Analyzing the Big Five: The United Kingdom
Hello Dear Readers!
The United Kingdom remains the most successful country in the ESC despite recent history. It is tied for third most wins at five (with France and Luxembourg), an astounding 15 second places, and a total of 10 other top five finishes. Since 2006, though…..not so much.
2006 – 19th place with “Teenage Life” performed by Daz Sampson
2007 – 22nd place with “Flying the Flag (for You)” performed by Scooch
2008 – Last (25th) place with “Even If” performed by Andy Abraham
2009 – 5th place with “My Time” performed by Jade Ewan
2010 – Last (25th) place with “That Sounds Good to Me” performed by Josh Dubovie
2011 – 11th place with “I Can” performed by Blue
2012 – 25th place with “Love will Set You Free” performed by Englebert Humperdinck
2013 – 19th place with “Believe in Me” performed by Bonnie Tyler
2014 – 17th place with “Children of the Universe” performed by Molly Sterling-Downes
2015 – 24th place with “Still in Love with You” performed by Electro Velvet
2016 – 24th place with “You’re Not Alone” performed by Joe & Jake
From legendary singers that couldn’t stand out in the crowd, songs that stood too out too much for the wrong reasons, and pulling a proven hits-maker out of retirement to write a song, the best the BBC has done was on the back of Andrew Lloyd Weber, one of the most influential and important composer of the modern era thanks to his prolific career creating musicals, who decided that it was time for the UK to do well again back in 2009. Blue was supposed to do well, but utterly destroyed their chances during the jury final. In 2014, the UK was a legitimate contender to win, only to finish a distant 18th place.
So, what has gone wrong?
The UK suffers from two primary issues:
First, the BBC (and by extension, the populace) still view the Contest as being stuck in the 1980s/1990s. ESC coverage tends to pull footage from these years and many of the songs sent reflect this era in either the campiness (2006, 2007, 2015) or style (2008, 2010, 2012, 2013). Personally, I like these songs (particularly 2015 and 2012), but they’re entries that win the modern Contest. 2009, while old-fashioned, was powerfully sung (which makes a big difference) and had Andrew Lloyd Webber.
Second, when the UK does send a contemporary song, they hurt themselves through not taking it seriously (2011) or in having a rather odd staging (2013). 2016 was widely seen as the BBC’s best entry in years, but failed, in part, due to a staging that downplayed the playfullness of the song and didn’t do enough to connect the visuals with the message of the lyrics.
How can the UK improve in 2017?
Well, the BBC has the power, influence, and money to land just about any artist who is not currently on the Top 100 chart. Additionally, with as much whining as the BBC does about the Contest being too “political,” the Beeb never makes a politically-driven choice for its representative. This needs to change; the BBC complains about the way the game has evolved without ever changing its tactics – that needs to end in Ukraine. This is particularly crucial as Europe will still be bitter about the Brexit, which should be in full swing by this May, as every EU country (except Luxembourg) competes in the ESC. Additionally, one of the biggest stories out of Britain as a result of the Brexit has been the severe increase in xenophobic (that’s anti-immigrant, anti-foreigner) and racist speech and actions across many areas of England (and, presumably, the rest of the UK). The BBC must select an entry that shows that it (1) still loves Europe, (2) affirms its positive relationship with the Continent, and (3) reinforces a commitment to diversity.
With that in mind, I think the BBC has two options.
First option: Show their love of Europe by choosing an artist that comes from the most European part of the British Realm: Gilbraltar. Not only that, but celebrate diversity by having the song performed, at least in part, in Llanito (an English-Spanish hybrid language native to the region). In terms of a specific artist, Surianne comes to mind. She is an established artist that, while having several hits in the past, might currently be looking for a new opportunity to share her music with Europe. Having her represent the UK can show the Continental side of the country and provide an opportunity for the first non-English entry in UK history. Check out her biggest hit, Stronger Than Before as well as her newest single, Hold On produced by Mikki Nielsen.
Second option: choose an artist, or collection of artists, that can bring a song too good to ignore. I would recommend Naughty Boy and Emeli Sandé. Not only would it bring a united England-Scotland partnership to the stage (which is important for both the UK and the world to see), but both artists are well-known without being so big (or busy) that they would turn down money from the BBC and the opportunity to be on stage. Both artists are also racial minorities; they’re the children of immigrants, but both are Britons; they would send an important message of diversity, not just to the UK but to Europe/the world as every country struggles with racism and xenophobia. Musically, we also know that Naughty Boy has produced, not just fun club stuff, but legitimate artistic pieces – just check out his single from 2015 Runnin’ (Lose it All) featuring Beyoncé and Arrow Benjamin – both the song and music video are powerful. Emeli Sandé is a powerful singer and big in her own right, just check out her biggest single Next to Me or her version of Crazy in Love from the Great Gatsby soundtrack. And, the two have done great work together; Naughty Boy produced a large portion of Sandé’s debut album and she was featured on several tracks of his.
What’s the worst thing the UK can do?
Essentially, the worst thing for the UK is to keep doing what they have been doing. While it can be good to have newly discovered, young talent, unless you have Simon Cowell (or an equally as prolific producer) molding them in his image, they will not develop into strong contenders. In 2009, Jade Ewen was the winner of the national talent search to find a singer and had Andrew Lloyd Weber to mentor her – finishing in the Top Ten. The following year, the BBC tried to replicate the process with Josh Dubovie, who was mentored by 80s-pop producer team Stock & Waterman who lacked the same vigor as Lloyd Weber – the song came last. Unfortunately, 2014-2016 have followed the 2010 paradigm of choosing a new talent, giving them an uninspired pop song, and then blaming their lack of achievement on politics and bloc voting. Sticking to this pattern will result in the same, low place for the UK.
Additionally, I know that it is British culture to rail against everything, but it would behoove the BBC to do a big, positive publicity push, as well. It’s hard to do well when the dominant narrative from your own country about your entry is overwhelmingly negative. The BBC is a media outlet, surely they can do a better job at controlling the narrative than they have been. The last two years, the British media and public have been particularly harsh on the British entries, despite the fact that both were distinctive and showed that the BBC was finally ready to take risks. Eurovision success will only come with a shift in the cultural perspective towards Eurovision – which the BBC must lead.
What do you think? Will the BBC listen to my advice and send a strategic entry to Eurovision? Or will the UK continue to try the same things and expect different results? And, more importantly, how can it garner more points from Ireland and Australia?
Be sure to check out my analyses on the other Big Five countries!
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