The final 6 songs which will compete in this year's UK national final, "Eurovision: You Decide" to be broadcast this coming Friday, were premiered today on Ken Bruce's Radio 2 mid-morning show. I was off work today so could have tuned in, but I guessed that the songs would be spread over the duration of the show and I didn't have the patience to listen!
The songs are all available to listen at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p04qg63c
1. "Freedom Hearts" - Olivia Garcia. (Gabriel Alares/Sebastian Lestapier/Linnea Nelson/Laurell Barker)
THE SONG: This is reasonably contemporary, in that mid-tempo style which still seems to be a thing. For some reason this reminds me a little of Leona Lewis and at first I thought she'd put yet another song in - but in fact it's written by an international team including Gabriel Alares (by now a very familiar name in Eurovision national finals). On first hearing it's a little too generic, and the 'freedom hearts' hook is a little silly, but I have to say in its favour that I remembered the chorus for quite a while after I heard the song for the first time, which let's face it, is crucial in ESC particularly when, in the case of the Big 5, you only get one shot.
THE SINGER: 16 year old Olivia appeared on the 2016 series of X Factor, reaching the Judges Houses stage. She has an impressive voice on the recorded version of this song and if she can replicate this on the night, then this song is in with a good chance.
2. "I Wish I Loved You More" - Holly Brewer. (Kevin Fisher/Courtney Harrell/Laurell Barker/Magnus Frändå/Johan Åsgärde/Oliver Lundström)
THE SONG: Another mid-tempo song with a multiple line-up of songwriters and some more Swedish names in there. There is nothing new or particularly spectacular about this: it's strong and solid, and again the vocals sound good on record, but it's sounding more like an album track/4th single release from an album. For some reason, on first listen this was giving me Beyonce "Halo" vibes (although I don't like that song at all!) but I wonder if that will work in this song's favour?
THE SINGER: Holly is a 21 year old singer-songwriter and her CV includes singing at the wedding of well-known UK TV celebs Michelle Keegan and Mark Wright (!). Again, a strong vocal on the recorded version so hopefully she can deliver a strong performance on the night.
3. "Never Give Up On You" - Lucie Jones. (The Treatment/Emmelie de Forest/Lawrie Martin)
THE SONG: Presumably this came out of the songwriting camp which ESC 2013 winner Emmelie attended. Unfortunately it's yet another of these mid-tempo songs, and this one in particular is crying out for a big old anthemic dancey remix.
THE SINGER: Although I don't follow X Factor, the media attention given to the show means that I don't really have to. Lucie's name was familiar from that show and on further research she actually took part in series 6 in 2009, where she made it to the 3rd week of the live finals. She won't be the last XF 2009 entrant in this year's UK ESC selection either....
4. "Light Up The World" - Danyl Johnson. (Dan McAlister/Rick Blaskey/Greg Walker/Chris Sutherland/Ameerah Roelants)
THE SONG: Oh for goodness sake....can we have something which isn't a flippin' mid-tempo? This is particularly bland, beige, been-there done-that, and even if it tries to tack on a little bit of an apology for a dance beat, it was to win the national final not only would it flop in ESC but I couldn't see it having much commercial success either.
THE SINGER: So you wait 8 years for an X Factor 2009 singer in the UK ESC selection and two come along at once. Again, I remember that Danyl was hotly tipped as a winner in the 2009 series but he ended up in 4th place. Of course he is strong vocally, but he deserved a better song here.
By this point I am hoping for some diversity, whether it's a country song, or a pop banger, or even (God forbid) tropical house, or some good old-fashioned Europop.
5. "I Don't Wanna Fight" - Salena Mastroianni. (The Treatment/Nicole Blair/Marli Harwood)
THE SONG: Another multiple co-write, this time including Marli Harwood whom we all remember as Marli Buck from Fame Academy (2002) and more recently she had a writing credit on Kygo's megahit "Stole The Show". It does sound reasonably contemporary and there's a little bit of the on-trend tropical house sound in here, but despite the 'put down our weapons' line there just isn't a strong enough hook to impress the ESC voters in May.
THE SINGER: In this year's running theme of past X Factor contestants, we now have Salena from 2012.
6. "What Are We Made Of" - Nate Simpson. (Jon Hällgren/Eric Lumiere/DWB)
THE SONG: A piano ballad in the vein of John Legend's "All Of Me" but unfortunately there are too many cliches and not enough originality,
THE SINGER; ...and yes, it's yet another X Factor contestant. Every single UK finalist this year has appeared on that show, and in Nate's case he made it as far as Judges Houses.
So that's it then. After my first listen, I listened to the songs all over again and came to the conclusion that a) the right side of the scoreboard is inevitable and b) given the UK's poor record over recent years, and therefore with nothing to lose (and a guaranteed place in the final) I always hope for a few more risks to be taken and therefore a more musically diverse selection of songs, instead of this rather beige and bland selection, none of which is likely to make ESC's juries or voters sit up and take notice. Never mind X Factor, where is the *cliche klaxon!* "wow factor"??
There are some good enough singers this year who probably deserve better songs. But I have to ask, is a group of exclusively past and recent X Factor auditionees the best we can hope for in 2017? I guess that just reflects this country's (lack of) Eurovision ambition. We also live in musically generic times, where styles and formats are being recycled over and over again, so some genuine originality or quirkiness wouldn't have gone amiss.
Of course Eurovision's as much about the performance, where often unspectacular songs can be transformed into something quite special indeed. Do any of the UK final songs and artists have that capability? I guess we won't know until this Friday, but I'm not holding my breath.
One final thought: at least I suppose that the BBC has tried to make an effort this year and is slowly building on its plan to re-establish the UK's tarnished reputation in ESC, whether it's with the introduction of songwriting camps or with another actual national final, promoted in 2017 from BBC4 to BBC2. But there is still a long, long way to go. In the meantime, I guess I'll have to choose a song from my first/second listen. I'm not particularly excited by any of the songs but if I had to choose a winner it would have to be "Freedom Hearts" because it's the only one which I still remember out of the six songs.