entertainment

Eurovision 2019: UK entry Michael Rice on bullying, LGBT representation, and Israel controversy

The 21-year-old will represent the UK with empowering anthem 'Bigger Than Us' during Saturday's live grand final.

2019-05-15

It feels like only yesterday the clucking fierce Netta was lifting the trophy in Lisbon, but Eurovision Song Contest 2019 is already upon us, as another young British singer seeks to send Great Britain on the path to victory (or at least the left-hand side of the results table).

This year the task has fallen on 21-year-old Michael Rice, whose version of empowering 'Bigger Than Us' saw him win the backing of the British public in Eurovision: You Decide earlier this year.

'Bigger Than Us' is certainly anthemic enough to do some damage in Tel Aviv during the Eurovision grand final on Saturday (18 May), and the message of diversity and inclusion on display in the official video is sure to score it points with the competition's committed LGBTQ fanbase.

Having risen to prominence by winning BBC singing competiton All Together Now last year, Michael certainly knows how to handle the big occasions, and Attitude caught up with the Hartlepool-born singer ahead of the final to talk bullying, LGBTQ representation, and the controversy surrounding the competition being hosted in Israel this year...

How have the last few weeks been for you since winning You Decide?

It’s been absolutely crazy. We’ve been doing TV all over Europe, the fans have been amazing. We’ve had The Graham Norton Show, Lorraine... it’s been amazing and I’m really thankful.

What’s the response been like to ‘Bigger Than Us’ from European fans?

It’s absolutely been received so well. I think they’ve really got the message behind it and connecting with it: the LGBT community, anyone who’s been bullied or feels that they’re different... the song really reaches out to them and that’s what I wanted to get across. 

It was a different selection process this year, with two artists putting their own spin on one song: what was it about the song that you personally connected with? 

Well when I first had the song I instantly fell in love with it, and once it’s blaring through the stadium in Tel Aviv it’s going to sound incredible. It’s just a real anthem, really powerful and it’ll hopefully connect with a lot of people.

Were you a Eurovision fan before entering the completion?

Yeah, I remember I used to watch it on the TV with me mam when I was growing up. What I loved was that very winner is totally different every year. It’s totally unpredictable, so even just to be in this position now representing the country is such a huge honour. I remember my first memory of Eurovision was me mam showing me ABBA ‘Waterloo’ on the computer. So Eurovision’s been a big part of my life.

Obviously the goal is always to win, but do you have a specific placing or position you’re aiming for? 

I think everyone’s in it to win it, definitely. I think there’d not be much point in the competition if you weren’t going out there to win! We haven’t been on the left hand side [of the results table] in a while and I think that’s one of the main goals. Top 10 would be absolutely fantastic. But I’m gonna sing my heart out, and I’ve had lots of involvement with the stadium to make sure it’s all as big as possible and looks amazing. I think we’re definitely going to shock a lot of people with the staging, I think it’s going to be incredible. 

What can you tell us anything about it? 

We’ve got five big powerhouse vocalists from Sweden, who are really gonna hit it out the park. So that’s how we’ll recreated the choir backing vocal on the song, and three of them were actually the original singers on the track. The lights - it’s gonna be big and look amazing. It’s definitely not just going to be me stood there! 

The video for ‘Bigger Than Us’ is one of the best we’ve seen for a British entrant in a while, and it’s great to see LGBTQ representation in there. How did it come together?

I think everyone’s suffered from bullying or some kind of hate, and most of my friends are gay or lesbian, and I really wanted to get across that it doesn’t matter who you are or what you look like, we’re all the same people. It’s all about acceptance. I think we wanted to make the story have as much impact in three minutes as possible.  With everything that’s going on in the world at the moment, like in Brunei, and this year more than ever I think the LGBT community are really getting a hard time, and I totally wanted to get that across because my friends are gay and lesbian and people still ask them ‘Why are you gay?’ and it’s not right. 

And you actually went back to your own school to shoot it, right?

Yeah the teacher in the video is my friend Danni, she’s a lesbian. We wanted it to have a message, so we did it in my old primary school. The boy playing the younger ‘me’ is my brother Ethan, so everyone in the video is a part of my life. It was really nice to have a part of my journey in it and they’re a part of mine, so the music video means a lot to me.

You touched on bullying earlier - was school an accepting place when you were there?

I got a few comments like ‘Yeah he’s gay because he likes singing, blah blah blah’, but you just have to overcome it, and it kept me pushing for my dreams. Being on these shows has given me so much more self-confidence. You shouldn’t be made to feel like that, and I’ve been to schools around the UK talking to kids struggling with bullying and feeling suicidal, so I think it’s important we talk more in schools about people feeling like that.

It must make it even more satisfying to be up on the Eurovision stage living your dream now.

It definitely is. It goes to show that if you do your own thing you can break down barriers and nothing’s gonna stop you.

Who do think is your biggest competition on Saturday night?

I think everyone’s really talented – [the contestants] have got a little Whatsapp group going and we’re all really good friends; I don’t think anyone’s too competitive. I think it’s anyone’s game. I don’t believe in the public favourites, it’s what goes on during the night. For so many people watching on the night it’ll be the first time they hear the songs. On my playlist right now though is Spain, Ireland… The Netherlands… there’s some really good songs!

This is one of the most controversial Eurovision Song Contests in years because of the political situation in Israel, and there have been calls to boycott the event. What do you make of the controversy?

I’ve seen a lot of things on Twitter about the removals [of Palestinians] and it’s a hard one. Eurovision is just about music and singing and performing, and I never knew any of this, so this is all new to me. I just want to do my country proud. I don’t know too much about it: I don’t want to get into the politics because I’m not an expert, I’m just a musician.

It’s obviously huge news that Madonna is set to perform on the night – are you a fan?

I know, I can’t believe I’m going to be sharing the same stage as Madonna! It’s absolutely amazing and I think all the Eurovision fans are going to go absolutely wild when she’s on. It’s going to be a highlight.

What’s your message to Brits ahead of Eurovision this year?

Thank you for all the support. I think the UK in general needs to get behind Eurovision and show we are in it to win and we do want to do our best.  I think a lot of people in the UK hate on Eurovision and all the politics, but I think people should be more supportive, because you visit all these other countries and they’re 100% backing their acts. People [in the UK] see it as a gimmick and we need to get away from that – we’re the country of The Beatles and Adele and all these artists! But the UK Eurovision fans are so supportive. I’m not going to let anything hold me back and I’m going to give it my all!

The Eurovision Song Contest Grand Final airs ay 8pm on BBC One this Saturday 18 May.