When asked to write the lyrics for the UK entry for this year’s Eurovision Song Contest, Diane Warren knew little of this great cultural institution.
“I had heard of the contest and knew that Abba won it but you don’t see much about it in the US. I’ll be doing some more research when I get back to LA,” she says. “But it was such an honour to be asked to write with Andrew. How could I say no to that?”
She has in fact worked with many singers who have taken part in Eurovision: she is currently working with 1969 UK winner Lulu, and has helped last year’s Russian victor, Dima Bilan. She also wrote the Grammy winner Because You Loved Me for 1988 contest winner Celine Dion. This apart from writing songs for the likes of Elton John, Tina Turner and Barbra Streisand.
Given Diane’s history, with such songs as Toni Braxton’s ‘Unbreak My Heart’ and LeAnn Rimes’ ‘How Will I Live’, the smart money is on the UK song – to be revealed in the final of Your Country Needs You on January 31 – being a ballad. But she is sworn to secrecy about the work in progress, except to reveal that it has a title. “I came up with it while singing the chorus,” she says.
Diane rarely collaborates with other composers but, of working with Andrew, she says: “It’s kind of scary collaborating with someone with such a great reputation. I’ve been working on endless cigarettes, coffee and fear,” she jokes. “But it’s been a lot of fun as well, like two worlds coming together, and you can hear that in the song. It’s a great opportunity to come up with a song that will stand the test of time. I’m getting quite obsessed about it.”
The final song will need to suit all three acts that end up in the final – not an easy task. “Those left at the moment are very good, all so different. The song will be arranged to suit any of them. But that’s the thing about great music, it transcends all genres,” says Diane, who has a star on Hollywood Boulevard.
So how has she adapted to the three-minute limit on Eurovision songs, coming up with a lyric so quickly, and the fact that it has to appeal to a very mixed audience who may only hear it once? “That suits me. I like my songs to be instant. You shouldn’t have to tell the listener that they will get it next time they hear it.”
The choice of Diane Warren as songwriter has caused controversy in some quarters: some have complained that a British person should have been used. To which Andrew replies: “Under Eurovision Song Contest rules, provided I have written the music, I am free to choose a songwriter of any nationality. My first instinct was, of course, to approach a UK songwriter but the people I had in mind simply weren’t available at the right time. I want the UK to have the best possible chance of securing victory at this year’s Eurovision Song Contest and I can’t think of anyone better qualified than Diane Warren to help me write the song.”
It’s not unusual. US R&B star Timbaland helped Dima Bilan to victory last year and the UK’s last winner, Katrina in 1997, was also American-born. Greece last year entered a singer who was clearly raised in the US and before that a performer who, though from a Greek family, had lived most of his life in Finchley! This year Ireland’s Ronan Keating has a song in the Danish final 12. And, of course, Canadian Celine Dion sang for Switzerland, appropriately wearing an outfit modelled on an avalanche and belting it out with all the subtlety of an airport-size bar of Toblerone.
But despite Diane’s recent acquaintance with Eurovision, she plans to go to the contest in Moscow, aware that the UK hasn’t been doing too well of late. “I think our song will change all that,” she says firmly.
Mark Cook (watching Eurovision since 1967)
Mark Cook is a journalist and theatre critic for the Guardian Guide and The Big Issue
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