Can we just start by saying (again) how much we love Ireland’s mentor format?
The idea in a nutshell is this: RTE invites 5 music professionals to find a Eurovision entry. They are tasked with identifying the song, finding a singer, and overseeing the staging. These mentors are interviewed at Eurosong prior to the song presentation and explain what they were going for. The 5 songs then compete, and the winner is determined by jury and televote. It’s brilliant for a couple reasons. First, RTE delegates the work to others. They’ve figured out a way to avoid sifting through hundreds of online submissions: have someone else do it! Second, mentors purport to know more than RTE about music, the ESC, or, preferably, both. One need look no further than the BBC to see what happens if broadcasters are too in the weeds with the selection process.
The mentors’ work often succeeds or fails depending on how much thought a mentor puts into the process. Last night in Ireland, two mentors were on to something. The winner, and Ireland’s Eurovision 2013 selection, was Ryan Dolan with “Only Love Survives.”
Full points to mentor Stuart O’Connor. O’Connor was part of last year’s ESC Irish delegation, and he worked with Jedward and the water feature. So he’s a guy that’s been in the game before and has been thinking about how to give ’em the ol’ razzle dazzle. In this year’s outing, it’s clear he is considering the whole package–song, singer, presentation. He picked a modern, contemporary pop song from a talented singer and presented it in a way that can be scaled up for Malmö.
“Only Love Survives” opens with vocal and strong percussion. It captures your attention instantly. (As a side note, the importance of instant appeal is frequently underestimated at Eurovision. You’ve got 3 minutes, there’s no time to win an audience over.) Ryan Dolan–who looks like Pauly D and sounds like Bruno Mars–is solid up front. He sounds great and works the camera well. Though there is lots of movement from other folks onstage and the backing track is overproduced (more about that later), Dolan is in complete control. We love, too, that he’s a cowriter of the song. It is never unclear who the real star of this show is. I could go on about the lighting, the tribal tattoos, lots of things. The main point is there’s a lot going on here that’s right.
Our biggest concern is the arrangement. At 0:59, the song goes electropop. This arrangement choice places the song in a similar space to Loreen, and, as it turns out, other 2013 entrants like Cascada and Hannah Mancini. It will prompt needless comparisons to Sweden and ultimately will hurt Ireland’s chances. If we were at the helm in Ireland, we would move away from that sound and look instead to what Bruno Mars and Ke$ha are doing. “Grenade,” for example, shares the heavy percussion but supports the chorus with chorded backing vocals and piano keyboard. Alternatively, Ke$ha’s work is also in the dance space, but she emphasizes beat and rhythm; she uses treble in a different way from standard Europop.
The other song that did well at Eurosong was Aimée Fitzpatrick and the ballad “Crashing Down.” It wasn’t as complete a package, but the raw goods were assuredly there, and we wondered if the authentic sentiments might do well with the Irish voters. Mentor Mark McCabe said that he was looking for a song that would stand out, and indeed he found that. “Crashing Down” was a great song. What they gave us on Friday felt a little Hayden Panettiere in Nashville, but it was far from a game ender. Eighteen-year-old Fitzpatrick was an able singer but green. With an edgier, more distinctive voice I think this would have won. And even with the team they had, with more work this one could have been something.
All this said, at the end of the day we liked Ireland’s options and their final choice. Well done Ireland. The great work begins.