First Listen Review attempts to capture my first impressions of the year’s Eurovision entries as and when they’re released. My opinion is liable to change as certain songs grow on me or get revamped, but based on the principle that most listeners will only hear each entry once (or twice) before voting, hopefully it’ll provide some insight. 

Ireland Flag

Molly Sterling – Playing With Numbers

Molly Sterling - Playing With Numbers | Eurovision 2015 Ireland

16-year-old Molly Sterling hails from Puckane in County Tipperary. A talented singer and multi-instrumentalist, she co-wrote ‘Playing With Numbers’ with Greg French.

Ireland have a major problem. Once a major Eurovision power – and still the country with the most wins – they’ve seen their fortunes slip dramatically in recent years, with just two top ten placings in the past decade, three non-qualifiers and another three songs that landed in the bottom 3 in the finals.

Anyone who has suffered through their national selection program in recent years will have a good idea where the issues lie. Not only is the show cheap and uninteresting, but the attitude of the hosts and panelists is for the most part entitled, out of touch and disengaged with what the contest represents in 2015. The formula that worked so successfully for them in the mid-nineties no longer applies, but many of the figures involved in last night’s show seemed unable or unwilling to move with the times.

This attitude was reflected in the songs and artists involved in the selection. Ireland has a rich, distinctive musical history that goes far beyond the hits of Johnny Logan and Linda Martin, and there’s absolutely no way the collection of beige, half-hearted tunes on display last night represented the best the country has to offer. (One song – Break Me Up by Swedish singer Erika Salin – had no meaningful connection to Ireland at all. That it was the best of the bunch speaks volumes). Either the decision-makers behind the scenes are making very questionable decisions with the submissions they receive, or the worn out format simply isn’t attracting a high enough standard of material. My hunch is that it’s a little of both.

The favourite going into the contest was a passable but overly shrill pop song by Nikki Kavanagh. It at least sounded vaguely contemporary to 2015 and had a bit of life too it. However, a terrible live vocal did her in and cleared the path for a classic underdog victory for sixteen year old Molly Sterling.

Her self-penned ‘Playing With Numbers’ is a modestly pretty piano ballad that fits the ‘proper Irish ballad’ criteria that the panelists seemed to be craving. Unfortunately, while it meanders along nicely enough it’s lacking in a strong hook or any real sense of progression. Sterling’s voice has a husky quality that reminds me of Sweden’s Anna Bergendahl, and I strong suspect she’ll suffer a similar fate in the semi finals. A shame, as she’s clearly talented and it’s hardly her fault that RTE’s format is so fundamentally flawed, but as a Eurovision entry this simply isn’t good enough.

How can the Irish shake themselves out of their current torpor? In its current form, I suspect few major artists would go anywhere near the national final, so my first suggestion would be the one that many fans made after Can Lin and Kasey Smith crashed out last year – scrap it. An internal selection of a high-quality artist with a song Ireland can really get behind could go a long way towards restoring some enthusiasm for the contest. As things currently stand, their approach is arguably the worst in Europe. A dismal fall from grace indeed.