- 17 May 19
Perhaps it is for the best that Ireland’s somewhat ignominious involvement in this year’s Eurovision Song Contest came to an end last night. Because overall, it was a hollow occasion, that inevitably played out as an Israeli propaganda exercise.
In case you hadn’t noticed, Eurovision stopped being a true song contest round about the time Ireland stopped winning it, and it’s often come to resemble a visual installations competition with the song a mere distraction. So in the first semi-final we had Australia practising for the Olympics pole-vaulting event, during ‘Zero Gravity’.
Let’s be clear. Hot Press’ view is that Ireland should have refused to participate in this year’s Eurovision contest. Unfortunately, the call for Ireland to boycott the event didn’t work and RTÉ sent a full team. Against that background, it was painful to see Irish representative Sarah McTernan giving it her all. You couldn’t wholeheartedly cheer her on, though a few eejits did turn up waving an Irish flag and gurning at the cameras.
The bad taste left by the feeling that this was an Israeli propaganda exercise from start to finish was the worst part. But McTernan was also hampered by a song so feeble it should have been on life support. What were RTÉ doing in Israel? How had they picked this pointless song? In the heel of the hunt, Ireland failed, for the fifth time from the last six, to reach the final. It was the end of an embarrassing episode for the national broadcaster. Except that they will have to go through the motions of covering the final on Saturday night.
Watching Eurovision can be a guilty pleasure for some, but having four (yes, four) healthy and apparently sane adult comperes talking to the audience as if they were at play-school hardly helped the tone last night. Even if you were cynical enough not to give a damn about the distressing politics of it all, this felt condescending and silly. They kept telling us how much fun they were having, as if they even needed to convince themselves – which they probably did. The videos of different parts of Israel that prefaced each song gave no hint of the appalling conditions imposed on Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. But of course…
At least the grim reality of life in Gaza featured on the RTÉ 9 o’clock News last night, though even there, an attempt at balance made it look tokenistic. There is no balance between a nuclear power, like Israel, that is supported and buttressed by the US, and the protestors who toss rocks and the odd grenade across the barriers and fences that imprison them.
For those prepared to endure the whole Euro farrago, there was the usual quota of daftness. The Croatian singer sang with incongruous golden wings stuck to his back like a surreal rucksack. He didn’t get through. Romania had a woman sitting in a comfy chair while two fellas acted the eejit behind her. She didn’t get through either. But the Denmark singer mostly just sang the song. Whoever thought of that? And she got through.
The Azerbaijani chap had to deal with two useless robots in his way, but he came out of the heat with a convincing performance of a song that could well be a hit in its own right. Netherlands also reached Saturday’s final without a choreographed platoon of articulated JCBs on stage, proving that a decent song sung by a non-hysterical chap playing the piano often does the job. Even that niggled. This was not the place to hear anything that might resemble good music. Beyond the pretty arpeggios, everything felt hollow.
Later, interval guests the Shalva Band, eight musicians with disabilities, sang ‘A Million Dreams’. In a different place, and at a different time, it would have been unconditionally moving. Here, it too was part of the Israeli propaganda offensive. There are lots of people in Gaza with disabilities inflicted by the Israeli military. But they didn’t feature anywhere on the night.
So Saturday’s final will have twenty finalists from the heats: North Macedonia, The Netherlands, Albania, Sweden, Russia, Azerbaijan, Denmark, Norway, Switzerland, Malta, Australia, Belarus, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Greece, Iceland, San Marino, Serbia and Slovenia, as well six who qualify without having to qualify: Israel, the UK, France, Germany, Italy and Spain.
You might of course wonder why Australia should be in the contest at all, while, say, Burkina Faso and Palestine aren’t. Answers on a postcard please.
Normally, Eurovision fans would be licking their lips and saying ‘roll on Saturday’. But, when all is said – or rather shouted – and done, on the night, the shadow of Israel’s apartheid regime will likely loom largest of all.