Likely Televote Appeal
Likely Jury Appeal
Cohesiveness of Package
It's Portugal's golden opportunity to get possibly their best result ever in their nearly 50 year history of Eurovision participation.
Last night’s Festival da Canção drifted into the early hours of this morning. Fan favourite, Salvador Sobral, won the jury vote, but finished second to Viva La Diva on the televote.
Salvador Sobral will perform Amar Pelos Dois in the first half of semi-final 1.
Portugal is well known for being a country that’s really struggled to catch up with 21st century Eurovision. Their insistence on singing in their own language is arguably admirable, but they’ve also repeatedly offered little more than Fado folk ballads or what was essentially a latin-carnival remix of Black Lace’s Agadoo in 2014. Their last appearance in a Eurovision final was all the way back in 2010 where they finished in the bottom 10 with a Disney-esque ballad about having a rubbish day, and it wasn’t even expected to qualify until they pulled some good live vocals and camerawork out of the bag.
Portugal now return after having taken their second one-year break in 5 years with an encouragingly renewed format for their long-running institutional national final, the Festival Da Cancao. They brought in semi-finals and several participants from the national version of The Voice, the latter of these being a strategy that’s seen some luck come to other previously struggling nations, such as Belgium.
Sensing that they were definitely trying to put the effort in this year, I did back Portugal on Betfair Exchange with small stakes while their odds were all the way up in the 200s, so you can imagine how I feel now that they plunged all the way into the teens before levelling out in the mid-20s at the time of writing. Why the crash? Well, let’s take a closer look at why this seemingly harmless bit of schmaltz could potentially surprise.
Cut a long story short, Portugal have got very lucky here. Even though a nightmareish operatic-cabaret national answer to Melodifestivalen veterans Alcazar won the televote, the juries ensured Portugal seized this chance to do something rather clever. One way to stand out in the Eurovision Song Contest when decent modern music evades you is to go full on old 50’s cinematic Mediterrainean schmaltz. It’s coming to the understanding that it’s much better to be daring than to try and polish a generic English language dance-pop turd in the name of conformity.
But there’s more still to this than it just being old fashioned. What makes this so special is Salvador himself as a performer. His stagecraft is peculiar yet captivating. With all the respect in the world, his body language suggests that he’s not exactly.. neurotypical, shall we say. It’s slightly distasteful to try and pin down exactly what’s up… or perhaps, air-quotes, down – but from a cold analytical perspective, it’s imperative to acknowledge how the perception of a sweet, scruffy, possibly disabled boy singing this old romantic slush could affect both televoters and juries alike. It’s similar to the Susan Boyle effect, just without the blatantly constructed element of surprise.
What’s even better is that the Portugese delegation needn’t even try to distastefully “milk” this, unlike the Polish delegation in 2015 with those juicy cutaways to their paraplegic performer strutting her stuff on stage in days gone by. They just need to keep the camera on Salvador and let him do his thing. He has a way of capturing the emotion of every lyric, bulldozing through the language barrier, and making his voice gently tickle your ear before he dials it up and whisks you off into a romantic, timeless dreamland, (or should I say La La Land, which by association could give this entry even more current cultural relevance.) Put short, you’d need a heart of stone not to be at least a little affected by his performance.
There’s a genuine, non-constructed sincerity here that wasn’t present in Cyprus’ 2015 entry, which this song has been superficially compared to. Although wonderfully staged, Cyprus fell down on the scoreboard I suspect in large part due to it immediately following eventual contest winner “Heroes” in the final running order.
Call it whatever you like – schmaltzy, cinematic, romantic, old fashioned, theatrical, otherworldly, bizarre, or in my case I quite like this word I just made up – “whoojjh”. But if you call it boring, you just don’t get it. Even in a sea of ballads, this stands out, and the fine tuning of the presentation, especially how Salvador dresses, gesticulates and the camerawork (such as that marvellous violin-miming silhouette in the spotlight ending shot will all be crucial to getting the most out of Portugal’s golden opportunity to get possibly their best result ever in their nearly 50 year history of Eurovision participation.
Is Salvador this year’s Kuula, or short term fanwank?