It is possible to imagine a parallel universe where this year’s Eurovision Song Contest is the subject everyone is talking about. Amid the dreariness of the European elections and the sinking realisation that Game Of Thrones is completely rubbish, surely a downpour of Euro kitsch is the light relief we all crave?
Plus, there is the controversial setting of Israel (calls for a boycott have rung out ever since the country triumphed 12 months ago in Portugal). Australia has sent a classically-trained opera singer whose party trick is performing atop an enormous wobbling pole. Iceland’s entrant is a leather-clad death metal band with the entirely unsubtle name of BDSM. Abba, the alpha and omega of Eurovision winners, have never been more beloved.
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So why does nobody – in Ireland at least – care? This evening, our representative Sarah McTernan will take to the stage at Tel Aviv Expo complex, battling to make it to the weekend final. And the hype is negligible. Did you even know Sarah McTernan was our nominated artist? Would you recognise her if she arrived on your doorstep, belting out the nominated tune, ’22’?
Ireland’s Eurovision break-up has been years in the making. There was the embarrassment over the 2008 Dustin debacle – the arrogance and entitlement of late period Celtic Tiger embodied by a singing latex turkey. Then came our descent into the purgatory of permanent semi-final obscurity, which rendered the traditional Saturday night Eurovision watch pointless (who cared if Belarus finished ahead of Croatia?).
We are now at the point where our relationship with Eurovision is akin to a loveless marriage. McTernan seems passionate about representing us and her song isn’t horrible. It is, however, incredibly anonymous. That’s even after Louis Walsh came out and said what we were all thinking by describing ’22’ as a “nothing song”. “If she had a great song, we would say she was great,” Walsh said. “It’s not her fault at all, it’s a nothing song. I don’t remember it. I don’t even think it’s in the top 100 in the charts, which is a bad sign because you have to go to Europe with a hit record under your belt and it’s not even a hit locally.”
Eurovision is now too sprawling and confusing to feel any attachment to. Just 12 countries participated when Dana won in 1970. This year, some 41 nations are taking part – making it difficult for a small country such as Ireland to experience a real buy-in. It’s just one more thing for us to be completely average at. There is also the unfairness of the ‘Big Five’ – Britain, Germany, Spain, Italy and France – receiving a by into the finals simply because their national broadcasters plonk more money down.
The other problem is that the Eurovision no longer fits into the underdog story we tell about ourselves. Back in the glory days, when Dana and Johnny Logan were finishing ahead of Germany, the UK and France, there was a sense that we were punching above our weight and reminding the world that, yes, we existed.
But that narrative no longer works when, as well as the traditional big European nations, we are vying with countries from central and eastern Europe. Where lies the satisfaction in out-ranking Azerbaijan? Add to that the fact Eurovision is no longer as riotously ridiculous as it used to be. In the 70s and 80s – even the 90s – the world was a much larger, more mysterious place and the Eurovision spoke to that. A song from France felt French – and it was impossible to mistake an Irish entrant as coming from anywhere else.
Today, by contrast, music is increasingly generic – and that is reflected in the Eurovision. Mid-tempo pop is the default and allowing for the occasional quirkiness – Australia’s Kate Miller-Heidke flopping about in mid-air, for instance – the songs tend to blend together so it’s impossible to tell where one ends and the other begins.
And, of course, if nothing succeeds like success, failure is the ultimate turn off. Since Dustin, we’ve rolled up our sleeves and had an honest pop at Eurovision, sending Jedward (not a terrible pop act, no matter what Simon Cowell might think) and Nicky Byrne. And yet we’ve been slapped back over and over. Ireland loves a winner – and with Eurovision furnishing us with endless losers, is it any mystery the love has gone?
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