The final big 5/automatic qualifier in my countdown with a place in my top 10 is my home country the United Kingdom. The BBC held a national selection between 2016 and 2019 but moved to a collaboration with music giant BMG to internally select the artist and song. James Newman was the artist selected, and the BBC kept us guessing well into national final season this year before it was confirmed James would be the 2021 entry. Apparently the decision had been made last summer but it had been kept hidden – maybe to allow BMG, James and the team the space to focus on song production – the lack of news certainly winds up some members of the fandom (to my amusement and bemusement!)
From “My Last Breath” to “Embers”
James’s song in 2020, “My Last Breath” was a mid-tempo catchy pop song that had a very British, radio-friendly sound. Curiously it was also very short – just 2 and a half minutes. Filmed in Scotland (I think!), the music video featured Wim Hof, the Dutch “Iceman”. The staging concepts looked really interesting, I would have loved to have seen them come to fruition. For his 2021 song though, James promised it would be “a banger” as he wanted to do a song you could dance round your kitchen too (given nightclubs are still closed…)
With “Embers”, James has kept his word a delivered a British banger – it’s uptempo, has brass instrumentals, is very radio friendly, feels quite fresh and is the sort of song/sound you’d hear being played over segments of shows like “Love island”. I don’t mean that as a negative either, the contest has a large and growing youthful audience – the songs need to appeal to that generation, not just the older fans.
Singer, songwriter, award winner… and tea drinker
James always comes across as a thoroughly decent bloke. Fiercely proud of being a Yorkshireman, he loves his tea and his cooking and engages positively and proactively with both fans and other artists alike. Some have been saying he won’t be any good live, he’s a bit amateurish etc but (aside from being rude) they haven’t appreciated he’s a successful singer-songwriter, having written songs or collaborated with artists like Calvin Harris, Armin van Buuren and Rudimental (and indeed won a Brit Award as co-writer of Rudimental song “Waiting All Night“). He also happens to be the elder brother of John Newman (who has also written for). He’s got a lovely rich, husky voice that suits a song like “Embers” so well and there’s no doubt he’ll be fine singing live on stage.
Performance chances at the contest
As my friends and colleagues know how much I love Eurovision, I invariably get asked (of the UK entry) “Will we win?” “Oh we’ll never win will we?” (plus “Everyone hates us/it’s all political etc”). This of course misses the point as we know, but the simple answer the UK is unlikely to win this year, but the goal has been to send a credible song, with a credible artist, be contemporary and, ideally, sounding like it came from the UK music scene. I think “Embers” ticks all those boxes. I’m also looking forward to seeing what they come up with for staging this year.
A good result is not guaranteed though – the scoring system means a song can could be voted a respectable 11th out of 26 by every country and still not score any points. I think my concern would be is that this still is quite a safe/solid entry and that while it might be well liked won’t necessarily get the points. But however it does, James has given us a song UK fans can be proud of, and we’ll be dancing to it at Eurovision nights for many years to come.
United Kingdom in the Eurovision Song Contest
First entered: 1957
Appearances (excluding 2020 and this year): 62
Best result: Winner 1967, 1969, 1976, 1981, 1997
2019’s result: 26th (and last)