The United Kingdom is one of the oldest and most successful competitors in the Eurovision Song Contest! It first competed in 1957 which was the second ever contest; and has since competed in each contest since. Throughout most of the contest’s history it has been a major powerhouse, winning it 4 times, drawing once and coming second 15 times, as well as finishing third three times. It has featured major stars such as Bucks Fizz, Cliff Richard and Lulu, and made many famous heroes of Eurovision along the way. But those were the good old days!
The last time the UK won the contest was in 1997 with Katrina and the Waves. And the last time they had a top 3 finish was in 2002 with Jessica Garlick who came joint third. One year later, the freight train came to a crashing halt with it’s first ever nul points in 2003; courtesy of Jemini. Since then, it has been almost nothing but shame for the this once great unstoppable competitor!
The last couple of decades have seen dramatic low scoring songs for the UK in the contest, and it genuinely begins to feel like the UK has had it’s day! More bad news came for the country as it came last a further four times in 2008, 2010, 2019, and a second nul points finish in 2021. At times though it began to look like the country was starting to recover. In 2009, the UK came fifth with a song sung by Jade Ewen, and written by Andrew Lloyd Webber. In 2011, the hit making boy band Blue entered the contest and came eleventh. Then, whilst they weren’t top table results, they were still pretty good results for a 17th finish for Molly in 2014, and 15th for Lucie Jones in 2017.
As someone who lives in the UK, I do see these bottom place results, and think hard on why the UK has been underperforming at the contest in several years. So, I thought I would share some of my thoughts and insights, as well as create some possible suggestions as to how the UK could perform better in the future. We may never win again, but that doesn’t mean we can’t at least still put on a great show! But it is time for some tough love!
1. The Big Five – The UK is one of a group of countries in the Song Contest known as the Big Five. This list of countries include France, Germany, Spain, and Italy. These five countries gain automatic qualification into the final of Eurovision, along with the winning country from the previous year. The reason they get this automatic qualification is because the group are the highest paying contributors to the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), who organize the contests each year. Without this money it is unlikely (or at least very difficult) to organize the contests each year, as due to their size and spectacle, aren’t probably cheap! Being part of this big five group though is a double edged sword, as since the introduction of this system in 1999, only two countries in it have won the contest: Germany and Italy. The results can vary over time, but it has been suggested that opposing countries can possibly be prejudice to this status, as all other countries have to fight harder to reach the final, where as these five get in due to financial reasons.
Personally I think the UK should drop out of the Big Five. Dropping out of the Big Five could drop any prejudices other countries may have towards the UK for this reason. It may also allow another country the opportunity to take the UK’s place in it. Either a country that may deserve it like the Ukraine (as they are to date the only country that hasn’t failed to reach the final after introduction of the Semi-Finals), or give it to a country that has consistently struggled to reach the final, allowing them the chance to have that spotlight at long last. Dropping out of the Big Five might be tricky due to the financial status, but, if it happened, the UK would then be able to go through the semi-final stages. This would allow the song to be heard more, plus as the year’s go by it will allow the UK to see what works and what doesn’t and where it needs to improve. Also, it will show that even if in the final it comes dead last again, it will still have a positive level to it; as it at least managed to get into the final in the first place!
2. YouTube – There is an issue with the contest in today’s modern world. Back in the old days, it was hard to hear what other countries songs were, as they weren’t readily available to everybody. In those circumstances you were more likely to hear the song for the first time, at the contest’s final. Now, with access to YouTube and other streaming services, you can hear the song’s before the contest. There is nothing wrong with this, but due to this accessibility, anyone and everyone has the opportunity to formulate opinions and pick their favourites, before the final. Therefore, people already know their favourites, and who they are going to vote for, and in comparison to other songs they are hearing for the first time, they know which they are more drawn to. There is a Eurovision website that shows the odds of who is going to win the contest, and for at least the last 2 contests, it has successfully predicted who was going to win! Now I am not sure of how it does this, but the fact that it was correct, means it knows what it’s looking for. It could be that one thing it searches for is how many the times the song has been downloaded or watched on YouTube, and so on; and using that as a basis for popularity.
As I said, there is nothing wrong with this (I once did it years ago for Finland 2006, 2008, and 2009, and Sweden in 2011), but it does make the final a very uneven playing field. If there was an embargo on countries preventing their songs from releasing internationally before the contest, this would eliminate the problem, but that’s not fun or nice! But, now we know that this kind of thing helps in driving a song’s popularity; it gives us an idea of what the UK should be doing with it’s entries. I currently work for an electronics company, and they pump out Radio 2 on speakers for us to listen to as we work. For the past several months, it has frequently been the case that the 2021 entry for the UK (Embers by James Newman) has been broadcast on Radio 2 twice a day. If it wasn’t for this service I wouldn’t have heard this song before the contest, however; it was completely the wrong move! People living in the UK can’t vote for the UK, other countries can! The UK should have been blasting out this song on as many local radio services in other Eurovision countries as they could; getting it out there, getting it heard for everyone else.
When the UK did well with Jade Ewen in 2009, one thing that helped was that they went on a little tour of Europe with the song, getting it heard. The more it gets heard, the more people can formulate an opinion and get used to it, and so it stands out more in the contest. Going through the semi-final stages would also help in this manner. What the UK needs to do is go on the offensive with it’s songs, choose them as soon as possible, and get the songs into the ears of the voting public, not the non voting public of just the UK!
3. New Performers – One thing that I don’t think that has helped in recent years for the UK is it’s reliance on new performers. Many of these people appear pretty new to the industry as they are relatively unheard of by the majority of the public going in to the contest. As such, it could be argued that the performers lack of experience shows in their Eurovision debut. Now this chosen direction could be due to the lack of interest by more experienced performers who’d rather not perform in it, and as such, the UK has to pick from whose left, and who wants to take the risk. To some degree; the risk could be too great, as the performers may not be on top form going in to the final. But if they lack experience, there could be a way to improve on that.
UK Saturday primetime TV is filled to the brim with talent shows/contests. When the UK wants to choose who to send to Eurovision; they could (like in 2009) hold a talent contest. But instead of just one show on one night of the year, hold it over several weeks. Allow the performers time to refine and define their acts as well as give them the experience needed, so when they go into the contest, they can go in with more confidence.
4. Rising Stars or Established Acts – On several occasions, countries entering the contest are sending people who are already established acts to the contest. The experience these acts have show, and they go in oozing with confidence. In the past, the UK has chosen established acts, with varying levels of success. It would be tricky though for the UK (and indeed any country) to get use of their services, as…well; why would a big act need a one or two-off performance at Eurovision, when they already have an audience. It’s not impossible, but would be tricky. The benefit though of reaching out and having an established act, means that, well, the skies the limit. Using an established act with a loyal fan base means audiences will be instantly drawn to that performer before hearing their song. It allows an extra layer of marketing the song, before the contest.
But, again, why would a major star need to perform at Eurovision? In this case then, it could also be argued that instead of reaching out to an established act, you should instantly reach out to rising stars! Not performers who have yet to release any material, but performers who have released material, and material that sells! It could equally be argued in this instance that the UK should reach out to record labels, and find artists that are rising in profile, and would like a big opportunity to perform to a major audience. This could also mean that they may have an increasing fan base, plus carry additional and the much needed experience in the realm of performing. It could also potentially lead to the record label giving the artists their big push across Europe (and free marketing)!
5. Gimmicks – Eurovision loves gimmicks. A good gimmick can make a performer win as soon as they utter the first lyric. Look at all the times that a major outsider has won thanks to a stand out and strong gimmick. Possibly the most famous of these is the Awesome Lordi. A Hard Rock/Heavy Metal song, the kind of which, back then; was rarely ever heard, but thanks to their awesome costumes; stole the show! If the UK wants to get a quick a quick win, or at least a strong song to bring them back into contention, they should consider finding a good strong gimmick to steal the show. But, they may already be on their way to using one.
(At time of writing) Bill Bailey has already put his hand in as an option for the UK’s entry next year. The UK has a great wealthy history of comedy, and comedy characters, so why not send in both a talented comedian, and talented musician? It may very well steal the show before the contest even happens. Alternatively, they could pick someone who a couple of decades ago tried to enter themselves/their song for Norway: John Shuttleworth!
Gimmicks again could be a double edged sword, as whilst they could steal the show, they could also be laughed out of the building. But what with the UK already on something of a losing streak, what’s the harm/what could possibly go wrong (is it even possible to get minus points?)?
6. Heavy Metal – As a fan of Heavy Metal (and given that this year saw two acts in the final, with both reaching spots in the top seven, including the winning song), I just want to quickly make the case for the UK to consider choosing a Heavy Metal Song. The UK is pretty much the birthplace of Heavy Metal, but for some reason is yet to choose one for the contest. Europe meanwhile has a large and dedicated following of Heavy Metal fans. By entering a Heavy Metal song, it could instantly grab the attention of that loyal fan base.
Many bands of this kind have since passed by, but they have very strong legacy’s to their names. Major bands found in the UK include; Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Saxon, and Deep Purple. Seriously, why can’t the UK at least give it a go? To quote my last chapter: “What could possibly go wrong?”
7. My Personal Pick(s) – Of course, at the end of the day, this is just a blog with words written on it. We can spend the next 52 weeks trying to figure out what the UK should and shouldn’t be doing, but at the end of the day, these are merely just opinions and thoughts! It could be argued that there are things the UK should be doing such as marketing their songs, but in a strong field there’s no guarantee this will work either. At the end of the day, it’s a contest; there has to be a winner, and there has to be a loser. It’s sad, but that’s the truth! There may or may not be a formula to winning the contest; but we can still argue, and dream!
But if you want to know, who my personal pick is; for who could/should be a future performer to represent the UK; I have a few ideas (most of which I may keep for a future post, but I will still provide a suggestion for you to take home with). I think this act could really do well at the contest. They are experienced performers, they have a huge international fan base, plus they carry a unique gimmick that the audience will instantly latch onto. My personal pick for the UK at Eurovision: Iron Maiden!
Iron Maiden are huge, one of the most successful Heavy Metal bands in the world with a massive and loyal fan base, with a list of hits to their name, and can just command both the stage and the arena to the power of their skill! Plus, they have a very popular mascot in the form of Eddie, the character who has appeared on the bands albums, live on stage with them, and even been a fixture on the tail of bands official plane whilst on world tours. Now of course, as stated above, they are an established act; so why would they want to/need to perform at Eurovision; but we can still dream!