ESC 2010 Reviews: Portugal
Finland used to hold the dubious distinction of having participated in the Eurovision Song Contest for the longest time without a win. After the victory of “Hard Rock Hallelujah” back in 2006, the “honor” went from Finland to Portugal. Lisbon has been sending entries to the contest since 1964, when the country made its debut in last place (like Lithuania, they scored no points, but due to differences in scoring systems from then to now, it wasn’t considered as much of a slap in the face as it is now…three other nations left that year’s competition with no points). They’ve never even made it to the Top 5, and their most recent Top 10 placing was back in 1996, when Lúcia Moniz took Portugal to their highest placing (6th) with “O meu coração não tem cor (My Heart Has No Color)“, a sunny, folkloric ode to the Lusophone world. Eagle-eyed movie buffs might recognize the lovely Lúcia from the British ensemble comedy “Love Actually”, where she played Aurélia, the quiet Portuguese maid who falls for an adorably bumbling Colin Firth. Her heart may have no color, but mine’s green with envy…
I often talk about the political side of Eurovision, especially between countries (like Georgia’s dig at Russia in 2009, Turkey’s frustration at Armenia for “Apricot Stone” this year, or when Spain sent an Argentine Tango to a UK-hosted ESC during the height of the Falklands/Malvinas War). Portugal, however, has an amazing story to tell in regards to its own national history in the context of Eurovision. In 1974 (the year that ABBA won for Sweden) Portugal’s song, “E Depois do Adeus (And After Goodbye)” came in dead last. Despite that disappointing finish, the song’s story doesn’t end there. Only a few weeks later, there was a massive populist coup against the Fascist regime of the Estado Novo, led by then-Prime Minister Marcelo Caetano. To kick off the uprising of the Carnation Revolution in Lisbon, the coups organizers used the National Radio to signal when to start their national takeover. The song that was used as the secret signal to start the revolution? “E Depois do Adeus”, the little song that failed on the international stage, yet heralded the return of democracy in Portugal.
Over the past few decades, Lisbon has sent a few fantastic, yet completely underrated entries to Eurovision, many of them inspired by fado, or “fate” songs. Fado is an often-melancholy style inspired by love and loss, especially in the context of the seafaring ways of traditional Portuguese life. In 2008, Portugal sent a fado-inspired entry, “Senhora do Mar (Lady of the Sea)“, sung by Madeira native Vânia Fernandes. I watched the 2008 Finals with my friend Kate over the internet (as it’s not broadcast live on television here in the United States), and as Vânia sang, her emotions palpable, Kate and I had no choice but to stare nearly unblinking at my tiny laptop screen, so that we didn’t miss a frame of her performance. Kate was brought to tears by the end of it. The fact that “Senhora do Mar” came in 13th place is nearly tragic, as fans and critics alike lauded the song with praise. The next year’s entry, Flor-de-Lis’s “Todas as Ruas de Amor (All the Roads of Love)” brought out the lighter side of traditional Portuguese music, and came out sounding like a warm and fuzzy hug from the sunny Algarve. Again, it was underrated, and only came up with a 15th-place position.
Portugal’s lack of success in Eurovision really has nothing to do with a lack of great performances, singers, or songs. They’re in the unenviable position of only having one geographical neighbor, Spain, and no other countries in Eurovision speak Portuguese. National Broadcaster RTP almost always sends entries sung exclusively in Portuguese (although they went through a phase for a few years where verses were sung in Portuguese, with choruses in English), so while it’s always fantastic to see countries stay true to their language, it doesn’t help garner many bloc votes. Over the years, Portugal has sent pop, ballads, folk, and fado, but no permutation has worked for them so far. It pains me to say this, but I think Lisbon’s only hope is to take their nation’s most popular descendant, Portuguese-Canadian Nelly Furtado, and draft her into the fray.
But until Nelly crosses the Atlantic, we’ve got 18-year-old Filipa Azevedo representing Portugal this year with “Há Dias Assim (There are Days like This)”.
This is a pretty standard Eurovision-style ballad, complete with a key change. Filipa’s voice is strong, but you can still hear just how young she is. At times, it sounds like she’s taken too many lessons from the Christina Aguilera School of Vocal Gymnastics, but out of the many, many ballads in this year’s Contest, this is definitely one of the better ones, and possibly the best in the First Semifinal. If Filipa keeps her vocal runs in check, she should be able to make it into the finals for Portugal’s third straight year, and may score in the Top 15 once again. But if the performances of 2008 and 2009 couldn’t crack the Top Ten, Filipa might be out of luck. I do like this song, though, and hope that juries treat it kindly, as bloc voting never seems to favor the Portuguese.