In my last post I mentioned three spectacular songs in this year's contest. Two of them are in semi-final 1, one of them is in the final. Have you guessed yet? OK then, here's the answer.....
"Occidentali's Karma" - Francesco Gabbani (Italy)
It's a very unusual feeling, having this year's favourite as my favourite too. The first time I heard "Occidentali's Karma" was when it won Sanremo and I immediately loved it. That doesn't usually happen with me, and songs, and it takes a special song to appeal to me on first listen. This was an explosion of joy, a catchy and appealing song fronted by a likeable and charismatic performer. One man.....and his gorilla. Of course those who haven't bothered to read up about the meaning behind the lyrics will just think that this is a novelty song with a dancing gorilla gimmick. But we know differently, don't we, friends!
I like this song so much that I even bothered to learn all the Italian lyrics and can sing along with it. Then of course there is the dance routine, so simple that everyone can do it. There is a lovely little moment towards the end of the national final performance where Francesco and Mr Gorilla are out of sync on the dance routine, but it doesn't matter. Francesco wrote this song and in his performance he completely makes that connection with the viewers. He is an absolute showman and clearly conveys that he is enjoying every moment of this.
This is probably my favourite Eurovision entry of the past 20 years. Not since "Minn Hinsti Dans" in 1997 have I loved a song so much. "Occidentali's Karma" still sounds as fresh as it did when I first heard it on that Saturday night in February, and has stood up to repeated listening. As Simon Cowell used to say in the days when I watched X Factor, it has "the likeability factor". This song would be a very worthy winner for so many reasons: a catchy uptempo song in a foreign language, from a country which has mainly provided a consistently high quality of entries since its return to the contest in 2011. Italian music is still loved across the continent. And it would finally give Italy the chance to atone for that 1991 contest...!!! (maybe????)
My second favourite song is.....
"Amar Pelos Dois" - Salvador Sobral (Portugal)
I missed the Portuguese national final so didn't hear the winning song until the next day. The first time I heard this song, I began to cry, such was its emotional impact on me. Again, it takes a lot for a song to move me in this way on first listen. And then I read the lyrics translation and just sobbed again. Salvador's performance was unique, honest and completely true to himself, on a song written by his sister Luisa. This is a timeless song - that's "timeless" and not "dated" by the way. I played this song to faithful travelling companion (not an ESC fan) at the weekend and he said that it sounded like a classic old jazz song. Something from the Great Portuguese Songbook!
People often refer to Salvador as "Salvadorable" and that is so true. He is such a sweet, gentle and unique performer, and when you know what you know about his health difficulties then you just want him to succeed even more. If "Occidentali's Karma" doesn't win, I wouldn't object to this song winning, and finally giving Portugal its long, long, long awaited first ESC win.
My third favourite song is....
"Blackbird" - Norma John (Finland)
My thoughts on this song have not changed since the Finnish final. I loved it then and I love it now. What really surprised me during the lead-up to this year's contest was that it tended to be forgotten about, and wasn't really rated in fan polls/rankings. That was until the rehearsals of course, when the duo of Leena and Lasse gave exceptional performances and suddenly many fans who had previously overlooked the song were talking about it. What "Blackbird" has in common with my other two favourites is its emotional impact. I am not a ballad fan as you know, but will make an exception for those songs which move me in different ways. I have "something in my eye" when I listen to the Portuguese song. When I listen to this dark song, "Blackbird", there is just this chilling feeling of loss and sadness, yet of anger and strength too. I don't know if that's really the right way to describe it but they're the best words I can use right now. This is Finland's best ESC entry in years.
Now, where did I put my notes on the deep emotional impact of the lyrics and performance of "Do It For Your Lover"?........OK then, maybe not. In my next post I'll be attempting to predict which songs are going to qualify from tonight's semi-final.