Eurovision 2017: [Italy] Francesco Gabbana / Occidentali’s Karma

Italy has consistently delivered high quality entries ever since its return to the Eurovision fold in 2011.* This year doesn’t disappoint.

Occidentali’s Karma has a number of secret weapons. Its chorus is memorable, the song has a distinctive sound that sets it apart from everything else this year, and its overall sound carries whips its audience into a frenzy of happy-go-lucky inclusion.

And then there’s Francesco, whose sparkly eyes, ridiculously warm smile, and gravelly Italian accent helps secure him as this year’s star performer. And then there’s the gorilla – a gimmick that shouldn’t work, but strangely does.

More of an everyman than the last one of his kind, Mans from Sweden, Francesco is a more accessible kind of performer. Him winning Eurovision for Italy would be popular, well-deserved, and almost certain to drive the crowd wild.

It’s also a dead cert to secure the trophy – everyone’s saying so. That said, Francesco’s live vocal’s are a little rough. The seedy Italian sound which works in the studio production sounds like its a voice on the verge of disintegrating in the live vocal.

* Probably best to overlook 2014.

Eurovision 2016 – Rehearsals: Day 6 – UK, Italy and Semi Final 2

Some of the reactions in today’s round-up post are from rehearsal videos the EBU has published on YouTube today and some from watching rehearsals in the press centre. This post will be updated throughout the day.

Francesca Michielin’s vocal stamina slipped a little during the second run-through in Italy’s first rehearsal. I still like the song – it has an endearing bittersweet quality, a sort of wilting flower defiant in the face of its dwindling levels of chlorophyll. The plant reference isn’t some flight of fancy, by the way. Francesca stands in the middle of a row of fake plants stuck on the top of stalks. It’s as though she got lost in amongst the exhibits at the Natural History Museum. And that’s disappointing, because the imagery jars with what is otherwise quite a beautiful song.

Joe and Jake, singing for the first time at the Globen, had three run-throughs of their song ‘You’re Not Alone‘. There is an pleasing simplicity to the number which is complimented by a backdrop which lacks pretension, serving to underline the boys obvious enthusiasm on stage.

Joe and Jake with their twinkling eyes and bright white smiles are striking in close-ups, particularly in the opening sequence. They bound around on stage together like brothers too. The may well start by giving the impression it doesn’t have much impact, but the repetition of the hook and seeing Joe put arm around his singer partner’s shoulder, makes for something rather touching come the final chord. There were some mild (and I mean mild) intonation issues in the opening intervals during run-throughs one and two, but what really impressed me was how these seemed to be completed ironed out come the third time through.

Lithuania’s song ‘I’ve Been Waiting For This Night‘ makes for an entertaining watch though not for the reasons their singer Donny Montell might hope. Since his arrival and first rehearsal, a few days ago, Donny’s now got his hair done and it looks ridiculous. His moves on stage are clearly channelling Justin Bieber, making the whole thing look really rather overblown. I’m actually feeling a bit sorry for the guy – someone needs to step up and take control.

The press centre is enthusiastic for Austrlia’s ‘Sound of Silence’ and I remain so on the whole. But, on the high definition screens here, there’s a cheap look to the quality of the outfit Dani is wearing (despite the sequins on the long flowing dress) which starts me wondering whether this might possibly jump the shark.

Slovenia’s ‘Blue and Red‘ has worked itself into my brain. I now whistle it to myself a great deal and know that in a year’s time when this year’s songs have matured into the soundtrack for 2016, this song will be a key musical shortcut. That means I’ve lost all objectivity about it. Keep an ear out for the key change though – some shakey intonation.

I had a bit of a notable moment watching Bulgaria’s ‘If Love Was a Crime‘ on the big screens this afternoon: I wondered whether this might be the surprise success of the Contest. Not a surprise winner, but something that takes us unawares. Its competent, polished and quirky without veering into the ridiculous. The hook is mysterious but catchy, and singer Poli clearly loves performing. I think it will qualify, which means my list needs to change.

Words cannot convey quite how awful I think Denmark’s ‘Soldiers of Love‘ has actually turned out to be. I suspect it would be pretty cheesy, but rehearsals have surpassed those expectations. Either the vocals are high in some places for all of them, but they’re all struggling to pass something solid – the expressions on their faces are, really and truly, over the top. I don’t want it to qualify, but I fear it might just.

Ukraine’s ‘1944‘ from Jamala is far and away the most sophisticated song, and the most sophisticated presentation too. It looks even better on the big screens which means it will be striking for TV audiences. This is the one that will make people sit up and say, ‘that’s the one’. That’s what I’m hoping. And when the initial hook is reunited with the vocal in the final chorus, I feel physically moved. It’s an incredible thing.

Second time around, Norway’s ‘Icebreaker‘ remains infuriating – it doesn’t make any musical sense to me at all. Similarly, nothing has changed for me with Albania ‘Fairytale‘. Not a Grimm tale, more of a set of operating instructions for an old washing machine. Georgia’s Brit-Poppy ‘Midnight Gold‘ has been pushed over the precipice by their ridiculous lighting.

Belgium‘s choreography remains beyond amazing, and Laura’s performance is remarkable. An absolute corker of a stage act.


Eurovision 2016 – Italy: ‘No Degree of Separation’ (Francesca Michielin)

Italy are one of the few countries at Eurovision who come with a guarantee. The ‘home’ of Eurovision (Eurovision originator and producer Marcel Bezancon was inspired by Italy’s San Remo Song Competition) is rightly proud of its songwriting heritage and that’s seen in stylish stage presentations of distinctive, infectious and often sophisticated numbers.

Italy marked their return to the Contest after a thirteen-year absence with Raphael Gualazzi’s stylish jazz-infused ‘Madness Of Love‘ securing Italy second place to Germany’s winning song Satellite that year. In 2012 Nina Zilli maintained an equally sophisticated look on stage with her Amy Winehouse styled ‘Out of Love‘ getting the country to 9th place. Marco Mengoni continued the run of top ten entries for Italy in 2013 with his worthy power ballad ‘

Marco Mengoni continued the run of top ten entries for Italy in 2013 with his worthy power ballad L’Essenziale. And while Emma didn’t impress juries and voters that much with her song ‘La Mia Città‘, there is still musical polish in the song which holds my original assertion: when Italy do things (now) at Eurovision, they put a bit of effort in.

Italy’s finest entry to date is undoubtedly the classical crossover number ‘Grande Amore‘ (3rd, 2015) from last year sung by Il Volo. It was a number written for a big stadium in mind, set the listener on a trajectory right from the first chord and delivered a big cheesy finish which still, one year on, brings me out in goosebumps. Technically, I shouldn’t like it. Musically I know it’s probably bad for me. But I can’t help myself.

This year’s entry – ‘No Degree of Separation‘ is a slow burner. You’re going to have wait until the extended bridge before you’re pulled in – that’s the point you’re committed to what Francesca Michielin’s number. The chorus deftly mixes melancholy and the lightest flicker of hope across a harmonic progression that drives with an air of defiant grace. For all the bass-filled melodrama, this is subtle number which may still lack the impact to cut-through on stage. My inclination is that it needs to reflect the song’s inherent simplicity and avoid introducing visuals which interrupt its integrity.

Eurovision 2011: Italy

Italy saunter up to the top table in this years Eurovision after a thirteen year absence. Their financial contribution to the contest secures them an automatic place in the final on 14th May.

Raphael Gualazzi represents the country with his easy-listening big band number Madness of Love, proving in Italy’s San Remo competition (below) that he’s more than capable of tackling a technically demanding number in a live performance.

Those of us who hanker after Eurovision twenty odd years ago smile at the sight of an orchestra playing along with him too. As each year passed, Italy coming back to the contest seemed unlikely. Now they’re back, might the orchestra make a comeback too? It’s difficult to see how. Eurovision is present-day. Backing tracks might suit some tracks, but not all. Songs would have to be written for a live orchestral accompaniment in mind. Maybe there’s a trend to establish in future years.

In the meantime however Madness of Love works just fine with a backing track as it’s promo video below illustrates. The song is stylishly different from a lot of other Eurovision stuff and will provide a suitable contrast from the final running order on 14th May. Gualazzi looks like a performer with integrity. And best of all, the song has a big brassy finish. Always a bonus.

For me however, Italy will have to go a long way to surpass my most favourite Italian contribution. Sung by Al Bano and Romina Power, Magic oh Magic from 1985 (below) skidded into a respectable 7th place the year Bobbysocks let everything swing for getting Norway’s first ever win.

If those outfits are all a bit eighties, Romina Power’s gold spangly wrap especially so – she had to be wheeled onto the stage, I’m led to believe – then maybe the smoldering looks of Luca Barbarossa with his otherwise dull rock-esque song Ti Scrivo might be more visually appealing. That song finished 12th place in 1988. Looks clearly aren’t everything at Eurovision.