Music

With Eurovision 2024 on the Horizon, Olly Alexander Looks Toward a Bright Future: ‘It’s Now or Never’

For most of his professional career, British singer Olly Alexander has been known in the specific context of his band. Starting in 2012, the singer made up one-third of the U.K. pop group Years & Years, garnering critical acclaim and a massive audience over the course of nearly a decade.

Related

But in 2024, Alexander is ready to truly reintroduce himself, this time as himself. “I loved being in Years & Years and I loved the journey that we all went on. But it just felt like this was the time to really put that all in the past and move on,” he tells Billboard. “It was kind of scary, but that’s always a good thing, I think, to be a little challenged by what’s ahead.”

At the outset of the year, Alexander released his first single under his own name since the group became his solo project in 2019. On first listen, “Dizzy” feels like a natural progression for the 33-year-old singer-songwriter’s sound, boasting a modernized, electro-pop melody that flows like a retrofitted, unreleased deep cut from the ’80s. But “Dizzy” is much more than just a continuation for Alexander — it’s an opportunity to reintroduce himself to a hundreds of millions of new listeners.

Along with its role as Alexander’s first release under his own name, “Dizzy” also serves as the United Kingdom’s official entry in the 2024 Eurovision Song Contest. With the event’s grand final set to take place in Malmö, Sweden on Saturday (May 11), Alexander will be one of 26 contestants vying for the competition’s top spot. American fans wishing to tun in to the final can do so on Peacock, starting live at 3:00 p.m. ET on Saturday — they can also cast their votes on Eurovision’s official voting website.

For Alexander, performing at the decades-long song contest is a dream come true. “I’ve loved Eurovision since I was a kid,” he says. “It feels like it’s just growing all the time with younger audiences, and I feel like it’s just such an amazing opportunity for any artist.”

The singer says he’s known he wanted to participate in Eurovision for “a few years now,” but that 2024 provided an unmissable opportunity for him as an artist. “I was working on a lot of new music about a year ago, and my producer Danny L Harle was like, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if one of the new songs we’re making could be taken to Eurovision?’” he recounts. “So we just sent a few of the songs to the U.K. Eurovision selection team, and everyone really loved ‘Dizzy.’”

If there were a checklist for what you expect to hear in a winning Eurovision song, “Dizzy” would tick off nearly every box. The song, written by Alexander and Harle and produced by Harle and Finn Keane, offers an upbeat tempo, glittering synths, instantly memorable vocals and a clear aesthetic vision, as Alexander revels in the bewildering stages of early romance.

“It is probably the best, easiest time I’ve had making music,” Alexander explains of the song. “It felt very harmonious in the studio, because I think Danny and I share a love of a lot of the same references — we were drawing inspiration from a book of medieval poems, from Greek tragedies, from all over. It was such a liberating time spent together.”

Related

With his first performance at Tuesday’s semi-final (May 7), Alexander proved that the time in the studio was well-spent. Taking to the stage at Malmö Arena, the singer and four scantily-clad backup dancers confined themselves to a small set designed after a grungy locker room. With well-timed camera tricks and some creative positioning from Alexander and his dancers, audiences watched the room spin and shift its gravity constantly, giving credence to the song’s vertiginous title.

It’s a memorable performance for the UK, which in recent years has seen its fortunes in the annual competition dwindle. While the country has won Eurovision five times and placed second a record 16 times, their last win came in 1997, with Katrina and the Waves’ “Love Shine a Light.” In 2022, Sam Ryder became the first contestant from the U.K. to earn second place since 1998, while 2023’s entrant Mae Muller finished second-to-last in the final.

While Alexander and the U.K. are not currently favored to win this year’s competition — betting odds currently give “Dizzy” a 1% chance at the top prize — the singer says that the beauty of Eurovision lies in its unpredictability. “There was obviously this long period where the U.K., frankly, had its feelings hurt a little bit by not doing very well,” Alexander chuckles. “But with all this new attention for Eurovision, it’s become a situation where it feels like anything could happen. Things could change in a moment.”

Alexander is referring to Gen Z, and their unabashed love for the event as a campy, dramatic spectacle. Especially after acts like Måneskin and Duncan Laurence earned massive virality on TikTok thanks to their performances, Alexander remarks that success at Eurovision in 2024 looks much different than in its nascent years. “The level of awareness has really been raised by the TikTok generation,” he says. “It’s breathed a bit of new life into the contest.”

That awareness among younger generations is also bolstered by the contest’s track record of supporting LGBTQ+ voices long before it was popular to do so — past winners including Dana International, Conchita Wurst, Duncan Laurence and Loreen all identify as LGBTQ, which Alexander says isn’t a coincidence. “Yes, Eurovision is an ultimate celebration of joy. But it also just celebrates people for who they are, and can often feel like a safe space in that way,” Alexander explains. “People can really wear their hearts on their sleeves with these massive performances.”

Part of Eurovision’s appeal, Alexander points out, has long been the contest’s seemingly “apolitical” approach — founded in 1956, the original aim of the song contest was to bring Europeans together following the devastation of World War II. Today, the contest’s permanent motto bears that same ideal: “United in Music.”

Yet even with its history of nonpartisanship, Eurovision 2024 finds itself mired in controversy. Israel is set to participate in the annual song competition, despite calls from around the world to bar the country from competing due to the ongoing war in Gaza. Many cited the European Broadcasting Union’s (EBU) 2022 decision to ban Russia from competing in Eurovision after the country invaded Ukraine as a precedent for removing Israel from the 2024 competition, but the EBU’s director general Noel Curran made it clear in a January statement that Israel would be allowed to participate in the contest.

Before he was announced as an entrant in Eurovision, Alexander made his position on the continuing conflict clear — in October 2023, the singer signed an open letter from Voices4 London, an LGBTQ+ activist group calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and referring to Israel as an “apartheid regime.” The letter opened the singer up to a wave of backlash, including an anonymous source for the UK’s Conservative Party telling The Daily Telegraph that Alexander’s selection as the country’s representative at Eurovision was “either a massive oversight or sheer brass neck from the BBC.”

Speaking to Billboard in March, Alexander makes his feelings on the matter clear: “[Israel’s participation] is basically a decision that’s not at all under my controI. All I hope and pray for is peace and an end to the fighting as soon as possible.” As for his signature on the open letter, the singer says he doesn’t regret speaking up. “I wanted to express my solidarity with the people of Palestine. I support a ceasefire, and that was why I signed the letter.”

But just one week after his Billboard interview, Alexander began receiving criticism from those supporting a ceasefire in Gaza. Queers for Palestine, an LGBTQ+ activist organization calling for an end to the ongoing attacks in Gaza, published an open letter signed by over 450 queer artists, activists and organizations in late March asking Alexander to boycott Eurovision. “We share the vision of queer joy and abundance you’ve offered through your music, and share your belief in collective liberation for all,” the group wrote. “In this spirit, we ask you to heed the Palestinian call to withdraw from Eurovision … There can be no party with a state committing apartheid and genocide.​​​​”

Alexander ultimately responded — both in a personal message and in a message from multiple other contestants — to the call in April, saying that he would not be boycotting the event, and instead using the platform provided by Eurovision to “call for peace.” In a documentary with the BBC titled Olly Alexander’s Road to Eurovision ’24 (originally aired Sunday, May 5), Alexander spoke at length about his internal conflict with the decision.

“The backdrop to this is actual, immense suffering. It’s a humanitarian crisis, a war, and it just so happens that there’s a song contest going on at the same time that I’m a part of,” he explained through tears. “People should do what’s right for them — if they want to boycott Eurovision, if they don’t feel comfortable watching, that’s their choice, and I respect that, you know? Eurovision is … meant to be an apolitical contest, but that’s, like, a fantasy.”

In his conversation with Billboard, Alexander makes sure to point to the team of people surrounding him and their unyielding help. “I told them that I was going to do this, that it was important for me to use my voice,” he says. “And they said that they would support me no matter what.”

Regardless of how Alexander places at Saturday’s event (the U.K. automatically qualifies for the final as a member of the “Big Five” contributing countries), he remains assured that the path laid out before him can lead to even further success. The singer is currently plotting out his forthcoming new album (executive produced by Harle), which he describes as “very cohesive, and pulled very much from the ’80s, but also veering into ’90s pop.”

With a list of past collaborators including Elton John, the Pet Shop Boys and Kylie Minogue, the singer says he’s learned plenty about what it means to find success in the music business while still remaining true to who he is. “It was nice to understand that you can have a long career, be at the top of your game, and still be a genuinely decent person,” he explains. “To have the insane legendary careers that all of them have had … there’s a reason that all of them are still at the top of their game; they’re so easy to work with.”

He’s also keeping an eye on his acting career — after starring in Russel T Davies’ critically acclaimed period drama It’s a Sin and earning career-first nominations at ceremonies like the Critics’ Choice Awards and the National Television Awards, Alexander says he’s open to continuing to act.

But most of all, Alexander says that win or lose, Eurovision provides him with an opportunity to present his most authentic self to the world at large. “It was right to start this new chapter and do Eurovision all under my own name,” he says. “It really did feel like it’s now or never.”

Powered by Billboard.

Related Articles

Back to top button