23 February 2008

Once again we try... (too hard)

Tonight a large number of Irish people will be watching TV and participating in the futile annual spectacle to select our national entry for the Eurovision Song Contest on RTÉ 1. Gone is the old "You're a Star" format that did not produce the desired international success for years, even though it did give loads of Irish singers and musicians a chance to be discovered (or to be gutted). Now the show is called Eurosong 2008 and will start at 7 p.m., with a separate follow-up at 9.45 p.m., when the results of the public vote will be announced.

This year's contest was also open to songwriters from outside of Ireland, and almost 200 entries were received from both home and abroad. In a change from the last two years of the competition, when composers were invited to write a song for an act chosen by RTÉ, this year entrants were asked to submit the complete package of song and performer.
RTÉ has - presumably in painstaking work, done by highly qualified and even higher paid experts - shortlisted six songs that will be played in tonight's final. The rest is now the responsibility of the Irish people, or at least that portion of the population that cares for useless and senseless gimmicks like the Eurovision Song Contest, this year to be staged at - of all places - Belgrade (capital city of Serbia, which still harbours war criminals and is one of the last places to which any person with common sense would want to go).

But common sense and pop music rarely go together, so one should not be surprised that there are at least five people - and one turkey - keen to be sent there as the musical representative of this country. The six final "acts" (yes, they don't even call them songs anymore) for Eurosong 2008 are:
  1. "Double Cross my Heart" performed by Donal Skehan (and composed by Joel Humlén, Oscar Gorres and Charlie Mason)
  2. "Irelande Douze Pointe" performed by Dustin the Turkey (and composed by Darren Smith, Simon Fine and Dustin the Turkey)
  3. "Time to Rise" performed by Maya (and composed by Maja Slatinsek and Ziga Pirnat)
  4. "Not Crazy after all" performed by Leona Daly (and composed by Leona Daly and Steve Booker)
  5. "Sometimes" performed by Liam Geddes (and written by Susan Hewitt)
  6. "Chances" written and performed Marc Roberts
Having heard all six songs earlier this week on the Mooney Show on RTÉ Radio 1, I have to say I am not impressed. Is this really the best we have to offer to Europe, the best we can find in this country that is filled with music (and musical talents) like no other?

Once again we try to have a "strong" entrance that could win the contest, but once again we try too hard. Having won the Eurovision Song Contest a record seven times and achieved many honourable places in the upper ten positions, Ireland seems under renewed pressure each year to produce another great success. What we seem not to realise is that the structure of the whole contest has changed since the days when Ireland could - and did - win it. Nowadays the annual spectacle is dominated by the new countries of Eastern Europe and the Balkans, who have burst onto the Eurovision show stage during the past few years, blasting away anything the Western states of "old" Europe had to offer.

Like most Western European countries, Ireland did very badly in recent years. Despite the fact that our very own sage and IRISH TIMES columnist John Waters wrote last year's Irish song and promised repeatedly that it would win in Helsinki, he instead achieved a surprising first of a different kind: the seven-times winner Ireland came last (and John Waters has not yet recovered from that shock).
The only sensible thing after such a humiliation would have been to call it quits for good and retire gracefully from the contest we once dominated, but which has now moved into another dimension into which we cannot follow. But there are still people in RTÉ who believe in the impossible (like they might also believe in the existence of "Santa" in a grotto at the North Pole).

So they keep going and wasting licence-fee-payers' money on yet another national contest. The result will be watched by large crowds of bored and boring people tonight. And they will vote for their song of choice, wasting more money on SMS text messages, and get excited over the whole affair while getting drunk in the meantime.

I have no favourite for tonight, and no idea who will win. In fact, I couldn't care less. But one thing is already certain: Since we leave the Irish people in charge of selecting a great song for Belgrade, the outcome might well be as disastrous as the last three general elections. One can be sure that Irish people voting will create a real mess of mediocre incompetence, as they have done so expertly in 1997, 2002 and 2007 when electing a new Dáil.

Once again we try - way too hard - and once again we will fail to make a great impression in the Eurovision Song Contest, which is now really the political and cultural hobby horse of the newly freed states of Europe. And once again we completely overlook a possible alternative, a really good song which - with some luck - might actually have a chance in Belgrade.

My repeated use of the word "once" in this text might have given you a hint already. The song I would have chosen as Ireland's entry for this years Eurovision Song Contest is called "Falling Slowly", performed by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, and comes from the soundtrack of the recent Irish film "once", which is already very popular in Ireland and abroad. The song is soft, sensible and original, goes straight to the heart, but also touches the mind. And it has been nominated for an Oscar.
None of the six songs people will hear and vote for tonight has such qualities, so I will not waste any more time talking or writing about them. Just one more point: my neighbour told me today that he is voting for Dustin the Turkey (even though he has not yet heard the song). This is very typical for the Irish mind. Give us a land mine, and we will happily step on it with a laugh...

The Emerald Islander
(going for a long walk tonight)


The Wild Goose said...

I remember how important the Erovision Song Contest used to be when I was a child. The whole family used to sit in from of the TV and follow the programm. Anyway the quality of the music never was that outsanding; but I understand what you mean.

Alexander "Sunny" Bergen said...

Our two nations have encountered the same problem in recent years. The new states of the former Eastern block - now free and enjoying the first fruits of liberalism and capitalism - are bringing an exuberance to music and to the Eurovision Song Contest that is no longer to be found in the "sophisticated" West.
Gone are the days when we could just have a bit of fun with a song and a pint. Those were the years when you - the Irish - swept the board and could just not be beaten with your musical exuberance.
I think that the "Celtic Tiger" did devour this special Irish charm and spirit, and now that you have become big capitalists, your songs sound as shallow and mediocre as those coming out of the US and UK.
Well, times change, and we have to change with them. The last time I did enjoy the song contest was when I was a student. Since then it has gone downhill, and I turned to the real music of Beethoven and Elgar.


Well, yes, those were the days... we were all a lot poorer, but excited that millions of people would take notice of us.
Europe was still "fun" and there was another TV spectacle, called "Spel zonder Grenzen", which was originally developed in France under the name "Jeux Sans Frontières". Ireland never took part in that, but you might have seen it on the British TV, as the UK was in it for 16 years and called it "It's a Knockout".
On a more serious field we were at that time fighting for the members of the European Parliament to be elected (as then they were just selected and sent there by the six national governments).
There was one TV channel, most cars were small and people still found a lot of time to socialise in normal ways, without having to dress up or spend a lot of money.
Yes, those were the days. And once a year there was Eurovision and we loved it, even though most of the songs were not very good even then.
But is was still a song contest and the songs made the difference, not so much the singers. Nowadays the annual Eurovision Song Contest has become a battle of the show acts, and it seems to me that somewhere on the road to a larger Europe the two old shows - the Eurovision Song Contest and "Spel zonder Grenzen" - merged and became one. If that was intentional or just accidental is a little bit of a mystery. I would do one thing if I could: I would split the contest into two - one for show acts, and one for pure singing. It would be fair, and the only chance for countries like Ireland or the UK to win it again.

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