At about 2am on the Saturday night/Sunday morning of 11 February, the Eurovision community rejoiced. In part it was due to the fact that the good people at RAI had finally got round to announcing the winner of Sanremo 2017 – as is customary, they leave it until the delay is not funny any more, then wait another fifteen minutes. Mainly though, it was due to the fact that everyone’s favourite had won. The fun, uptempo song with the gorilla was going to Eurovision (assuming singer and simian companion accepted the invitation).
At this point, there was little talk of us finding a certain winner. With only ten songs chosen, the consensus was that Francesco Gabbani’s Occidentali’s Karma was a contender, but was most likely going to finish somewhere in the top ten. This wasn’t quite the cast-iron winner we were looking for. Something will turn up.
Fast forward to the middle of March and our Micawber-like wait hadn’t reached fruition. Something hadn’t turned up at Melodifestivalen, something hadn’t turned up at Eesti Laul. We weren’t sure if Russia were going to turn up at all. Italy remains top of the pile with the bookies, but is this just because they got there first? All the reasons for us to think they were destined for top ten and no more are still there. It’s still my favourite entry and I would like to stick my fingers in my ears and pretend it’s now a certain champion and always has been, but that wouldn’t be true. Let’s recap.
It’s in Italian
I still think it is possible for a good song to win Eurovision without resorting to English lyrics. However, going for a native language does mean you have to work harder to get your universal message across. Occidentali’s Karma includes a few of the clever things that Foreignish songs can try. The title is repeated a lot, which is handy, as the audience get it written down for them at the start of the song and it’s some words they can recognise (see Molitva and Kedvesem for precedents). There are also plenty of Alés and the odd “sex appeal”. However, when a song has such a complicated message as Occidentali’s Karma, the lack of English will only make things harder and compound some of the other problems.
General consensus has since relabelled Francesco’s dance partner as a monkey, but look at him. That’s no monkey. We’ve changed the animal’s species, because we’ve since learnt the lyrics and know that la scimmia nuda is dancing. To us, having the primate on stage is a (somewhat) logical extension of the lyrics and all makes sense. It’s going to be a harder sell to the public on 13 May. I imagine the general reaction will be “lol there’s a dancing gorilla on stage, that is so Eurovision”.
The Italian team is going to have a lot of work to do on its staging to telegraph the logic behind the appearance of Geraldo the Gorilla. Otherwise the song could be miscategorised in the same vein as Norway 1980, with its funny Eskimo man coming on mid-way through to yodel.
Eurovision is not Sanremo
Though supposedly an early inspiration, The Sanremo Festival is a very different beast to modern Eurovision. It’s still a black tie affair largely dominated by classy ballads with few extra adornments on stage. Francesco only had to do a little dance to stand out. His energetic performance brought the show alive.
One of the highlights was how Francesco had the entire orchestra join in to shout “Alé”. A potential benefit of Russia withdrawing this year is that we don’t need the noise cancelling technology and may be able to hear the crowd take the orchestra’s place in Kyiv. However, it still won’t have quite the same effect of breaking through the staid and formal setting in which Occidentali’s Karma had been placed.
Viewed through the world of Sanremo, it was easy for Eurovision fans to fall in love with this song. Will it stand out as well as a fun entry when it has an Epic Sax Guy to contend with?
That Savage Cut
There must have been another way to shave thirty seconds off the song for Eurovision. Put in an abbreviated first chorus and maybe cut down the bit where Francesco’s on his knees pre-namaste and you might be able to save some of the second verse. As it stands, we have an awkward gap between first chorus and second bridge. It sounds wrong, and I’m sure will still stand out to new listeners. I hold hope that the gap will be filled in Kyiv by a big entrance for Geraldo the Gorilla.
Even if the stage version makes the transition less jarring, it still brings a problem. While the song’s in a Foreign language, the language of music and of contemporary pop song structure is universal. A comforting verse-bridge-chorus structure has been lost from the song. It has become even less familiar to our ears.
It doesn’t fit the recent winners mould
Occidentali’s Karma would be a slight departure from recent Eurovision winners by not being a unifying anthem about triumph over adversity. His main “vote for me” weapon (gorilla aside) is the build up to the Namaste moment which should hopefully culminate in some sort of pyro (the confetti he used in London could be perfect) and joyful gorilla dancing.
We don’t know exactly how they plan to stage it, but Francesco is unlikely to be presented as the heroic figure conquering his demons that Måns, Conchita and Jamala all have been in very different ways. His song is not set up to elicit that sort of emotional response.
But who could win instead?
This is the biggest puzzle. The bookies seem to like Bulgaria’s chances. Beautiful Mess has been written to more of a Eurovision-winning template. However, while Kristian is “up against the wall,” he doesn’t actually overcome anything. He just stays in his beautiful mess. The song is also a bit limp and uninspiring. Australia does the young male with a ballad a lot better than Bulgaria, for me. Don’t Come Easy has a more anthemic feel and has the big note ready and waiting for its winner pyro. Both are more convincing contenders than fellow bookies’ darling, Sweden. Francesco Gabbani may not come across as a hero, but that’s better than a poser on a travelator
Belgium is another strong contender. The song perhaps doesn’t reach the emotional climax that it feels destined for at the start, but it is very well set up for a commanding visual experience as Blanche controls little balls of light around her. Her shy and diffident performances in the preview shows put a big question mark over whether this will be convincing though.
We may need a big surprise to come through and challenge, in Common Linnets style. Looking through the forgotten acts, Norway may have some of the ingredients to surprise. Grab the Moment is all about overcoming one’s fears and is pretty catchy. The MGP staging was terrible though. If they can come up with something less big and empty and instead use scary mask face as the demon on JOWST’s shoulder it could spring a surprise. Alternatively, the most Common Linnetsy act this year is Estonia. I find their gurning for the camera a bit overwrought (and much preferred Kerli in Eesti Laul), but they do look to tell a story on stage.
While Italy’s problems are very much their own, they are a favourite this year in a very similar way to Russia was in 2016. The entry is deeply flawed, but something has to step up and deliver something brilliant in May to beat it. Is there a Jamala out there this time round?
Maybe something will turn up.