Thanks to Sam Ryder, we’re back in the game!
Its interesting that both success and failure spark all sorts of theories and the narrative for this annual competition as far as the UK was concerned has been a sorry state of affairs for a while now. We’ve tried all sorts of things- veterans, rappers, newcomers, songwriters, public competition winners and even Andrew Lloyd Webber (writing not singing!) but nothing has stuck. Yesterday in Turin that all changed and our second place – after winning the jury half of the vote- was something to make viewers stare at the screen in some disbelief. As commentator Graham Norton said this was real not a drama but the question is why and why now? The answer, simply, is we had a great song. Just like I said we should a year ago on this blog, in fact just like everyone’s been saying for ages and it seems as if the message has got through.
I recently watched a documentary that ran through the contest over the decades since it began back in 1956 and you could see it becoming larger, expanding as the Universe itself is reputed to be doing. Perhaps the increased size of the Eurovision Song Contest is actually causing the Universe to expand? In 2022 the contest is almost too big to be contained by even the widest wide screen television- it feels like it should be screened in cinemas were you could really feel the breadth of the enormous stadium and the sting of the hundreds and hundreds of lights.
Many dismiss Eurovision as camp nonsense or boring (its never that!) yet they also complain that it has levels of political or socially motivated chicanery which influences the voting and while there may be a bit of that it will never affect the overall result. For years people in the UK ran with a conspiracy idea that because we invaded Iraq or left the EU or some other political event nobody would vote for us. Well that idea was lain to rest this year because if you compare our song `Spaceman` to anything we’ve put forward in the past twenty years it’s way better. It may not be innovative but this is not a contest for innovative new music; in fact is it usually behind musical trends by several years. In the way all good songs do it sounds like something you may already have heard, almost a sonic collision of Elton John, Davie Bowie and Queen yet with enough originality to give it identity. The singer Sam Ryder, who apparently has twelve million followers on TikTok, delivers it with feeling and gusto while surrounded by some metal structure that later parts at the climax of the song. The focus is on the music though and his powerful voice.
Perhaps in another year without the Ukraine situation we may even have won with this song though nobody would deny that Ukraine’s entry justified its win regardless of the bigger picture. In fact as well as everything else the Kalush Orchestra seem to have invented a new musical sub genre of `flute hop`. Well, I’ve never heard rappers and a flautist in the same song before! They may even start a trend for pink hats! There was a lovely symmetry to the public vote too- both Ukraine and the Uk’s voters gave each other twelve points.
Lets’ not underestimate the strength of this year’s contest either. I have to say that recent years have been a bit samey with the trend towards dance bangers which are great in clubs but often have no discernable tune becoming somewhat repetitive on stage one after the other. This year there were more ballads and despite the glitz and the flashing lights the mood was often sombre. We had water wraiths draped in rags, we had a woman trapped in a room whose walls were covered in paper, somone looking lost on a flight of steps. Serbia’s performance was more like an art installation with the singer constantly washing her hands in a bowl. The competition’s previous liking for hard rock seems to have retreated (most of these fell at the semi finals) leaving only established band The Rasmus to belt out a song accompanied by large balloons. The staging for every performance was impressive and often imaginative though the simpler ideas cut through more than some overly elaborate ones. For once there seemed little outright gimmickry save for Norway’s entry which involved singers wearing yellow wolf masks.
I think this is the first contest where my three favourites were also the top three. Stand outs for me apart from the UK, Ukraine and Spain- who’s Chanel is a bundle of energy- included Italy’s Mahmood and Blanco with a duet in Italian whose lyrics I didn’t even understand but it was quite an emotional performance. Armenia’s Rosa Linn with `Snap` and Germany’s Malik Harris with `Rockstars` were both great performances of interesting songs, the latter far better than its last place suggests. I also enjoyed Romania’s singalong `Llamame` which I don’t think was about llamas.
The three presenters proved that trying to bridge the language gap with jokes that everyone will understand means you don’t get many laughs. These intermissions were necessary in order to reset the stage but looked an awkward fit for people who are not normally presenters. One of these was Mika who gave a fantastic performance during the interval.
Its funny how when your country is actually involved at the sharp end the lengthy voting process suddenly shifts from being tedious `let’s go and make a coffee` television to edge of the seat material. To see the UK on the left hand side of the leader board was special enough but for us to spend much of the process at the top was actually something I don’t remember seeing since the halcyon days of 1997 though I was half watching it then from the other side of a hotel bar.
Of course Ukraine were going to win but even though I knew our song was better than anything we’ve entered in a long time I didn’t think it would do quite so well even holding off Spain’s dancing and fireworks waterfall. Can Ukraine stage the contest next year as the winner traditionally does? That is very hard to predict and how late you can actually leave it before deciding is something the Eurovision organisers will have to be thinking about. Those who know about the situation reckon the war will last till the end of next year and even if it doesn’t what will it leave? These are questions for another day though. This year’s contest was a revival with live audiences back, good songs back and most of all the UK back! Whisper it- maybe we could win it next year…