With a singer too young to have seen an Irish winner, is it time to accept we've peaked on the Eurovision stage?
Look, it’s not going to go our way in Kiev on Thursday and 2017 is not going to be the year that Ireland reclaims its Eurovision crown.
For children of the 80s and 90s, this is just another kick in the teeth. Those careers we were promised? Vanished in a puff of bail-out smoke. The houses we’d get to buy? Hoarded by landlords who increase the rent and think bathroom mould adds shabby chic rusticity. But the Eurovision... that was ours.
It’s even more important if you don’t like sport; for a country that never misses an opportunity to COY-big itself up on the international playing field, the grande finale of the Eurovision is a capricious spectacle of impossible competition. No more than six people, mandated by the rules to feign live music, take to the spotlight, sequins aglow, singing live and packing in some kind of schtick. In just 180 seconds, the song must win over an entire continent – and Australian gays who are still awake.
The 90s, in particular, is fondly remembered as the Ireland’s ESC glory days, notching up four wins in five years, and finishing second in the sixth. Of course, it goes without saying the entire festival is naff, filled with dodgy songs and forced English-as-a-second-language humour. But actually, nothing in Eurovision goes without saying, because why say it when you can have a Ukrainian drag queen dressed in a glitter ball counting in German.
My point is that for a while there, ours – our Irish bangers – were the best dodgy songs and our punchlines came from native speakers. In an era that produced Rock & Roll Kids and Riverdance on the same night in Dublin’s Point Theatre, maybe it’s time to accept that we’ve peaked?
I don’t know Brendan Murray, the former boyband singer who’ll be representing Ireland this year, so let me politely state for the record now that I take no solace in sticking the knife in. Admittedly, I probably don’t have to manically wield my critical blade like I’m a member of the Manson Family lingering over Sharon Tate, but it’s been a long 21 years since Eimear Quinn pre-cognitively cosplayed as Galadriel on the stage in Oslo.
Speaking of Norway, Per Sundnes, a former head of the Nordic country’s delegation, has been removed from this year’s competition. Commenting on this year’s Irish entry on Norwegian TV, Sundnes said that Ireland has “lost it completely,” awarding our song the lowest mark of all of them in competition. I’m preparing my asylum application now, as I tend to agree.
Dying to Try is, by even the most cursory of Eurovision standards, a terrible song. Sung in feverish falsetto, this mournful ballad mopes its way through a handful of repetitive verses, each saying something more meaningless about love. “I’ll give you it all, but I’m not gonna lie,” Brendan lies, “Cause no one can promise that love will ever learn how to fly.”
The video is even worse; as a way to market Dying to Try to international voters, RTÉ has framed the love ballad around what I can only assume is a 13 Reasons Why-inspired suicide pact between two young lovers in Bray. “Love can be so strong,” Murray plaintively acknowledges, before, twist, adding, “And yet so frail.” Shielded from the spring cold in his mother’s coat and stumbling around like he’s Sue Perkins looking for her spectacles, Dying to Try comes to its post-key change crescendo at the top of Bray Head. Staring into each other’s eyes, the young lovers stand lost in the moment, as Murray advises them to “Take a leap if you believe.”
Credit where it is due, Brendan Murray is undeniably the best vocalist Ireland has sent to the Eurovision in 20 years, provided his unusually high tone is your cup of tea. Compared to Nicky Byrne, Jedward, Dustin and Dervish, he can carry a tune for the entire length of the song and belt it out into the Irish Sea like the best of them.
But let’s stop for a moment and reflect on how the Irish entry is going to be staged in Kiev on Thursday night...
The Montgolfier brothers are turning in their graves, what is this Dr Suess balloon business? Why is he hot air ballooning through a skyline set during the rapture? Eurovision is about pizzazz and panache, not a static inflatable. Robin Bengtsson’s I Can’t Go On, which very likely can go on to claim Sweden a tie-the-Irish-record seventh win on Saturday, sees him obnoxiously two-stepping on treadmills while his backing dancers pull shapes like James Kavanagh. Brendan Murray... grabs onto a rope, I guess, at one point. Yeah Sweden, our guy ties knots.
RTÉ reportedly received 300 songs, an expert panel whittling them down to 10, from which Louis Walsh handpicked Dying to Try for Murray, his latest protégé. The singer is good, the song is bad, the video is worse, and the staging is worst. Maybe we’ll have a really charming lead-in postcard to look forward to?