Representing the UK at Eurovision can be a thankless task, with artists usually returning home with their tails between their legs, and often fading into obscurity shortly after.
Could James Newman, fresh off his "Nil Points" be the force that turns the tide for the UK?
Eurovision aside, James Newman is an accomplished and award winning songwriter, winning the 2014 Brit Award for British Single of the Year as a co-writer of 'Waiting All Night', a drum and bass hit for the band Rudimental.
Chosen by the BBC to represent the UK in 2020, James clearly approached Eurovision with positivity and hope from day one, embracing the fact that Eurovision is a celebration of music and unity, with the intention of spreading a little joy.
With no national selection in 2021, James was given a second chance to light up the room. In he came, all guns, or should that be trumpets, blazing.
Embers was a boppy little pop number, with elements of soul that in James’ own words, would give people something to dance to, “if only in their kitchen.”
Trademark smile and gold chain aside, the staging needed major work. James is an award winning songwriter, he deserved more than two big trumpets and a poor imitation of epic sax guy, with far from epic trumpeters.
James’ face was a picture at the end of his performance, he was absolutely in the Eurovision zone with his off the cuff shouts into the crowd of “Yes Europe, yes, come on, we love you Europe!”
As the votes rolled in it became clear that 2021 was not the year for the UK’s triumphant return to the top, or even the top of the right hand side of the board. Zero public votes, zero jury votes, and yet something magical was about to happen...
When the UK were announced as dead last, with two sets of zero points, a little Eurovision magic filled the air.
High on the love from the crowd and his passion for the competition, James took his defeat with absolute humility and sincerity. Jumping out of his seat, still with drink in hand, he stirred up the crowd to rapturous cheers and a standing ovation which to many was one of the stand out moments of the night.
James’ grace and sportsmanship gave the subsequent zero point receiving countries, and the audience, permission and freedom to make light of the moment, the true spirit of Eurovision.
Tensions were running high until that moment, you could see it in the hosts' faces, and James’ gracious response lightened the atmosphere and brought pure joy back into the room.
And so to Home
How was James welcomed back into the UK?
Well The litmus test here has to be the universally vicious UK tabloids. Lets compare with the only other UK Eurovision act to gain nil points, the ill fated Jemini with ‘Cry Baby’ in 2003.
They returned to the UK to criticism and faced headlines such as “a dog of a song performed by cream curdling banshees” (Daily Mail). The very same newspaper welcomed James Newman home with a gentle reflection on the performance as an artist who “tried his hardest.”
Infamous critic of all things and all people, Piers Morgan, took a swipe at James Newman on twitter, a swipe that was quickly and politely rebuffed by both James and his ever growing legion of fans. Are the more cynical UK attitudes to Eurovision changing? Things do seem to be turning.
Rising From the Embers
There are a plethora of Eurovision songs doing well on the charts in the UK but it was special to see James make the charts at no.47. Something most artists going to Eurovision would be thrilled with.
‘Embers’ also peaked at the number two spot and has been a steady presence since the final, it has had over 5 million streams on Spotify and 3 million YouTube views.
Chris Martin also reached out to him following the result with James saying,
“He told me to not take the result personally, said I was amazing and told me to keep my chin up... he’s an amazing songwriter so it made me feel so much better.”
Who would have thought this possible for a song that "bombed" with zero points?
Usually following a Eurovision flop there are calls among the more casual, possibly more cynical, viewers that it is all political and Brexit has done nothing to improve the situation, indeed it has fanned the flames of discontent.
Not this time though, not under James’ watch. Brits love an underdog and James took his defeat with grace and style.
His humility took him from being the biggest loss of the night to the biggest boss of the night, which will live on in Eurovision legend.
Out of the ashes, perhaps somewhat prophetically, James’ defeat seems to have sparked the Embers for Eurovision love and, dare we suggest success, in the UK.