Lydon won plaudits for his song Hawaii, a love letter to his wife, who has Alzheimer’s disease, but trailed far behind the four-piece band from Dublin, who performed an upbeat number called We Are One.
The possibility of Lydon’s post-punk band, Public Image Ltd, representing Ireland at the 67th Eurovision song contest in Liverpool in May had attracted widespread attention, but the group ended up finishing fourth out of six in a special edition of RTÉ’s Late Late Show.
The 67-year-old former punk appeared to anticipate defeat when a host asked him – before the voting results – if he had enjoyed his visit to Dublin. “No I have not, but that’s not the point.”
The outcome was decided by the combined votes of a public phone-in, a national jury and an international jury ranking the six entrants. Each awarded Lydon six points for a total of 18, putting him in the middle of the table.
Wild Youth won 34 points, pipping Jennifer Connolly and K Muni & ND. The band wrote the winning song – an ode to friendship and solidarity – with the Grammy-nominated songwriter Jörgen Elofsson. Some commentators compared its soaring vocals to Harry Styles.
Wild Youth’s singer, Conor O’Donohoe, said the band was overwhelmed. “We hope everyone can get behind the song and that we can do everyone in Ireland proud. We want to thank all of our families, they have supported us from day one.”
Lydon’s song referenced a holiday he took with his wife of 44 years, Nora Forster, before Alzheimer’s ravaged her memory. Its gentle tone and lyrics – “Remember me, I’ll remember you” – have moved some to tears.
A panel of music commentators on the RTÉ show – who did not have a vote – said the song was not a good fit for Eurovision.
Lydon, formerly known as Johnny Rotten, irked some Eurovision fans when he called the contest “awful” and “phoney” in a recent radio interview. He later said he meant no harm and was under stress.
“He erased a lot of the goodwill folks had for him when they first heard his song,” said William Lee Adams, who chaired the international jury for Eurosong in Ireland last year and is the author of a forthcoming memoir, Wild Dances: my queer and curious journey to Eurovision. “There’s a sense of, ‘We wish you and your wife the best, but your comments are just too insulting.’”
The other acts were geared to a younger audience, which is key to the modern contest, Adams said.
“People go on about Ireland winning Eurovision more than any other country, but those glory years unfolded in a jury-only system. These days you need to appeal to a broader tele-voting audience – one with teenagers and uni students and housewives and more.
“Ireland hasn’t had much success of late partly because its songs haven’t had that ‘winning moment’ or any sense of virality.”