James Newman has produced the UK’s best Eurovision entry in years – but will that be enough?
The 31-year-old, whose younger brother is John Newman, nominated for the Brit Awards, has already written for Ed Sheeran, Jess Glynne, Calvin Harris and Little Mix.
He earned a Brit Award and a Grammy nomination for his work on the Rudimental Waiting All Night song. On the other hand, he co-wrote the Irish entry for Eurovision in 2017, Dying To Try, and was eliminated in the semi-finals.
In May, he will travel to Rotterdam as a solo artist with a medium-tempo banger called My Last Breath. It’s short and straightforward, with the kind of “woah-oh” hook that would make Chris Martin envious.
“It was definitely intentional,” said the singer, who wrote the song in January. “We wanted to create an anthemic post-choir that would make everyone feel involved.”
“Can you imagine that 20,000 people in the arenawoah-oh-ohhh‘? This is something you can sing without knowing the lyrics. “
Newman’s selection comes after a dismal race for the UK at Eurovision. Last year, Michael Rice, Bigger Than Us, came last with just 11 points.
As a result, the BBC removed the role of the public in the selection process and invited the music company BMG to help them find this year’s participant.
“We started with the sole purpose of changing the perception of the contest,” said Alistair Norbury, president of the company’s UK directory.
It’s all well and good – but the perennial argument is that the Eurovision voting system is broken, with the UK being “punished” for everything from the Iraq war to Brexit.
Yet over the years, several academic studies have looked at political voting and have found little evidence that it affects anything beyond the mid-table results.
Countries make vote for their neighbors and allies – but the winner needs pan-continental support to rise above the peloton. The songs that come last tend to be boring, unconvincing or misinterpreted.
So how does My Last Breath compare to the competition?
Here’s a quick guide to some of the contenders – with the caveat that some of the big Eurovision hitters, including Sweden and Russia, have yet to reveal their entries.
Lithuania: The Roop – On Fire
One of the first fan favorites, On Fire is essentially a trance remix of Billie Eilish’s Bad Guy, performed by Right Said Fred.
It’s better than that, but with a catchy chorus and a squiggly synth line that quickly lodges in your head.
The choreography is also strangely convincing: singer Vaidotas Valiukevičius appears to have been allowed to watch all of the Fortnite dances once, and then tried to recreate them from memory. Voters will catch up.
Can James Newman beat them? He has the best song, but The Roop is a Eurovision classic.
Albania: Arilena Ara – Shaj
Eurovision would not be Eurovision without a wind swept ballad or 12, preferably sung at the top by a woman with too much hair.
On this front, Arilena Ara does more than deliver. Her song is literally called “cry” and she surrounds the high notes with all the subtlety of a horn in an elevator shaft.
But the song is cleverly constructed around these great moments, breaking down into a silent section of strings in the middle section before moving on to the final choir.
Arilena has the experience to succeed too. Since winning The X Factor Albania in 2013, she has become one of the country’s biggest stars, with more than 1.1 million followers on Instagram. Her single Nentori has also been successful in Russia and Romania, which means she will be familiar to voters.
Can James Newman beat her? No. Shaj is one of the top favorites among Eurovision watchers and looks set for a top five.
Latvia: Samanta Tina – Still breathing
Samanta Tina was chosen as candidate for Eurovision in Latvia on her fifth attempt; and heads to Rotterdam with a shrill hymn to women’s empowerment.
It begins well. Tina’s voice sizzles with attitude and she seems to be building a killer refrain. But then she deploys the “pop drop” – swapping the melody for a distorted and heavily filtered synth.
It is a technique that has arrived, peaked and exceeded its reception in the space of about six months in 2015; and completely kills the momentum of this indebted Gaga bop.
His rap in the middle of the eight years does not improve things; and the whole business eventually collapsed like a puff that was pushed by Paul Hollywood.
Can James Newman beat her? If there is justice, yes.
Australia: Montaigne – Don’t Break Me
Australia takes Eurovision very seriously – ranking four times in the Top 10 in the past five years – and this year is no exception.
Their participant is the winner of the Aria Montaigne prize whose song, Don’t Break Me, is a dramatically turned story of tortured love. Driven by beating drums and soaring choirs (“You thought I was elastic / But maybe I’m just glass “) the track sounds distinctly like the work of another Australian pop star, Sia.
The singer’s presence on stage is as striking as her song. She wears Elizabethan flounces in reference to the humanist philosopher Michel de Montaigne (whose name she bears), while her complex choreography will keep the Eurovision film crews on their toes.
Can James Newman beat her? Unlikely.
France: Tom Leeb – The best of me
France has not won the Eurovision since 1977 and Tom Leeb is not about to change that.
Best In Me is as gray and uninspiring as dishwater, with a tasteless word about someone who is “the air I breathe”.
He even won the disapproval of the French Minister of Culture, Franck Riester, who criticized the English-speaking chorus of the song for having damaged the “pride” of the country.
“It broke my ears,” he told parliament earlier this month.
Can James Newman beat him? Yes, but maybe he should sing the bridge in French.
Czech Republic: Benny Cristo – Kemama
Professional jiu-jitsu competitor Benny Cristo has a successful sideline as a musician in the Czech Republic, scoring four number one singles and selling the Prague O2 arena since its emergence in 2009.
His entry, Kemama, is a joyous celebration of life, even in the face of prejudice. “I don’t care if they don’t like me, I just danced,” he sings to a funky impulse from Afrobeat.
But Cristo, whose father is Angolan, admitted that the song had made him the target of new abuses. “Racism is far from over even when you are trying to represent the country you were born in,” he wrote on Instagram, while announcing plans to re-record Kemama in Kenya “to get the song across. higher level”.
It could certainly do some work. The current version stays in the same groove for three minutes, bubbling pleasantly without real moments of rupture.
Can James Newman beat him? Both songs seem destined for the bottom half of the scoreboard, but James’ track still has the edge.
Belgium: Hooverphonic – Release Me
It could be the dark horse of the competition. Hooverphonic is one of the biggest bands in Belgium, with nine albums among the top 10 since their appearance on the trip-hop scene in 1995.
Release Me has the sound of a vintage Bond theme, all sensual strings and descending chord sequences, while singer Luka Cruysberghs pleads with humor to be released from a doomed relationship.
“It’s not good to make me stay,” she sings. “All the lies and all the pain / Only you can make them go away.“
It’s almost too good for Eurovision, which probably means it’s doomed.
Can James Newman beat them? In a perfect world, no. At Eurovision, yes.
Norway: Ulrikke Brandstorp – Attention
Ulrikke Brandstorp had to contend with 24 other candidates to be selected as Norwegian candidate for Eurovision – and his progression in competition was provoked by controversy after the voting system crashed, leaving a reserve jury to decide who reached the final.
But the bumpy journey will be very useful to him with regard to Rotterdam, as will his television experience of the Norwegian versions of Pop Idol and The Voice.
Her song is another love ballad, but she takes a calm approach – with Brandstorp transmitting a delicate vulnerability as his voice floats in octaves.
It’s not as immediate as some of the other songs, but could easily catch fans in the semi-finals.
Can James Newman beat her? Probably not – but since one of the co-authors is Christian Ingebrigtsen of the British boyband A1, we could claim it as a partial victory.
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