I’m going to go through all of the entries in this year’s Eurovision on this blog, as I am a fan of that process if you don’t already know. And they way I’m going to do that is not cover each entry one at a time, but by region to compare and contrast how I think each set of neighbouring countries has done, on their past form, the entry they’ve sent, how they came to send it, what I like or dislike about it and finally how I think it will do. That’ll be two or three at a time. The start, naturally, will be in Western Europe, where once men looked across to the setting sun and thought they were living on the edge of the world. Sadly, Portugal and Spain’s entries this year aren’t exactly living on that edge.
Portugal – Salvador Sobral – Amar Pelos Dois (translates as ‘Love For Both’)
Poor, poor Portugal. As is probably sad common knowledge for the Portuguese, they are the longest-entering nation to have never won the contest, nor indeed have they ever placed higher than 6th, an accolade they’d be sharing with Finland if not for everyone’s favourite monster band 11 years ago. In recent years they’ve been sporadic participants, withdrawing at times due to poor results and lack of funds and indeed they have not been in the Eurovision final since 2010. Which, funnily enough, was when they sent my favourite Portuguese entry and the last entry I’ve really enjoyed from the Lusitanian side of things. Though in 2011 their comedic troupe song parodying the post-revolution songs wasn’t that bad. Since then it’s been a bit of an inessential mess, with two years out and three years with weak and unmemorable songs. I suppose Suzy was quite fun and Leonor was quite… attractive but these aren’t qualities that are standout enough. Part of the problem is actually really unfortunate from my perspective. Portugal is one of the few holdouts that refuse to sing in English, which earns them respect in my eyes as I love it when songs that aren’t English are sent as it instantly gives the song more national character which is necessary lest Eurovision become a soulless parade of pop songs, but with Portuguese not being spoken anywhere else in Europe, it harms the reach of the song beyond Bragança. The foreign language songs that do well in Eurovision manage to transcend language and appeal musically even though the audience may not understand the lyrics, while the Portuguese efforts have not really done that.
And all of that continues with Salvador here, who won their national final, Festival de Cancao, in a program that well, I don’t normally watch most national finals but most years it’s something I prefer hearing horror stories about than actually watching it, while praying that the Portuguese have finally sent a good entry when something comes out of it. They haven’t. Though I must say he captures the attention a bit more than some Portuguese entrants although I don’t know if it’s for the right reasons. He’s a distracting performer, he makes movements with his hands, and his body language is on the whole offputting, which I hope he can fix, he seems like an awkward guy and I have sympathy for that, but I also want him to fix it. That would be excusable if the song was any good. His vocal style is too light and wispy, with no real power behind it, and the song seems retro and not in a good way, in the dull 1950s way with only a smattering of modern instrumentation, some rather nice strings. It’s not a particularly interesting listen and I imagine it will all come across rather flat on the stage, particularly if he continues his ‘scared of the microphone’ act that you see in the preview video. Finally, on lyrics, the title means ‘Love For Both’ which fits with the retro style of it just being a twee love song.
So I don’t like it. That’s fine, but what are its chances? Now we do know all of the songs apart from one, Armenia, at this writing, so I can make a guess. It’s in the first half of semi 1, and songs in the first half are often at a disadvantage. Spain is voting in this semi final, as is Italy and at a guess, I’d say Mediterranean countries are Portugal’s best bet here, close in language and potentially harbouring more of an older demographic that will take to the… ahem… ‘retro charm’ of this song (and how sweet they think the performer is, because he reminds them of their grandsons who live in their parent’s basements and don’t talk to anyone, like me!), so they’ve done well on the draw. It’s something that despite its apparent ineptitude to me, that I don’t want to rule out of qualifying as I’ve been burned far too often by songs I end up predicting out and realising later when they do qualify that I was really only predicting them to fail because I don’t like them. There’s nothing quite like this in the first half of semi 1, there are ballads but they are far more modern and there’s also some uptempos, so I think it will make an impression, but I don’t think it will be quite enough for people to get past the lack of a good or interesting song here. Potential for change for when the running order comes out but I think I’m going to have this to not qualify but only narrowly, the older demographic is weaker than we sometimes take credit for, it’ll be young people really dominating the televote and by the end of the semi I think it will be marked down. However the juries could well see it through if they’re into that kind of stuff, I normally expect Eurovision juries to be into everything I am not as they tend to be responsible for causing a couple of my favourite songs to not qualify each year (RIP Czech Republic 2015 & Greece 2016). Note that I haven’t drawn up exactly who I think is in and out yet so if I over count anything, that will be why. But as it stands I’m calling Portugal a NON-QUALIFIER.
Spain – Manel Navarro – Do It For Your Lover
Spain are similar to Portugal in that they don’t often do so well, perhaps due to a lack of neighbours (see Spanish government, there IS a reason for cutting Catalonia loose
please don’t hurt me I’m not serious). But there’s a key difference, well, two key differences. They automatically qualify for the final so never have to face Portugal’s qualification hurdles for one, and secondly, they have shown some willingness to abandon their national language at least in part, recently their entries have begun to show some English in them. They’re also in general a lot better at having great songs, I like Say Yay and Dancing In The Rain, but I do far prefer their purely Spanish songs and I count Amanecer, Contigo Hasta El Final and Que Me Quiten Lo Bailao among my favourites. Now what those had in common is that they were all sung by women with tons of personality and so their feeling transcended the lyrics.
Manel here, taking aside the national final controversy that he ascended through, from which I hear there were a few more interesting songs but nothing completely special that would have been a Spanish great, does not have much personality, his nationality aside, he could be any of music history’s pretty boys with a guitar and I don’t feel drawn in by his voice. I suppose I’m not the target market, but that makes this grate on me all the more. What is worst is the usual thing wrong with Spanish entries, not the Spanish bit, that is really good and the chopped vocals/dance synths are cool, it’s the English hook line. ‘Do It For Your Lover’ comes out in such a flat and unexciting way that it ruins the whole song for me. I cannot enjoy it, it feels so basic and unrewarding that I don’t really want to hear the song anymore.
Sadly, I do feel that I will be one of the few who isn’t a fan of this. Tropical vibes, akin to Spotify background playlists with an attractive performer (for the girls and gays) almost always do better than they have any right to in today’s musical climate. ‘Who can hate them?’ people say, they sound nice to have in the background and they’re kinda cool. But who can love them either. And it’s me, I hate them. They smack of unoriginality and they are just entirely boring and reductive at this stage. The world did not need this song. It says it all that he won his national final based on juries who were radio executives with this song on their playlists, hence I would expect several similar jury members to lap him up while I cast evils at them from across a continent for killing the music industry. We didn’t get to this point of tropical saturation without fans and I can see a point where this song gets enough points to come midtable, knocking on the door of the top 10. It’s in the final already, but it may get disadvanataged as many big 5 songs do, by not having a chance to perform in the semi finals. I am feeling at this point like it will get past that though.
So we started with a couple of songs I do not like very much. It’s the fault of the Iberians for sending young male pop singers, the demographic I’m programmed to enjoy least (as I probably see them as a threat or something. Like they’re not cool enough yet like old men or a rock band that I can just enjoy them, they’re normally simpering about love or some shit and it’s rare that they’re being exciting enough for me to move beyond that. Of course the same goes for girls with dull songs, it’s just that guys seem to get saddled with them more) with ‘nice songs’ (the musical genre popular music has taught me lately to enjoy least). Still, that means it can only get better from here.
Between these two, the song I enjoy most is Spain and they are the country with the better Eurovision history but with this set, they’ve won it on default. I don’t think either of these has the ability to take the Eurovision crown, nor would I want either to.