Well, it’s official: we’re heading to Lisbon, Portugal’s perennially beautiful capital city, for Eurovision 2018!
When I say ‘we’, I don’t necessarily mean ‘you and me’ – I have no idea whether you’re going or not (let me know below!), and my plans for the upcoming contest are up in the air somewhere running around with Nathan Trent. But as Eurovision fans/freaks, we collectively discovered via Tuesday’s RTP press conference that next year’s contest will be held in the MEO Arena, in Lisbon, on May 8th, 10th and 12th.
A massive shocker? Not so much. But even non-surprising news is good news, for those of us who despair during the off-season and need something Eurovisual to be developing as often as possible to feel complete. Of course, there has to be some filler between the end of one contest and the start of another…and that’s where I come in. I’m full of it (filler, that is) this post-contest, pre-NF period, which brings me to today’s post: the start of a brand new series here on EBJ that I hope *crosses fingers, touches wood and prays to the Lordi simultaneously* you guys will enjoy.
For however long I feel like it, every now and then, I’ll be choosing a country currently competing in the ESC and taking a look back at their last five entries (whether they’ve skipped years or not). After reviewing and scoring each song, I’ll finish off by rating them from worst to best on an ultra-professional scale ranging from ‘Don’t play that song again!’ to ‘That sounds good to me!’ (thanks for entering the comp with really appropriate song titles, Nicki French and Josh Dubovie…though the irony of using the name of a dreadful song to highlight great ones has not escaped me). You’ll be able to vote for your favourite of each country’s last five entries too, and share your own ranking. Got it? Awesome.
I couldn’t think of a better or more relevant way to start this Last Five Top Five series than by checking out the Eurovision evolution of reigning champs/hosts-to-be Portugal. They’ve definitely had more misses than hits of late – but which songs are which as far as I’m concerned? Keep reading to find out…and have your personal top five prepared!
- Last five participations 2011, 2012, 2014, 2015, 2017
- Last five results 18th (DNQ), 13th (DNQ), 11th (DNQ), 14th (DNQ), 1st
- Qualification record 1/5
- Winners 1
- Top ten places 1
- Last places 0
2011 | A Luta É Alegria by Homens Da Luta
I have a fair bit of respect for this song. My reasons for that are threefold: it’s multidimensional, blending traditional Portuguese sounds with folk elements for a unique finished product; it was performed totally in Portuguese, which is always welcome at Eurovision (that goes for any language other than English in this day and age, though I do draw the line at Klingon); and it’s a message song with enough quirk to make it dairy-free (i.e. it’s not cheesy). Having said all of the above, it wasn’t a highlight of the 2011 contest for me, and while it’s certainly not a big blot on Portugal’s participant history, I don’t think it’s a highlight for them either.
My score 6 points
2012 | Vida Minha by Filipa Sousa
Portugal went…well, full Portugal back in Baku, with Filipa’s fado number that came pretty close to qualifying (it finished 13th in its semi final). I’ll admit that I have to be in the right mood to really enjoy this genre, but even so, I find this entry utterly average. It’s not quite as dramatic as it needs to be, and the chorus is lacking in the essential catchy quality that you need to succeed. Once again I applaud Portugal for having sent something so true to their musical roots as a country – but like Filipa’s eventual result, Vida Minha is okay, but not great. In MY opinion, obviously.
My score 5 points
2014 | Quero Ser Tua by Suzy
Ethnopop? Now here’s a genre I tend to fall in love with at the drop of a hat (or the beat of a tribal drum) – especially when its flag is flown by someone as effervescent and enthusiastic as Suzy. Quero Ser Tua isn’t ideal for the lactose intolerant among us (meaning there is a hint of cheesiness present) and by 2014 standards, it was a little dated. But I love the fact that it managed to successfully fuse the oh-so-Portuguese sounds that we’re accustomed to with an energetic tempo and dance vibe so irresistible, it probably had Jon Ola Sand tapping his foot under the Official and Very Important EBU Executive Supervisor’s Table.
My score 8 points
2015 | Há Um Mar Que Nos Separa by Leonor Andrade
This is definitely the least stereotypically-Portuguese entry we’ve seen at Eurovision in the last five years that Portugal has competed. That’s not why I like it, but I do like it a lot. Sure, it’s not the most exciting song on the planet given that everything about it is middling – the tempo, the level of dynamism, the staging…everything, bar Leonor’s dominatrix costume which she may or may not have worn to a bunch of questionable parties since. But the melody is really nice, the chorus is sweet, and the Portuguese adds interest to what would be a bog-standard radio track in English.
My score 10 points
2017 | Amar Pelos Dois by Salvador Sobral
Finally, we come to the only truly successful song Portugal have sent to the ESC in recent times – and their most successful song ever. I understand that a lot of fans may not love this, but at the same time I feel compelled to scream ‘HOW CAN YOU NOT LOVE THIS?’. It’s as spellbinding as the entire Harry Potter series, and Salvador is…well, his name doesn’t help make the perfect portmanteau that is ‘Salvadorable’ for nothing. No, Amar Pelos Dois wasn’t my favourite entry of the year, but when something makes you weep in the short space of three minutes (and not because it’s so bad that you can’t contain your sorrow) it’s seriously special.
My score 10 points
Now I’ve revealed my chronological verdicts on Portugal’s last five ESC entries, I’ll let you in on the not-so-secret secret (since I’ve already allocated my scores) of how they rate on my official Last Five Top Five scale – from ‘Don’t play that song again!’ to ‘That sounds good to me!’ (the super-scientific ends of the spectrum as explained in the intro to this post).
So it’s parabéns yet again to Salvador Sobral, whose winning song of 2017 stands head and shoulders above anything Portugal have sent to Eurovision in the past – and definitely since 2011. Would you agree with that, or do you prefer the tracks from Homens Da Luta, Filipa Sousa, Suzy or Leonor Andrade? Make your decision and see how it measures up to everyone else’s.
It’ll be interesting to see what Portugal pulls out of their hat in 2018 as their select their very first host entry. Here’s hoping they can follow Bulgaria’s lead and keep riding their (very) recent wave of victory-dance-worthy results. Who knows – maybe this time next year, Amar Pelos Dois will be second on my LFTF scale.
Speaking of which, share your worst-best Portuguese ranking for 2011-2017 in the comments, and we’ll see if we agree on anything. Just a warning for anyone who might rate the five songs in exactly the same way as I did: THIS WILL BE MY FACE.
Happy New Year’s Eve, everyone! Speaking as someone who wasn’t ready for Christmas (although I still managed to get all of my shopping done on time), I’m sure as heck not ready for 2016 to become 2017. But it’s happening, so I’m going to use the last few hours of the year to have a massive Throwback Thursday extravaganza…on a Saturday. I like to live dangerously.
As always, the past twelve months have been very exciting ones, full of ups and downs, for us Eurovision freaks (no offence intended by that terminology. I say let your freak flag fly!). But unless you want to drown your sorrows and wake up tomorrow morning with a huge hangover and feeling the remorse than Frans Jeppsson-Wall does not, I suggest focusing on the highlights rather than the lowlights. That’s what I’m doing here and now for my last post of the year: counting down a few of my favourite things from the 2015/2016 NF season, Eurovision 2016, and Junior Eurovision 2016. These were the songs/artists/results/events et cetera that had me hollering ‘Say yay yay yay!’ instead of a Michele Perniola-style ‘No’. Check out my picks and then let me know which moments made you a happy fan in 2016.
Let’s make like Hannah Mancini + love by diving straight in!
#10 | Better late than never: The Czech Republic finally makes it to an ESC final
The Czech Republic hasn’t had the driest of dry spells when it comes to Eurovision. It’s true that they hadn’t qualified from a semi until this year, but they did only compete five times between 2007 and 2016 (ten tries with zero qualifications would be a far more depressing statistic). Still, it was nothing less than a fist-pump moment when the country clawed their way out of Stockholm’s first semi final – for me, at least, because I love a good Cinderella story. I Stand isn’t one of my favourite entries from this year, and in Jaz’s Argo-inspired utopian land, Estonia’s Play would have replaced it in the semi’s top 10 (despite the creep factor). However, I do think that it deserved a spot in the final more than any of the Czech entries that came before it, so…go Gabriela! You’ve broken the drought.
#9 | The real fan favourites of Eurovision 2016: Zoë, the contest princess + Serhat, the cult superstar
It’s never just the songs of an ESC that get fans frothing at the mouth (and sometimes down south, if I may be so saucy). Often, it’s the personalities performing them who get tongues wagging and cause social media follows to flood in. In that respect, the real winners of Eurovision 2016 were Austria’s Zoë and San Marino’s/Turkey’s Serhat. Zoë earned an army of fans thanks to her general gorgeousness, being bubblier than a bottle of champagne and being the closest thing to a Disney princess we’ve ever seen at the contest. Serhat had people on the ground in Sweden stalking him for photos on a Sergey Lazarev level because I Didn’t Know was so bad it was *almost* good – and though we didn’t know whether he knew that or not, we did know that he was bringing his own brand of swag to the proceedings. Both artists brought a bit of old-timey ESC to 2016, and owned the shiz out of it. As such, I’m hopping off the train at Admiration Station here.
#8 | If it’s good enough for Christer, it must be pretty damn good: Belarus brings out the big guns for JESC + wins over Björkman
This is random, but sometimes it’s the little things that make you jump for joy, or at least do a tiny hop for happiness. Belarus brought their signature youthful spunk to Junior Eurovision this year, which has won them the contest twice before and nabbed them a handful of great results. An extra ingredient for 2016 was the humble household hoverboard, a fleet of which were navigated effortlessly by Alexander Minyonok and his dancers in Valletta. The gimmick was there, the choreography was slick, the vocals were on point…overall, this was a polished and entertaining package that harked back to the more childlike JESCs of the mid-2000s. And you know who acknowledged that? Mr. Christer Björkman. He was the only expert juror to award Belarus one of his top scores, and his precious douze at that, rewarding an entry that put the Junior into Junior Eurovision. It made me feel all warm and fuzzy seeing a formidable force in the ESC-verse hand his highest points to Belarus.
#7 | A tiny island changes their tune for the better: Malta swaps Chameleon for Walk On Water
I’m not too keen on national finals that stipulate a change in song is (not perfect, but) a-ok after a particular artist/song combo has already won. It feels a bit like cheating on the public and/or juries that chose the original song as The One (and also, WTH is the point of holding an NF? Just opt for an internal selection if that’s how you want to play it). However…Malta’s move from the MESC-winning Chameleon – performed by inevitable singer Ira Losco – to the Swedish penned and produced Walk On Water was an excellent action to take. Chameleon, while catchy, was suffering from an identity crisis, and wasn’t exactly cutting-edge pop music. Walk On Water knew exactly what it was – powerful soul-pop peppered with gospel and electronic sounds that allowed Malta to hold their own against the likes of Russia and Australia. Still not sold? Well, if it wasn’t for the switch, we wouldn’t have experienced the sheer joy of a liquid-filled USB stick with #WOW stamped on it *mic drop*.
#6 | All out of luck: Bosnia & Herzegovina + Greece lose their 100% qualification records
Before you start hurling abuse at me, let me explain why the 2016 non-qualifications of Bosnia & Herzegovina and Greece were a highlight of my year. I have nothing against either of these countries, and I was actually quite disappointed to see the unique Utopian Land left behind in its semi final. But because it was, alongside Ljubav Je, countries who advance to the final every year can now no longer assume their safety. That, I think, is a good thing. It proves that bloc/diaspora voting can’t be relied upon (despite what some people outside the ESC bubble believe); and that if your entry is worse than ten others you’re competing against, you’re out, no matter who you are. So, from big hitters like Russia to residents of Struggle Town like San Marino, everybody needs to bring something delicious to the Eurovision buffet table, or they’ll be tossed straight into the trash. And anything that keeps the level of musical quality sky-high in the contest gets a thumbs-up from me.
#5 | The comeback king (and queen) who kicked butt: The triumphant artist returns of the 2016 adult contest
These days, every Eurovision seems to bring with it a crop of artists that we’ve seen before. They end their second/third/fifteenth attempts at gaining ESC glory in different ways, and this year was no different in that sense. But it’s the success stories that I like to focus on rather than the fails (Deen, Greta Salomé and Kaliopi – sorry, but I’m “skinning you out”). The abovementioned Ira Losco may have gotten Malta back in the final, but she couldn’t come close to equaling or topping her 2002 second place (I think it was the lack of glitter-blowing). So it was up to Poli Genova and Donny Montell to fly the ‘We outdid ourselves!’ flag for Bulgaria and Lithuania respectively…and boy, did they ever. Donny’s goal was to beat Love Is Blind’s 14th place from 2012, and he did so by finishing 9th and giving his country their best result since 2006. Poli went from a DNQ in 2011 to achieving Bulgaria’s first qualification in nearly a decade, followed by their best result ever. Bravo, you two!
#4 | Never mind the colour of your life – let’s talk the colour of success: Poland picks Michał Szpak over Margaret, regrets nothing
One of the most shocking happenings of the 2015/2016 selection season was Margaret and her monster hit Cool Me Down NOT being Poland’s entry of choice for Stockholm. Even those of us who were immune to Margaret’s charms (i.e. me) figured she was a shoo-in to win Krajowe Eliminacje – and if she had an off night, surely Edyta Górniak would step in? Um, no. Jaws dropped globally as Michał Szpak and his majestic mane won the NF with ease (nearly 36% of the public vote, to be precise). Surfing on a sea of haters and doubters shouting ‘IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN MARGARET!’, he went on to qualify to the Eurovision final….and then came the voting sequence to end all voting sequences. Your moment of the night might have been when Russia tried but failed to push past Australia and Ukraine at the last second to win, but mine? Poland’s ultimate leapfrog over TWENTY countries into 6th place – thanks to the televoters – which led to an eventual 8th-place finish. Now that’s #WOW.
#3 | Edward af Sillén’s way with words: The entire Eurovision 2016 script
As a writer, I always find myself paying more attention than most to the scripting of Eurovision. I rarely find the hosts’ dialogue to be above average, excluding the perfection that was 2007 (Jaana and Mikko are my all-time favourite host duo) and 2013. The common ground between 2013 and 2016, besides Petra Mede? Screenwriter and genius Edward af Sillén. The man behind the words of Oslo 2010 and Malmö 2013 outdid both of his previous ESC gigs this year with a hilarious host script. Not only was it packed with banter that highlighted the chemistry between Petra and Måns, it also used humour to push the limits of what flies during a family entertainment program – which I love. Then there was ‘That’s Eurovision!’ – one of the best semi openers in history – and the now iconic ‘Love Love Peace Peace’, which we’ll still be singing when the next Swedish-hosted ESC takes place (probably in 2018). Basically, anything we heard in Stockholm that af Sillén had put down on paper was smart, sassy, and memorable. It played a big part in what I believe to be one of the best contests ever.
#2 | Beating Europe at their own game: Australia wins the jury vote and finishes second in Stockholm
If you thought this Australian was going to list her personal highlights of the Euro-year and NOT mention Dami Im, you were sadly mistaken. Until it actually happened, I had no idea that she was capable of giving us such an incredible result in our second year of contest participation. Guy Sebastian’s 5th place last year was awesome enough, but Dami almost winning the comp when Australia is still a newbie being made to feel quite unwelcome by some (which is understandable, but we’re here to stay so PLS STAHP) topped it by a mile. For a year, I was crushed that I couldn’t be in Vienna to see us compete for the first time. But then I made it to Stockholm to watch Dami nail her final performance, and I felt the support from a crowd of countless nationalities. After that, I got to witness her top the jury vote and wondered if I was about to see an unprecedented Aussie win of the whole contest. I didn’t, which as a Jamala devotee didn’t bother me too much. But I was there when we proved how seriously we take Eurovision, and when we scored ourselves such an amazing spot on the scoreboard. In hindsight, I wouldn’t change a thing.
#1 | Yasligima toyalmadim, men bu yerde yasalmadim: Jamala, 1944 and the ESC
Now we’ve arrived at my number one “thing” (song, artist, event…whatever), and fittingly, the only thing that could beat Dami’s epic Eurovision effort is the story of the entry that actually beat her in the competition. I wasn’t thrilled when I found out that Jamala was trying to represent Ukraine again, five years on from the 2011 Mika-Zlata-Jamala Incident. That’s because Smile made me do the opposite. Still, I cued up 1944 the first chance I got, not expecting to like what could have been a carbon copy of Smile. Three minutes later, my mind had been blown. I felt connected to the haunting, experimental beauty of 1944 immediately, drawn to its combination of vulnerability and strength, and the pain unleashed by Jamala as she told her grandmother’s story through song. It was magic, and I felt that from first listen through to the, ahem, *interesting* Ukrainian NF, then on to Eurovision. Every time she performed, it was as heartfelt as ever, and never has a vocal possessed such emotion and sincerity while still knocking our socks off with its sheer power. The overall impact of 1944 won Ukraine their second ESC trophy – and it was a victory not of gimmicks or of a personality, but of a song that meant something. Even now I can’t hear those first few bars without tearing up…which is why I never listen to it in public. Thank you for the music, Jamala. I’ll get some tissues ready for your reprise in Kyiv.
Congratulations, you made it to the end of this marathon countdown! If it’s past midnight wherever you are, then Happy New Year – I’m sorry you spent it trying not to fall asleep while I rambled my little heart out. If it’s still pre-midnight, then you have time to salvage the evening, so I’ll wrap things up by wishing you all the best for the start of 2017 (and the middle and end, obviously). Whether you’re celebrating by partying it up Russian granny style, tuning in to the ESC 250, or lying on the floor in the foetal position weeping because you failed to keep your New Year’s resolutions (which one am I? I’ll never tell), enjoy yourself.
I’ll see you next year for another January-December filled with Eurovision. In the meantime, don’t forget to fill me in on your NF/ESC/JESC highlights of 2016. I definitely didn’t keep my resolution to be less nosy, so I want to know everything.