‘You have to have a skirt rip moment!’ How to win Eurovision

by 24britishtvMay 10, 2024, 3 p.m. 25
-

You’re representing your country in Eurovision. You’ve got a great pop song complete with choreography you’ve spent weeks perfecting. And you’ve got more than 100 million people watching as you take to the stage. It must feel exhilarating, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, right?

“It was the most nerve-racking, trouser-cacking two minutes and 58 seconds of my entire life,” says Katrina Leskanich, whose band Katrina and the Waves won Eurovision for the UK in 1997 with Love Shine a Light. “No matter how many gigs you’ve done before, it just brings out the nerves. There’s so much pressure. You’ve got the country, your label, your family, the people watching you on TV.”

“It was absolutely terrifying and you have to try to turn that into adrenaline,” says Cheryl Baker, who also won for the UK with her band Bucks Fizz back in 1981 with Making Your Mind Up. “Your immediate thought is: ‘I can’t remember the words, I can’t remember the routine.’” Then muscle memory kicks in. “And at the end you think: ‘Blimey, that went quick.’”

Despite Liverpool hosting Eurovision last year – Ukraine was unable to host and Sam Ryder was the 2022 runner-up – it has been 27 years since the UK last won Eurovision. And although we remain joint third in the all-time winners list (matching Luxembourg, the Netherlands and France with five triumphs but behind Ireland and Sweden who both have seven), it somehow feels harder than ever for the UK to win. And yet there is a formula to doing well.

First: make it an event. “It has to be bells and whistles or buxom milkmaids, or babushkas hitting kettle drums,” says Leskanich. “You have to have a gimmick, or have one of those songs that just strikes every chord in every person’s heart. So that they feel the emotion and they get goosebumps. It’s one way or the other.”

Last year’s Eurovision reflected those two approaches. Finnish group Käärijä’s Cha Cha Cha was the runner-up, with a song that ended up sounding like a sea shanty, the singer wearing a green bolero jacket and riding a human centipede like a horse. The winner, Loreen from Sweden with the song Tattoo, featured a powerful melody, memorable staging (she was slotted in what looked like a giant panini press that she pulled apart) and impressive vocals. Käärijä dominated the public vote, but Loreen won as she was popular with both the public and jury.

Käärijä, or Jere Mikael Pöyhönen by his real name, wrote his song in half an hour, after going to a bar with his producer. He says that an important aspect of winning is being genuine. “Eurovision is not only the song, it’s not only the show, it’s the person, you have to be yourself,” he says. “Of course, the song has to be good. You need a special song. If you have a normal song you can’t win.”

The biggest risk? Blending in. “You’ve got to have, dare I say, ‘the skirt moment’,” says Baker, whose winning song memorably featured a skirt rip. “You’ve got to have something that makes it stand out above all the others. And you’ve got to have something that makes the juries and all the people at home want to see it again.”

But the lead-up to the big night is key, too. “It’s not just about the performance, it’s about the promotion, how you sell the entire package,” says Eurovision expert Rob Lilley-Jones. “Therefore you are seeing countries picking artists who are a bit kooky, a bit different, and already have huge social followings.”

Käärijä threw himself into the Eurovision pre-parties, where performances are put on for fans. In the weeks leading up to the contest, his trademark bolero puffer jacket was all over social media. He even brought a truck with a sauna on board to Liverpool so journalists could interview him inside. “Your Eurovision family wants to see you, who you are,” he says. “They don’t want to see or hear only your song.”

Sam Ryder had many of these qualities. His record, Space Man, featured impressive vocals, a Crystal Dome-style staging and unexpected electric guitar-playing. He was also picked to perform 22nd in the running order, when viewership is typically high. And his enthusiasm was evident throughout the contest, says Leskanich. “All the planets were aligned with Sam Ryder,” she says. “He was a great singer. He had a great song. He presented himself enthusiastically and other countries loved him.”

So what are the hopes for Olly Alexander, the UK’s entry? He’s an established artist, with a string of hits over the last decade in the British charts. “I think the song is very good,” says Käärijä.

He’s certainly a strong vocalist, with experience performing live at music festivals such as Glastonbury. “He stays true to his style,” says Gustaph, who came seventh for Belgium with Because of You in last year’s contest. “This seems like a song that could easily be a single of his without Eurovision.”

The staging is also distinctive, described by Olly Alexander’s own team as “a post-apocalyptic dystopian boxing gym locker room, aboard a spaceship hurtling towards Earth through a black hole in 1985”. It features a shower, and homoerotic dance moves that will make the Daily Mail flush with anger. Oh, and camera tricks will make Olly look as if he’s flying from the ceiling. “I think it’s a home run,” says Gustaph. “I’m telling you.”

Leskanich is impressed too. “It’s very, very catchy. And I think it’s a really great commercial song. But the beauty of Eurovision is you never know what’s going to happen on the night. Is he going to be able to stand out against what is now an extremely competitive field?”

While praising Olly’s voice, Baker is concerned about the lack of key change in the song. “When I first heard it, I thought: ‘Yeah, I like this.’ And then it didn’t go anywhere, and that’s what I’m worried about.”

Olly’s participation, and Eurovision itself, has also been overshadowed by controversy. Israel’s Eden Golan has been allowed to participate, despite the ongoing conflict in Gaza. Some fans have said that it has been hypocritical for Israel to be allowed to compete when Russia was blocked after invading Ukraine, although Martin Österdahl, the European Broadcasting Union’s (EBU) executive supervisor overseeing the contest, said in an interview that the situations were “completely different”.

More than 450 queer artists, under the group Queers for Palestine, also wrote an open letter to Alexander asking him to withdraw. He responded that while he supports an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and respects any viewer’s decision to boycott, “it is my current belief that removing myself from the contest wouldn’t bring us any closer to our shared goal”.

It also goes to the heart of what Eurovision tries to position itself as: a friendly music competition between nations. “It’s a bit paradoxical, because as the EBU always say: ‘Oh, we know we’re not political,’” says Eurovision expert James Rowe. “But even if they keep the status quo, which they are this year, that is considered political.”

As for Olly’s opponents, it is a surprisingly open field this year. “We really don’t know who’s going to win,” says Rowe. “Last year we all knew that Sweden and Finland were going to be the top two. The year before I think we all knew it was a foregone conclusion that Ukraine would win. But this year, it is genuinely so open.”

Notable acts for 2024 include Croatia’s Baby Lasagna with Rim Tim Tagi Dim, a catchy record combining rap, rock and techno (plus a smoke machine and pyrotechnics on overdrive) and Switzerland’s Nemo with The Code, which combines rap and opera (I know, but trust me it works.) There’s also Ireland’s Bambie Thug, whose electrifying witchcraft-themed performance Doomsday Blue provided Ireland’s first qualification to the final since 2018.

What advice would Katrina give to Olly? “Well, whenever I get really, really nervous I think: ‘We’re all going to be dead … someday,’” she says. “I know it’s not a very bright thing to say to somebody, but if you’re aware that there’s an end date on you and your life, you tend to take it not so seriously and try to have more fun.”

After winning Eurovision 1997 in Dublin, she celebrated by drinking black velvets (champagne and Guinness mixed together) until 3am. Then she woke up two hours later to do breakfast TV.

“I would recommend having a nice stiff drink before you go on, and several once your performance is done,” she says.

Eurovision Song Contest final is on BBC One on 11 May at 8pm.

-

Related Articles

HOT TRENDS

Kamaal Williams accused of sexual assault by three women

by 24britishtvMay 23, 2024, 3 p.m.2
HOT TRENDS

Outnumbered: BBC sitcom to return for Christmas special

by 24britishtvMay 23, 2024, 3 p.m.2
HOT TRENDS

Serie A turns to Allied Sports to accelerate US growth

by 24britishtvMay 23, 2024, 3 p.m.2
HOT TRENDS

Kamaal Williams accused of sexual assault by three women

by 24britishtvMay 23, 2024, 2 p.m.2
HOT TRENDS

Jersey approves plans for assisted dying

by 24britishtvMay 23, 2024, 2 p.m.2
HOT TRENDS

Jeremy Corbyn: Labour shortlists two for Islington North seat

by 24britishtvMay 23, 2024, 2 p.m.2
HOT TRENDS

Buying London review: High-value homes with a very low denominator

by 24britishtvMay 23, 2024, 1 p.m.2
HOT TRENDS

Nigel Farage rules out standing for Reform UK in general election

by 24britishtvMay 23, 2024, 1 p.m.2
HOT TRENDS

Is it safe for Jews to vote Labour?

by 24britishtvMay 23, 2024, 1 p.m.2
HOT TRENDS

Charlie Colin: Founder of US rock band Train dies aged 58

by 24britishtvMay 23, 2024, 1 p.m.2
HOT TRENDS

Why today's Google Doodle is celebrating the accordion

by 24britishtvMay 23, 2024, noon2
HOT TRENDS

LEGA SERIE A USA TAPS ALLIED SPORTS FOR NORTH AMERICAN COMMERCIAL SALES

by 24britishtvMay 23, 2024, midnight2
HOT TRENDS

Novak Djokovic wins on 37th birthday to advance at Geneva Open

by 24britishtvMay 23, 2024, midnight2
HOT TRENDS

Atlanta United Forms Brand Partnership with MARTA | Atlanta United FC

by 24britishtvMay 22, 2024, 11 p.m.2