Only a demented optimist doesn’t feel a sense of hopelessness overwhelm them as the UK’s entry for Eurovision 2020 appears. In fairness to James Newman, the feeling overwhelms you before you actually hear My Last Breath.
Eurovision was never exactly a source of national pride – not even the most swivel-eyed, sunlit-uplands jingoist would attempt to elicit a surge of nostalgic patriotism by mentioning the Brotherhood of Man wowing the foreigners with Save All Your Kisses for Me – but it’s turned into an annual national humiliation. There’s no point blaming resentment about Brexit: we last won 23 years ago. We haven’t even made the Top 10 since 2009, a minor success that was wiped out the following year when nobody at all voted for the UK’s entry. Our latter-day lot at Eurovision is to end up in the chastening low 20s.
Various explanations have been mooted, including conspiracy theories about geographical voting. The truth is that we haven’t sent a memorable song in decades: try and hum the chorus of Joe and Jake’s You’re Not Alone (No 24, 2016), or Michael Rice’s Bigger Than Us (No 26, 2019). The problem is that we don’t really care. For some nations, Eurovision provides the solitary bit of widespread exposure their native pop music gets, which isn’t the case for the UK. Or at least we don’t care until we lose, and then we clamber on the sideboard and start angrily bellowing Rule, Britannia! and shouting that it’s all a fix.
Is My Last Breath going to change this? Probably not. It’s a serviceable song that nods to the earnest post-Ed Sheeran acoustic troubadours exemplified by Lewis Capaldi and to the tub-thumping folksiness of Mumford & Sons’ debut album; the chorus throws in some Coldplay-ish massed “woah-oh”ing. You can see the logic: these artists represent three of Britain’s most successful musical exports of recent years. My Last Breath wouldn’t sound out of place on the Radio 2 playlist – but nor would it stand out on the Radio 2 playlist. The hook is OK, rather than indelible.
The main sense of intrigue about My Last Breath comes from the man singing it: Newman has a successful career as a songwriter, having been employed by Jess Glynne, Little Mix and Rudimental. You look at his track record and think: you’re doing pretty well, so why are you doing this? Why would you want to subject yourself to what is almost inevitably going to happen on 16 May in Rotterdam? Do you think this is the song to turn our fortunes around? Or are you possessed of some crazed, masochistic desire to give a succession of brave smiles to camera and half-heartedly wave a little union jack on a stick as Bosnia-Herzegovina give the UK a desultory deux points and we’re left for dust on the leaderboard by the Republic of Macedonia?