Let’s all be honest, when we attended our various Eurovision parties, quaffing prosecco and entering sweepstakes in this annual one-night excuse to get mortal in the name of pop music, no one really gave out much hope for Michael Rice. That is, if we’d heard of Michael Rice in the first instance.
Why should we have? The glory days of the UK sending its best and brightest to the Eurovision Song Contest have long since passed. The last time we even saw a glimpse of the Top Five was when Andrew Lloyd Webber stuck his melting waxwork of a head into the mix, producing a decent finish alongside British hopeful Jade Ewen. Since then, the results brought back from myriad European nations in the past ten years had been nothing short of shambolic. Three 24th place finishes, one 25th placed finish for Englebert Humperdinck. The UK had quite rightly given up on any chance of a good finish among the increasingly competitive selected acts from the wider European (and Australian) communities.Then, 2019 arrived.
When I heard the news that the BBC was to bring back You Decide, an external selection of sorts, I was thrilled. It had become blatantly clear that internal selection was failing to produce any sort of result and I held out some hope that the combined weight of the British public and talented young artists could finally pluck a decent song out of the air and that the voting public, in their infinite wisdom, would have the good grace to select it.
What we got was three songs, internally selected, performed by six artists, internally selected, judged first by a reality TV star, one quarter of JLS, and one fifth of The Saturdays – the latter two of which spend the vast majority of their airtime on ITV 2. The songs themselves were all run-of-the-mill pop songs: there was to be no genre-changing here, no attempt at alternative genre representation. Michael Rice was selected, quite rightly so, as the best of a bad bunch. With a little vocal coaching and some craftily placed pyrotechnics, one hoped that this year’s Eurovision entry could be salvaged despite its soulless beginnings.
This cinder of optimism was soon snuffed out. When I saw the mediocre staging and the clear evidence that Michael, a brilliant singer in any regard, had been left to fend for himself vocally alongside a group of sourced-from-nowhere backing vocalists, my heart sank. Good entries abounded in this year’s competition. Even the best among them were going to have to fight hard for their portion of televote and jury vote. But even Graham Norton’s admirable optimism in the face of such challenging circumstances could not lift my mood as I became increasingly assured that there would have to be a miracle for Michael to place anywhere above 20th.
And so it came to pass. Michael received a total of thirteen points in the jury vote, with the most (five points) coming from Belarus, a country that I had maligned quite heavily in my predictions article. It turns out that there were a number of ‘inconsistencies’ with the Belarusian jury vote, not just the fact that they may have been given out in the wrong order, but due to the fact that in an interview, Belarusian authorities had revealed their semi-final results. Without these points, however, it assured that Michael would have been even more last than before, receiving only a paltry three points from good ol’ Ireland in the televote. The only country to receive less in the televote were Germany – a song I also ripped into – but because of their jury results, they buried Michael Rice right at the bottom of the pile with a miserable sixteen points in total.
You can’t help but feel absolutely heartbroken for the poor kid. At just twenty-one, he’s no doubt totally demoralised by this miserable showing. Rice put a good face on for the cameras and bravely blamed Britain’s current political relationship with Europe for his woes, arguing that the result would have been the same had Elton John or Gary Barlow sang it. He might have a point: Dana International proved in her failure to qualify for the Eurovision Song Contest in 2011 that a big name does not necessarily warrant a good result. However, you can’t argue with the fact that a big name does in many cases help. Take Blue in Dusseldorf that very year, who finished eleventh riding on their name and popularity, despite having a mediocre song bugged with technical issues.
Which leaves us with the rather despairing question, where do we go from here? Whatever you might have felt about Michael Rice or his song, one cannot dispute the fact that it is patently unfair to keep sending young, bright-eyed artists full of potential to contests safe in the knowledge that, saddled with a song plucked out of the pit of banality, they will fade into oblivion with nothing but a free holiday out of the experience. Does anyone know what SuRie is up to nowadays? Lucie Jones? Joe and Jake? Josh Dubovie? Electro Velvet? Molly Smitten-Downes? No? Thought not. Michael’s single won’t even break the Top 100 in the UK, something even national jokes Scooch and Daz Sampson managed to achieve. It just isn’t fair for the BBC to frame entry as an opportunity when in reality, it more often than not signals the death knell for a budding pop career.
It is my opinion, both as a fan of the Eurovision Song Contest and young, unsigned artists, that the BBC needs to take a long hard look in the mirror and ask itself whether or not it is truly serious about continuing in the competition. There is no point carrying on as is, half-arsing entries here and then, leaving a trail of once confident artists broken in their wake. Not only is there the wasted potential, but also the significant cost of continuing as an automatic qualifier, as well as the cost of shipping lots of technical equipment and several members of BBC staff to the contest. It would break my heart if Britain stopped entering – I will not let my dream of one day going to a Eurovision final in London die. But weighed up against the universal misery of both British artist and British audience year in, year out, what is truly more painful?
Realistically, if Britain’s going to do this properly, we have two options. The first is to withdraw from The Big Five and enter through the semi-finals with an internally selected candidate. This holds three main advantages. For one, it wouldn’t immediately put artists on the grandest stage of them all: they’ll have to work to get into the final, and this should inspire a little bit of desperation on the BBC’s part to produce an entry of some quality. Secondly, the semi-final process allows songs to gain a little bit of hype. We’re not able nor financially well-off enough to produce a massive selection show like Melodifestivalen, and the semi-final is a great chance for previously unranked entries to shine in performance. Ask Tamara Todevska, who I didn’t even predict to qualify but ended up finishing eighth through two brilliant live performances. Thirdly, we will contribute less money to the competition, a fact that is likely to thrill the BBC, the licence-payer, and The Daily Mail alike.
The other option is more risky and more expensive but ultimately still an improvement upon the current status quo: hold one giant grand finale talent show in Manchester with maybe ten songs and open it up to all types of music. I’m talking traditional pop, rock music, acoustic and maybe even dance entries, though we should all collectively draw the line at hip-hop. Fifty percent of the vote is dictated through a form of international jury system, one that has been adopted by many other host broadcasters and one that gives some indication of Europe’s appetite for the entries, the other fifty by the standard televote. Line it up smack bang in the middle of the Saturday night schedule, shove Holby City off for a weekend, and build it up properly on social media. Build some actual hype for it, and see what happens. Hell, HBO did plenty of that with Game of Thrones and still managed to disappoint people, so there is precedent for it. Hopefully the song will be good enough to generate considerable airplay on national and international channels, constructing a bit of bookmaker’s momentum and shove the song into the public’s consciousness.
The underlying principle has to be this: if we take ourselves seriously, Eurovision’s voting public and jury will take us seriously. Michael Rice did not deserve to come last this year, but the BBC certainly did with the meagre fart of public fanfare and songwriting that was literally John Lundvik’s reserve option. Never mind You Decide, it’s time for the BBC to decide. Go big or go home – don’t let the long-suffering modern British Eurovision artists and fans suffer the consequences of your actions.