Eric Graf says:

    @Andy

    That depends on whether you think an off-the-shelf song from a music factory is the way to win Eurovision. I suspect Jamala wouldn’t agree with that.

    Besides, the fact that Eurovision is a viable platform isn’t in dispute. The question is, is entering *for the UK* a viable platform? And expecting “a decent result” from the current management is putting the cart before the horse. Showing the credible songwriters (and singers, and staging people) that their work won’t be wasted because of inept production and promotion on the BBC’s part has to come first. THEN you get the decent songs, and the decent results – provided the BBC doesn’t block them all out because they only want inoffensive pop pablum.

    Songs aside, “Eurovision You Decide” was a big improvement this year – other than the worthless expert panel and a couple of audio oopses. At least the performers who could actually hack it live, sounded like it, and it never quite descended into disrespecting the performers.

    My one big question … WHERE WERE JOE AND JAKE? The BBC is still dropping their representatives like hot potatoes after they do poorly. Does the BBC not realize that they’re the only country that does that, and how that makes entering for the UK a much less attractive prospect for the “more viable” artists they’re hoping to attract?

    I also think they picked the wrong song, but I’m not sure there was a right one, so we’ll just have to see. Maybe they’ll get lucky, it’ll be a weak year overall, and you’ll get your decent result. But I wouldn’t be putting any money on it.

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