Ireland is the most successful country in the history of the Eurovision Song Contest. We have won seven times since Ireland first participated in 1965. But the last time we won was nineteen years ago and since then we have only finished in the top ten four times: 1997, 1998, 2000 and 2011. We are widely regarded as the greatest country in the history of the Eurovision but in my opinion we were the greatest country but have since become a laughing stock. We may be sending good singers with decent songs but nowadays in order to win the Eurovision you need more, you need to sell yourself and your song. So as Dustin the Turkey asked in Belgrade: “Where did it all go wrong”? Well, not too long after it all went right.
To find out where it all went wrong, we need to go back to when it all went right. Ireland first won in 1970 with Dana singing All Kinds of Everything. A brilliant song and a deserved winner. Then Johnny Logan won twice with What’s Another Year and Hold Me Now in 1980 and 1987 respectively. Why did them songs win? They were good singers with good songs and that was it. Then came the introduction of wireless microphones and the desire for glitz and glam. Luckily for Ireland we still managed to get four more wins. Linda Martin, Niamh Kavanagh and Paul Harrington and Charlie McGettigan won with strong ballads, Why Me? and In Your Eyes were examples of the old reliable powerful ballads. They belted out their songs and won on merit. For me, Rock ‘n’ Roll Kids was the last ‘proper’ song that won. The two men didn’t need anything but a piano, a guitar and their voices. They just sat there in the Point Theatre and sang. Eimear Quinn and The Voice was similar but there was more of a focus on the instruments which added to the performance and allowed Ireland to win our seventh and last title. So what has changed?
In recent years we have seen the fast increase in interest from eastern European countries looking to enter the contest, with ten out of the fifteen post-Soviet states competing as of 2017. This has allowed the contest to grow and meant that fans now had a greater choice to pick their favourite song. These countries, like Russia, Ukraine and Azerbaijan began to become fan favourites and have become some of strongest performers with all three never failing to make the final. Most people will say that these eastern countries tend to only vote for each other or ‘bloc vote’. This is an understandable thought as generally they do vote for each other but the real reason for this is simply due to the fact they all like the same type of music. Why would countries who are in conflict vote for each other? Why would Russia and Ukraine vote for each other if there is conflict on their borders? Eurovision fans vote for the music they like and do not care all that much in political activities so the excuse that countries vote for their neighbours is not a good enough excuse for Ireland performing badly.
Since 1997, we have sent the same types of songs: stereotypical Irish (2007), strong ballads (2010) and novelty acts (2008). Dervish in 2007 were excellent but was only appealable to an Irish audience (and apparently Albanian). We still think that by having bodhrans and tin whistles we will be able to do well. Ryan Dolan in 2013 was one of our better entrants in recent years. He had a good voice and a decent song. However, the people in charge still believed that two bodhrans were necessary. That, and the fact that Only Love Survives was a classic Eurovision song: a love song with a predictable format: verse, chorus, verse, chorus, big ending. Niamh Kavanagh in 2010 is a clear example of how winning twenty years ago doesn’t mean you will do well again. It’s for You was almost identical to In your Eyes. People want memorable performances and not just good songs anymore. Dustin the Turkey and Irelande Douze Pointe illustrated how Irish people don’t necessarily care about the Eurovision anymore. There’s two entries however that confused me as to how the public vote: Jedward and Nicky Byrne. And both for very difference but similar reasons.
Jedward were by far the joke act of the 2009 series of X Factor. They managed to grow a strong fan base and made it all the way to the last six, only to lose out to Olly Murs in the sing off, who incidentally received fewer votes than the twins. Two years later, they tried their hands at flying the tricolour in Dusseldorf. Jedward were one of the worst singers in the contest but what they had was a likeability about them that most acts didn’t have. Everyone remembered the twins with the pointy hair and they went on to achieve our best result in eleven years. They showed that people want catchy songs and most off all, to be entertained. Jedward did that and were also well known from their time on the X Factor which helped. So one might say, find someone who is well known, a fan favourite and who can sing and we can actually win. Well in 2016, we sent former Westlife singer Nicky Byrne. He ticked all the boxes and was the person I thought could bring Ireland back from the dead, but sadly ended up being a disaster.
When I first heard Nicky Byrne was going to represent Ireland, my first thoughts were RTE are sending someone off the payroll and who would save them a few bob as he waived his participation fee. So maybe they could have used the money to promote Sunlight across Europe but clearly no. Nicky Byrne already was known worldwide through being in Westlife so he came in with a fan base behind him. In addition to this, he had also acted as the Irish spokesperson for the previous three years so he was well known in the Eurovision circuit. All this seemed to be clear signs that we were going to do well, but as time went on, getting to the final was going to be our main goal. By the time the semi-final had arrived, expectations were low so when it was known that we had failed to qualify we were not too surprised. What no one expected though was that we would finish fourth last in our semi-final.
Looking back on the time since Nicky Byrne had been revealed as Ireland’s entry and the contest, there were some major flaws. One of which in my opinion was Byrne’s attitude to his chances of success. It appeared that his main goal was to make the final and did not think he stood a chance of winning. If you enter anything, be it sport or the Eurovision, your goal should be to win and not just to do well, even if you don’t stand a chance. No one said Connacht would win the Pro12 in 2016 but they overcame all the odds and did. Second of all, even though he improved immensely throughout the five months, Byrne’s vocals were at times very weak and he often sang out tune at the start. It may be the Eurovision Song Contest, but at the same time it is also a singing competition. And lastly, the days of turning up on the night and still hold a chance of winning are long gone. In order to finish on the left side of the leaderboard, you need to be known all over Europe and not just by neighbouring countries. You need to get your song on the airways in places you’ve never heard of and in places whose names you can’t pronounce. Nicky Byrne was the most well-known artist Ireland have sent in the last fifteen years but 2016 was arguably our worst placing in the 21st century. So that leads to the question: What do we need to do?
Well, I firmly believe that we can win the Eurovision Song Contest again but we need to step up our game big time in order to hold any chance of success. First of all, we need the artist. In Ireland, we have great bands like Picture This, The Academic and Keywest. I can’t understand why artists don’t use the Eurovision to showcase their music to the rest of the world. With over 200 million people watching, surely their fan base will grow. Stars like Abba, Celine Dion and Julio Iglesias (father of Spanish singer Enrique Iglesias) used the Eurovision to get their music out to a wider audience so why can’t it work in 2017? But one thing is they need to have an established fan base. The three bands mentioned above have all big hits in recent years with songs like Take My Hand, Different and This is Heartbreak respectively. If we sent one of these bands, we would be sending some of our best talents and showing off the best of Irish music.
Secondly, the song is crucial. It needs to be catchy, memorable and not stereotypical Eurovision. Artists want people singing along to their songs but people won’t do that if the songs has boring lyrics. The performance should go without saying. Måns Zelmerlöw’s performance of Heroes is exactly what I mean. Heroes was not the best song of the 2015 Eurovision in my opinion. Grande amore by Italian operatic pop group Il Volo was a brilliant song and showed off the three singers voices but what Zelmerlöw did was he used the background to his advantage and almost acted out a story of a young child coming out of their shell and that he and everyone are “the heroes of our time”. His performance was memorable and rightly won on the night. Lastly, as I said before, you need to sell your song to the rest of Europe (and Australia). A tour of all 43 competing countries is almost impossible, financially and physically, but even if the artist gave an interview over the phone, they would hold an advantage over the rest. Jedward made sure that everyone knew them and look how they got on.
Brendan Murray has a chance of winning in Kyiv but I don’t hold out much hope. Whoever decided that Louis Walsh would pick our representative mustn’t care much about the most watched non-sporting event in the world. Louis Walsh knows more about music than almost anybody in Ireland and he could have picked a big name to fly the flag but instead he chose one of his own. Murray had been in Hometown (managed by Walsh) before the announced they were going their separate ways. I’m withholding any final judgement until nearer to the contest but sadly I’m in no ways confident. We need the singer to be well-known on their own accord and not from being in a band and this being their debut single. We also need a great song that people will remember however I think Walsh still thinks a song like Hold Me Now is capable of winning. Unfortunately, this is not the case.
I’m very passionate about Ireland and the Eurovision Song Contest but we need to go bigger if we want to win title number eight. We are still the country with the most ever wins but the Swedes have won twice in the last five years and are only one win behind us. No one anymore gives us a chance of winning but if we play our cards right, we could be welcoming Europe once again very soon. And I most certainly am looking forward to that day.