Eurovision · Music

Eurovision 2017 In-Depth: Occidental Spirit (Italy & San Marino)

So here it is, we come to the favourite. And a little curiosity that has gotten the Eurovision fans mildly excited because everyone’s favourite Sammarinese woman has decided to resume her yearly gigs with the place. Let’s do that first before the big one.

San Marino – Valentina Monetta & Jimmie Wilson – Rhythm Of The Night

San Marino, that lovely little sub-Italian microstate that has lays claim to being the oldest continually surviving sovereign state in the world. In Eurovision they have, due to not that many people being able to claim a national connection with the country to vote it nor having a particularly large talent pool to draw from, have mostly languished in the semis, with their one break coming in 2014 when Valentina Monetta, by some estimates her country’s only professional pop singer made it through on her third try after trying to be a meme on her first and singing in lovely Italian on her second, tried the basic English pop song and it worked. I think Crisalide was way better and should have got through but there were a lot of things wrong with the 2013 semis. I shall say no more about that.

Anyway, because of that whole few professional singers thing, San Marino’s been lately a backup state for some rich artists that want to show off their songs on an international field without going through their proper country, most obviously apparent last year when the middle-aged Turk Serhat rather amazingly mumbled his way through I Didn’t Know. He actually submitted a far worse version of his track first and then made it listenable with a disco version. And it seems like San Marino are continuing the theme of disco this year in their perpetual struggle to never send anything that isn’t or won’t be soon horrifically dated, remember Val’s Facebook Social Network song?

Valentina has returned this year, with an American theatre actor in tow. It’s not exactly the stuff of inspiring dreams but it’s nice to see her back and clearly this is something where she and Jimmie are having fun, even though it’s just a tempo change away from being performed to an expat dinner lounge. That would be a lively one but this is not a modern song by any means. Despite the fast speed it does feel very dated and it’s a little too on the nose for me to find it charming, it comes across as a bit of a mess instead. Like it’s very 80s but I’m not sure that for once, that it works in this one’s favour, it seems more like a cheap Rhythm Of The Night knockoff duet than anything else.

As such, I really think that San Marino are going to struggle to qualify, even though that’s not a revolutionary hot take by any means of the imagination. Separated from Italy and Albania, who tend to be necessary for points for this micronation and put it into a huge load of countries that will have other priorities, I think it’ll be a miracle if Val makes it through again. Though Malta could reward her, perhaps. That might be a long shot and a total guess on my part.

Italy – Francesco Gabbani – Occidentali’s Karma

Well, here’s the favourite, Italy. Now, even though they haven’t won yet since their return to the contest in 2011, since then, you’d be hard pressed to find a year where Italy hasn’t allegedly been in the mix to take home the Eurovision crown, despite a population that probably couldn’t care less about their chances, they’ve been more often than not among the very favourites to win. Whether that’s about an idealised version of Italian music, I can’t say. But you do have in that the lovely Il Volo, that I really wanted to win a few years ago and would have if it was only publically voted for, who, well, if you imagine Italian opera music poppified a bit, then Grande Amore is what you get. And songs like Nessun Grado Di Separazione last year and L’amore e femmina were all competently performed. I’ve tended to really like Italy in the past few years, especially because their pop tends to get really dramatized. And the same is true for Occidentali’s Karma.

It’s a little odd in fact that this is being touted as a contender because Francesco’s voice is certainly not what you’d expect from a continent-topping miracle song, it’s quite gravelly and harsh, but for me this just makes it more memorable and enjoyable, because Occidentali’s Karma has some wonderful melodic flourishes that really make it stand out as a song and Francesco’s vocals carry a lot of personality to bring it to the finish. And then of course there’s the gorilla and the visual aspect which is part of the reason, because everyone assumes that everyone else will go wild for a gorilla suited man on stage. Like that’s a novel idea. I love the song but if this wins, it won’t be on the strength of a furry ape dancing alongside the singer. Eurovision has some of that vote strength but based on previous entries, pure novelty needs to be a bit more fully embraced than that. Think of grannies or drag queens, the whole acts needs to be about that. A gorilla can’t do that alone. It’s a solid pop-rock song sung by a very unique and noticeable singer. It’s one of my favourites in the contest this year.

And I don’t think it will win. Or at least, if it does win, it will be because there’s no huge winner to stop it. First, let’s take the fact it’ll be in Italian. While that isn’t a problem for some songs, it certainly never stopped Grande Amore, but that was peddling a far simpler message, that being ‘hey, this is a love song’. You look at the pattern of recent winners and they’ve all had a simple and uncontroversial message, rising through adversity like Conchita, being a hero like Mans, or facing adversity like Jamala. Francesco is selling a song based on Westerners being decadent and reliant on technology which is a bit more controversial if people even understand that that what he’s trying to get at. I’m unconvinced that as good a melody as it is, people will be drawn to vote for it. I’m unconvinced that the gorilla will come across as anything more than a cheap gimmick. Grande Amore felt far more like a winning song. I’d be very happy with this winning and given the layout of 2017, without an obvious standout winner, it certainly must be in the mix, but it isn’t the landslide winner, at the moment, that the odds are portraying it to be. Remember, before the last night of San Remo, it wasn’t even being talked about as a winner. It was rather amazing that it did win. Can it truly shock Eurovision the first time, then?

In some ways, given that this has easily been the most talked-about song of the season, he’s already won.

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