After failing to qualify for the final for eight years in a row, the Netherlands seemed to have an ‘enough is enough’ moment when it came to Eurovision and decided to up their game and change tactics on how their entry is decided in 2013.
The country brought on board well-known Dutch singer Anouk to perform and changed its fortunes. The Netherlands have reached the final every year since 2013 (except for a blip in 2015), coming second in 2014 and winning the whole damn contest in Tel Aviv earlier this year courtesy of Duncan Lawrence’s song Arcade. There was no big mystery, merely a marked improvement in the quality of their songs – and it paid off.
Now the UK might just have had an ‘enough is enough’ moment of its own, with the news that the You Decide format – which has allowed the public to vote for our entry since 2016 – is being scrapped following a similar string of dismal results that saw us finish last this year for the fourth time in the past couple of decades.
That’s right, our entry for the 2020 contest in Rotterdam is to be selected internally – except there’s a twist guys, as this time around the BBC is getting record label BMG involved.
In Eurovision terms, this is big and exciting news, with a major label – and all the access to the songwriting and talent that comes with it – helping us in our bid to do a little bit better than Michael Rice’s dismal last place at this year’s contest.
Not to mention the fact they published Mans Zelmerlow’s Heroes – which won the contest in 2015 for Sweden – and signed 2018 winner Netta after her triumph in Lisbon, so seem to know a Eurovision hit when they hear it.
Sounds pretty good, huh? Well it’s certainly a step in the right direction from everything else the UK has tried of late – but what of the decision to take the choice of song out of the public’s hands?
We should be up in arms, right?
Well, maybe not so much, given the public hasn’t always had the best track record when it comes to choosing the songs we’ve taken to the contest in recent times.
There was that awkward period in the noughties, for example, when – possibly buoyed by the perception of the contest as a camp joke, irrespective of how it’s changed of late – the folks at home voted for anything which had the faintest whiff of Eurotrash novelty about it as opposed to picking the best song.
Remember that moment in 2007 when Scooch’s risque airline anthem Flying The Flag (For You) triumphed over a rather lovely ballad from hopeful Cindy? Yup.
More recently, the return of You Decide – albeit wrung clean of novelties – hasn’t done much better. Although, in fairness you can’t blame this one quite so much on the public given the fairly unremarkable selections they’ve had to vote for of late.
When the phrase ‘best of a bad bunch’ can be used to describe our entry as opposed to ‘song which stands a better than average chance of winning Eurovision’ you know you’ve got problems.
The fact that (Blue aside) the internal selections of recent years haven’t served us well suggests that it isn’t always the public’s selections that are the problem (after all they can only vote for the songs they’re given) rather than the UK’s attitude to the contest.
While other nations are holding elaborate national finals that run for weeks, picking artists who are well-known beyond their borders and using all manner of tactics that show they’re in it to win it, the UK (loyal fan base aside) still seems to be a little bit stuck in a perception of the contest that dates back decades.
As someone who follows Eurovision pretty avidly I’m well aware of the effort other countries put into choosing their songs. It’s seemed at times the UK could have done better on that front, too.
From a national final often tucked away in an unpredictable time slot on BBC Two or BBC Four, to lack of exposure on these shores once our song is chosen (despite a lot of hard work from our chosen artists), giving our own public little opportunity to get behind whoever we happen to be sending or even hear the song until just days before the contest.
Which, when you look at the levels of support given to recent winners such as Israel’s Netta and Germany’s Lena by their home nations, is a major missed opportunity. How can we expect to do well if the vast majority of the country isn’t even sure who our contender is, never mind the rest of the continent?
Of course then, when we do achieve a poor result, we rush to blame it on other contributory factors – Brexit, neighbourly voting – you name it, we’ve trotted it out. Every excuse in fact except for ‘we just weren’t good enough’.
So the fact that the folks behind the selection process might finally be paying attention to what the fans have been saying and actually got BMG on board is encouraging – although it’s cautious optimism in this corner.
Granted, the label has some pretty strong acts, and the fact they’ve given us the likes of Mabel’s Don’t Call Me Up (now that would have made a cracking UK entry) and George Ezra’s Shotgun confirms they know a hit when they hear one – but let’s not forget we’ve tried internal selections before and that got us nowhere.
Still, if they can keep it contemporary and work towards not finding us a Eurovision-y song but just a brilliant song, match it with a decent artist who can also perform live, shower it with all the publicity and love that give any artist looking for a hit record, then it’s just possible that even if we don’t quite do a Netherlands we could just find ourselves higher up the scoreboard next year.
Or, at the very least, we’ll prove that maybe we’re in it to win it too, instead of ‘in it to possibly get on the left hand side of the scoreboard, if it’s not too much trouble’.
The 2020 Eurovision Song Contest takes place on May 12, 14 and 16 in Rotterdam.
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