Would you like the opportunity to perform your music in front of a televised audience of 125 million people? For Molly Smitten-Downes, it was a loaded question: the exposure would be amazing but would Eurovision be the right vehicle for her? After endless shows at London’s best singer-songwriter venues; numerous best unsigned artist awards; a show supporting Bombay Bicycle Club;...
Would you like the opportunity to perform your music in front of a televised audience of 125 million people? For Molly Smitten-Downes, it was a loaded question: the exposure would be amazing but would Eurovision be the right vehicle for her? After endless shows at London’s best singer-songwriter venues; numerous best unsigned artist awards; a show supporting Bombay Bicycle Club; and making the long-list at Glastonbury’s emerging talent competition; it wasn’t an opportunity that Molly had ever had ever even considered.
That question – delivered by e-mail after the London-based musician had uploaded her new song Strange Alien to the new music initiative BBC Introducing – prompted an immediate reaction. “I was really flattered, but it wasn’t really where I was at in my career,” recalls Molly, noting similar interest from the producers of The X-Factor and The Voice. “So I said thanks, but no thanks.”
Nonetheless, Molly was invited to the BBC to discuss the idea. After the campaigns lead by Engelbert Humperdinck and Bonnie Tyler ended unspectacularly, they revealed that their priority was to find a new artist who could take on Europe. There were no stylistic limitations to follow. “They were looking for someone who was also a songwriter, and that was cool because I felt I’d have some control over it. I went into the meeting thinking ‘no’ and ended up doing a complete U-turn.”
Suddenly enthused by the idea, Molly called her regular collaborator, the Swedish producer Anders Hansson, to discuss the idea. “Sometimes you have to follow your heart rather than your head and I just thought that I had to try it. And to be honest, I guessed that they were talking to other people too, so I wasn’t really thinking that I’d get it. We thought it would be an enjoyable process and something would come of it, even if it was just a great song.”
She spent the next two days working at home on half-a-dozen ideas for the project and then sent a demo of the strongest song, Children of the Universe, to Hansson. Initially concerned by the producer’s silence, he eventually called to say that he loved the track – and better still, he was willing to fund an accompanying orchestral arrangement for it. A week later, Molly and Hansson were reunited in Stockholm to start work on the final version.
The song’s Eurovision-friendly vibe of uplifting positivity was inspired by Max Ehrmann’s poem Desiderata. “As it says, I believe that we’re all important in some way, and that we all have a part to play in something bigger,” she explains. “We just have to follow our heart and our instinct and see what happens.”
Still eager to emphasise just how satisfied she with the finished song, Molly sent it out for consideration and waited for an answer. Eventually the call came – she had been selected, but could she keep the news to herself for the time being? “After that I just went back to rehearsals with my band. It was the most restrained excitement that I’ve ever felt.”
From now until the big night in Copenhagen, Molly’s schedule is full with rehearsals (“We have three minutes to captivate the world”) and, she expects, the odd sleepless night. Despite the all-encompassing demands of Eurovision, she’s still planning to continue to work on her solo material and play with her band (a stripped back line-up in which she’s accompanied by a harpist and a violinist) as usual.
Considered to be one of this year’s most likely winners, Molly’s Children of the Universe is the first British Eurovision entry to be entirely self-written by the performing artist since Katrina and the Waves triumphed in 1997. If she wins – and she’s already dreaming of the possibility – she’ll be just the sixth representative from the United Kingdom to win the main prize in the competition’s fifty-nine year history.
For Molly, the greatest benefit of Eurovision is that she’ll finally be able to achieve her lifelong ambition of releasing an album – and she already has dozens of songs written for possible inclusion, with elements of everything from country to dubstep feeding into a core pop sound.
“I want to change preconceptions of Eurovision and make people who think it isn’t cool to think, ‘this is actually quite good’. And I want the people of the UK to be proud of me,” she concludes. “But Eurovision is part of my journey: it’s not the journey itself.”