Friday 23 August 2019

Star quality: Ira’s got it

This article first appeared on Malta Today 

I didn’t realize I cared so much whether Ira Losco’s song would make it through to the finals until I found myself at the edge of my seat, heart pounding while those cruel Swedish presenters sadistically toyed with us, leaving Malta’s name until last. As one name after another was announced, my hopes started plummeting and I was already imagining the wailing on Facebook as we all commiserated together if Malta’s song did not go through. The meltdown would have been real. It was like the country was having a collective heart attack. Eileen was threatening to smash her TV. Things were going to get ugly.

My own reaction surprised me, because there have been many years when I was really indifferent to our chances at the festival and almost expected our song to get stuck at the semi-final stage either because of a poor performance, a weak (or really bad) song, or both. Most of the time it was fun to just sit back and mock the whole thing, which is a form of entertainment in itself. The only times I really got into it was when Chiara performed, and when Ira herself took to the stage in 2002 with a mediocre song, but a knock-out performance.

It has to be said that, for all its naffness, there is something about this festival (which many love, and many others love to hate), which just cannot be ignored. Suffice to say that the major news portals had someone blogging about it live; whether to just take the piss, or whether it was done in all seriousness, it was not something they could pretend was not happening. Not when the entire population on FB felt like one gigantic living room with everyone exchanging hilarious one-liners. That feeling of “togetherness” when roughly the whole country experiences the same event in real time and everything grinds to a halt, doesn’t happen that often: the only other examples I can think of are the World Cup and, of course, our elections. But of course, there is no real togetherness in the last two examples, is there?

So maybe it’s the annual, cathartic effect of having something which is truly national to root for, when for the rest of the year we are weighed down by the truly depressing bickering which divides the nation. Maybe because for once, when we speak in the collective “we” it truly means we as Maltese, rather than when people speak of their favourite foreign football team, yet still say “we”. Or when some people speak about the political party they support and still say “we”, even though it is becoming increasingly obvious that politicians and the voters who put them there each time are living in two very different, parallel universes where the same laws and rules don’t apply.

In any case there I was, riveted to the screen, wondering why I was suddenly so invested in Malta getting through this time, especially as I was lukewarm about the whole thing at the beginning.

Initially, I didn’t think it was wise for Ira Losco to take part in the Eurovision again after having successfully branched out in another direction with her musical career. Going back to the cheesy pop of the song festival seemed like taking giant steps back.

I also didn’t particularly like the song – although admittedly the more I heard it, the more it “grew” on me.

Between the controversy over her participation in the first place, the dark mutterings that the whole thing had been “fixed”, followed by the change of song which had the public up in arms, this edition has been mired in debate. Then we had the dubious cumbersome coat which was used in the first dress rehearsal (an idea which was quickly scrapped), and the persistent “is she or isn’t she” pregnancy rumour which was finally laid to rest with an announcement on Mother’s Day,

On Tuesday night, however, when it all came together during those three minutes, none of that mattered. There is no question that Malta has a lot of talented singers, but when it comes to sheer stage presence, not many can match that certain “it” factor which Ira brings to the stage. Watching her powerful performance, and bearing in mind that she could not jump around because of her baby bump, Ira concentrated on giving her all by the sheer force of her personality.
I’ve heard a few murmurs of discontent because the backing singers were not on stage with her after all, but I think this was a good decision – the focus was only on her, and really it was hard to keep your eyes on anything else. Her look and her performance were flawless. Even the dancer, in my view was a distraction, his reputation notwithstanding, as I’m not a fan of too many gimmicks.

Ultimately it all boils down to Ira Losco’s star quality; an elusive thing to have but which you recognize once you see it. Off stage, her interviews have always been just right, striking the exact note between self-confidence and a certain kind of girl-next-door relatability. And now that she is going to become a mother, a new womanly maturity has taken over, probably in the knowledge that no matter the result this evening, she has something even more important to look forward to.

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