Oscar-nominated Savan Kotecha: 'I’m the most boring person in the world'

Musical comedy Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga acted as a mid-pandemic balm. It also saved its chief lyricist from a songwriting rut

“The original idea was she would hit this note and everyone in the audience would break out into an orgasm,” laughs the songwriter Savan Kotecha. He is talking about a pivotal moment in Netflix’s ludicrous 2020 comedy musical Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga, when Rachel McAdams’s Sigrit freestyles a new song at Europe’s annual camp jamboree and holds an elongated “speorg note”, the mythic Icelandic high C.

In the end, that song, the poignant mega-ballad Húsavík, co-written by Kotecha, was so moving it not only changed director David Dobkin’s mind about the tone of the film’s, ahem, climax, shifting it from comedic to emotional, it also landed Kotecha an Oscar nomination for best original song. “I just lost it,” he says of his reaction to last month’s news. “I was running around screaming: ‘What, what, what?’”

For the Texas-born, Sweden-based Kotecha, the film’s soundtrack represented a chance to flex his songwriting talents – honed via two decades’ worth of co-writes on hits for the likes of One Direction and Ariana Grande – in a very specific way. “I’m the most boring person in the world so I like to write from a character’s experience,” he says. “That’s how I started – from watching Dawson’s Creek and writing songs from Dawson’s perspective.” It was this skill that Kotecha, alongside co-writers Rickard Göransson and Fat Max Gsus, brought to Húsavík, a piano ballad that lowers the film’s tempo and utilises McAdams’s co-star Will Ferrell, as the hapless Lars, sparingly. “This is when Lars realises he has to stand back and let [Sigrit] do her thing,” Kotecha explains.

Savan Kotecha.
Eurovisionary ... Savan Kotecha. Photograph: Leo Kotecha

Like most films, The Story of Fire Saga’s 2020 release was affected by Covid, as was its in-built promotional opportunity, May’s Eurovision Song Contest, which was postponed. Delayed by a month, the film’s eventual arrival acted as a salve, thinks Kotecha. “I’ve been involved in some pretty successful projects, but I’ve never got as many texts, phone calls or emails from people as I did when this movie came out,” he says. “By then we were in the midst of dealing with the pandemic and you had this light-hearted comedy that could help people escape.”

On a personal level, it also helped Kotecha climb out of a songwriting rut where “I was getting away with not loving what I was doing”. The Academy Award nomination also bought him respect from the people who matter most. “For everyone in my world outside of music, this is huge,” he laughs, aware that nothing carries the cross-generational clout of an Oscar nod. “My wife was freaking out. My relatives were like: ‘Oh wow.’ My kids totally got it.”

If a song so powerful it scuppered a mass orgasm is his legacy, you get the feeling Kotecha won’t mind.


Michael Cragg

The GuardianTramp

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