Ireland – the most successful country ever at Eurovision (we all know the stats, no need to brag) – has had a rough time recently. Since the introduction of the semi-finals, it has failed to qualify on four occasions and has otherwise mostly graced the right-hand side of the scoreboard. With the notable exception of Jedward in 2011, Ireland’s entries from the early noughties until today have come across as lacklustre – or even lazy – attempts at reclaiming the Eurovision crown which sat atop their ginger heads almost perpetually during the nineties.
So what happened? After so much past glory, why can’t we pick a decent song? Before the Jedwardian success, popular opinion here (as in the UK) was that Eurovision had become all about bloc voting and novelty acts, with only so-called “new” countries taking the title. This is no longer the case. When those crazy twins earned Ireland its first 12 points since 1997, there was a surge of interest in Eurovision amongst the Irish public. Things seemed to be looking up.
Alas, it was not to be, and Ireland has fallen back down the scoreboard (or off it altogether). A weak effort from the national broadcaster, RTÉ, due to a lack of public interest can’t be blamed for their recent string of disasters. 402,000 (out of 4.5 million) Irish people’s hopes were crushed when Can-Linn and Kasey Smith crashed out of the contest on May 8th. However, unlike in years gone by, this year bloc voting was not blamed for Ireland’s misery. It was generally agreed that the Irish delegation was at fault for not improving the production. After the contest it was even announced that Ireland’s selection process will be reconsidered. In light of this acceptance of failure and desire for success, what is it about the previous dozen or so Irish entries that failed to win votes? Can Ireland ever claw its way back to the top?
It’s The Economy, Stupid
It would appear that at the root of the problem lies the economic crash of 2008. Post-Celtic Tiger, RTÉ’s Eurovision budget is small, so it simply cannot afford to stage an extravagant national final or do much promotional touring before Eurovision. Elaborate staging, stylish outfits and slick choreography all cost money, money which the broadcaster must spend elsewhere. However, RTÉ’s budget should not necessarily be a problem. A good song sung well, with simple yet clever staging can go far, like The Netherlands’ Common Linnets this year. Furthermore, a costly national final is not essential for finding a song with winning potential, both of this year’s top two entries (among others) were chosen internally.
Bye Bye Eurosong
Few would contest the fact that Eurosong needs to go. I don’t have a problem with the current mentor process as it has produced some good songs. But as a platform for showcasing the Irish entry, Eurosong fails miserably. The Late Late Show set is not suitable for a musical performance and virtually every potential entry comes across as amateurish and ill-prepared on the cramped stage, which the rest of Europe likely interprets as a lack of Irish interest in Eurovision. Not exactly a great start to a Eurovision campaign, right?
Presentation Is Key
In my opinion (which I spout furiously to anyone who shows the remotest sign of interest), it is the presentation, or lack thereof, of its entries which lets Ireland down. Recently it seems like no effort has been made with presentation, as if nobody on the Irish team is actually bothered about the song’s visual aspect. I’m not calling for an elaborate set with parachutes, hamster wheels and whatnot, I simply think that some thought should be put into the staging in order to create something memorable yet sincere, and not a glimpse into the innermost thoughts of a hallucinogenic leprechaun, as per usual.
Thoughtfully adapting a performance from the The Late Late Show set to the vast Eurovision stage is vitally important. Like feisty Linda Martin, I disliked the dancers at the Eurosong performance of “Heartbeat” this year and presumed that they would be dumped before Copenhagen. Unfortunately, the powers that be thought otherwise, showing that Ireland’s current method does not work. Six people are not always needed on stage, and Ireland’s approach over the last few years has been lazy and repetitive (singer + two backing singers + two dancers + musician). Change it up each time guys, have backing singers/dancers if necessary, see what fits the vibe of the song, don’t just fill the stage because you can. Seriously Ireland, PRESENTATION.
Remember, It’s A Song Contest
Obviously, in a song contest, the song is pretty damn important and in terms of style at least, Ireland has in fact sent all kinds of everything (see what I did there?) in the hopes of getting some votes. It has been acknowledged that shoving generic Irishness (Dervish, Ryan Dolan, Can Linn) down Europe’s throat does not work, nor does comedy with Dustin the Turkey (an atrocity I will never forgive). Brian Kennedy’s ballad melted hearts, Niamh Kavanagh’s refroze them. Only Jedward had success with an up-tempo song, while Sinéad Mulvey and Donna and Joe fell in the semis. Looking back, all of Ireland’s past wins were ballads, with simple, gimmick-free productions. Although “The Voice” by Eimear Quinn (my personal favourite of the Irish winners) played upon its Irishness, it seemed entirely natural, unlike recent attempts.
Everything else aside, it goes without saying that a talented singer with unique charisma is at the heart of a successful performance. Singing live in front of millions is incredibly daunting (or so I’ve heard) and conveying a sense of personality on top of stellar vocals is something that the recent Irish entries have simply not done.
So can Ireland redeem itself? Is maith an scéalaí an aimsir (or only time will tell for you English-speaking folk). Revamped Eurosong or not, the focus should be on finding the right song and singer, then developing and perfecting how the entry is going to be presented. A bit more effort needs to be made, the typical Irish “feck it, we’ll see what happens” attitude needs to go. Much like the Netherlands has of late utilised its ability to produce simple yet mesmerizing entries, Ireland needs to discover what it does best and run with it.
Photo: EBU (Andrea Putting)