United Kingdom’s Eurovision 2012 Entry

Unless you’ve been living in a cave, you’ve heard that Englebert Humperdinck, 75-years old, career crooner, Vegas showman, and native Briton, is representing the UK at Eurovision. Though sorely tempted to speak our minds, we held our tongues on the announcement of Englebert Humperdinck for the UK a couple of weeks ago. The reason was simple: we wanted to hear the song before passing judgement. And finally, last delegation to the party, UK presents its song.  Here’s Englebert Humperdinck with “Love Will Set You Free.”

“Love Will Set You Free” is a slow waltz full of melancholy themes about love and loss. It may have London-based songwriters (Martin Terefe and Sacha Skarbek), but in the hands of Englebert the song pays homage to country music ballads of the late ’60s and early ’70s–similar to Merle Haggard and Glen Campbell. Of course Eurovision is for a European audience, and the production opts for strings and acoustic guitar rather than steel guitar. It also has the requisite Eurovision key change.

This is from Englebert’s bio on his website, describing his style of music:

“Romance serves as the core of Engelbert Humperdinck’s music and lasting success. He knows how to pick songs with eternal themes of love and longing, and lovers always want to hear them sung.”

“Love will set you free” is entirely consistent with this. It’s a win-win for him to be sure. After Eurovision, he gets a new song that seamlessly fits into his act and an anecdote he can add to his patter. At this stage of his career, that’s worth its weight in gold.

Lyrically, the song is fine but I don’t think it holds up with vivid imagery of songs from its reference group. However, the song is emotional and melodic, and I have complete confidence that Englebert will be able to sell when it matters. The UK could have done worse, a lot worse.

So is all forgiven with the BBC? Absolutely not. Englebert Humperdinck’s style of music, “Love will set you free” included, is out of touch with pop music today. Most of his gigs these days are on the casino circuit to graying audiences.  Moreover, they made the kitsch pick but then chose the sincere route. Comeback attempts from Andy Williams or Tony Bennett positioned them for a younger audience with gentle self-aware humor about what they were trying to do. Here, Englebert is playing it straight.

In picking Englebert Humperdinck I don’t think the BBC is trying to win. In all likelihood, they were simply trying to make a splash by picking up somebody famous. If that is their measure of success, then they succeeded. The fever pitch before his announcement was ridiculous, and the Beeb did a good job goading the Twitterati by having staff post to their personal Twitter accounts to add fuel to the fire. If generating ratings on May 26th is their measure of success, then it remains to be seen. I can’t see him being taken seriously with anyone under 50. Not with this song.

United Kingdom’s Eurovision 2011 Entry

We have been hearing endlessly about Blue. Here on the other side of the pond, Chris and I have been scratching our heads wondering what all the fuss is about. Though we do try to keep tabs on what’s going on overseas, Blue never made it onto our radar before this year. So to our virgin eyes, Blue just seemed like a boy band whose biggest hits were covers, trying to plan a comeback after 4 years. To us, this is not exactly a recipe for breakout success.  But no matter, they’ve been working hard to promote themselves and there seemed to be more goodwill than we thought, so we’ll wait and let the music speak for itself.

At long last, the UK is gearing up to release the song–the official debut is on The Graham Norton Show this Friday.  But not surprisingly, the track has leaked. Here’s Blue with “I Can” [updated]:

With all those “Oooh”s in the chorus, there had better be some fist-pumping. Just sayin’. Oooh!

Sure is British, though. With the stutter going on with “I ca-ca-can,” they must be giving a shout out to The King’s Speech. Oooh!

Not to go blue (Oooh!), but is “I can, I will, I’m tired of these hands” a reference to masturbation? Oooh!

Joking aside it’s not terrible, and it is light years better than the Dubovie Debacle of 2010.  “I Can” is boy band pop, and it has a personal empowerment message (I can; It’s my time, my moment, etc.) that the Brits seem to think adds up to ESC success.  It also reminds me of Nelly’s “Just a Dream,” so I guess that means it’s got something current in it, right?  But I gotta tell you, I don’t see how they win over new fans with this one. Sorry UK, the internal selection was the right thing to do, but if you want the win, better luck next year. Their fans will make sure they aren’t an embarrassment, but I don’t think Blue outperforms the Lord.  I think they’re Top 15.  Chris thinks they’re Top 10.

UPDATE FROM CHRIS: Oooh!

Anyway, I’m a bigger fan of this song than Jen is, but I agree that it’s probably not going to win. But I don’t think the UK is going to complain more than usual if they do break the top 10. I’m thinking it could go as high as sixth, but the only reason I don’t think it will go higher is because of Alexey Vorobyov. I see both “I Can” and “Get You” operating in the same space, with the latter having the added oomph from RedOne. (The combined song “I Can Get You” could win hands down, of course.)

Having seen videos of both acts performing, I’d say they both have a ways to go to be Eurovision-ready. Blue need to amp up the performance a little, and Lee Ryan really needs to work on sounding less strained when he’s hitting the high notes. Blue has some decent enough choreography, but they needed to hit it a little harder. Vorobyov also suffers from some choreo problems that need to get ironed out. While he sounded in good voice, his back-up dancers looked pretty sloppy.

Of course, if either Alexey or Simon Webbe just want to go onstage shirtless, I guessing any choreo issues would be forgiven. Oooh!

United Kingdom’s Eurovision 2010 Entry

The U.K. would be hard-pressed to come up with an entry as successful as last year’s “My Time.”  Even though that was perfectly dreadful, it brought the Brits a fifth-place finish, its highest placement in years.  Andrew Lloyd Webber did not come back to do another song this year, so songwriting duties fell to legendary tunesmith Sven-Göran Eriksson… er, Pete Waterman. (And Mike Stock, who didn’t get the billing that Pete Waterman did. Probably doesn’t have an OBE.)

This year’s edition of Your Country Needs You featured six acts performing hits Waterman wrote for various acts in the ’80s (e.g., Rick Astley, Bananarama, Kylie Minogue).  It was pretty much an amateur hour, with only one performer, Josh Dubovie, who seemed to have any poise on stage.  The quintet Uni5 had only been assembled three weeks before the show, and they sounded like they hadn’t been together for even that long.  Waterman then picked three of the six acts to perform his song “That Sounds Good to Me.”

It was pretty clear that Josh was going to win, although another solo male singer, Alexis Gerred, gave him a run for his money during the “That Sounds Good to Me” round.  Esma Akkilic, the third finalist, unfortunately forgot the words to the second verse and actually stopped and apologized before picking the song back up.

So here’s Josh with “That Sounds Good to Me”:

You can really tell what decade they had their hits in, can’t you? The verses sound like “Kids In America,” though Waterman and Stock didn’t write that one.

The big problem, aside from the fact that he’s saddled with a mediocre song, is that Josh was picked so late in the national final season.  Jade Ewan was picked early and then visited 14 countries promoting the song during the build-up to Eurovision, including performing at the Russian final.  Now that nearly all participating countries have selected their songs, there’s nowhere for Josh to go to promote the song.  So the U.K. may find itself falling back down the leaderboard this year.

UPDATED: Josh, Sir Sven-Göran and Pete have released the new, final version of “That Sounds Good to Me,” which sounds worse to me than the version performed on Your Country Needs You.  Jen said that they took out the retro-’80s charm and turned this into a Disney theme park song.

It hurts us.

15. United Kingdom – Daz Sampson: “Teenage Life”

The stage is filled with women in schoolgirl outfits sitting at desks. They’re singing in thick, Eliza Doolittle accents. Daz is wearing a bright yellow jacket and is rapping about his school days. This is silly (he name drops Mr. T, for crying out loud), yet still way better than The Streets. Imagine “Gangsta’s Paradise” in a major key and you’ll get an idea of how this sounds.

Daz finishes by saying, “Thank you and vote for the music.” Take that, LT United!