The Eurovision Song Contest takes place every May since 1956 and is the world’s largest cultural event, followed by more than 200 million viewers around the world, including Australia, China and the United States of America (on Logo TV). It has been quite rightfully described as the Olympics of Music, bringing together more than 40 nations during a week to compete against one another and decide which song deserves to get the trophy after receiving the most points – the now famous “12 points” – from both national professional juries and viewers.
It revealed ABBA and Céline Dion to the world and while it has hordes of die-hard fans, it has also many detractors, who find it way over-the-top, with too much glitter and campiness. Eurovision songs are often dissed as being uninspiring, predictable pop songs with cheesy lyrics about peace and love, and offering on stage a profusion of scantily-clad young women, bare-chested hunks, wind-machines and pyrotechnic special effects. I have to admit that I find most Eurovision songs to be quite unbearable, either too noisy or boring, and too often sung in broken English. However, amidst all the mediocrity, each year I am struck by a couple of songs that become life-long favorites, which I still listen to on a regular basis years later. Some did actually win the competition, such as Dana International’s 1998 “Diva” or Conchita Wurst’s 2014 “Rise like a phoenix”, but many were of course less fortunate, some of the them ranking undeservedly low, as did one of my all-time top favorites, Adelaide Ferreira’s 1985 “Penso em ti, eu sei”.
For the last 20 years or so, I gather friends on the night of the Grand Final: we eat, have drinks and usually laugh at the contestants. We often disagree a lot on songs, having widely different tastes. This year, I was personally a bit disappointed that Estonia hadn’t made it through to the Final with their Euro-pop song “Verona” – campy as hell but, hey, what is life without some guilty pleasures? However, there were two other contestants that had my support, and those had chosen not to express some silly non-sense in basic English: Portugal and Italy. The latter had clever lyrics, full of ironic thoughts on our modern Western society. The former was a stunningly beautiful love poem in Portuguese, probably too classy for Eurovision and totally lacking the abundance of visual effects the Contest is known for. Honestly, I didn’t have high hopes on that one: although it was full of emotions and had great lyrics, I knew it was rather a dark horse, being a bit old-fashioned and so different from what is usually expected from Eurovision songs. I mean this song is the kind of song one listens to, you don’t really need to see it performed on stage to appreciate it.
Furthermore, Eurovision is known for its political voting – Greece giving 12 points to Cyprus, and vice versa – and Portugal lacks support from neighboring countries, being on the Continent western edge. But I was surprised a vast majority of my friends actually loved the song too, although they don’t understand a word of Portuguese, and one of my friends actually took out his phone and voted for the first time ever in the televoting ! But would the rest of Europe react in the same way? I doubted viewers in the Czech Republic or Finland would be sensitive to the poetry of the song, not understanding the lyrics. However I thought it would be great to see Portugal win this edition, as it would show the world the Eurovision Song Contest is definitely not only about campiness and glitter, but really about celebrating diversity – which was the 2017 edition’s motto. Needless to say, I was very pleased but also stunned to see Salvador Sobral win both the professional juries’ and popular votes ! Even those who didn’t get the song can acknowledge that Portugal broke the mold this year, showing the contest’s detractors that the Eurovision Song Contest is not predictable at all and that songs that are genuine and unique can get recognition too. Portugal’s victory reminded us all that “Music is not fireworks, music is feeling”, as Salvador Sobral said after winning. “Let’s put emotion back into music.” He added. I couldn’t agree more !