We are continuing our series looking at the countries currently competing at Eurovision and the reasons why we love them. Next up, we’re heading back to Lisbon where we’re setting down with a plateful of pasteis de nata and looking at Portugal at Eurovision.
When Salvador Sobral melted hearts with his soft ballad “Amar Pelos Dois” in 2017, it wasn’t only his dream that came true – it was the dream of his entire country, Portugal. Since their debut in the contest way back in 1964, we’ve seen tears, heartbreak, joy, controversy – and even crazy psychedelic colour schemes – at Eurovision. Now let’s look at the 10 reasons why we love Portugal at the Eurovision Song Contest.
1. They’re plucky and persistent
Just like its people, Portugal has never been one to give up easily. They joined in 1964, and have become one of the contest’s mainstays — despite usually only finishing in the mid to lower end of the table. Even in their first year, António Calvário‘s “Oração” still, sadly, came last. They’ve also failed to qualify eight times in the past 14 years, but it hasn’t put them off. In fact, they’ve only missed five contests to date — two of those were due to relegation, and two were due to financial reasons. But it is a little curious that three of those years have been when Sweden has hosted…
2. They aren’t afraid to be quirky
With such consistently disappointing results, Portugal developed a rather irreverent attitude to Eurovision over the years. Perhaps figuring they had nothing to lose, the Atlantic nation has used the contest as a way to showcase their traditional music, experiment with totally wacky staging – and even cheerfully encourage Europe to start an uprising and “sing against oppression”. While 2011’s “A luta é alegria” (The Struggle is Joy) by Homens da Luta didn’t qualify for the final, we’ll certainly struggle to forget it.
3. They are proud of their culture
Portugal’s rich history has been instrumental in crafting their unique culture, which is duly reflected in their Eurovision appearances. Having once possessed a maritime Empire that spanned the Americas, Africa, India, Indonesia and beyond, influences from around the world have poured into Portugal. Many of their contest entries have roots in this colonial, seafaring heritage — take Vânia Fernandes and her “Senhora do Mar (Negras águas”) or “Lady of the Sea (Dark Waters)”. The song was sung from a woman’s perspective, missing her man who was lost at sea. The sadness of missing someone who was far away came to be known in Portuguese as saudade, and often stemmed from sailors and merchants feeling homesick, or wives longing for their distant husbands.
4. Divas galore
When they’re not feeling the saudade, Portuguese folk know how to bring the party. With a proven track record of sending daring divas to the stage, Portugal has never been afraid to bring the Latin fire to the contest. But they don’t stop at lighting the fuego – though, technically it’s fogo. They also gave us Beyoncé-worthy balladeers such as Filipa Azevedo, whose “Há Dias Assim” wouldn’t have sounded out of place at a Destiny’s Child concert. You slay, diva!
5. They go hard… or they go home
Portugal’s 50-year run of bad luck finally came to an end in 2017, when Salvador Sobral won hearts and minds across the continent with “Amar Pelos Dois” (Love for Both of Us), a song penned by his equally talented and adorable sister Luísa. They won 758 points, the highest number in the competition yet. However, a year later, Cláudia Pascoal and Isaura‘s saudade-filled “O Jardim” was Portugal’s fourth last-place result — a placing that stung on their home turf.
6. EPIC hosting skills
Of course, it’s not just the music we love about Eurovision. The hosts have an important part to play in creating a fun-filled, Eurovision-tastic evening. This year’s contest was a star-studded event, with its all-female presenting team coming from a varied background — a TV chat show host, an NCIS: Los Angeles star, a dancer and a Festival da Canção veteran host. They kept their cool even when, inevitably, the connection dropped out or there was an awkward pause. It did sting a bit when they told us that Portugal “didn’t care anymore”, though.
7. So. Many. COLOURS!
Like the ornate tiling that adorns Lisbon’s colourful streets, bright costumes are a staple of Portuguese Eurovision. Flor-de-Lis wowed us in 2009, when they burst onto the stage in an explosion of colour and music with “Todos as Ruas do Amor”. It was so vibrant, it rivalled even Moldova that year. The bohemian theme and soft guitar reminded us of the hippies of old, but Flor-de-Lis was still distinctly Portuguese. A passionate love poem with a folksy sound and musicians in traditional dress-themed outfits, it was never far away from the famous fado clubs that are so unique to Portugal.
8. They rarely sing in other languages
Also distinctive to Portugal is the native language, which has Latin roots, but an unmistakable and unusual sound. Unlike most other nations competing in Eurovision, Portugal has sung in Portuguese every single year it took part, with English only featuring briefly (and on very rare occasions). This makes Portugal stand out from the crowd and ensures that it maintains its national identity in an increasingly homogeneous event. It’s a winning formula, too: 2017’s “Amar Pelos Dois” made beautiful use of Portuguese’s unique expressiveness, taking the entire continent by storm.
9. Their own song sparked a revolution
It’s said that in the dying days of Salazar’s dictatorship, the broadcast of a single Eurovision song was the signal to start an uprising and bring down the government. Legend has it that just before 11PM on 24 April 1974, “E Depois do Adeus” (“And After the Goodbyes”) by Paulo de Carvalho was played by a Lisbon radio station. The song acted as a signal to the rebels to start the famous Carnation Revolution.
10. They have an eye for talent
For eagle-eyed Eurovision fans, you might be able to spot a familiar face in the 2003 romantic comedy Love Actually. Portugal’s 1996 entrant, Lúcia Moniz, plays Colin Firth’s shy Portuguese love interest. But at Eurovision, she was anything but the shrinking violet — dressed all in red, she enraptured the audience with her ukelele and on-point harmonies. Her song “O meu coração não tem cor” (“My Heart has no Colour”) was a soliloquy dedicated to Portugal and all its former colonies, singing high praises of its dance styles, food — and of course, song. Better yet, Lúcia achieved the best result for Portugal until Salvador Sobral’s win, coming in sixth out of 23.
Bonus! Suzy opened the very first Wiwi Jam
When it came to kicking off the very first Wiwi Jam at Stockholm in 2016, there was only one woman for the job. Suzy might not have qualified for the grand final in 2014, but there was plenty of life left in her song “Quero ser tua”. Suzy took to the Hard Rock Cafe stage and gave a memorable performance that got the crowd moving.
We love you, Portugal. Here’s hoping your next win will be sooner than 50 years’ time.
What are your favourite Eurovision moments from Portugal? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!