ESC 2010 Reviews: Spain
From Norway we move on to Spain, another one of the countries pre-qualified to the Finals at Eurovision (along with the UK, Germany, and France), due to their network’s large contribution to the EBU. Like France and Germany, it’s been a surprisingly long time since Spain’s last major hit on the ESC scoreboard, despite the nation’s rich musical heritage. They’ve been competing in Eurovision since 1961, but the most recent of their two victories was in 1969. They haven’t made the Top Ten since 2004, and they haven’t cracked the Top Five since 1995. But over the past half-century, Spain has given us some of the most memorable singers and songs that Eurovision has seen.
The year 1968 was pretty momentous in the ESC archives. The competition was held at the Royal Albert Hall in London, and it was the first competition broadcast in color. By the end of the evening’s presentation, it came down to two fiercely competitive songs: Cliff Richard’s “Congratulations” and Massiel’s “La La La”. Cliff was the hometown hero with an Austin-Powers-esque blue suit and charming smile, and was highly favored to win. “La La La” was presented to Massiel (full name: María de los Ángeles Felisa Santamaría Espinosa) after the original singer, Joan Manuel Serrat, insisted on singing the song in his native Catalan, as opposed to the Casillian Spanish mandated by the Franco regime, which had a notorious intolerance for Spain’s other native languages. When Serrat refused to budge on the issue, he was replaced with Massiel about a week before the ESC. When the votes were tallied, “La La La” ended up beating “Congratulations” by a single point. Even now, allegations of vote-rigging float around 1968’s edition of the Eurovision Song Contest, and even as recently as 2008 the old wounds were re-opened as a result of a documentary featuring the account of a network employee alleging that Franco had dispatched his colleagues to other parts of Europe to buy votes from members of neighboring countries’ juries. No retroactive measures have been taken, however, and there’s not enough proof still standing to do much about the issue, so Massiel’s victory stands (although “Congratulations” became a bigger hit throughout the continent).
Spain’s next (and most recent) win was the very next year, when Salomé took home the crown with “Vivo Cantando (I Live Singing)” while wearing one of the most outrageous outfits that the ESC has ever seen. Looking like a cross between a bluebird and a Koosh Ball, Salomé’s outfit kept on dancing even while she was standing still. Awkwardly, this was the year that Eurovision learned that it had no rules in effect for tiebreakers, so “Vivo Cantando” shared the title with three other nations (France, the UK, and The Netherlands).
The next year, 1970, Spain brought an almost completely unknown young singer to Eurovision, a man who had only learned to play guitar a few years earlier while recovering from a car accident that had cut short his soccer career. His song “Gwendolyne“, made it to 4th place, a strong start for a man who would eventually sell over 300 million albums worldwide in fourteen different languages. Sadly, Julio Iglesias rarely speaks about the participation in Eurovision that kicked off his career, but I think he should just embrace it.
Spain has had a few major successes in the ESC since then, but they haven’t been able to break back into the victor’s spot. Their silver medal finish in 1973, however, was epic enough that it might as well have won. “Eres Tú (You Are)” by the Basque act Mocedades has been covered into at least sixteen different languages, including Vietnamese, Korean, and Afrikaans. It’s one of the few Eurovision songs to crack into the US Billboard Top Ten (peaking at #9), and (according to Wikipedia, anyway, so take this for what you will), they are the only act from Spain to chart in the US with a song sung with no English lyrics whatsoever (the others, Los Bravos, Julio Iglesias, Enrique Iglesias, and Los Del Río, either sung in English or bilingually). And, just as importantly, it was included in a classic scene in the movie “Tommy Boy“.
Spain might not have won over the past few decades, but that doesn’t mean that they haven’t been sending some fantastic (or, at least, memorable) entries. In 1982, during the height of the Falkland Islands War between Argentina and the United Kingdom, Spain ended up sending a tango to the UK-hosted event, raising eyebrows with Lucia’s “Él (He)“. Their song in 1990, Azúcar Moreno’s “Bandido (Bandit)” was nearly derailed by a rebellious backing track in Zagreb, but they ended up battling back to claim 5th place with their Flamenco-inspired sister act. Five years later, Anabel Conde made it all the way to the silver-medal spot with “Vuelve Conmigo (Come Back to Me)“, her sweet and innocent look hiding one helluva voice…her glory-note at the climax of the song still impresses me, especially when I remember that she was only nineteen when she sang in Ireland.
I would be amiss if I failed to mention one of Spain’s most epic songs…after so many years of perceived failure on the scoreboard, Spanish fans decided to send something truly spectacular to Belgrade in 2008. Many genres have been represented in Eurovision: rock, pop, ballads, tango, flamenco, folk, new-age…but comedic reggaeton? That’s where Rodolfo Chikilicuatre came in. Like Ukraine’s Verka Serduchka, Chikilicuatre was the alter ego of David Fernández Ortiz. An Argentinean who held the patent for the world’s first dual-action guitar and vibrator, Chikilicuatre swept through the Spanish Preselection with his song “Baila el Chiki-Chiki“. The song was a success on its own; it topped the charts in Spain and Greece, and charted in France and Sweden. Despite a modest 16th place finish, Rodolfo Chikilicuatre’s performance was one of the most offbeat and fun of the evening.
This year, Spain has decided to go theatrical with stage performer Daniel Diges’s “Algo Pequeñito (Something Tiny)”.
There are a few things about this song that are definitely NOT tiny. Diges’s hair, of course…his talent (he’s played the leads in the Spanish productions of “High School Musical”, “We Will Rock You”, and “Mamma Mia”, a musical based on the songs of ESC veterans ABBA), and the spectacle of the song itself. Waltzes aren’t incredibly common in Eurovision, especially circus-themed ones (it’s probably a good thing that the Netherlands didn’t make it through to the finals, or else we’d have some overlap…). Spain’s not quite considered one of the frontrunners this year, but I don’t think that’s from any lack of talent or effort on Daniel’s part. It’s going to be performed second on the night, which is generally not a prime spot. I can imagine him beating Spain’s recent track record (they haven’t made the Top 15 since 2004), but this one’s really going to be unpredictable, I think. At the very least, it will be immensely entertaining to watch! ¡Saludos, España!