I feel sorry for Wild Youth. They are an arena rock band that has somehow landed in the middle of Eurovision.
Does that mean that arena rock doesn’t belong at Eurovision? No! Maneskin (who at their heart are a sexier version of the Red Hot Chili Peppers) quite clearly demonstrated how arena rock can work at Eurovision.
But the problem is that Wild Youth aren’t aspiring to be the Red Hot Chili Peppers, with naked antics and hijinks on stage. They’re wanting to be U2 or Coldplay or Keane*, a group of four lads anthemically belting their feelings out on stage.
For years, this was the paradigm of success in the music industry. A bunch of boys (yes, the gender is very important) started noodling around after school and then got good enough to attract the attention of the record industry.
Thankfully, the music industry isn’t like that anymore. That’s not to say there’s not space for a good arena rock band (again, Maneskin). But where is the exciting music coming from today? It’s from singer songwriters like Taylor Swift, seizing the narrative of relationships from a woman’s perspective. It’s from kids who are messing around with beats and samples and releasing albums that are all over the map musically, like Lil Nas X. It’s from people who are using their music to explore identity and gender and sexuality, like Kim Petras.
In the music scene of today, is it enough to be four lads with a hook and a dream? No. Not unless there’s something else – something that sets those four lads apart from everyone else.
And that is the problem with this song. It’s meant to be belted out in a stadium, with thousands of strangers joining together to sing “We Are One.” But other than that one line, what does it mean? It’s a series of cliches that are strung together and delivered quite earnestly, but ultimately ending up with something that’s devoid of meaning.
I hate to be banging on about authenticity, but the issue is that the earnest, eager to please lads of Wild Youth are delivering something that is absolutely generic. They’re trying very hard to deliver it well and fit the brief, but I leave this song no wiser about who they are or what they’re interested in.
Their fans would note that it’s been their dream to be in Eurovision, as evidenced by a tweet the lead singer Conor O’Donohoe put out last year. But why? What specifically about Eurovision does he love?
The Eirevision podcast did an excellent interview with Conor, where he talked about his reasons for loving Eurovision. And I was struck by how he talked about the promise of the semi-finals, where artists can come out and do absolutely anything and it’s all completely surprising. These are the words of someone who loves Eurovision. But this attitude isn’t reflected at all in the performance that Wild Youth is putting on. (It should be noted that Conor also talks about his love of fashion, but none of that seems to translate beyond wearing sparkly clothes, which are fun, but certainly not boundary pushing at a show like Eurovision.)
I feel like Wild Youth are almost getting the brief right. They’re saying some of the right things. But none of this is evident on stage. Ireland, you have forty days. You still have time to commission some giant hats, a burning guitar, another rodeo bull – just something! But you’ll need that something if you want to make this song a Eurovision song, rather than a song you entered in Eurovision.
*I hope all of you appreciate how messed up my Spotify algorithm is because of this post.