The kitsch is conspicuously absent this year and the usual extravagant stage effects are nowhere to be seen. Could the Eurovision Song Contest finally be focusing on the music?
The annual Euro-pop fest has long been the glittery home of outlandish costumes, high-voltage stage effects, forgettable tunes and kitschy acts like last year’s dancing gorilla.
But Portugal — which hosting this year’s event because its entry, Salvador Sobral, won with a restrained solo ballad last year in Ukraine — is putting on a show with stylish, elegant performances by a strong field of competitors. And it’s doing that with a $23.8 million budget that officials say is the most restrained since 2008.
That means the 63rd Eurovision Song Contest is heading to what many predict will be an exceptional year.
“Music isn’t fireworks, it’s feeling,” Sobral said to explain his 2017 triumph.
Six countries automatically qualify for the Grand Final: the “Big Five” of France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the U. K., as well as the host country. Two semifinals have cut the overall field from 43 to the 26 who will compete on Saturday night.
The bookmakers’ favorites this year are: Israel’s Netta Barzilai, with her playful song “Toy”; Cypriot singer Eleni Foureira, with her fiery performance of “Fuego”; and France’s Madame Monsieur with the politically charged “Mercy,” about migrants who risk their lives crossing the Mediterranean on unsafe boats hoping for a better life in Europe.
This year saw the return to competition of Russia, a traditional favorite, after missing last year’s event amid a diplomatic spat with host Ukraine. But it was a short return: Russia’s contestant Julia Samoylova went out in the semifinals, while Ukraine singer Melovin advanced to the Grand Final.
The hugely popular international event is organized by the European Broadcasting Union, an alliance of public service broadcasters.