Portugal’s Eurovision Champion: “Music is not fireworks”. Soz hun, wrong crowd.
Let’s face it. Eurovision without fireworks would be like Christmas without tinsel. Yet Gay Christmas 2017 concluded with a speech by the winner calling for just that:
“We live in a world of disposable music, fast food music without any content and I think this could be a victory for music with people that make music that actually means something,” he preached. “Music is not fireworks, music is feeling, so let’s try to change this and bring music back which is really what matters.”
This was the rallying cry of Salvador Sobral, the winning Portuguese crooner who bears a striking resemblance to Disney Pixar’s Ratatouille, if you can picture the CGI rodent with a topknot and a borrowed suit. Sobral achieved a landslide victory at this year’s contest held in Kiev on Saturday night with a doleful Portuguese duet sang with his sister. The performance treated all 200 million Eurovision viewers to a taste of what it might be like to witness a foreign language dubbing of the La La Land soundtrack.
Using his crowning moment as a chance to decry contemporary pop music as meaningless (*original alert*) and invoke the contest’s organisers to abolish “fireworks” – we presume both literal AND metaphorical – was a bold move to say the least. A South Korean dog butcher could make a less offensive appeal at Crufts.
The aforementioned film La La Land which almost robbed Moonlight of Best Picture at this year’s Oscar’s stars Ryan Gosling as Sebastian, a poe-faced pianist who spends the entire film trying to convince us that all the world’s problems could be solved by opening a few more jazz clubs. The success of Portugal’s Eurovision entry surely owes a great deal to the rapturous international reception of this whimsical cinematic nostalgia-fest, whetting audiences’ renewed appetite for conservative jazz music. Still, can we please pause a moment before we bulldoze the foundations of the Eurovision Song Contest to make way for a travelling pop-up branch of “Seb’s”?
Evidently in 2017, as gay men are being silently abducted and tortured in parts of the world, even Eurovision is no longer a celebratory safe space. Just like our basic human rights, we’re going to have to fight for our fireworks. Fireworks symbolize the energizing spark of great pop music with its message to turn the fuck up in a world that relentlessly pressures you to tone it down. A sentiment which, in the year that Eurovision declared it was “celebrating diversity”, should have been paramount, as it has always been to generations of LGBTQ+ people – the people without whom Eurovision’s very existence would be in doubt.
Clearly Sobral isn’t seeing what I’m seeing. In the past decade “fireworks” have practically disappeared from popular music, gradually being replaced by the musical equivalent of vanilla candles: from James Blunt to Adele, Mumford & Sons to Rag’n’Bone Man. As online piracy brought the music industry (once too arrogant and old-fashioned to innovate) to its knees, the economics of plonking an acoustic singer-songwriter on a sold-out arena stage made far better sense than the elaborate superbowl-scale pyrotechnic productions expected of the bonafide superstars of yore: Britney, Beyoncé, Gaga and Katy Perry are now a rare and endangered breed. If one man and his guitar can command packed stadiums and unthinkable stream counts in all of the world’s leading music markets, who needs fireworks?
Indeed, 2017 has so far shaped up to be the year of Ed Sheeran, a no-frills, singer-songwriter breaking international pop chart records on a baffling scale. If we’re living in a world of “disposable music”, Sheeran is a problem on the scale of the global landfill crisis, yet his paired-back guitar music can hardly be described as “fireworks”. His hair colour maybe.
In 2011 Popjustice founder Peter Robinson blamed the likes of Sheeran and Adele for heralding a cultural “bore-tex”. The decline of pop music coincided with the rise of the PR industry’s new favourite demographic, “urban tastemakers”: under 30 cool-hunters responsible for the cultural surge in coffee snobbery, shipping container restaurants and canvas tote bags throughout the Western world, forming an ever-growing audience receptive to the ideas of “authenticity” zealots like this year’s Eurovision winner.
A 2015 BBC special titled “Eurovision’s Greatest Hits” featuring 15 pivotal performances in the competition’s history (now spanning 61 years) naturally included what I personally consider the peak of Eurovision perfection, Israel’s 1998 winner, Dana International.
No one is going to tell me this performance lacks feeling. The fireworks that accompany the crescendo of the song’s final chorus constitute an emotional climax akin to a toe-curling audio-visual orgasm (this might be the gayest sentence ever written and I feel zero shame). Only a tragic philistine would argue that a great pop song that makes you want to dance cannot be as cathartic as a ballad whined by a man at a piano that makes you want to run a cold bath and reach for a kitchen knife.
Yes, fireworks can be used as a diversion tactic from a performer’s underwhelming talents, but as with all controlled substances, when administered responsibly, the combined emotional impact of song, performance and pyrotechnics is a state of true euphoria. So to Salvador Sobral and anyone else threatening to extinguish our Eurovision spark:
As the saying goes, if you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen. Likewise, if you can’t take the fireworks, don’t enter Eurovision.