The Eurovision Seal of Approval: Ale Jestem

Eurovision began for me in 2006. Sure, I’m aware of the history of the Song Contest: it was ABBA, Dana International, the Olsen Brothers, and Stefan Raab that led me into it in the first place. But I’ve dived so deep into each Eurovision season since I’ve started writing this blog that, while my knowledge of the past fifteen years of the Song Contest is vast, my awareness of what came before exists only in bits and pieces.

I think I have seen all of the contests between 1970 and 2005 at least once, as evidenced by some of the stray pre-2006 entries in my Pantheon pages. But I was more looking for kitsch, stuff that could populate the Campiest Performances and Biggest Misfires pages.

As I’ve started to write up songs for the Seal of Approval page, I’ve realized how much of a recency bias I have. Up until 2019, my favorite Eurovision song was from 2008, and now my two all-time faves are two of the last three Italian entries.

And yet I realize that once I get out of a Eurovision season, when I stop listening to all of that year’s entries over and over again and get back to “normal” music listening, there are a number of songs that I keep coming back to, and it’s past time for me to acknowledge my affections here.

This brings me to “Ale Jestem,” which represented Poland at the 1997 Song Contest. I always seem to be drawn to Anna Maria Jopek’s song in the summertime. It sort of feels like the closing credits to the Eurovision season: the winner has been crowned, we’re all about to head into the post-Song Contest doldrums, and “Ale Jestem” plays as we head off to play in a field with our Eurodogs.

Even though I haven’t frequently revisited 1990s editions of Eurovision, “Ale Jestem” does sound a lot like what I associate with that era. It also reminds me a lot of an IQ album that I am a bit obsessed with called Are You Sitting Comfortably? It’s those synthesizers: they bulk up the orchestration, even though they definitely feel a bit dated now.

And yet, I still find “Ale Jestem” invigorating. Reading the translated lyrics, I get the sense that it is about enjoying the simpler, natural joys of being alive “nim wielka cisza pochłonie mnie,” or “before a great silence engulfs me.” That I could get the feeling of seasonal rebirth from the song without realizing what the lyrics meant speaks to the quality of the arrangement. Even if it is a song for a summer long ago, it still feels like an eternally optimistic melody.

It’s also a song that encourages me to bone up on my history more. If I can obsessively listen to a song from Eesti Laul 2009, then there’s no reason I can’t unearth other gems from Eurovision’s main history. But more on that later this summer…