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UK finalists reviewed: Another step in the right direction

by | Jan 25, 2018

UK finalists reviewed: Another step in the right direction

by | Jan 25, 2018 | Eurovision, Featured |

It’s the third year of the United Kingdom’s “new” national final format, Eurovision: You Decide. Results at the contest proper have been improving slowly but surely, with Lucie Jones almost squeezing onto the left-hand side of the scoreboard last year, picking up a healthy jury vote along the way. No surprise, then, that the BBC have decided to stick with the same approach of sourcing six songs from songwriting teams and pairing them up with performers who may be lesser-known to the public but who can boast varying degrees of performing experience in their own right.

The first thing to say about the 2018 line-up is that it’s a pretty decent batch of songs. Stylistically, all six contenders are firmly anchored in “generic Spotify playlist fodder” territory, but that’s not a bad place to aim at when your recent ESC history includes the likes of Electro Velvet and Engelbert Humperdinck. If I’m being critical, they suffer a little from the problem that many workshopped songs do – bland lyrical sentiments, no real edge, no risks taken – which can make it feel like none of the singers really “owns” their song; however, this also makes them something of a blank canvas on which to paint a performance that works for the specific needs of the contest. All in all, it feels like the BBC have decided the end result is more important than giving the viewers a truly varied national final in terms of musical genres, and that’s a justifiable approach to what is, after all, a competition that tends to favour mainstream pop music.

The weaker links in the line-up? “Astronaut” by Liam Tamne starts promisingly but gets a little baggy in the middle. “Crazy” by RAYA has a good central hook but spends three minutes making sure you know about it – “repetitive” is an understatement. Meanwhile, Goldstone‘s “I Feel The Love” doesn’t have much identity of its own and is probably the most forgettable of the whole bunch.

This leaves the three obvious standouts in the field. SuRie, who was involved in Loïc Nottet and Blanche’s recent entries for Belgium, delivers “Storm”. An uplifting composition, its production may be a little too safe for its own good – it feels like an anthem for a Pride parade where sozzled drag queens have been elbowed out by corporate sponsors – but I can see it being lifted by an engaging performance and a strong live vocal.

“Legends” by Asanda has been getting a lot of the early fan hype, and it’s easy to understand why – it has the most contemporary sound and is packed with carefully constructed hooks that worm their way into your brain. Moreover, the songwriters clearly paid attention to SunStroke Project’s podium finish last year and understand that a hooky instrumental riff can be just as important to a song’s success as a conventional chorus. The downside of the BBC releasing the songs in the form of lyric videos is that it’s easy to be put off by lines like “We la la legends” (for heaven’s sake) – but hey, it’s ESC and there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with a silly catchphrase or two to grab the voters’ attention. My main concern is that it’s a very wordy song that might not leave a lot of room to breathe when performed live.

The third and final of the obvious contenders is “You” by Jaz Ellington. I have to admit I was initially put off by the lyrics to this one – “I’m with one person but secretly thinking of another” is hardly a new trope in pop music, but Jaz describes his current lover in such glowing terms that you can’t help but wonder if he’s just a bit of a dick to still be hankering after the titular “you”. Regardless, the song is an undeniably effective slice of soulful balladry, and with the right delivery it could well stand out from the You Decide crowd as the one timeless, authentic moment in a sea of carefully constructed pop modernity. The worry, of course, is that a lot of other countries will go down the “timeless authenticity” route in the wake of Salvador Sobral’s victory…

So there we go! Not a bad bunch really. From a UK fan perspective, I feel much like I did at this time last year – content enough with “my” national final line-up without being overwhelmed, and quietly optimistic that one or two of these songs will pop out of the field when paired with an excellent performance. Is there anything in there that can better last year’s 15th-place finish at the contest itself? It’s hard to say until we’ve seen them live, but I think there’s a case to be made for both Asanda and Jaz. All in all, though, this feels like another step in the right direction for the BBC and the slow but steady rehabilitation of the UK entry.

Eurovision: You Decide will be held at the Brighton Dome on Wednesday 7 February, hosted by Mel Giedroyc and ESC 2015 winner Måns Zelmerlöw. You can view all six competing songs in a YouTube playlist here.

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