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The UK at Eurovision: Reasons To Be Cheerful Written by on May 16, 2024 | 3 Comments

Is Olly Alexander’s eighteenth place for the United Kingdom a return to the lower reaches of the results, or can Sam Ryder’s run to the podium be repeated? Gina Jones argues that ‘Dizzy’ is a crucial marker in the marathon to first place.

The Eurovision Song Contest 2024 ended in disappointment for the United Kindgom this year, with Olly Alexander finishing 18th. Call me an eternal optimist, but I still think the UK is on the right track.

So much happened at the Song Contest this year it’s hard to know where to begin. Some of the issues were so big and so complex, it could take months to unravel them, so I’d like to start, if I may, in my own backyard.

The BBC entered this year in a state of cautious optimism. Fresh from the high of a successfully hosted contest in Liverpool on behalf of Ukraine, Eurovision’s profile had never been higher domestically. After many years of the UK Media viewing the Contest as something suitable for more comedic coverage, they were enthusiastic about it and were looking for a win.

The Race Is On

In Olly Alexander, the BBC had an established, credible artist and a song that, while not universally raved about, most people seemed to agree was radio-friendly and current, which is not something we’ve been able to say very often in the past. ‘Dizzy‘ was now playlisted on Radio 1 and Radio 2, which was important for achieving domestic chart success (although peaking at #42 meant it fell short of Sam Ryder’s #2 and Mae Muller’s #9)

It looked promising once we’d seen the staging. Described as an “interstellar locker room, hurtling through space via the 1980s in a boxing gym,” it was pure MTV theatrics with more than a dash of homoeroticism. Olly’s was the standout staging at first rehearsals, with commentators breathlessly enthusing that they’d never seen anything like this on a Eurovision stage before. At one point he jumped to 10/1 in the odds to win.

Sadly it didn’t quite work out that way. While the juries offered respectable scores, he suffered the dreaded nul points in the televote, taking him to 18th place overall. Naturally, there’s a danger that the UK public could revert to their usual refrains of “everybody hates us” and “it’s all political” but that would be a mistake, and here’s why: this is a marathon, not a sprint. It may not feel like it, but I think the UK is almost exactly where it needs to be right now.

A Losing Game

When Duncan Laurence finally won Eurovision for The Netherlands in 2019, the country hadn’t achieved a win in 44 years.

Many commentators traced their path to this win back to Anouk in 2013, who finished in 9th place after almost a decade of the country not qualifying for the Grand Final. ‘Birds‘ was light years away from their previous entries: simple, beautiful and timeless. It put the Netherlands back on the map.

Their path to victory wasn’t a direct one, however. It involved trying out different variations on the formula, refining it and learning from the results.

The Ones To Watch

Anouk’s victory was followed by another elegant, beautifully crafted, staged song by The Common Linnets, which finished in second place. There were then a few more iterations of this approach, each with a slightly different emphasis: song first/staging first, jury first/televote first and then… whatever 2018 was (which finished eighteenth). Duncan Laurence brought them back to the original Anouk formula, but you could argue that he could do this because The Netherlands was firmly on the ‘ones to watch’ list by that point.

In comparison, the UK’s journey has moved at breakneck speed. Nul points to second place in a year, then second to last, then another eighteenth is certainly a ride. The result, however, is the same: we’re on the map. People are taking notice.

Breaking The Code

This year’s Eurovision Song Contest provided a similar example of how a gentle evolution of the format can pay off over several years.

Some near-misses and failures preceded Nemo’s outstanding performance. From 2007 to 2018, Switzerland was in the doldrums, failing to qualify more often than not and with no wins under their belt since Celine Dion in 1988.

In 2019, a certified, televote pleasing bop from a certain Mr Luca Hänni saw them surge into fourth place. ‘Charismatic guy does pop’ seemed to be a winning formula for Switzerland, but the winner that year was a slightly different variation on this; Duncan Laurence’s entry had raw emotion and was more jury-friendly. ‘Ah ha!’ Switzerland must have thought, ‘we’re almost there! What we need is to bring some emotion as well’.

So they brought tears. Gjon’s Tears, to be exact, who produced the jury bait that was Tout l’Univers, which luckily the public enjoyed too, putting him in third place overall.

Two more attempts at the ‘earnest young man with beautiful voice’ format ensued, with mixed results – Marius Bear reached 17th place in 2022, while Remo Forrer with his moving song, ‘Watergun’ finished in 20th place.

Shifting Sands

What Switzerland was learning from this, however, was that the competitive landscape shifts every year.

The social and political backdrop is different every time, which impacts the mood of the Song Contest. Not to mention the various names that get thrown in each time—singers with established careers, newcomers who suddenly grab all the attention, and maybe even people who aren’t afraid to get their bottom out if the situation requires it. Then there are staging choices that might propel an otherwise overlooked song into the top spots – you never know what you’re going to be up against.

Nemo was a slight departure on the usual theme for Switzerland. Here we had a non-binary performer, still with the earnest, beautiful pop song, but this time with added operatic and spoken word surprises. This was a sort of return to the Gjon’s Tears format in that it appeared mostly designed for juries, but Nemo came with an added vim and charisma that might appeal to audiences at home.

A Little Bit Of Luck

On first glance, however, it looked like Croatia was all set to snatch the win, playing an absolute blinder on the televote with a catchy chorus and one crazy arm that just couldn’t keep still.

Indeed, ‘Rim Tim Tagi Dim‘ did pip ‘The Code’ in the televote, but it wasn’t quite enough to win. The controversy around Israel ‘s unusually high televote diluted what might otherwise have been a clear Croatian public victory. All things being considered, however, Nemo had enough of a balance to take the crown overall.

There’s the formula; there’s the jury, there’s the televote…and then there’s luck. You can design, refine and test your entries up to a point, but you can’t plan for that.

Thrilling Theatrics

Back to the UK, then. Olly’s performance this year was risqué and exciting. He ruffled a few feathers by being proudly and defiantly “gay for the UK”.

Don’t forget, theatrics is what we do. Think about some of the most successful UK pop acts of all time internationally: Queen, Elton John, George Michael…they all had this key ingredient. Showmanship and theatrics is what we do best. Sam delivered a show-stopping performance which owed more than a little to Queen. Mae approached the task in a slightly more understated, Gen Z way. Olly turned it up to 11, but the timing wasn’t right.

If this were a marathon, we’d be at the difficult final 10k. We know what we need to do, we just need to keep pumping those legs and pace ourselves.

An Iterative Approach

Essentially, the UK approach by the BBC is similar to that of the Netherlands and Switzerland. We’ve worked out roughly what people want from the UK, and we’re trying different ways of delivering it until we strike gold.

In Eurovision, as in life, however, context is key. In a year when tensions were high, and there were bigger issues at stake, perhaps this sort of performance didn’t fit the mood. But there will be a time when it does, and we will have the right person, with the right song, at the right time.

To the fans looking for a strong UK performance, don’t lose heart. The current trajectory is not an accident: it has been years in the making, and the journey we are on right now could be the making of the UK’s first win in the 21st century.

About The Author: Gina Jones

Gina Jones is a mother, animal lover, and works in comms and content marketing. She's also a Eurovision enthusiast.

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3 responses to “The UK at Eurovision: Reasons To Be Cheerful”

  1. Mark Dowd says:

    Three weaknesses I think for the UK this year:
    Olly’s vocals: not reliable. Difficult to keep vocally strong in those physical positions, but it was weak.
    Staging: fan bubble loved it but viewers at home,? What was the story in those three minutes?
    The song,? Lacked a climax, a defining moment..”radio friendly” is shorthand for “Kiss of death” at Eurovision.
    Back to drawing board?

  2. Marc says:

    I think you are sport on there Mark. Radio friendly isn’t enough when there is a vision part to the contest. I don’t think this year’s winning song is radio friendly; radio certainly isn’t being friendly to it, as it plummets the charts. But as a Saturday night spectacle of singing and theatrics, it was super.
    I feel Alexander’s big mistake was making his priority “being Gay for the UK at Eurovision.” as he still says on X. Rather than coming up with a song and staging which would appear to juries and televoters. All this year’s top songs did that, and the UK need to involve people who pay more attention to what works at the contest.

  3. Dave says:

    Excellent article.

    After covering the Eurovision since 1995, I’ve noticed the incredible influence of a host broadcaster’s Head of Delegation / Executive Producer (EP) on a country’s success.

    We see this with Reto Peritz at SRF with his clear vision for bringing the Grand Prix back to our first winners, Switzerland.

    Throughout the decades, we observe a country’s fortunes positively impacted by a talented entertainment EP. For example, France achieving impressive results under the HoD, from 1999-2002. The BBC had decent success with their selected singer from 1991-1994. There are some other terrific examples

    Thanks. 🙏🏼

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