Irish in the Eurovision: She ain’t what she used to be?
Ireland is known for its music- a nation which has produced quite the selection of talented musicians, artists and international acts. From U2 to Enya and Clannad, Westlife to Glen Hansard, Thin Lizzy to Riverdance- there’s an abundance of stand-out musicians that have been reared on this little island in the west of Europe. And, we’re quite proud of it, rightfully so. We are a people with a love and a passion for arts, music and entertainment. Our creativity and flair rushes through our fast flowing blood, enriched in our core and ever-present in our veins. We’re known for it the world-over and we’re never going to let this ingenuity disappear.
Aside from the sheer talent of our musicians, we’ve been extremely successful in the prestigious (and utterly, shamefully enjoyable), held Eurovision Song Contest annually. Even to this day, after 44 appearances, since the first time in 1965, we have been the reigning champion with a whopping seven wins (the closest to us are the United Kingdom, Luxembourg and France with 5). It’s obvious that at an international level, at a pan-European event, we still come out top due to our quality of act and song. Remember, we were so hot at one point that we claimed the title three years in a row! But, that heat has died in recent years- and there’s only so many times we can blame “bloc-voting” or how we “were robbed”. All this aside, we’re Eurovision mad. Heck, we even staged our own spin-off at one stage, The Castlebar Song Contest.
Alas, the issue with the modern day. On Tuesday it was announced who would be battling it out to win a place at representing the nation at this year’s contest: Jedward, Nikki Kavanagh- a “church singer & make-up artist” and backing vocalist of 2010 participant Niamh Kavanagh, The Vard Sisters- the classical music trio, Don Mescall- a Limerick based acoustic singer/songwriter, and an yet-to-be-named four-piece on the EMI record label. This came about after RTÉ stated that it was not engaging in an open call for songs and acts, as it has done in previous years. “This year we have decided to suspend the open call for entries and instead harness the skills and experience of professionals in the Irish music business to source the talent and the song that has the potential to be a Eurovision winner,” said Julian Vignoles, RTÉ’s Eurovision Co-ordinator. “We are enlisting five people who each have proven success in different areas of the music industry so the public will have five strong entries to choose from in Eurosong 2011”. Cutting the story short- they are using five industry players to source or commission a song for each of the above acts; they’ll later be performed on The Late Late Show where a regional jury and public voting will decide the winner.
I wondered: have we gone the wrong direction with the Eurovision? Was, what once was a glorious night that captured the nation, becoming an irrelevant piece of television that we joked about rather than cared as much about? Were we caring more about (unsubstantial) media hype and not as much about representing our nation in a global music contest? Were we the only ones like this, or were other countries doing the same? Would Ireland ever get back on top, and are we approaching it in the right way?
“See, it all comes down to the explosion of interest” says Ewan Spence, an established and respected Eurovision pundit, BAFTA nominated podcaster, blogger and commentator. Based in Scotland, Spence has a track record of commentating on the Eurovision and he has an expansive wealth of knowledge on the subject (he proudly has a copy of every song from the contest). “Eastern countries have started to use the event as a way to distinguish themselves as who they are. After the fall of the Berlin wall, et cetera, there’s been an emergence of new countries”. He also noted the language issue for the nation. “Ireland are there singing in English, but they’re not England”.
I questioned if Ireland was approaching the sourcing of artists correctly, and if it was correct to do so. “RTÉ is well within the rules [of the Eurovision contest], however they [the European Broadcast Union- the organisers] do recommend and suggest you have a public vote [between a number of songs], which they are doing. What they are doing is tightening down things a bit. Look at Turkey for example, they choose their entire act internally [within the national broadcaster]”. For the record, TRT, the Turkish state broadcaster, select their act internally from submitted artists. Rap-core group MaNga, the second place winner in 2010, went on a huge drive to submit tracks to the network, and after impressing the company landed them the gig for the nation and a place in the overall event. Luckily, they were a well-established band- and fans jumped for joy with the announcement; the entire country happy with them, getting behind the choice made. However, Ireland hasn’t had an open call for submissions- it’s closing submissions from independent artists, but allowing the public (and the “regional juries”) select the representative from the final five, listed above.
Will the blonde-haired Irish duo get the job and represent the country? “Once they were announced they were guaranteed” argues Spence. “Louis Walsh [the pair’s manager] has done well: they’re not in it for the country, he’s using it to solidify their position in Ireland- nowhere else”. And, it’s clear to see that the Jedward hype has begun. Already Twitter has come to life with a surge of activity for the brothers… “All jedward fans make videos spam the life out of everything and let’s win we want as much people to come to ireland from the uk and vote [sic]”, posts one user. But it didn’t stop there “ESC spamming may be the only spamming I approve!” remarks another fan that has also started to release “A4 posters” and other materials online for people to use. Beware: your online experience may be met with some fans in your social stream! “No thanks… Dustin was good but Jedward wud [sic] be the worst thing to happen since Brian Cowen became Taoiseach” jokes another individual.
This is where it gets interesting. I’m not trying to disregard the other contestants, but even in the few days since the announcement, the brothers have dominated the news. Quite frankly, it seems, it’s a shoe-in. It’s all pointing towards them: from the extensive support from fans, the dominance of the duo online, on social networking websites and in the press as a whole. The twosome has young, eager-to-support enthusiasts, who’ll stop at nothing to make their feelings known, regardless of how much it takes. Plus, Spence made one very noteworthy point: “Remember, Ireland can’t lock out calls from UK mobiles”. Could fans from our neighbouring nation (there’s an abundance of them) flood our call-in lines during Tubridy’s show, thus rendering them the winner of the national selection? As he observes, the way we select our act leaves more power to the public vote. “This is cold hard, PR Ireland”.
But, will they get to the final. “No, it won’t happen. It’ll just take that ten seconds during the performance when one turns to the other; ‘Wow! Look at us! This is so much fun!’ for them to lose it.” And that’s not just it, “One, there’s no precedence and two, they’re singing live- they are live, and the backing vocals are live.” Fair point, we must remember than recorded vocals are strictly prohibited; any breach of this is a big no-no, but that’s another story. “It’ll be that thirty seconds of commentary that people will see them as the joke from a reality show. Eurovision fans will say- Oh, there’s Ireland. They used to be good. Everyone watches the final, but real fans watch the semi-finals”.
But, my thoughts on it: we’ve not really stayed on the ball with the Eurovision. Yes, it’s a night of fun, frivolity and lavish, over-the-top entertainment- but it is highly entertaining at the same time and holds credibility, at the end of the day. There’s a reason it’s one of, if not the most, watched television programmes broadcast in Europe, and in the world. It was built with foundations to bring countries together, drawing closer and putting the past (World War II) behind them. Sure, it’s okay to have a degree of commercialism- it’s only right (if I were an artist, I wouldn’t mind the odd gig or two and to sell a couple of records)- but I think we could be a bit more transparent in the affair. I feel we should begin to write and produce great music- adapting with the times, standing out from the crowd, but in a confident way, a way we can be proud of. The Eurovision is quirky, but it has depth- so let our talents shine on an international stage. I’m not necessarily declaring my immense dislike for Jedward, or pledging my allegiance to any other the other artists at this time, not at all- I merely think that we should reflect on how we’re running, where we’re heading to and decide what’s best for us. The nation is not at its happiest right now, nowhere really is- but if we make some changes we can at least hold our heads high with an artist we can be proud of, regardless if they are your cup of tea or not.