Back in the days when English tennis player Tim Henman was the sport's perpetual runner-up, British satirical magazine Private Eye ran a series of spoof headlines parodying the patriotic hype that mirrored his inevitable arc of progress: "Henmania!", "It's Timbledon!", and "Disappointment as Henman crashes out early". Anyone who has followed Ireland's exploits in the Eurovision Song Contest over recent years will be familiar with a similar annual cycle of expectation and deflation.
Despite chalking up more winners than any other country in Eurovision history, in the past decade Ireland’s entries have consistently fallen flat in the guiltily pleasurable pan-continental cheesy pop competition, to be held this year in Rotterdam on Saturday, May 16th.
Each year, Irish songs attempt to scale the summit using a novel twist – for example recruiting puppets such as Dustin the Turkey or, for that matter, Jedward – only to stall at base camp. Since 2013, only two singers have made it out of the semi-final heats to the song contest proper: Ryan Dolan and Ryan O'Shaughnessy.
So a sense of trepidation rather than anticipation inevitably prevails as the latest Irish Eurovision hopeful gets its first airing on Thursday morning’s edition of 2FM Breakfast with Doireann and Eoghan, and not just because the singer isn’t named Ryan.
Like several of its misfiring predecessors, Story of my Life, by Balbriggan-born singer-songwriter Lesley Roy, has been billed as a potential game-changer. For once, however, some of the puff may be justified.
For one thing, Roy has experience in the international dance-pop milieu that goes down well with Eurovision's voting public. Splitting her time between New York and Ireland, she recorded her 2008 album, Unbeautiful, with one of the world's most prolific hitmakers, Swedish producer Max Martin.
Moreover Roy's song, chosen by an RTÉ panel from a selection by established composers, is to be staged for the competition by director Philly McMahon of innovative theatre company Thisispopbaby. McMahon has a justified reputation for memorably melding the fabulous, the edgy and the affecting, no harm in the spectacle-driven Eurovision.
Yet while 2FM presenters Doireann Garrihy and Eoghan McDermott are dutifully enthusiastic as they prime listeners for the song's debut, though initially their praise could be more emphatic. "Are we going to be disappointed? I can confidently say no," says McDermott, by way of tepid vote of confidence.
To be fair, McDermott – still hosting 2FM’s breakfast show despite reports that he is to leave the station – also describes the tune “a certified banger”, the acme of approval for Generation Z. And when the presenters eventually play the song, it’s certainly different from the forgettable melodic pop that has long been Ireland’s Eurovision stock-in-trade. A crunchy synth riff propels the song before a frenetic beat and Roy’s breathily euphoric vocals kick in. It’s followed by an instantly infectious chorus which, on first listen at least, has serious earworm potential.
Combined with a positive lyric that celebrates staying true to your personality in the face of hostility, it’s upbeat and affirmative, while staying on the right side of unthreatening. Roy’s song is effortlessly catchy, sticking in the memory after one listen, a vital quality in the crowded Eurovision field. It turns out McDermott is right: it doesn’t disappoint.
Of course, as every pop practitioner knows, there’s a fine line between a well-crafted but generic song and a genuine smash. It remains to be seen whether Roy’s song, for all its slick merits, can distinguish itself sufficiently to escape the gravitational pull of the regional voting loyalties that have skewed Eurovision results in the recent past.
Meanwhile, the quirky lo-fi electro-pop of Iceland’s Daði Freyr is an early favourite, showing that genuine originality can still create a buzz.
Much will depend on McMahon’s stage interpretation: he has said the fact that both Roy and he are from the LGBT community has been a “good hook”. But with its anthemic chorus and vivacious delivery, Story of My Life seems like the most promising Irish prospect in some time.
Fifty years after Dana delivered Ireland's first victory in the competition, Roy will be hoping she can leave behind Ireland's recent disappointing showings and get Ireland's Eurovision record back on track.
Just don’t get too carried away yet.