First Listen: Ireland Plays with Numbers

Eurovision Song Contest 2015 (Logo: Eurovision)
Eurovision Song Contest 2015 (Logo: Eurovision)

After a couple of disappointing years for the Eurovision Song Contest’s winningest country, Molly Sterling looks to get Ireland back on track.

The Irish have a strong track record at the Eurovision Song Contest. When Ireland is good, they’re very very good, having won the contest seven times — more than any other country — including five times between 1987 and 1996. When Ireland is not great, they’re still entertaining. (See Dustin the Turkey from 2008, or Jedward from 2011 and 2012.) But when Ireland’s bad — as they have been recently — they’re horrid. In 2013, Ryan Dolan finished dead last with a total of five points, and last year Can-Linn and Kasey Smith failed to even qualify for the finals.

So how does this year look?

Molly Sterling has a great voice, and I love how it’s rough around the edges, even as the song itself is basically radio-ready. The arrangement is well-done, although the cello player looks bored during live performances, and could contribute an extra layer of warmth to the verses. I love the dynamic peaks and valleys, especially in the last third when everyone else drops out and it’s just Molly and her piano for a couple of bars. The ending could use some work, though. The way the instruments drop out, come back in, and then the song ends very quickly thereafter is confusing; I found myself thinking “Oh, the song’s ending … wait, no it’s not … wait, yes it is.” Also, we need to hear more from the backing singers.

The biggest issue for this song, though, is the staging. Having a singer-songwriter who can also play the piano is compelling in a number of contexts, but Eurovision isn’t one of them. Putting the singer behind a piano separates her from the audience, and it’s important with a ballad to connect with the audience. There’s no reason to have any musical performers on stage, in fact, unless they’re also going to add visual appeal. None of these folks do, at least not at this point. The $64k question: is Molly used to, and comfortable with, performing without her instrument? Again — she will need to connect with the audience, so any awkwardness needs to be minimized.

Ultimately, this song and entry are well-constructed. I’m generally not a fans of ballads at Eurovision unless there is something else going on with the performance. (Would I have liked Conchita Wurst’s song last year had it been performed by anyone other than a drag queen? Proooooobably not, or at least not as much.) That said, I like this song and think/hope it will do well, finishing in the top half of the finals. Not a winner, but a marked improvement for the Irish in 2015.

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