LISBON, Portugal (AP) - The dancing gorilla is gone, the extravagant stage effects have been put away and the kitsch is conspicuously absent.
The Eurovision Song Contest, now 63 years old, has learned to dress sensibly. Lisbon may be the place where Europe’s annual music extravaganza grows up.
The annual Euro-pop fest has long been the glittery home of outlandish costumes, high-voltage stage effects and easily forgettable tunes. Last year’s dancing gorilla was a nod to the contest’s kitschy legacy.
But Portugal - 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 that is sober and sensible, with few frills and tasteful staging.
“Music isn’t fireworks, it’s feeling,” Sobral said to explain his 2017 triumph. It’s a sentiment that drew wide applause and apparently captured a millennial mood.
The event isn’t being organized on a shoestring, exactly, with the cost at around 20 million euros ($23.8 million), but officials say it’s the most inexpensive show since 2008. That has also restricted those fireworks.
Add some stylish, elegant performances by a strong field of competitors and Eurovision is shaping up for what many people predict will be a vintage year.
Here is a look at some of the performers generating buzz ahead of the live Grand Final on Saturday night, where 26 countries will be represented:
Netta Barzilai is a sassy woman with a twinkle in her eye. An early favorite with her song “Toy,” which has already racked up more than 20 million views on Eurovision’s YouTube channel, she has an endearing, tongue-in-cheek approach. She makes funny noises, including a clucking sound like a chicken and barely decipherable words, and uses a looping machine and synthesizer. Her topical song is about women’s empowerment. The lyrics: “I’m not your toy, You stupid boy, I’ll take you down.” Israel last won 20 years ago.
Elina Nechayeva’s pop opera “La Forza” is at the other end of the musical spectrum from Barzilai. Sung in Italian, it is an elegant, classical performance, with what are perhaps the event’s best stage effects: Nechayeva stands on a concealed pedestal with her expansive dress draped across the stage and a light show projected onto it. Estonia has won Eurovision once, in 2001.
Eleni Foureira is hot in Lisbon. Her high-wattage song “Fuego” (Fire) has everybody talking. She wears a red-and-yellow catsuit and high heels, and her long, red hair flows back as she dances across the stage with her troupe. It is the kind of thing J-Lo or Shakira would do. The act is a powerful, in-your-face celebration of women. Foureira says she wants to express “the fire that women have … being sexy, being powerful, being fearless.” Her performance is tipped to bring Cyprus its first triumph.
Eurovision is supposed to be harmless fun, but a harder political edge normally crops up at some point. France is addressing the hot-button political issue of migrants who cross the Mediterranean in search of a better life in Europe, amid widespread anti-immigrant sentiment on the continent. The song “Mercy,” about a migrant baby born on a rescue ship, is a catchy tune in French performed by Madame Monsieur, a duo of Jean-Karl and Emilie. France has won the competition five times.
Mikolas Josef hurt his back during rehearsals in Lisbon and almost gave up and went home. Fortunately, he says, the physical limitations have made him focus more on his singing and less on his dance moves. Josef is witty on stage and has an easy rapport with the audience, making him a big hit in the semifinals with his song “Lie to Me.” His country has never won the contest.
Saara Aalto is not only one of Finland’s biggest stars, she is also well-known in the United Kingdom where she came runner-up in “X Factor UK” two years ago. In Lisbon, she is performing the song “Monsters,” taken from her debut album. Aalto knows how to make a pop song work. She also catches the eye as she starts out her performance stuck to a large rotating wheel, as if someone’s going to throw knives at her. Finland is looking for its second triumph.
Alexander Rybak is back. He hit paydirt with his song “Fairytale,” which won the 2009 Eurovision Song Contest for Norway. The song topped the charts across Europe. The lyrics of his new foot-tapping number “That’s How You Write a Song” claim to explain how to win the contest. Its chorus: “Shubidubi-dab-dab, Shubidubi-dab-dab.” Norway has won three times. It has also finished last 11 times.
It’s boogie time for Sweden. Benjamin Ingrosso’s “Dance You Off” just does that, with a kind of George Michael-style swing that’s sure to get you on your feet and usually goes down well at Eurovision. Sweden has won six times, and it can boast the best-known song with ABBA’s 1974 winner “Waterloo.”
German hopeful Michael Schulte has brought a deeply poignant song that pulls at the heartstrings and gets people swaying. “You Let Me Walk Alone’” speaks about his feelings after his father died when Michael was 14.
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