This is Italy’s third Eurovision back after a long absence, and it continues to show that it is as serious as a heart attack about competing in the Song Contest. After a surprise second place finish in 2011 with Raphael Gualazzi’s “Madness of Love” and a more than respectable ninth place finish in 2012 with Nina Zilli’s “L’Amore è Femmina,” Italy unleashes a hell of a lot of fire power by sending this year’s Sanremo Music Festival winner, “L’Essenziale” by Marco Mengoni.
A winner of Italy’s The X-Factor, Mengoni is a dynamic performer who should have no problem commanding the stage in Malmö. (Although the one-minute clip RAI has up from his Sanremo performance doesn’t quite capture it; I have no idea why they took down the full video.) He also stands out with the distinctive look he’s rocking right now: big ol’ sideburns, retro mustache, and David Morgan-esque hair.
There had been a lot of rumors about whether or not Mengoni was going to bring “L’Essenziale” to Eurovision, but to me, there seemed no doubt, seeing as it already won the music festival Eurovision is based upon. It’s a terrific dramatic ballad that builds nicely and packs an emotional wallop at the end. It was the song I was hoping to win Sanremo, and while I’m not sure I want to wish this on Italy in its current economic and political climate, it’s one of the two songs I’m hoping will win Eurovision. (The other being Anouk’s “Birds” from Netherlands. I know, right?)
The Italian organizers told the Eurovision organizers today that they have decided that Nina Zilli will sing “L’Amore È Femmina” in Baku this May instead of the previously announced “Per Sempre.” They didn’t explain why they made the change, and I’m not going to try to make a conjecture.
Let’s just tackle the task at hand: did Italy make the right call? Here’s “L’Amore È Femmina”:
If you loved “Caroban” (by another Nina), miss Amy Winehouse, or wonder whatever happened to Duffy, then this is the number for you. It gets away from the potentially musty ballad that Zilli had originally, but still offers a neo-retro sound that may or may not still be in style. I wondered about that sound with “Caroban;” it finished 14th last year, so I think this is a valid concern.
I still wonder if Italy has a winner on their hands. To be honest, having listened to this quite a few times already, “L’Amore È Femmina” isn’t a song that really sticks with me. But this is just the recorded track. There’s no doubt Zilli is a solid, confident performer and she will command the stage come May. So long as the staging is done right, she could still have a big impact.
UPDATED: Italy announced it has changed its Eurovision entry from “Per Sempre” to “L’Amore è Femmina.” No idea why, unless they really want to establish Nina Zilli as the new Amy Winehouse. Anyway, we’ll post a review of the new entry and thank our lucky stars that Litesound decided to follow their fans advice and keep “We Are the Heroes” as their song for Belarus.
When Italy came back into the Eurovision fold last year after many years away, they announced that the winner would be drawn from the Sanremo festival line-up. Sanremo was the basis for Eurovision originally, so this made sense. However, rather than pick the winner of the established artists or newcomers competitions, Italy set up a special jury that would select the artist from all the competitions. As it turned out, Raphael Gualazzi, the winner in the newcomers category, was the jury’s pick, and as you might remember, he went on to have some success last year.
But the jury needn’t pick one of the category winners at Sanremo. Although Emma Marrone won the established artists award and Alessandro Casillo won the newcomers award, the jury named Nina Zilli as their Eurovision representative this year. Zilli performed the song “Per Sempre” at Sanremo, but even that wasn’t the clear pick to be the number performed in Baku. The organizers initially told the EBU that while they jury had picked Zilli, they may use a different song at the Song Contest.
Ultimately, Italy decided to go with “Per Sempre” after all (although they apparently are recording a multilingual version), so here is Zilli’s performance at Sanremo:
First things first, Zilli is charismatic as all get out. She reminds me a little bit of Patricia Kaas: she just stands there and sings and commands your attention. She is not a flashy vocalist, but instead keeps it very simple and very pure. That she’s a bit of a stunner doesn’t hurt, either (messy hairdo notwithstanding).
I’ve seen a few people talk about her cashing in on the retro ’60s sound that artists like Amy Winehouse and Duffy have had success with, although it seems to me more that it’s just the style of music that works at Sanremo, having now watched a few hours of it. (No, I didn’t watch the whole thing.)
One of the things I need to remind myself every year is that Eurovision voters no longer go for those big ’80s-style ballads that used to dominate ESC even through the ’90s. Recent finishes by Niamh Kavanagh and Nadine Beiler, for example, can attest to that. Usually more modern sounding ballads will dominate.
However, how will ESC voters go for the big ’60s-style ballad that Zilli is proffering? Swiss voters voted down Lys Assia’s comeback during this year’s… well, technically last year’s… Entscheidungsshow. On the other hand, the United Kingdom is going with Engelbert Humperdinck, whose career was made during that era with that kind of song. (More on Engelbert when his song is unveiled, by the way.)
Given how the field is shaping up at Eurovision this year, it’s hard to say how “Per Sempre” will do. I am willing to bet that Zilli’s stage presence is going to carry Italy far, but this doesn’t strike me as a Eurovision winner.
Oh, you have no idea how good it feels to write that headline at last.
After 14 years away, Italy returns to the Eurovision Song Contest this year with Raphael Gualazzi and “Follia d’amore” (with the English language title being “Madness of Love”):
The first time I heard this, I thought, why is Italy sending a be-bopped-up standards jazz number from a guy who sometimes loses control of his voice? But I’ll be honest with you: it’s growing on me, because I like be-bopped-up standards jazz, and this has a lot of style.
Gualazzi is an engaging enough performer, but this doesn’t strike me as a number that really inspires people to pick up the phone to vote. I also don’t know if it’s the type of song that fills up the type of gigantic arena Eurovision is now staged in. But I wish it well, because I don’t want Italy to go away for another 14 years.
DISSENTING OPINION: This is the rare number where Jen and Chris at EuroLemur disagree. While Chris is ok with this song, as described above, Jen is seriously unimpressed. First of all, jazz has an inauspicious history at ESC. Even skilled singers, like Roger Cicero in 2007, have a tough go of it. But Gualazzi is no Roger Cicero and certainly no Michael Buble. The songwriting is pat and sing-songy (that violin line, ugh). As a singer, Gualazzi, in what is apparently some attempt to be edgy or intense, has several off-putting moments where he screams at us. So not only is jazz a generally risky choice for ESC, the number fails to succeed on its own terms. It’s lovely that the Italians are willing to give it another go, but with an effort like this they needn’t bother.