So I have an admission to make. I really, really like the Eurovision Song Contest. It appeals to the broadcasting geek in me, I enjoy the format and I like the variety of different songs from across Europe (and the opportunity to be sarcastic whilst watching it). It’s become a little ritual for me to discuss the virtues (or otherwise!) of our entry each year with a very good friend (the man responsible for getting me interested in Eurovision, in fact). This year we had a disagreement – I thought our song was our best entry in years and would finish at least in the top-half. He didn’t. Guess who was right.
To be fair, though, I felt my position shifting as soon as I saw the performance on the night.
Let’s hand it to Joe and Jake – they delivered an excellent live vocal and a passionate performance. They couldn’t have given it any more. But the staging and, more importantly, the television direction was straight from a contest 15 years ago. As you saw the other acts, many of them used the floor projection very effectively. Many used a front-projecting screen (aping the winning entry from last year, but Russia did go beyond beyond that and I’m not surprised that their innovative staging coupled to a not un-catchy song won the televote). Others used very fast cutting and DVE effects that looked like an MTV concert edit from the late-90s. But, still, they grabbed your attention. They told a story.
Compare the edits and staging from other entries in this recap video to our entry above. All of a sudden, the lack of engagement with the televote audience made sense (we did reasonably alright with the juries which backs up my argument that this was a decent pop song well performed).
The staging first up. Whilst the fuzz back lights are snazzy, and look particularly good from the low angle, there is no development in the staging beyond this. The pictures behind Joe and Jake are apparently selfies that the boys took during their promotional tour. This isn’t obvious, and looks incredibly amateurish in comparison to how other countries were using the back-projected screen. It reminds me of how countries were using the back screens when they were new on the scene a decade ago. Whilst I don’t mind the concept of the two drummers being on the stage, there is again no progression in their part of the act. The whole staging just boils down to the two boys singing the song, basically standing still in one place. There’s no direction to the performance.
So, onto the shooting script. The television direction needed to tell a story, it needed to engage the viewer with Joe and Jake. Unfortunately, it did precisely the opposite. The mix-through to the one-shot at the start isn’t bad, but when we get to the chorus, there are too many cuts from close-ups to mid-shots, seemingly at random. What’s worse is that when we get to the ‘drop’ at the second chorus (1.43 on the YouTube video), we have a crash-zoom away from the performers, cutting to a wide shot and slow zoom in on the spider-cam. Surely, this is precisely the opposite of what the direction should be doing. There are too many flying wide-shots during this chorus and the same happens at the third chorus. There should surely be a cut into a mid-shot as the pyros go off, then cuts alongside the pyro flashes at 2.45, rather than just tracking a mid-shot. Then the embrace of the performers at the end into the close-up is just cringeworthy.
Compare this direction with the quick cuts of Cyprus or the use of the floor projection by France or Lithuania, to name but two.
It’s interesting to note that the same problem befell us in 2014. We sent a strong song, one that was expected to do very well. But the staging was very lacklustre and the shooting script suffering the same issues. (Plus, I don’t think Molly delivered her best performance on the night). This video discusses the issues with the 2014 shooting script.
Last year’s entry from the UK, whilst being a little quirky musically, had a more innovative approach to staging and shooting script. Which is why I am disappointed that we appear to have gone back to square one this year, especially as we had advanced in other ways. Sony were on board to assist with promotion, therefore one would have expected the song to have received decent radio airplay across the continent (vitally important to cementing the song in the ears of the audience before the night itself). The song was A-playlisted on Radio 2 (in comparison to Electro Velvet, which only got C-listed last year), although it’s worth noting that it hasn’t charted yet – although that may change now the contest has taken place. Keep an eye on the Top 100 on Friday, folks!
It’s also worth pointing out the old adage that we are on an island. Our musical exports go across continental Europe 364 other days a year. Whereas the Scandinavian countries will know of each other’s Eurovision entries, have got used to supporting each other’s songs. It’s a shared culture that we in the UK are slightly apart from. It’s not ‘political’ for the Eastern European counties to give each other televotes, nor the Scandinavian countries to do likewise. Nor, indeed, for Ireland, Malta and Australia to give us points (the only three countries in the televote to do so this year). It’s cultural similarity, and our culture doesn’t quite fit into the Eurovision culture as much as those other countries.
The only time in recent years when Britain has done well is 2009, when we sent Andrew Lloyd-Webber (we came 5th) and then 2011, when we sent Blue (we came 11th, but would have come 5th based on the televote – there are rumours that Blue performed poorly in the jury-marked rehearsal which affected the outcome somewhat). When we have sent names that people know, we have done OK. But sending a fresh artist clearly has not worked.
I would defend ‘You’re Not Alone’ musically. It was a decent song (the kind of thing we should be sending), well performed. I maintain that our (yet again) poor showing was a result of the poor staging and shooting script and the fact that our culture is cut-off from continental Europe in many ways.
Whatever happens, I am not one of those who advocates pulling out of the contest. It’s a terrific night’s entertainment, discussing the post-mortems of yet another British embarrassment is part of the fun, and it would be nowhere near as engaging without British participation.
Onto 2017, I guess. Your go, Ukraine…