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.
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?