Every year, the cycle is the same. Perform abysmally at Eurovision. Threaten to boycott it. Make an announcement that there will be some sweeping overhaul to the UK’s selection process. Spend some time talking about ABBA, Bucks Fizz, and Katrina and the Waves. Perform abysmally at Eurovision. Repeat to fade.
For even the most optimistic pop fan, it can be hard not to feel cynical about our recent record at Eurovision. Nil points in 2021. Dead last in 2019. Not a single win in nearly 25 years. More than a decade since our last top 10 finish.
This week’s announcement that Tap management (the team behind Dua Lipa, Lana Del Rey and Ellie Goulding) will be selecting the UK’s entry for Turin 2022 feels like a promising step. The UK is a global pop powerhouse, breeding talent that dominates charts all over the world. We have enlisted people of impeccable pedigree, yet we constantly trip over our laces on the starting block at Eurovision. When the votes comes in, the reason we use is always the same: politics.
As a nation, we have become convinced that Eurovision is nothing but a festival of petty grievance, staged with the specific intent of humiliating the UK. Which poses a question: if the problem is politics, what’s the point in drafting in top-notch producers to revivify our chances of a win?
The answer, in my opinion, is that politics play less of a part in the UK’s dismal record than we care to believe. For the past five years, Brexit has been our go-to excuse – but blaming the UK’s withdrawal from the EU skips over two fairly pertinent facts. One, that the rot set in long before 2016; and two, that in the first contest after the referendum, the UK scored its most points in nearly a decade.
In Kiev in 2017, Lucie Jones placed 15th for the UK with 111 points. While it’s true that our scores have slipped since then (48 points, 11 points and nil points respectively), our songs in those years have also been pretty out of step with the sound of the rest of the contest.
Perhaps we are too close to these more recent results to have any degree of objectivity about politics’ influence. In which case, maybe it would be useful to dredge up our other infamous nil-points outing: Jemini’s 2003 offering, Cry Baby. At the time, we were absolutely certain that our poor score was handed down in retaliation for our involvement in the invasion of Iraq. There’s a simpler answer. If you have protective earwear to hand you might want to fire that performance up on YouTube and see if the theory still holds water. (I’ll save you the bother: it doesn’t).
I posit that the main flaw in the viability of the UK’s attempts to win Eurovision year on year is not our record on foreign policy, but instead the fact our songs just aren’t very good.
Which is not to say Eurovision is totally devoid of politics. But individual countries do tend to overstate their importance when trying to account for their continued failure. We are by no means alone in this pursuit. In 2019, when Spain came 22nd (four places above the UK) after a long run of poor performances, El Mundo ran exactly the sort of exasperated op-ed we’re used to seeing here. Why do we bother sending anything to Eurovision? Why does the same thing always happen to us? What’s the point if even our friends and neighbours, like Portugal and France, can’t bring themselves to give us a point?
The difficult truth is that we – and other countries who moan on like this – are stuck in a timewarp. While our chart pop is world-leading, the UK’s notion of what a Eurovision song sounds like hasn’t really evolved since we last won in the late 90s. A look at last year’s top 10 shows a wide range of musical styles, from Italian groove rock to Icelandic indie disco, Ukrainian folk-rave to Finnish nu-metal. Meanwhile the UK’s main priority in selecting a Eurovision contender has been to find a mid-tempo pop song that Ken Bruce can debut on his Radio 2 show.
Maybe it’s too much to hope that Team Dua will discover the next global pop sensation in time for Turin 2022. But if it spares us another year of reliving 1997, and all the Katrina and the Waves nostalgia that comes with it, it’s worth the try.