Getting to know: NZ's Robyn Gallagher from Wiwibloggs
Today is Waitangi Day in New Zealand and with the nation being one of our closest neighbours, we’ve always shared a special bond with the country.
When it comes to Eurovision though, our Tasman cousins certainly don’t appear to have the same fervour for the competition as Aussies.
But that doesn’t apply to everyone.
When many fans think of New Zealand and Eurovision, they think of Robyn Gallagher.
Robyn is a writer for Wiwibloggs and she’s an active and engaging fan on most social networks. You’ll find her on Twitter sharing her thoughts and being involved in forums on Facebook chatting away.
This engagement and approachability has made her a popular fan writer among the Eurovision community and we had a chat with her to find out more about her.
Robyn joined me for a Zoom call on a Sunday after a busy national final schedule.
She shares that she lives in “Raglan, a small town on the west coast of the North Island of New Zealand. It’s the kind of place people go to for a weekend”.
And it is small, the permanent population is a little over 3,000 but can swell with people from nearby Hamilton and Auckland travelling in and staying in “really fancy holiday houses” Robyn adds.
We discuss who ‘Robyn’ is away from Eurovision and she touches on her work background,
“I used to work for Television New Zealand, looking after the websites for a few programs as well as getting into the broadcasting side,” Robyn tells me.
Before adding, “But now I’m living with multiple-sclerosis, so I can’t work full-time. I do some freelancing and working on Wiwibloggs is a really good use of time, it’s something to utilise my talents and turn an obsession into something a bit more constructive!”
Getting into the contest
But before we delve more into Wiwibloggs, we wanted to find out how she got into Eurovision when it isn’t a popular event in New Zealand.
“I’ve always kind of known of Eurovision, one of my earliest memories would be Bucks Fizz’s ‘Making Your Mind Up’. It was one of their Top of the Pops performances but it was the same choreography. I didn’t understand the concept of choreography, so it was like… ‘the men pulled the skirt off the ladies!’ and it was like ‘damn, it’s hard to be a woman!’”
“There’s been other things over the years, I remember when Katrina and the Waves won and my cousin went in 2003 so little bits and pieces would come on my radar.”
Robyn shares that because it wasn’t being broadcast in New Zealand and web technology hadn’t quite become advanced yet that it wasn’t until 2010 that she first watched it online some weeks after it was broadcast.
“I thought ‘that was interesting’ and that maNga should have won, so I had an opinion!”
But it was quite randomly Celebrity Big Brother UK that really started the obsession.
“Jedward were on that, they had just done Eurovision and were super excited about it, they were singing their song a lot…they were doing it the next year so I thought ‘I will follow their Eurovision journey.”
“I thought I should also check out the other songs, what’s their competition like, and the first one I watched was Izabo, the Israel entry that year, which was this kind of Indie pop one and it was so different from what my idea of a Eurovision song was so it was ‘ok that’s two songs I like this year.’”
Robyn goes on to share that she started watching it live and her Eurovision year began earlier and earlier until 2014 when after the Contest…. she didn’t stop… the addiction had set in.
“I was obsessed and I needed an outlet!”
And that’s where her Wiwibloggs journey began.
“I was reading a few Eurovision websites and Wiwibloggs was one of them… I’d read it and leave comments… and then there was a post ‘Come and write for Wiwibloggs’ and I thought ‘yeah that could be me!’”
“After applying…. William got back to me and was like ‘I know your name from the comments’ and I joined!”
Robyn explains it was during a transition for Wiwibloggs that saw quite a few new people come on and that the site got a “new energy and focus and it was really cool to be part of that”.
A Wiwibloggs video featuring Robyn sharing her thoughts on 'Voila' winning the French national selection
After almost seven years writing for Wiwibloggs we were keen to know some of Robyn’s highlights during that time and unsurprisingly it was the two times she went to Eurovision in 2016 and 2018 that stood out for her.
“In 2016 I arrived a couple of days into rehearsals…. and I remember showing up at the ice hockey arena that they were using as the press centre... and Manuella was going through ‘Blue and Red’.. and it just felt magical. I’m here!”
“And just meeting everyone, not just everyone in the Wiwibloggs team but other Eurovision bloggers.”
“Doing it again in 2018, the second time you kind of know what to do, what not to do… when it’s good to have an early night, when it’s good to stay out… you’ve got to pace yourself!”
But it’s not all fun and games. Robyn explains that people often see Eurovision week coverage as “one big long party, but it’s actually not… it’s really hard work”
“If you’ve come from Australia or New Zealand it’s a long way, probably quite expensive, and there is a sense of ‘I’ve come all this way, I actually want to have a bit of a holiday, so some sightseeing’ but on the other hand you can’t quite do that.”
“There were times in Lisbon, the press centre was this big windowless box, and I’m sitting there going ‘I need to go outside, I need to step away from this and get some sunshine. It’s a delicate balance of work hard, play hard.”
New Zealand and Eurovision
When it comes to being in New Zealand Robyn explains the time zone issues can be a problem but also have its benefits,
“It’s good to be wide awake when Sanremo is coming to its conclusion when everyone in Europe is delirious”
And it brings us back to New Zealand itself, what is the contest like there? Is it well known, we dived into the topic.
But she adds it has been broadcast before in the country (including as recently as 2016 and that the results are shared on the news each year but in a style Robyn describes as “Well let’s see what the whacky Europeans are up to!”
Nevertheless there have been some New Zealand connections to the Contest. Robyn shared these in a Twitter thread on Waitangi Day last year with some highlights being:
A New Zealand winery, Invivo Wines was the official wine of the 2017 Contest
In 2012 the hosts in Baku gave a shout-out to those watching in Australian and New Zealand (despite it not being broadcast in NZ)
In 2015 an Icelandic national final group were called Hinemoa which is the name of one of the characters in a famous Māori legend.
A Sanremo 2019 group were called Ex-Otago, Otago being a province on the South Island of New Zealand
Australia Decides act iOTA has a Maori father
Additionally Robyn shares the story of the ‘South Pacific Song Contest’, details are hard to find but apparently 50 million people tuned in and New Zealander Tina Cross won in 1979 with ‘Nothing But Dreams’. The song is pretty damn good and would have done well at Eurovision itself!
A New Zealand view of Australia in Eurovision
But as one of our closest geographic and cultural neighbours, we had to ask… what does Robyn think of Australia being in the Contest.
“I was pretty excited by it…. they had to prove themselves, they had to kind of audition for it in 2014 and it was like ‘ok you guys are good we’ll let you come in”
Before adding, “They’ve always brought real quality entries and… it’s lifted overall the general quality, I think, especially the UK, people look at them and go ‘ok how come they’re doing really well but we're not, and that’s got to be a good thing. Because I don’t think Australia is doing anything out of the ordinary, they’re just sending good Eurovision entries.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever got to a point where I’ve gone ‘I’ll just support Australia no matter what’. I was a bit indifferent to ‘Sound of Silence’, it wasn’t until I saw it live at the semi-final in-person in the arena and I was going “Oh my god, oh my god!”... I was practically crying’ I think that is kind of, maybe, a better thing, to go through an emotional journey rather than go ‘I’m supporting this song no matter what’”
Her top Eurovision entries
Satisfied with Robyn’s diplomatic support of Australia we finish up with some questions about her favourite entries, because how do you really know a person until you know these details?
Top Three Eurovision entries of all time?:
'Poupee de cire, poupee de son' by France Gall because it dragged Eurovision into the age of pop.
'Fairytale' by Alexander Rybak because everything about it is perfect and no one's ever been able to capture this magic again.
'Soldi by Mahmood because it was a catchy piece of modern Italian R&B with a message, that didn't feel like it was trying to be "Eurovision song" (even though *clap clap*).
Which entry was the best winner?:
Salvador Sobral - 'Amar pelos dois'. I like a Eurovision winner that has a positive effect on future entries. In this case. 'Amar pelos dois' showed that you don't need to have a slick, English-language pop song or with fancy staging that looks like a music video. Sometimes less is more!
Who had the best live vocal?:
Örs Siklósi, lead singer of Hungary's AWS. It takes talent and skill to deliver vocals of this intensity. From the clear, controlled verses through to the wild screamo bridge, Örs expertly and effortlessly put everything into the performance.
Who was "robbed"?:
Montenegro's 2013 entry 'Igranka' by Who See & Nina Žižić. It came fourth in the televote but the jury was a lot less impresses by their bold modern electronica. Thankfully it lives on as a fan favourite!
Which entry is your guilty pleasure?:
'I'm a Joker’ by Anri Jokhadze. The whole thing is a hot mess, the lyrics are weird, but Anri put everything into the performance and delivered a wildly entertaining three-minute extravaganza.
Who would you like to see return?:
Anyone who has a really good song! As much as an artist may want to return to the thrill of the Eurovision bubble, it is still a song contest and that has to be the priority.
Your favourite national final entry that didn't make it?:
One I listen to a lot is 'Salty Wounds' by Windy Beach, an Eesti Laul entry from its golden year of 2016. It wouldn't have been right for Eurovision, but it just has a really lovely chill vibe to it.
Which Australian entry is your favourite?
'Sound of Silence'. It grew on me, which made it even more special. Seeing it live at the semi-final in Stockholm was magical. All the pieces came together and Dami gave an incredible vocal performance. Australia earned its place in the competition that night!
And if I had to pick one New Zealand artist to perform at Eurovision....
Stan Walker! He's known to Australians for winning Australian Idol, but has built up a music career on both sides of the Tasman. He's an experienced performer and can sing just as well in the Maori language as English. As well, he's very charismatic and would be a fun guy to have around in the press centre!
Thank you Robyn for your time and continue up your amazing work!