You are currently viewing 🇬🇧 Editorial: Take The Wrongs & Make Them Right – Why The UK Shouldn’t Give Up Now

Image Credit: EBU // Sarah Louise Bennett

*The opinions made in this article only reflect those of the writer; it is not representative of the views of the entire Phoenix team, the EBU, Eurovision or the BBC*

On May 13th 2023, the world watched as Liverpool welcomed them to the Grand Final of Eurovision 2023. All eyes were on the UK’s Mae Muller – the host entry – to deliver another stellar result as Sam Ryder did in 2022.

Alas, the UK found itself back at the bottom of the scoreboard in 25th place with just 24 points, a less than ideal result in comparison to the hype leading up to the Grand Final.

With so much expectation for Mae to do well, it’s not surprising that the tide has turned against her and the contest a little – but it shouldn’t, and the UK must continue with their current trajectory of finally getting how to compete in a modern Eurovision, no matter the result.

Here’s our analysis of the United Kingdom in Eurovision 2023, and the future of the country in the contest.

Reflecting On 2022

It’s hard not to mention Eurovision 2022 in this article, as it formed a huge part of the BBC’s strategy and process for Eurovision 2023.

First of all, tactics were changed – introducing TaP Music into the fold to help select and manage the UK’s entry. This resulted in the selection of Sam Ryder and the song ‘Space Man’, which saw the UK skyrocket to 2nd place with 466 points, winning the jury and coming 5th in the televote. You can read our analysis on 2022 below:

‘Space Man’ was beaten by ‘Stefania’ by Ukraine’s Kalush Orchestra, but due to the war in Ukraine, unfortunately the EBU deemed them unable to host the contest. Therefore hosting rights fell to the United Kingdom as runners up, with Liverpool selected as the host city.

Eurovision Comes To Liverpool

When Liverpool was selected, the UK collaborated with Ukrainian broadcaster UA:PBC to bring Ukraine’s culture and influence to the contest whilst it was hosted outside of the country. It marked the first Eurovision to be hosted in the UK since 1998, when it headed to Birmingham after Katrina & the Waves won with ‘Love Shine A Light‘.

Eurovision comes to Liverpool // Credit: AV Magazine

For the show, the Head of Delegation for the United Kingdom, Andrew Cartmell, was given the role of Executive Producer, and delegation member Lee Smithurst became Head of Show. This meant they weren’t part of the UK’s delegation for 2023 due to focusing on the contests production – meaning Adam Wydrzynski stepped in to become the HoD for the UK.

Mae Muller’s Selection & Rumours

Ahead of the UK’s reveal, things seemed pretty silent on the behalf of the BBC. Rumours began to build pretty rapidly towards the beginning of 2023, with names such as Ellie Goulding and Birdy thrown into the mix, although most fans focused on Rina Sawayama.

The Rina Sawayama rumour was sparked back in January, when TaP Music’s Ben Mawson & Ed Millet spoke out about their process for selecting an artist for Eurovision 2023, with Ed stating they “should, perhaps, not have a guy” (the last woman the UK sent to the contest was SuRie in 2018), and Ben mentioning that “what defines a Brit is fairly open – there’s a broad multicultural population”. Rina also teased fans on her TikTok about the rumour, as people looked for any clue possible that pointed to her as the UK’s 2023 artist. There were also rumours that suggested she’d send her song ‘Frankenstein’, although Ben Mawson denied this in a now-deleted reply to a comment on Instagram.

Despite the Rina rumour, it all turned out to be false when Mae Muller was revealed as the UK’s artist on BBC Radio 2 on March 8th 2023. Her song, aptly titled ‘I Wrote A Song’, had been teased on her TikTok, with Eurovision fans picking up on her potential to be the entry days before the announcement. Mae rose to prominence in 2019 after supporting Little Mix on tour, and since has gone on to have success in both the UK and USA. Her music had over 500m streams on Spotify, and with 7m monthly listeners she was the most regularly streamed artist of the class of 2023 on the platform. You can read more about Mae in the article below:

‘I Wrote A Song’

Mae’s song was written by herself, alongside Karen Poole and Lewis Thompson. It has a sarcastic tone lyrically and feels distinctly ‘British’ – the type of song you could hear on the popular TV programme Love Island, and all over the radio in Summer. The ‘British’ feel was only amplified by the spoken word section, which was later changed for the contest, where Mae’s accent was clear to hear.

In it’s first day of release, ‘I Wrote A Song’ went straight to the top of the UK iTunes chart, and was streamed 172,000 times. It debuted at #56 on the UK’s Spotify chart, and surpassed 1 million views of the offical music video within 4 days, hitting the same milestone a day later on Spotify. A week after it’s release, it became the first UK entry since Blue in 2011 to debut within the official chart’s Top 40, reaching #30. Mae also got a 10 minute prime-time slot on BBC1, where she was interviewed by Scott Mills and had the music video played in full, so the general public could get to know more about her.

There were concerns that the song may not translate well to a live performance, which was backed up by the BBC’s lack of having Mae perform the song live prior to the pre-parties. In comparison to Sam, who performed ‘Space Man’ on The One Show the day it was released, ‘I Wrote A Song’ was first performed at Barcelona Eurovision Party. Mae performed the song at the Madrid, Warsaw and London preparties also, but still didn’t have a professional and promotional TV performance of the song for fans to judge by, resulting in many criticisms being made towards her based on fan-filmed videos or live stream quality videos about her vocals, style and stage presence.

This criticism then caught the attention of the media, who already had it out for Mae after old tweets resurfaced pointing towards her political opinions and comments about the governments response to the COVID-Pandemic, which saw an onslaught of hate directed to her specifically from right-wing media personalities and channels. The Daily Mail, who were one of the leading media sources peddling this rhetoric towards Mae, decided to use a video of her from Warsaw, with the headline ‘Nul Points! Eurovision hopeful Mae Muller is savaged after forgetting the words to her OWN song as she performs ahead of the competition’ – yet another reflection of how tabloid media still refuse to open up to supporting the contest & artists that the UK send. You can read more about this in our 2022 review of the British media’s attitude towards the contest below.

One specific quote, which was taken out of context, was Mae’s opinion on the government’s policies to help feed children facing poverty in the UK. You can see the full tweet with it’s context below.

Mae’s tweet was boiled down to the ‘I hate this country’ part, with many questioning why she’d represent a country she allegedly hated. Mae responded to the comments in The Times, clarifying her stance on that specific tweet when asked if she had regrets about tweeting it:

No [I don’t regret it], because that’s how I felt.

I do, though, regret people taking them out of context. Me saying, “I hate this country: is not ideal as I am representing this country. But I love where I’m from, it’s a privilege to be born here and that’s why I felt strongly. We deserve the best and at that time this amazing country wasn’t getting the best. We were being let down.

Mae Muller, The Times

Eurovision 2023

Mae was drawn to perform 26th at Eurovision at the head of delegations meeting back in March. As the joint host country alongside 2022 winners Ukraine, Ukarinian Head of Delegation Oksana Skybinska pulled Mae’s position at random, seeing the UK be chosen to close the show.

Mae’s first rehearsal images recieved a positive reception from fans, with many noting that the staging was equivalent of one you’d see at an award show such as the BRITs. Mae was stood on a platform for the beginning on the song before moving down to the main stage for the second half, ending with lots of pyro. There were some criticisms about her outift, but Mae brushed them off, explaining why she chose to go for black rather than colour to match her LED’s:

I think some people were like ‘oh I wasn’t expecting Mae to be wearing black!’, I think for some people it was a suprise but I think because everything is so colourful I thought it would be cool to just kind of contrast that a little bit

Mae Muller, TikTok Live with Timur Miroshnychenko

Mae Muller’s first rehearsal // Credit: EBU // Sarah Louise Bennett and Corinne Cumming

On TikTok on Saturday, May 6th, Eurovision posted a short preview of each of the Big 5s rehearsals, and it appeared that there was a male backing singer seemingly louder than Mae’s lead vocal coming across, which saw worries from fans that it would sound like that on the official feed. Mae responded to concerns, saying it was a techincal issue. Eurovision then deleted this TikTok, delaying the exclusive rehearsal clips until later that evening. However, when the video was finally published, there was no UK rehearsal clip – the description stated technical difficulties meant the UK’s clip would be published at a later date. However as Eurovision week approached, there was no sign or updates on the UK’s rehearsal – leaving them as the only country of all 37 to not have an officially released ‘as seen on TV’ clip.

This meant the first anyone got to see of Mae’s performance was the video uploaded from the Semi Final 2 Evening Preview. The response to this wasn’t too positive, with the sound being ciriticsed for bad mixing, as well as Mae’s vocals being questioned by fans. On a personal note, I was in the arena for the Evening Preview, and within the arena – which has also been noted by many others who attended this show, the final jury show and grand final – ‘I Wrote A Song’ sounded completely fine, as did Mae’s vocals. The crowd were singing along to every word, her microphone was louder than the backing track, and everything looked and sounded fine. However, on TV it was a different story. There were a huge lack of pre-recorded or live backing vocals, and Mae’s microphone volume seemed a lot lower than the music, which also didn’t seem to have much power.

These issues unfortunately carried over to the Grand Final, where it seemed to fall flat. In the voting, ‘I Wrote A Song’ recieved just 24 points – 9 from the public and 15 from the jury. The only juries to have the UK in their top 10 were Denmark, Ireland, Sweden, Finland and Ukraine. The only countries that voted for the UK in the televote were Malta and Ukraine. Alternatively, the UK came last with 12 of the televoting countries – this doesn’t mean no one picked up the phone to vote, but the song clearly had not translated to European viewers.

What Went Right?

Mae’s staging was done by Black Skull Creative & Marvin Dietmann, who were also responsible for Sam Ryder’s 2022 staging. For the UK – in comparison to previous years – this staging was something fresh, unique and modern. As mentioned, it had that award show feel, and despite it being one of the many LED’s in 2023 to feature the artist’s face, it was arguably the staging that executed this look best. Having pyro was a good sign, and the colourful vibe and optical-illusion style floor LED’s helped to fill any empty space. There was also the addition of 4 dancers, who wore red to compliment the black outfit Mae had chosen to wear.

Image Credit: EBU / Sarah Louise Bennett

Unlike what we were seeing in previous years prior to 2022, this staging – whilst having issues – is one of the best the UK has presented in the last 5 years. Whilst 2018 had a simple LED beam runway, 2019 had a galaxy projection and on-stage backing singers and 2021 had those now infamous polystyrene trumpets, both Mae & Sam had presented stagings that looked suitable for the song and in-keeping with the changing face of Eurovision in the current decade.

We also must talk about the song as a studio track. ‘I Wrote A Song’ was one of the most current-sounding tracks the UK have sent, which showed when it started gaining regular airplay across radio in the country – specifically on the Global network, which saw it hit number #8 in the Big Top 40. Even post contest, ‘I Wrote A Song’ is still being played, amassing 17 million streams between March & July.

The attitude towards Mae after the contest also shifted. There was a notable lack of the usual excuses that everyone hates the UK & votes against them because of politics – the general public actually noted the issues they had noticed with the performance, and some even started making decent suggestions at what the next steps could be instead of demanding that the UK sends a girl group from RuPaul’s Drag Race UK or an artist who peaked 25 years ago. From different genres to distinct acts, the public began to notice one thing – the songs that did best this year came from artists who were relatively well known or had existing fanbases (Loreen, Marco Mengoni, Noa Kirel), had managed to build hype before the contest had began (Alessandra’s ‘Queen Of Kings’ for example had gone viral on TikTok even prior to her win at Melodi Grand Prix), and were extremely unique, and got the audience on board from the very first second (The ‘Cha Cha Cha’ effect).

What Went Wrong?

First of all, we have to mention the serious lack of backing vocal support. Whilst there was a backing vocalist, it was simply too quiet. With Eurovision now allowing pre-recorded backing vocals, you have to question exactly why the BBC didn’t utilise them to their maximum potential. Poland for example made sure Blanka had support from these pre-recorded vocals during ‘Solo’, Israel utilised them for the entire final section of ‘Unicorn’, Finland made sure they were prevalent during the sections of ‘Cha Cha Cha’ that required them most – so why didn’t the UK? If they were relying on the home crowd, then in the arena you wouldn’t think anything was wrong, but even on television the parts where the crowd had been loudest just weren’t coming across on TV. This left the song sounding completely flat until the very final chorus.

Speaking of the pre-recorded vocals – when you have a soloist who isn’t the strongest live vocalist in the contest, which is something that had been seen by the team on the pre-party tour, why would you not take advantage of what’s on offer? Whilst you may not pick up much jury support, the televote don’t seem to pick up on vocal issues as much, so use what’s available – even if it may lose you a couple of points with one section of the vote. Mae’s vocal has been heavily criticised, although we do have to take into account that nerves play a huge part in a vocal performance. There’s also a uniqueness to her vocal, and this can often make a listener believe that she was off-key when in fact she was in tune, but the harshness of the songs key to an untrained ear doesn’t help when you’re relying on audience votes. There’s also the unfortunate task of following on from Sam Ryder – who had won the jury in 2022 and had an extremely powerful and versatile vocal range which Mae doesn’t possess. She has also addressed this on Twitter:

[Not going to lie] anyone who tries to drag me for my vocals at Eurovision is wasting their time [because] I already know they were trash. I got nervous and ya girl didn’t give her best performance vocally and that’s okay.

Mae Muller on her Eurovision performance.

One of the biggest issues when it comes to the Mae vs. Sam debate is that straight after Mae’s performance and the recap, Sam Ryder performed ‘Mountain’ as the interval – leading many British viewers to comment “why couldn’t we send him again?”. This was also an unfortunate scheduling issue – with Mae’s position being drawn at the delegation meeting, there was no way that Sam’s interval couldn’t have been directly after hers.

Whilst we’re on the topic of Sam, we must also note the differences in both of their camera cuts. In comparison to Sam, Mae had more close up shots – but they lasted just over a minute combined, whereas Sam’s lasted for more than half of the song, and these shots were more prolonged than the quick close ups we had of Mae. Mae’s far away camera cuts lasted combined for almost 2 minutes of the song (which is 3 minutes long), and didn’t give the audience a chance to see her personality or connect with her as a performer, unlike Sam, who’s close ups lasted a similar amount of time and wide shots lasted just over a minute. Relying on the face-LED’s can only go so far, and being able to see the artist is so important when sending such a televote friendly song. Mae is clearly a charismatic performer, but the far away camera shots didn’t allow for those at home to feel like they could get to know her. She simply got lost on a big stage and in the production, which was unfortunately a detrimental issue when it came to voting.

Performing a ‘girl bop’ style track doesn’t always need a Chanel or Eleni Foureira style dance routine – but when you don’t focus on the dancing to wow the viewers, the reliance is on how the singer vocally carries the song and makes that direct connection with the viewer at home, which Mae didn’t have the opportunity to do. We couldn’t see her having fun with the track or really conveying the lyrics, as there wasn’t enough to time to fully see her before it cut back to a wide shot.

What Do The UK Do Next?

The goal is to not give up. As mentioned, the public’s attitude has continued to change even despite a poor result. This means that, despite a bad result, the outlook overall for 2024 is far more positive than it was for the outlook for 2022 after James Newman received 0 points. Just like 2021, the UK should take this result as a ‘dust yourself off and try again’ situation.

The UK is also in a unique position – Sam Ryder is still having an extremely successful career post Eurovision, with Mae Muller gearing up to go on tour and release her debut album ‘Sorry I’m Late’ in the Autumn. She’s also performed at UK-based Summer concerts Capital FM’s Summer Time Ball and Hits Live, has been booked to perform at multiple festivals, and is still getting regularly played on the radio. The last two UK artists are still very much in the public eye despite having such different results at the contest, and are proving to naysayers that Eurovision does not, in fact, ruin careers.

In 2024, the old delegation – who left to produce the show – are expected to return to take the reigns, and whilst TaP music are ‘still waiting for the invitation’ for 2024, both Lee and Andrew have expressed previously their desire to continue with a string of entries the public can be proud of, and reflect the current musical landscape in the UK.

As previously mentioned, there’s also been a shift in the publics response to the contest and the songs within it. A week after the contest, 4 songs placed in the Official Charts top 10 for the first time ever – ‘Queen Of Kings’ placed at #10, ‘I Wrote A Song’ re-peaked at #9, ‘Cha Cha Cha’ charted at #6 (becoming the first Finnish langauge song to ever place within the top 10 of the UK charts) and ‘Tattoo’ marked Loreens highest ever chart placement, out-peaking ‘Euphoria‘ (which charted at #3) and placing at #2. ‘Tattoo’ also remained in the top 10 of the UK’s charts for 4 weeks, and the top 15 for six – something rarely seen for Eurovision winners. It’s clear the general public do care about the contest, and embrace it’s music post-final.

By adopting the attitude of “giving up”, the UK can only go backwards – which is the worst thing to do at this moment in time. In Eurovision, simply, some people win, and others lose – and it all has to be judged on a year by year basis.

2024 is an opportunity to go forward, show up to Malmö and let Europe know that the UK are not deterred by the result they recieved in Liverpool. We can only have faith that the BBC will continue this new era for the UK and look forward to seeing what they’ll present next year…

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