Does a song about breaking your cell phone get more sophisticated by sticking some spoons in your face, borrowing a few old props from Johnny Depp and adding a bunch of ethnic instruments? Portugal seems to think so:
Here’s the problem with Eurovision: Unlike other large concerts and TV productions, it is a show with limited editing options. The content is given by various countries without regards to what else is in the melting pot that year, and the selection done in semi finals are not done to make the total impression of the show as good as possible with concerns such as balance and variety in pace and style. This leaves the producers of the finals in a pickle, with only the orders of the entries in first and second half of the finals to work with.
At the same time, the diverse audience appreciates…diversity and not just 40 entries that sound the same. Thus, voters tend to award those who are lucky enough to stand out from the others in any given year. Meaning if there are many generic pop songs that year, ethnic entries could stand out. If the finals are filled with ballads, a pop song might stand out. And so on.
The 2019 vintage is accidentally packed with weird ethnic entries, which we generally salute. But that also poses greater demands on the quality of those. They cannot just be the fun ethnic sound in the mix, they also need to be good. And while countries like Hungary and Albania got that memo, Portugal is struggling a little, to say the least.
The Portuguese entry goes a bit like this: Conan Osiris enters the stage dressed in facial spoons and futuristic trainers. Someone is banging away on strings in a way that the Portuguese probably will call very sophisticated Brazilian something-something, while we would call it a very out of key way to increase the audience’s hangovers by 600 per cent. Conan has a voice that is more whiny than Salvador Sobral and James Blunt combined, sounding like he is trying to warn you of doomsday, which, considering the final is in Israel, is a little unfortunate. And then the woman starts making weird sex sounds, while someone else bangs away on a drum Christopher Columbus must have brought home from Trinidad and Tobago. It’s all very unfortunate.
Another unfortunate fact for Portugal is that Eurovision’s excellent web site started translating all countries’ lyrics to English. Last century we might have been able to watch this and imagine it was an indigenous tune about Mother Earth and the meaning of life and nature. Now, we know for a fact it is a song Conan wrote after breaking a cell phone and then smoking some weird shit and wanting to die. We of course know that breaking a cell phone is always annoying, and our 11-year-old associated jury member relates 100 per cent to comparing your cell phone with your entire life. But we’re also sure that very same jury member can show and tell you that the promises of never breaking it again tend to be…broken. Grow up and deal with it.
The fan boys seem to love this song. We’re thinking the fan boys aren’t always right. And neither are ethnic instruments.