Eurovision 2017: Three Signs That Ireland Is Trying

News Feature by
Tinteán‘s Special Eurovision Correspondent, Genevieve Rogers

Stand-in rehearsals have begun in Ukraine capital, Kiev, for 2017 Eurovision Song Contest, now less than 3 weeks away. So it is time to have a closer look at the Irish entry, ‘Dying To Try’, performed by Galway native, Brendan Murray.

Brendan Murray, RTE site

After a disappointing run of non-qualifications to the Grand Final of the world’s largest entertainment event, Ireland is back again with another internal selection by RTÉ. A staggering €337,000 outlay on last year’s entry failed to produce a breakthrough return to the top echelons of the Eurovision world  – despite economies such as waiver of his performance fee by Nicky Byrne, economy class air travel to Stockholm by the delegation and designated hotel accommodation for the team of 18. And, of course, savings made by abandoning the Eurosong process. It’s an expensive business.

The issue for Ireland – as for many smaller Eurovision nations – is whether, without success at the Contest soon and the benefits that flow, the national broadcaster can continue to justify outlays of that magnitude. Public patience is sorely tested by each failure – though the broadcaster can and does argue that there is very good value from its point of view in screening the package of three shows ( 2 Semi Finals and the Grand Final), as mandated by its membership of the European Broadcasting Union and its participation in the event itself.

It is now twenty years since Ireland last won Eurovision – in another century and in a completely different Eurovision musical landscape. So has Ireland given up on Eurovision, preferring just to turn up to the party in jaded mood, or is it really trying?

This year there are encouraging signs that RTE really is trying again – not necessarily for the win, but for the credibility which comes with qualification to the Grand Final. That would be the first step in a long process, the next being a Top 10 finish, followed by a Top 5, and then perhaps the Unthinkable. This is all in the future, but for now RTÉ seems to have stepped up its game.

The Eurovision blogosphere is showing very little love for ‘Dying To Try’ which is criticised mainly for its datedness. ‘Old Eurovision by numbers, including the key change. Especially the key change.’ Brendan Murray’s unique high-pitched voice is also, in Eurovision parlance, ‘Marmite’ – you either love it or you really don’t.

But with all of that said, there are three encouraging signs:

(1) RTÉ has chosen Nicoline Refsing as stage director for the entry. In Eurovision terms this is something of a coup as her track record has been impressive. She has recently staged very successful entries from The Netherlands ( The Common Linnets), Latvia (Aminata) and last year’s stunning jury winner, Australia (Dami Im).

(2) RTÉ has also sent Brendan on the pre-season party and concert circuit throughout Europe (Tel Aviv, London, Amsterdam and Madrid). These are fan events, often quite chaotic and exuberant, which, while they cannot mimic the Big Stage, give performers arena experience and allow the delegations to tweak the songs for stage performance. Invaluable, especially for young performers.

(3) The staging has been designed to include, as backing lineup, a Gospel choir. The rules limit the number of performers per entry to 6, which limits the size of the choir. However, a wall of 5 Gospel singers behind this song should transform its rather thin ‘boy ballad’ sound in a year in which ballads abound and there are 2 strong ‘boy ballad’ entries from Bulgaria and Australia, fishing the same waters with televoters. Interesting addition.

Ireland will compete in Semi-Final 2 in Kiev on 11th May, 21.00 CET. It is the weaker of the 2 Semis this year and the more Eastern-bloc friendly. The Top 10 from 18 will progress to the Final. Currently, fans and the bookmakers have Ireland hovering just below the 10th spot.

Can Ireland do it from there, in the more unpredictable field? Now that stand-in rehearsals have begun and the technical aspects of the staging are becoming known, there will be some fluidity in the markets and amongst the fans. And the performance on the night will, of course, impact its chances.

But if Ireland can qualify, and RTE can see some return on its efforts this year, Eurovision 2017 might be the year that, after a wilderness period, Ireland gets its Eurovision mojo back. This entry is not a winner but it shows signs of commitment which are encouraging. Baby steps and building blocks – Ireland is starting to try again.

Genevieve Rogers

Eurovision Song Contest will be held in Kiev on 9th, 11th and 13th May, 2017.
Check SBS for local broadcast times.