The UK’s Eurovision Problem

Another year and another UK failure at Eurovision feels like an endlessly repeating cycle by now. James Newman took the the stage in Rotterdam with his song ‘Embers’ bringing a sense of optimism that hadn’t been seen in UK fans for quite a few years. There was a genuine buzz for this song, and hope that it may sneak into the left hand-side of the board. Alas, this wasn’t the case, in fact it brought the joint worst points tally in UK Eurovision history. The feared “Nul Point”.

James Newman at the 2021 Grand Final

The last time that this occurred was in 2003 when Jemini truly stunk up the Eurovision stage with a very deserved last place. A view that the British public failed to see at the time, forging an attitude that has become more and more ingrained ever since. You can call this a post-imperialist superiority complex or just plain ignorance but they amount to the same end result. A growing disillusion and a false belief that Europe is ‘against’ the UK.

Jemini in the 2003 Eurovision Song Contest

Martin Isherwood, one of the members of Jemini at the time said:

“The show is light entertainment; it’s never about songs, people vote for countries… Does it matter whether people in Bosnia and Herzegovina think your song is any good?”

Unfortunately this is an attitude the British Media has latched onto with vigour ever since. Keen to disparage and mock the contest, proliferating a lie so much that to the casual UK viewer it became fact. 

But who could blame them for thinking like that? Our media reinforces on a regular basis the greatness of British culture and everything associated with it, including our music industry. So when our Eurovision act flops it cannot be our fault, it must be Europe’s.

Never has this been so obvious than recently where the media have used the Brexit narrative as a gift-wrapped excuse for recent poor performances. Furthering this “us” and “them” mentality. But if a political element played such a large role in voting patterns why have Russia and Israel continually performed well? 

Good Morning Britain featured an element asking the public if we should ‘Boycott’ the Eurovision Song Contest. They discussed old voting styles as well as incorrectly stating that Turkey and Cyprus always vote for each other. The ‘expert’ guest they brought on was anything but, even casual Eurovision fans know Turkey haven’t competed in years. But once again it fitted the narrative. The media do not care about the contest in this country other than using it as a political tool. The hypocrisy of blaming the UK’s poor performances on politics whilst also using it for political gain is astounding. Consequentially if any negative sentiment from Europe to the UK exists it relates precisely to this terrible attitude to the contest itself. No country has a god-given right to be at the top each year, it’s a contest of equals. This however does not sit well with the British psyche.

Pat Sharp discusses UK’s chances in 2021

Whilst this may be true for independent media outlets, the BBC should be countering this attitude by championing the contest at every opportunity. This also hasn’t been the case as could be seen by their ‘out of touch’ coverage throughout the Eurovision season. From using The Backstreet Boys as the theme to their TV adverts to the borderline unwatchable semi-final shows. The entire production felt like an afterthought. The semi-final shows they produced deserve a lot criticism for how alienating they were to the viewer.

‘Line of Duty’ skit featured during the semi-final coverage

The majority watching the semi-finals are more avid Eurovision fans yet the presenters were ill-informed and lacking basic knowledge. They even took Cheryl Baker, a member of Bucks Fizz out of storage to provide ‘expert’ analysis. It was a complete outdated mess that appealed to no-one but more importantly inspired no-one to fall in love with the show for the first time. For a broadcaster like the BBC, famed for their quality to produce something like this was nothing short of an embarrassment.  

This all comes back to the selection of James Newman for 2020 and eventually 2021. The BBC returned to internal selection and chose a very credible artist with an excellent pedigree to compete. ‘My Last Breath’ was a massive step-up in quality and ‘Embers’ undoubtedly had so much potential. No-one disputes that the zero points was somewhat unfair but the BBC missed so many opportunities with James. The staging was lacklustre compared to other nations. The eventual inclusion of pyrotechnics at the very last minute in a song about fire showed a massive disconnect with the fanbase. In the end we have to accept that whilst ‘Embers’ was significantly better than recent years it still paled in comparison to the quality on display in 2021. 

Fortunes in the Eurovision Song Contest can change so quickly though. One need only ask a nation like Switzerland who after decades of abject failure have produced two fan favourite top 5’s in the last two years. The BBC have to look at this for inspiration. Their selection process has to change and it has to engage with those with an understanding of the contest. The Swiss did this and have gone from rarely qualifying to being in contention regularly. All it takes is one act, one song and suddenly the media perception will change. People will believe again and the UK can go back to being a nation that people are excited for each year.

Switzerland’s 2019 entry that changed their fortunes

The BBC can fix this, I truly believe that they can. The search for next year’s artist has to start now. With the plethora of musical talent throughout these islands there is a success story somewhere. It has been a tough period but the belief that failure is destined because we are the UK is a false conclusion. Europe votes for the best songs and if the BBC can make that happen the UK will return to the top half. 2022 will be a massive year and the responsibility lies at the feet of the BBC to break the media myth and reinvigorate this country’s love for the Eurovision Song Contest.

(Photo Credit📸 EBU / Andres Putting)

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One Comment

  1. Totally agree with you – except it wasn’t just the staging of the UK’s song that was left wanting. James Newman may be an award winning song writer but his performance was dull and his vocal flat ( I don’t mean out of key, just flat). Even what he wore was dull…and those trumpets!! What were they thinking? It smacked of someone coming late to a party but who managed to cobble something together at the last minute so as to take part. No disrespect to James but we need a power punch to get the UK noticed again. We need to be better right across the board. A stadium ‘Sanremo style’ festival for the public to choose a song – without ‘expert’ opinion which is often contrived so they get the song they want, rather than the public. Then we might just have a chance.

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