ESC 2010 Reviews: United Kingdom
After 38 other countries, we’re finally up to #39, the final entry (alphabetically, anyway) from this year’s Eurovision. The United Kingdom has been participating since 1957, and they hold the half-impressive, half-dubious record of having the most second-place finishes. In fact, in their first 20 years of competition, they came up just short ten times! Some of those runners-up ended up becoming just as famous as the songs that defeated them; I’ve mentioned Cliff Richard’s “Congratulations” (1968) in earlier entries, for example. But nine years earlier, the UK overdosed on saccharine for their entry “Sing Little Birdie” by Teddy Johnson and Pearl Carr. The song’s got a bit of personal history for me: the first time I ever heard the words “Eurovision Song Contest” was while listening to the audio recording of this Monty Python sketch:
Now, despite the US’s close cultural relationship with the UK, the vast majority of the songs and singers that represent Britain in Eurovison don’t really encounter any measure of success across the pond. Of course, there are a few exceptions to the rule, however. In 1974, the year that ABBA trounced the competition and took the crown for Sweden, Olivia Newton-John carried the Union Jack with “Long Live Love“, an incredibly cheesy ballad that Olivia now admits she couldn’t stand. The UK’s first winning song, 1967’s “Puppet on a String“, was sung by Sandie Shaw, better known in the US for her cover of “(There’s) Always Something There To Remind Me“. In 1969, Lulu tied for the victory with “Boom-Bang-A-Bang“, but she’s better known here for “To Sir, With Love“. Skipping a few decades, 1996’s representative Gina G did actually score a bona-fide hit here in the US with “Ooh, Aah…Just a Little Bit“, a fun and frothy pop number that made it to #12 on the Billboard Top 100. Finally, the UK’s most recent win was 1997’s “Love Shine a Light“, sung by Katrina and the Waves, best known here for “Walking on Sunshine“.
Sadly, over the past few years, the UK’s reputation in Eurovision has fallen into a steep decline. It might be due to the change in language rules, where a country can now sing in any language they choose (when the song from Turkey can now be sung in English, it’s more easily understood and acceptable to a wider voting audience). It might be the influx of more Eastern European nations to the contest, so their odds are naturally longer. Or it might just be that the UK isn’t taking the thing as seriously as they used to, and are more likely to laugh at the ESC than to send their biggest stars (check out the 2007 example, Scooch’s “Flying the Flag For You“). Last year, though, the BBC decided that enough was enough. They drafted Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber and Diane Warren to pen “It’s My Time“, and held a reality show to find the perfect singer for the song. Twenty-one year old Jade Ewen stepped up to the challenge and delivered a beautiful performance that brought the UK a 5th place finish, including a full 12 points from Greece. It was their highest placement since 2002, and it received the highest number of points since Katrina and the Waves’ victory twelve years earlier.
This year, the UK decided to continue the nearly-winning selection formula from 2009. They picked pop songwriters Pete Waterman and Mike Stock (best known for their work with Kylie Minogue, among others) to write “That Sounds Good To Me”, and held yet another reality show to find the perfect voice for the tune. That voice belonged to teenager Josh Dubovie, and here’s the result:
Sad to say, it doesn’t quite look like lightning has struck twice in a row for the UK. It might have worked fifteen years ago, but the entry sounds dated and out-of-touch with what ESC voters go for today. It’s sort of like my feelings on the Dutch entry this year: the singer’s not bad, but if you take a young performer and put them in a song that feels dated, it will just feel even more awkward. But, what do you expect from a pair of songwriters whose biggest worldwide hit was this?