On the night of 13 May 2017, with the cheers and encouragement of the packed International Exhibition Centre in Kiev, Ukraine ringing in his ear, and the landslide votes of Europe propelling him to a resounding victory, Salvador Sobral secured an historic first victory for Portugal in the Eurovision Song Contest with the arrestingly-beautiful song “Amar pelos dois (Loving For Both of Us)”.
That epic moment, and it was deeply-affecting for variety of reasons, meant that Portugal, a small country on the Iberian peninsula, won the right to host the 2018 Eurovision Song Contest which will take place this year in the capital, Lisbon at the Altice Arena with a total of 43 countries participating, and the theme “All Aboard” providing a highly-inclusive feel to the event.
It’s a high honour for any country given the long history of the contest.
The Eurovision Song Contest, or Concours Eurovision de la Chanson, kicked off back in 1956 as a way of drawing a WW2-fractured Europe back together with the healing power of music. Open to all active members of the European Broadcasting Union, which oversees the competition, past winners have included, of course, ABBA in 1974 with “Waterloo” and Celine Dion who won for Switzerland in 1988 with “Ne partez pas sans moi”.
While the event does come with some gorgeously kitsch overtones and may not always reflect on-point musical trends, it remains a major event on the European calendar with national contests such as Sweden’s Melodifestivalen (10 February to 3 March), the UK’s publicly-voted Eurovision: You Decide and France’s newly-minted Destination Eurovision, currently underway across Europe to select each country’s representative.
One of the big milestones on the way to every Eurovision Song Contest is the draw to determine which countries go into which semi-final.
The two semi-finals, which will be held on Tuesday 8 May and Thursday 10 May European time – broadcast at the wholly inelegant time of 5 a.m. in Australia where true believers all will gather to watch and yes, vote – are the lead-up to the grand final, to which the Big Five (UK, France, Germany, Spain and Italy) and host country Portugal, are automatically entered.
The draw for the two semi-finals, which will feature 19 countries and 18 countries respectively, was held on 29 January at Lisbon’s City Hall in a ceremony presided over by two of this year’s four event hosts Filomena Cautela and Silvia Alberto (with EBU’s Mr Jon Ola Sand keeping a sharp eye on proceedings), resulting in the following countries finding their temporary performing home, in the hopes of being one of the 24 entrants to make it to the grand final.
Estonia (F), Armenia (S), Ireland (S), Austria (S), Finland (S), Cyprus (S), Greece (S), Croatia (S), FYR Macedonia (S), Iceland (F), Israel (F), Azerbaijan (F), Lithuania (F), Belarus (F), Czech Republic (F), Belgium (F), Albania (F), Bulgaria (F) and Switzerland (S).
San Marino (F), Montenegro (S), Sweden (S), Poland (S), Latvia (S), Ukraine (S), Slovenia (S), Georgia (S), Hungary (S), Moldova (F), Denmark (F), Serbia (F), Romania (F), The Netherlands (F), Norway (F), Australia (F), Russia (F) and Malta (S).
Once this was decided, the countries were then divided into the two halves of their various semi-finals, the order of each semi-final determined closer to the actual event. (Letters “F” for first and “S” for second indicate which half of the semi-final the country will appear.)
Only a few countries have selected their final entrant – for Australia it’s Jessica Mauboy, and for Russia, the controversial Julia Samoylova – so we’re sure who is singing exactly for whom yet but this is an important step towards knowing who will be directly competing against whom in what is always a fiercely-contested battle of the voices, even in a Contest dedicated to peace and pan-European camaraderie.
In addition to the semi-final selection, the official handover of hosting duties from the previous host country Ukraine to Portugal known as the Host City Insignia Handover Ceremony took place with Mr. Fernando Medina (Mayor of Lisbon) officially taking charge of the Eurovision baton from Mr. Vitalie Klitschko (Mayor of Kyiv).
So with the third wave of ticket sales underway, what can we expect sound-wise from the event?
It’s way too early to say definitively, with many countries yet to seal the deal on their singer of choice, with no real sense if 2018 will be a ballad-heavy year, a glitter-showered dance-a-thon or somewhere rather middlingly in-between.
Early indications are though that we’re in for some rather cool songs.
Take the Czech Republic’s very handsome Mikolas Josef who will be performing the insanely catchy, retro funky, rap-drenched Marilyn Monroe-referencing big band-influenced song “Lie to Me”, a sentiment which doubtless does not apply to how good the song sounds or how well he’ll do in the contest. (Then again creative types have notoriously thin skins – I should know, I’m a writer – so maybe he wants to lie to his face, and often.)
It’s bright, preppy and the sort of song that, properly performed – that’s not always a given; Exhibit A is France’s Anggun whose song “You and I” shone in the studio but tanked live due to an inert performance – will do extremely well both with the arena crowd and the televoters of Europe. (Countries get to vote by the way in selected semi-finals with the big six divided thus – UK, Spain and Portugal will vote in semi-final 1 while Italy, France and Germany will vote semi-final 2.)
France’s Madame Monsieur goes a little more mid-tempo but their easygoing song “Mercy” is an intoxicating mix of chilled and upbeat, anchored by a confidant, assured performance by a French duo (vocalist Émilie Satt and producer Jean-Karl Lucas) who have been around since 2013.
Their music, which has been favourably compared to the chart-topping Christine and the Queens by The Huffington Post and Wiwibloggs, is cutting-edge avant garde pop that should play well to an audience who have shown an aptitude for music that is both of the moment and a little bit familiar too.
Meanwhile Spain have gone delightfully old school with the duo effort “Tu Canción” which features Alfred and Amaia – not a couple but goddamn that chemistry: I am shipping them heavily and so is everyone else with the hashtag #Almaia getting quite a bit of traction – channelling a highly-emotional piece of music that’s sure to silence everyone with its sheer theatricality.
Forget the fact that it hews very closely to last year’s entry from Portugal in both sound and intent – there are always copycats in the following year, who attempt to replicate the previous sound but as experience has shown, what wins one year is left in the voting dust the next – it’s a seriously beautiful song that may just capture everyone’s hearts, proving that some genuine manufactured emotion will get ’em every time.
Granted you cannot a contest determine with just three songs but as this year’s Eurovision Song Contest draws near, and trust us it will happen so fast it will leave your pyrotechnic-loving head swiveling between rapid costume changes, the signs are good that this will be a contest to remember.