Ireland’s Eurovision 2020 Entry

Out of the Pop Kitchen, into the pop fire!

Lesley Roy broke onto the U.S. charts in 2008 when her Max Martin-produced debut album Unbeautiful peaked at number five on Billboard’s Top Heatseekers chart. She also had minor success on the old Billboard Pop 100 chart with her singles “I’m Gone, I’m Going” and “Unbeautiful.” After suddenly getting dropped by her record label, she worked as a songwriter, notably with Adam Lambert on his song “Pop That Lock” and with Desmond Child on Marlee Scott’s “Rhinestone in the Rough.” She now hosts the Pop Kitchen podcast with Jeff Michael Johnson, who has a GoFundMe page to help him head to Dublin and Rotterdam to support Lesley at Eurovision.

Listening the Max Martin episode of Pop Kitchen when she discusses her career gave us a lot of insight into the lyrics for “Story of My Life.” It’s a tricky balancing act to spill your guts like that while still making it feel universal, and in that regard she succeeds.

That’s why we wish we liked the song more. The orchestration is heavily influenced by Max Martin’s rock-pop style, which is not a style we respond to. We’ve seen other Eurovision fans compare Lesley’s song to early stuff by Katy Perry and Kelly Clarkson. We thought of P!nk’s “So What.” Whichever song you pick, it was probably co-written by Max Martin.

Lesley’s lyrics “Rock it all you want, but make it pop enough” stands out to us because it captures how we feel: “Story of My Life” is a pop song that uses guitars as decoration, and that doesn’t make it a rock song. We wished it rocked a bit harder.

Given what she has gone through in her career, we’re happy to see that Lesley has gotten the chance to represent her home country at Eurovision. And we’re looking forward to hearing about her Eurovision journey on Pop Kitchen. However long that journey lasts, we hope that the experience will be rewarding.

And dammit, this job was a lot easier we just made flippant judgements about pop songs without getting to know the people who made them.

Reviews of the Rest of Eurovision 2019

Eurovision rehearsals are about to begin and we weren’t able to complete full reviews of all of this year’s entries in time. So let’s take a deep breath and cover all the rest in one go!

Finland: Darude feat. Sebastian Rejman – “Look Away

Darude had a global smash hit 19 years ago with “Sandstorm.” Now he’s representing Finland at Eurovision. We mock the United Kingdom when they do stuff like that and we see no reason to spare Finland our snark. Especially when the U.K. nostalgia acts send better songs.

Belarus: Zena – “Like It

Zena offers up a slightly generic, but still quite enjoyable pop song. We… well, you know… like it. Not sure if it’s going to do well for Belarus, but with the right staging, or at least the right Belorussian staging, maybe it could surprise us.

Serbia: Nevena Božović – “Kruna

Nevena is a veteran of Moje 3, the Barbara Dex Award-winning act from 2013. She’s back with a bland ballad, but she made it soar at Beovizija 2019. We expect more vocal fireworks in Tel Aviv. And better costumes.

Belgium: Eliot Vassamillet – “Wake Up

“Wake Up” reminds us of “City Lights.” We didn’t like “City Lights,” but it seemed like everyone else did. We like “Wake Up,” but it seems like no one else does. Go figure.

Georgia: Oto Nemsadze – “Sul Tsin Iare

Oto brought a wide-eyed intensity to his performance of “Sul Tsin Iare.” It worked for the judges and the people of Georgia, but we can’t say it’s going to work for the rest of Europe.

San Marino: Serhat – “Say Na Na Na

San Marino has sent disco songs for three of its last four entries because this one time, die hard Eurovision fans convinced them that’s what we want. Maybe we should tell them that we like other genres too.

Armenia: Srbuk – “Walking Out

Srbuk looks a lot like my mom did when she was 18 and I’m struggling to get past that.

Ireland: Sarah McTernan – “22

We are not particular fans of Meghan Trainor’s oeuvre, so anything that resembles her output is not going to rank high with us. But at least it’s not another earnest ballad.

Moldova: Anna Odobescu – “Stay

Moldova is following up successive classic Eurovision contributions with a song that we will probably forget about shortly after the Song Contest is over. Sigh, it’s hard to generate memes every year.

Austria: Pænda – “Limits

“Limits” is a great song to listen to at 3 A.M. when it’s gently, but audibly raining outside and you’re feeling a little sad and need a good cry. That’s usually not the atmosphere Eurovision provides, which may hurt Austria’s chances.

Lithuania: Jurijus – “Run with the Lions

Jurijus is this dreamy guy singing an anthemic song about believing in yourself and dreaming big. It’s a pleasant three minutes made better by Jurijus’ inherent likability.

North Macedonia: Tamara Todevska – “Proud

“Proud” is an old fashioned ballad about empowering girls to believe in themselves and dream big. It’s a lovely three minutes made better by Tamara’s vocal star quality.

Israel: Kobi Marimi – “Home

Israel is happy to have won Eurovision and is also not interested in winning again this year.

Ireland’s Eurovision 2018 Entry

Ryan O’Shaughnessy is stepping out on behalf of Ireland at this year’s Eurovision Song Contest. Here’s “Together.”

Ryan O’Shaughnessy started as a child actor appearing on the soap opera Fair City. He transitioned to a music career and auditioned for the first series of The Voice of Ireland in 2012. He ended up on Brian Kennedy’s team but was ultimately eliminated after the first live show. He had better luck on the sixth series of Britain’s Got Talent, where he finished fifth. His eponymous debut album hit number one on the Irish album charts and number nine on the British album charts.

There was a minor kerfuffle when Ryan claimed on Twitter that Russia was going to ban the video for “Together” because it depicted a gay relationship. Although the story was picked up in some press outlets, Wiwibloggs reported that no ban threat existed.

For us, it was just nice to see something interesting generated by Ireland this year, even if it was just wanton rumor. “Together” is fine: The lyrics are about the end of a relationship and are suitably heartbreaking. Musically, it is a lot better than the past two Irish entries. But it doesn’t exactly sound like an entry from a country ready to reclaim past fortunes.

To be fair, a gentle ballad won Eurovision last year, and Ireland had a lot of success with gentle ballads during its salad days. In a way, that makes the situation a lot sadder: RTE is asking Europe, “Remember when we won Eurovision? You liked us back then, right? If we give you something now that sounds like that stuff you used to like back then, you’ll like us again, right?” And they never seem to listen to the answer.

Ireland’s Eurovision 2017 Entry

We’re beginning to develop a hatred of Johnny Logan. It seems like no matter what Ireland does for Eurovision, he is critical of it in an non-constructive way. Whether he’s whinging about Jedward or Dustin the Turkey or denouncing RTE’s “cheap and nasty” approach to selecting Ireland’s Song for Europe this year, he just seems like a grumpy, prickly, entitled character who only has a megaphone because he was once highly successful in a previous era of the Song Contest. Regardless of what he says, even he would struggle to compete at Eurovision if he had a go at it now.

Then again, he’s not wrong, is he?

Brendan Murray is a former member of the Louis Walsh project Hometown. The band went on hiatus in December and Murray is breaking out on his own. Walsh, who has become RTE’s go-to Eurovision consultant in recent years, selected Murray to represent Ireland in Kyiv. “Dying to Try” is by Jörgen Elofsson, who was nominated for a Grammy for writing Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You).” More significant in this context, he wrote songs for Westlife in their heyday.

So if Ireland couldn’t qualify for the Final with a former Westlife member, then what makes them think they can qualify with this? As voiced by Murray, “Dying to Try” sounds like one of a hundred demos that Harry Styles would consider for his solo album before passing on it. There’s nothing remarkable or special about “Dying to Try” or Murray’s vocal on it. It is just not good enough to stand out at Eurovision.

It’s like Yoda said: “Do. Or do not. There is no try.”

Ireland’s Eurovision 2016 Entry

Hey kids, the ’90s are back! Here is Nicky Byrne and “Sunlight.”

In selecting Nicky Byrne, Ireland has abandoned its recent tradition of picking its Eurovision entry on The Late Late Show. This probably spares us the sight of Linda Martin punching out Louis Walsh during an argument over whether some treacly ballad is Eurovision-worthy. Unfortunate for us, but probably better for Ireland.

Anyway, you may remember Nicky Byrne from Westlife. (Unless you’re in the United States, in which case you don’t remember Westlife.) He has since made a name for himself not only as a musician, but as a presenter and a host; he has presented Ireland’s Eurovision results for the last three years.

The last time Nicky celebrated Ireland’s glory through song was in 2002, when he performed their World Cup Anthem “Here Come the Good Times.” It featured Dustin the Turkey. It’s worse than it sounds.

But enough biographical information. What do we think of “Sunlight?” Well.

Can we talk about that damn treble rhythm line? The dn dn dn dn that goes the entire goddamn length of the song. What genius came up with that and said, “Ah yes, just the sound I’m looking for! It’s got that modern edge to it that the kids are going to love!” (Answer: Wayne Hector) Where is a Swedish producer when you need one?

The major-chorded tune –dare we say sunny?– is like something from Disney Channel. (Which explains why our 7-year-old loves it and would marry it if he could. Verbatim quote.) It’s catchy and engaging enough for a minute, but doesn’t offer enough variation to make three minutes fly by fast. And it’s way too immature for a guy pushing 40.

And the lyrics. Ugh. Are they a call for mindfulness or carpe diem? Can’t tell, don’t care. Either way I don’t want some aging boy band alumnus selling me self-help cookie cutter wisdom. Where does he get this stuff, off t-shirts? “Everything’s better standing out in the sun.” Honey, not without 30 SPF and a water bottle.

As for Nicky himself, he’s toned, the teeth are whitened, and he’s sporting that week-long stubble that he hears is all the rage these days. He has a flattop haircut that you tend to see on footballers (once a footballer, always a footballer). His brows are manscaped and he probably shaves his chest. His style is a carefully crafted package, and I suppose appeals to those of a certain age and tendency toward conventional attractiveness. Like David Beckham. It’s all so, ugh, obvious. And dull.

The producers of the video are Studz Entertainment. Guys, it’s still cool to substitute a “z” for an “s”!

Those of us who are familiar with such cultural events as Christopher Walken’s Peter Pan Live! and every Oscar telecast ever are well-acquainted with the idea of hate-watching. So, to sum things up, it’s not bad at all.

Ireland’s Eurovision 2015 Entry

Molly Sterling will represent Ireland at the Eurovision with her song “Playing with Numbers”:

Molly is a 16-year-old smoky voiced singer who has been competing in talent competitions around Ireland for the past few years. She won the 2011 Tipp Teen Idol, but has hit the big time with her win in Ireland’s Eurosong 2015 show. Eurovision is at its best when it is uncovering young, hungry artists, and Molly fits that mold.

The ace panel of judges on The Late Late Show (Phil Coulter, Linda Martin, Panti Bliss, and Mairead Farrell) all stressed the need for Ireland to both take the competition seriously and focus on sending a great song to Vienna. I think Ireland has done the best with what RTE had offered up.

“Playing with Numbers” reminds me a bit of one of Ireland’s winning entries, “Rock ‘n’ Roll Kids.” It is a lilting, gentle ballad with wistful, thoughtful lyrics. Molly sings it with composure that belies her age. It is a solid song.

But I wonder if that is going to be enough. A song like “Playing with Numbers” hasn’t won Eurovision since, well, “Rock ‘n’ Roll Kids.” Moreover, Ireland has drawn the first half of the second Semi, and a similar ballad, Cyprus’ “One Thing I Should Have Done,” is drawn into the second half. I fear that “Playing with Numbers” is going to disappear at the end of the evening when the votes are tallied.

Ireland’s Eurovision 2014 Entry

There are a few reasons why it is tempting to spend a lot of time writing about the shouting match that broke out on the Late Late Show Eurosong 2014 Special between mentor Billy McGuinness and judges Louis Walsh and Linda “The Mother Goddam of Eurovision” Martin:

  1. It was easily the most entertaining Irish selection show since 2009, when the guest judge was Jerry Springer (who of course ended up trending on Twitter in Ireland during the dust-up). Instead of the host of The Jerry Springer Show, you got its spirit.
  2. Laura O’Neill, McGuinness’ mentee, sang “You Don’t Remember Me,” the title of which became raucously ironic just moments after she finished performing.
  3. THIS:

 

You can watch the full set-to on the Eurovision website, and Roy D. Hacksaw sums it up nicely at Eurovision Apocalypse.

Of course, none of the drama on the Eurosong 2014 Special will matter to anyone watching Ireland’s entry during the second Semi on May 8. Only Irish viewers and diehard Eurovision fans are going to know what happened.  But for now, it’s just nice to have something exciting to discuss, because the songs on display during the Late Late Show were not much to talk about.

Anyway, Ireland’s entry this year is “Heartbeat” by Can-linn featuring Kasey Smith:

Ireland finished last in 2013 with Ryan Dolan’s “Only Love Survives,” a bodhrán-propelled dance-pop track featuring two hunky dancers, two back-up singers, and a drummer. To remedy that sad state of affairs, Ireland has picked a bodhrán-propelled dance-pop track featuring two hunky dancers, two back-up singers, and a fiddle player. Thankfully, no one made hearts with their hands during their performance.

“Heartbeat” is Swedish schlager with a Celtic overlay. The tune is fine, but it doesn’t go anywhere. The verse doesn’t really distinguish itself from the chorus, and while Smith belts out the last go at the chorus, there’s no key change to boost the song when she brings it home. Smith is a good singer, but she is weak in her lower range, so there are moments where the instrumentation washes over her.

Linda Martin made the point that the dancers were a bit distracting, and I agree with her to a point. The Late Late Show performance space is small, so the Can-Linn dancers framed Smith tightly. On the big Eurovision stage, they may not be as much of a distraction.

Late Late Show host Ryan Tubridy kept asking the judging panel if they had heard a song that could win Eurovision. No one really said yes, although Louis Walsh was a bit more upbeat about Ireland’s chances than the others. All “Heartbeat” needs to do is make the final and finish 25th or higher to improve on their previous result, and I don’t think it will achieve much more than that. This is the sound of a country playing safe and aiming for the middle of the table. Better luck next year.

Ireland’s Eurovision 2013 Entry

Can we just start by saying (again) how much we love Ireland’s mentor format?

The idea in a nutshell is this: RTE invites 5 music professionals to find a Eurovision entry. They are tasked with identifying the song, finding a singer, and overseeing the staging. These mentors are interviewed at Eurosong prior to the song presentation and explain what they were going for. The 5 songs then compete, and the winner is determined by jury and televote. It’s brilliant for a couple reasons. First, RTE delegates the work to others. They’ve figured out a way to avoid sifting through hundreds of online submissions: have someone else do it! Second, mentors purport to know more than RTE about music, the ESC, or, preferably, both. One need look no further than the BBC to see what happens if broadcasters are too in the weeds with the selection process.

The mentors’ work often succeeds or fails depending on how much thought a mentor puts into the process. Last night in Ireland, two mentors were on to something. The winner, and Ireland’s Eurovision 2013 selection, was Ryan Dolan with “Only Love Survives.”

Full points to mentor Stuart O’Connor. O’Connor was part of last year’s ESC Irish delegation, and he worked with Jedward and the water feature. So he’s a guy that’s been in the game before and has been thinking about how to give ’em the ol’ razzle dazzle. In this year’s outing, it’s clear he is considering the whole package–song, singer, presentation. He picked a modern, contemporary pop song from a talented singer and presented it in a way that can be scaled up for Malmö.

“Only Love Survives” opens with vocal and strong percussion. It captures your attention instantly. (As a side note, the importance of instant appeal is frequently underestimated at Eurovision.  You’ve got 3 minutes, there’s no time to win an audience over.) Ryan Dolan–who looks like Pauly D and sounds like Bruno Mars–is solid up front.  He sounds great and works the camera well. Though there is lots of movement from other folks onstage and the backing track is overproduced (more about that later), Dolan is in complete control. We love, too, that he’s a cowriter of the song. It is never unclear who the real star of this show is. I could go on about the lighting, the tribal tattoos, lots of things. The main point is there’s a lot going on here that’s right.

Our biggest concern is the arrangement. At 0:59, the song goes electropop. This arrangement choice places the song in a similar space to Loreen, and, as it turns out, other 2013 entrants like Cascada and Hannah Mancini. It will prompt needless comparisons to Sweden and ultimately will hurt Ireland’s chances. If we were at the helm in Ireland, we would move away from that sound and look instead to what Bruno Mars and Ke$ha are doing. “Grenade,” for example, shares the heavy percussion but supports the chorus with chorded backing vocals and piano keyboard. Alternatively, Ke$ha’s work is also in the dance space, but she emphasizes beat and rhythm; she uses treble in a different way from standard Europop.

The other song that did well at Eurosong was Aimée Fitzpatrick and the ballad “Crashing Down.” It wasn’t as complete a package, but the raw goods were assuredly there, and we wondered if the authentic sentiments might do well with the Irish voters. Mentor Mark McCabe said that he was looking for a song that would stand out, and indeed he found that. “Crashing Down” was a great song. What they gave us on Friday felt a little Hayden Panettiere in Nashville, but it was far from a game ender. Eighteen-year-old Fitzpatrick was an able singer but green. With an edgier, more distinctive voice I think this would have won. And even with the team they had, with more work this one could have been something.

All this said, at the end of the day we liked Ireland’s options and their final choice. Well done Ireland. The great work begins.

Ireland’s Eurovision 2012 Entry

In news that will surprise no one, Jedward has succeeded in their repeat attempt to represent Ireland at Eurovision. Here’s their 2012 entry, “Waterline.”

Similar to last year, RTE asked five mentors to identify songs and artists that could serve as candidates for the Eurovision Song Contest. The approach resulted in entries with different styles (Celtic pop, Swedish schlager, light rock, sappy crap, and Jedward), and I think one could reasonably argue that 4 out of the 5 outings had some merit.  For the record, we like this selection format very much. We also think it’s totally awesome that the selection show is simply an episode of The Late Late Show. In the U.S., this would amount to Eurovision selection being held on Craig Ferguson at 12:30am. Mellow and economical.  With special guest star Martin Sheen.

Eurosong wasn’t much of a competition for two reasons. First, Team Jedward know how to use social media to energize their fan base. From flashmobs on YouTube to #voteforjedward trending on Twitter, Planet Jedward generated and sustained buzz for their bid prior to the national final and greatly amped up the volume  this week. Second, they pay attention to the details. In the Eurosong national final, Jedward was in a class of their own when it came to costume, choreography, and camera staging.

I do not think “Waterline” is a strong song. The lyric makes no sense and the song has only one musical level, a relentless pulse that takes us nowhere. However, “Waterline” makes sense as a piece of the Jedwardian experience. Mentor Linda Martin said she listened to over 100 songs before deciding on it–I would agree that the song is a good fit for the Grimes brothers.

Between now and Baku, Jedward does have some things to iron out. I take it as a given that they will expand and heighten their performance for the bigger stage. The vocals can be improved, and I wonder if they’ll stick with that unappealing green color scheme. I also hope they will bring in some new choreography–we saw most of these moves in 2011’s Lipstick. However, Jedward has grown into their high-energy, ADHD artistic identity, and they are in better shape going to Baku then they were at this point going to Dusseldorf. And based on last year, we know that Jedward is driven, surrounds themselves with good people, and has the work ethic to see it through.

Ireland’s 2011 Eurovision Entry

Ireland selected Jedward to represent them this year in Dusseldorf. It was a narrow victory, but a win’s a win.  For them and for the bookies.

As mentioned in our Eurosong preview, the song is bubblegum electropop that reminds us of Britney Spears’ “Womanizer.”  There’s not much to the song, but then that’s hardly the point.  It’s youthful, fun, and a bit cheeky.  This is by no means profound art, but it isn’t the second coming of Dustin the Turkey.

Love ’em or hate ’em, they keep you talking. We are inclined to agree with the Eurosong panel that Jedward will attract a lot of media attention for Ireland at ESC, and free publicity is never a bad thing.

We did not feel their performance was ESC ready, but few are at this point and there’s time.  We assume they will use the ESC platform for more elaborate staging and choreography.  Looking forward to Dusseldorf, some thoughts:

  • Their act is high-energy, but they need more physical conditioning to be able to pull off their movement without going pitchy.
  • We were confused by the backup singers — why 4 backup singers to sing in unison? Why not amp up the performance and get some dancers instead?
  • They need to go diva and ditch the girl with the red mohawk. Her distinctive look draws attention away from them.
  • We found their performance level during Eurosong a bit disappointing, but we note they improved in their 2nd performance, after they were announced the winners and they could just have fun with it. One hopes they can build on that sense of fun for Germany.

How they will fare is hard to predict.  Success for Jedward rests not on the strength of song, but on their charisma and a polished performance.  We think they can make it out of the Semis, but there’s work to do.