A News Feature by Tinteán‘s Eurovision
Correspondent, Genevieve Rogers
UPDATE: The Grand Final of the Contest was held in Vienna on Saturday 23rd May and was won by Sweden’s Mans Zelmerlow. Guy Sebastian, Australia’s one-off entry, came fifth.
It wasn’t known affectionately as the ‘bloodbath Semi’ for nothing!
Semi Final 2 at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015 has been run and won with inevitable casualties. Seventeen entries performed for ten Final spots and, despite a solid performance, Ireland’s Molly Sterling singing ‘Playing With Numbers’ was eliminated from the competition.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that this was Ireland’s best entry for years and Molly is a talent with a big career ahead of her if she chooses. More good news is the fact that the entry was modern, the styling and staging impressive and the general buzz around the Irish entry positive. This augurs well for the future for Ireland at the Contest after some years of appearing to lose its way. Ireland is back on track!
The Irish delegation rose to the challenge of the hi-tech staging. The visuals were impressive – a woodland setting, three backing instrumentalists (nice vibe from a drummer and two string players) and Molly seated at an upright piano playing her self-penned song. The atmospherics were moody and simple, allowing her unusual voice to shine.
There were a couple of issues. Throughout the rehearsal period Molly seemed to have difficulty connecting with the camera, being absorbed in the music and with her eyes often shut. In the Semi Final, though improved, that aspect remained a problem. For a stage performance it might be enhancing but Eurovision is a television spectacular and that sort of introspection simply does not translate on screen. At seventeen, Molly is amongst the youngest performers at the Contest and the poor camera eye contact may simply have been inexperience. (Note to RTE: in the intimacy of the Late Late Show studio these sorts of issues don’t register: in the big, big environment of a Eurovision stage they are everything. Maybe it’s time to leave the studio behind as a venue for the selection.)
The other issue was the song itself. It is a very good song but very wordy and complex. It requires an almost poetic understanding of English to engage with – and even then this song is a Grower, not a Grabber in Eurovision terms. It improves on multiple plays as the lyrics are absorbed slowly. For many millions of Eurovision fans and viewers English is a second or even a third language and there are no second opportunities to listen. Just the three minutes before the caravan moves on. As good as it is, ‘Playing With Numbers’ is not an ‘instant’ song – and that’s fatal at Eurovision.
Would tweaking the camera work have made a difference to the outcome? Probably not in this case. There is a spot in every Eurovision Final for the quiet, reflective performance that contrasts with all the bling and noise around it, the calm at the centre of the storm. In this Semi that ground was well and truly occupied by the entry from Cyprus with a performer whose every breath and movement was camera- and televiewer-friendly. That’s just the luck of the draw.
For now, Ireland should take many positives away from this Contest. Molly and the Irish delegation charmed the commentariat and the press generally, and the whole package oozed the kind of Eurovision credibility that some countries (UK, for example) would give much to achieve. The move away from the old mentor system yielded a very good product for RTE and a promising start for a new era for Ireland at Eurovision. The direction is right. Ireland is back on track. The challenge now is to stay there.