The United Kingdom used to be one of the power house countries of Eurovision, stacking up five wins, most recently in 1997 with Katrina & the Waves and “Love Shine a Light”. But things started to go wrong in the 21st century. Suddenly the UK began entering weird, cheesy and/or super camp acts that never did especially well. By 2011, however, the BBC seemed to have learned a lesson, switched to an internal selection process and began sending more serious acts. They may not have always scored highly, but they showed a seriousness of purpose.
But it looks like the BBC is up to its old tricks. When it was announced that Electro Velvet would represent the UK with their electro-swing song “Still in Love with You”, there was a lot of unease. Many fans (but not all — some folks love this) felt it was a step back. The song, in all its discombobulated glory, has been compared to the sort of crazy songs the UK sent in the 2000s. So let’s remind ourselves of what it was like for Britain in those years of cray cray.
2003 – Jemini “Cry Baby”
Previously the UK had been in top form, but then this came along. “Cry Baby” wasn’t a terrible song per se, but on the night things fell apart. Gemma’s vocals were horribly off key and the duo’s staging was minimal and uninspired. “Cry Baby” earned the UK a well deserved nil points. But perhaps this sparked a new idea – that crazy songs get loads of attention.
Reality check: That year’s winner was Sertab Erener with “Everyway That I Can”, a perfect blend of modern pop and Turkish tradition. It was slicky choreographed (belly dancing!) and Sertab’s versatile vocals were on point.
2006 – Daz Sampson “Teenage Life”
A 30-something man rapping about his schooldays, accompanied by women dressed as schoolgirls and singing in childlike voices. No, that’s not remotely weird or creepy. Daz was confident he had a winner on his hands, and perhaps that confidence convinced the UK public to select him on Making Your Mind Up. But as we all know, rap never does well in Eurovision. Once he got to Athens, all Daz could manage was 19th place out of 25.
Reality check: At the other end of the score table was Lordi with “Hard Rock Hallelujah”. While their performance had the super gimmick of monster costumes, at its heart was a good, catchy song that viewers loved.
2007 – Scooch “Flying the Flag (for You)”
Scooch were a cross between Steps and children’s entertainers gone bad. Their song was laden with so much aviation-related sexual innuendo and double entendre that they could have generously shared it around with plenty to spare. Of course there’s a place for camp at Eurovision, but it works best when it’s not done self-consciously. Scooch’s attempt at capturing the extreme camp vote ended up crash landing. They placed 22nd out of 24.
Reality check: The winning entry, “Molitva” by Marija Šerifovic, had some camp style (those fierce backing singers!), but most importantly it was a strong, emotional ballad sung with great passion by Marija.
2010 – Josh Dubovie “That Sounds Good to Me”
Things had been going well for the UK. The year before Jade Ewen had placed fifth with “It’s My Time”, so the 2010 national selection used a similar process, teaming up the winner of a singing competition with an experienced songwriter. But what worked in 2009 didn’t work in 2010. As nice as Josh Dubovie was, Pete Waterman’s song came across as cheesy and old fashioned. The uninspiring track only earned a total of 10 points, sending it straight to the bottom of the table.
Reality check: Germany proved that it was possible for one of the Big Five countries to win when Lena’s sassy “Satellite” secured a comfortable victory.
Is “Still in Love with You” destined to join the UK’s tradition of weird songs that don’t work? Or have the BBC finally hit on a winning formula?