The countdown to the biggest, best, and most bonkers annual music competition has officially begun.With just under three months to go, countries across Europe (and Australia) are announcing the songs and artists that will represent them at the 64th Eurovision Song Contest in Tel Aviv.
The United Kingdom’s televised selection show, ‘Eurovision: You Decide’, took place on 8 February,with Michael Rice (winner of All Together Now series one) being chosen to perform ‘Bigger Than Us’ at the final in Israel. This year’s selection process differed from previous years, in a move by the BBC that received mixed reactions from fans. Instead of choosing from six acts each with a different song,this year the choice was between six acts but only three songs. Each song was interpreted and performed by two artists before a panel of judges: Mollie King, Marvin Humes, and head judge Rylan Clark-Neal decided which versions of the songs would go through to the public vote. Not only did this new system confuse fans, it also limited the public’s choice as to who they wanted to represent them. Holly Tandy (X Factor series 14) was the other performer of ‘Bigger Than Us’, with her version of the song performing well in polls running up to ‘You Decide’, and many fans were disappointed that she was knocked out by the judges.
The song was written by Swedish songwriter, John Lundvick, who is also competing in the Swedish selection process Melodifestivalen. It’s a powerful pop ballad that at times sounds a little like ‘Go The Distance’ from Disney’s Hercules. It’s not a bad entry, but many fans remain sceptical of whether or not it will perform well on the night. In 2016, Eurovision debuted its new scoring system, by which the jury votes and public votes are announced separately. This new scoring system has essentially made it impossible (at the very least improbable) for an act to receive the dreaded nil points, and also reveals some interesting trends in how songs are received. The UK has consistently done better with the professional jury vote than it has done with the public. Some fans have attributed this disparity to political bias, which may have been worsened in the wake of Brexit. However, the UK started to struggle in the competition when the rule that songs must be performed in a country’s official language was abandoned in 1999, only finishing in the top ten twice since then (2002 and 2009.)
Other notable acts who will be appearing at Eurovision this year include Darude (Finland), who is best known for 1999 hit ‘Sandstorm’, Sergey Lazarev (Russia), who came third in Eurovision 2016, and Kate Miller-Heidke (Australia), who beat drag superstar Courtney Act (RuPaul’s Drag Race, Celebrity Big Brother, The Bi Life) to win the Australian selection.
Despite efforts to keep Eurovision apolitical, it is very rarely free from controversy. In recent years the show has been censored by Chinese broadcasters for LGBTQ+ content,Russia was barred from sending their act when Ukraine hosted, and countries have been forced to withdraw over the financial ramifications. This year is no exception, with much of the controversy stemming from the current political climate surrounding the host nation, Israel, and the situation in Jerusalem.
In the aftermath of Netta’s victory last year, with the song ‘Toy’, in Portugal, Israel’s government stated that the show would be hosted in Jerusalem, as part of the country’s campaign to have Jerusalem recognised as its capital. Most countries choose to host the contest in their capital city, but since Jerusalem is not internationally recognised as the capital of Israel, this decision was a controversial one. The contest has been hosted in Jerusalem twice before; first in 1979, and again in 1999 after Dana International’s win. The Israeli government has since backtracked on hosting in Jerusalem and announced that Eurovision 2019 will be hosted in Tel Aviv, however there are many groups across Europe who are still calling for a boycott of the event in solidarity with Palestinians.
The final of the Eurovision Song Contest will be broadcast on BBC One on 18 May.