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Singer Erica-Cody: ‘Speaking my truth comes at a cost’

Already well known for her time on television shows, 27-year-old Erica-Cody has just signed a new record deal, and her hope is this year the focus will turn towards her music

Erica-Cody “breaks her silence” a lot. Most recently, the singer took a pop at The Late Late Show’s Eurosong contest. Cody didn’t get through with her entry in Eurosong and she won’t be representing Ireland on the Eurovision stage in Sweden this summer. Recently, in an Instagram story that was picked up by the media, Cody made a comment about experiencing poor sound quality during the Eurosong broadcast. Cody also said the competition would be better suited to an arena venue rather than a television studio at Montrose.

Feathers were ruffled, although she insists it’s not sour grapes. “There were people who were like, ‘She’s blaming the sound for not getting through’ and I was like ‘Guys, you’re misinterpreting what I’m trying to say’. This was just a sound issue. I will never blame anybody else when it comes to my performances. When it came to the show, I was and still am proud of how I sounded. In my ears it sounded like I was in an arena and having a great time.

“All the artists taking part had sound issues: it wasn’t just me. But I was the one being painted as angry, and it has a lot of undertones to it.”

Undertones? Like here’s another tirade from that ‘angry young woman’?


“Well, angry, young black woman,” she says. “People won’t understand that when I say it, because they haven’t lived my experience. I would never blame RTÉ or blame the sound engineer. RTÉ have been so supportive to me. Everyone is just there to do their job but it is one of those things where I was like, ‘It would be great if you could add a touch of reverb to everybody’s mics’ so it’s an equal playing field for everybody.”

As to the location of the contest, Cody says she was simply looking to the example of other countries in terms of their national song contests. “If you look at how all the other national finals are held, they’re in arenas and they’re televised and they’re giving those artists the right platform to showcase themselves, so you’re getting a true representation about what each artist could bring to the stage, because it’s about music. Just give them that chance to showcase themselves in the best way they can.”

Cody was bullied in primary school for being one of two people of colour. The taunting was both physical and emotional

Cody’s entry, Love Me Like I Do, was the bookmakers’ favourite to win. According to the accompanying blurb, it’s “an up-tempo, high-energy, feel-good anthem about self-love”. But in the colourful and often chaotic world of the Eurovision, an entry deemed too vanilla can fade into the background when up against an entry such as Bambie Thug’s “Ouija pop” punk explosion, and subsequent selection for Malmö.

“I don’t even think I was safe, I just went in with something that I trusted,” says Cody.

The timing of Eurosong was difficult for her. “I was at a point [at Christmas] where I wouldn’t say I was at rock bottom, but I was definitely at a point where so much sh*t had happened, and I was like, ‘What am I doing?’”

Cody had recently come out of an eight-year relationship, and she had also split from her long-time manager. “It was one thing after another,” she says. “My break-up, my dog dying, my professional relationships ending. I had never felt so vulnerable or alone.”

Impulsively, and just days before the Christmas break, she emailed Universal Records in Ireland pleading for a meeting. It worked. Three days later she met Mark Crossingham, managing director at Universal Music Group. She arrived with a small speaker ready to prove she could sing and dance, and ask for the support of a record label to realise her dream. It was a gamble that paid off for the Dubliner who, until that point, had been releasing music independently.

Last month, she signed her first record deal.

Cody is 27 now, with a full decade of singing for her supper behind her. Sitting before me in a hotel lobby and cradling a green tea, Cody is a tall, smiley and likable person. Warm and approachable, she is clearly unafraid of hard graft or of taking opportunities where she finds them. Alongside her best friend, the model Thalia Heffernan, Cody makes looking gorgeous seem effortless on her social media feed. The pair share an apartment, love their pets and enjoy goofing around with filters. Both slither in and out of “paid partnerships” with giddiness and glamour in equal measures.

Cody’s upbringing in Baldoyle has been well documented. Her father Gerald Kennedy was a professional basketball player turned coach from South Carolina who came to Ireland in the 1980s at 23. Cuiva Smith, her mother, was an All-Ireland gymnast. Cody is one of three children, with a sister two years older and a nine-year-old brother. She has tattoos as a gesture of love to both of them.

When plans to follow in her father’s footsteps by playing basketball were scuppered due to an injury in her late teens, the young Cody leaned into her music. Born into a generation who watched Justin Bieber become an international singing sensation seemingly overnight, the fame game was just one YouTube upload away. Like many other ambitious youngsters, she attended the Billie Barry stage school, and later studied vocals at BIMM Dublin.

Ever more serious about her singing ambitions, Cody knew she would have to work hard. She travelled to open mic sessions across the country, relying on lifts from her grandfather or her mother. She began securing opening act slots at Irish festivals, and joined the Irish Women in Harmony collective as a co-vocalist. She took every opportunity that came her way.

But with such ambition and exposure, inevitably, came the issue of her ethnicity and race. Cody was bullied in primary school for being one of two people of colour. The taunting was both physical and emotional. But even that experience was overshadowed by events in 2020.

In the wake of the murder of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter protests, Cody spoke her truth. With the media scrambling for fresh voices from people of colour, Cody’s first-hand insights of being a young black Irishwoman were lapped up, printed, televised and shared.

Overnight, she became “an accidental activist”.

“It came from a place of turning to people of colour to share their experiences, even though it’s not on us to educate other people on how to treat black people and people of colour in Ireland,” she says. “I had never called myself an activist, it was something put on me because I shared my experience. That came at a cost.”

Cody became a target for online hate. What followed was a breakdown of sorts. She couldn’t get out of bed for two months. She scrapped her car because she believed she could never be on her own again in public, and she longed for the consequences of speaking out to just go away. Some talking points from that time remain off the table as talking points because they are still “too triggering”.

Eventually, counselling, which she continues to this day, helped with the healing, and in the year ahead, Cody is determined to stay music-focused.

The new record deal should help solidify this, reminding the public that the girl can sing, despite much of her fame to date stemming from her Irish television appearances rather than any back catalogue of music. She was runner-up in Dancing with the Stars in 2022, which led to a co-presenting stint on a Friday night music show on RTÉ 2 alongside Danny O’Reilly, lead singer with The Coronas.

Given that her career straddles both music and television, is she ever worried about biting the hand that feeds her?

“Music is my priority, so I had to say no to a lot of [television] things because I was establishing my career,” she says.

When I use my platform for something that is morally true to me, whether Black Lives Matter or what is going on in Gaza at the moment, speaking my truth comes at a cost

Yet, some small screen opportunities were potentially life-changing, like a place in the British Big Brother house after she had turned 18 – an offer that came out of the blue from Endemol, the production company behind the hit reality show.

“I was like ‘Lads, that’s the last thing I need right now – I’m trying to be a singer and I’m trying to be taken seriously’,” she says. “I was also approached for the X Factor. But I did try out for the Voice UK when I was 19 – I’ve never even mentioned this. I got as far as the judges and I remember that the show came over and filmed my family and shot my videotape, but I didn’t get through. It was never aired. I wanted to do the show because I would be judged on my voice and not my appearance.”

She concedes that her comments still have a way of making headlines, especially when the subject matter is political. Just last month, she said Israel shouldn’t be allowed to participate in this year’s Eurovision because of the Israeli state’s actions in Gaza.

“When I use my platform for something that is morally true to me, whether Black Lives Matter or what is going on in Gaza at the moment, speaking my truth comes at a cost,” she says, as our interview winds to a conclusion. “I knew that coming into an industry like this, I would have to sacrifice a piece of my privacy. But when I’m speaking out, it’s always from a place of kindness.”

Love Me Like I Do is on release now