The passing of an era – this is the last (to date) directly Eurovision-related Number One, 29 years after the first. And honestly, even Gina is an outlier: the Eurovision Song Contest had intersected with mainstream UK pop less and less often since its 70s and early 80s heyday. Glam, bubblegum, AOR balladry and soft rock had been good fits for it – hip-hop and house distinctly less so.
Freed from any hope that it might reflect or divert the currents of modern pop, Eurovision could settle fully into the role in British pop it had half-played for years. It presented a comfortable image of what European pop was: gaudy, kitschy, ironic and out-of-date. Marketers, then waking to the idea of the pink pound as an untapped resource, seized on the show’s popularity with gay audiences (and students) and promoted it to the UK mainstream as an unabashed festival of camp. At the same time, though, the definition of Europe itself was expanding. It seemed post-communist countries wanted to use Eurovision the way Western Europe once had: as a symbol of European belonging and a fillip to national pride. The tension between these two trends made for fascinating contests, and Eurovision in the 00s was the competition at its best – after it had ceased to ‘matter’ in UK chart terms.
The UK made no real contribution to this late flowering: we continued to assume Eurovision meant nothing but cheese, and so cheese was what we delivered. This glossy, hi-tack Gina G song bounced its way to
second eighth in Eurovision 1996, and might seem like a prime example. But it’s at least a little better than that suggests.
“Ooh Aah” is the work of Motiv8, producer and remixer Steve Rodway, who’d become known for colourful, energised, wonderfully unsubtle mixes that smooshed up pop songwriting with handbag house euphoria. He liked big keyboard sounds, and melodies splurged onto songs like poster paints. A great Motiv8 mix – like his work on the Pet Shop Boys’ “A Red Letter Day” – would make its original feel pedestrian as his rainbow synth lines burst up through the song. The same joy carried over to lesser known acts – girlband Crush and their superb “Jellyhead”, for instance.
“Ooh Aah” is well off those peaks, but a decent example of Motiv8’s approach. It’s brisk, good-quality bubblegum: a springy keyboard part, a chugging rhythm, and a few fine lines – “Every night makes me hate the days” – laid down with enough conviction to cross the line between corny and effective. The main thing that marks it as a Eurovision entry is the chorus, simple enough to hammer its way into listeners Europe-wide, and begging for a bespoke dance. That chorus could have been the follow-up to “Making Your Mind Up” and it makes “Ooh Aah” a smidgen too cosy. But unlike most British Eurovision attempts from this point, at least it doesn’t feel cynical.