For the past (almost) 20 years I’ve been (almost) 100% sure no Eurovision song would ever knock my favorite entry down off the top of the podium. I mean; It’s been there since 2001, and though quite a few songs have come close, it was still there 18 years on. Of course I’m talking about the masterpiece that is “Lady Alpine Blue”, performed by the best band ever; Mumiy Troll! But last year, the (almost) unthinkable happened.
Stop, don’t say that it’s impossible…
It might not come as a huge surprise that it was an Italian entry that did it. It seems a certain Swede was right when he said he knew it was possible. I have loved so many of the Italian entries, both before they took their upsetting break from the contest and after their return. “Nel blu dipinto di blu” (the David Bowie cover is even better!), “Per Lucia”, “Gente di mare”, “Madness of Love”, “L’amore è femmina”, “L’Essenziale”…just to mention a few. However, it took until 2019 for a new song to take over 1st place on my “Eurovision top 10 (or top anything, really) in the history of ever” list.
Soldi + Mahmood = 1st place
Mahmood wrote the lyrics, and has revealed that it took a long time to finish them. The song is autobiographic and tells the story of Mahmood’s relationship with his father, who left the family when Mahmood was a young boy. The title “Soldi” (money) symbolizes his father’s priorities; he put his desire for money ahead of his role of husband and father. A lot of people can relate to this story on some level, and even those who don’t know the story can feel the anger that burst through in parts of the song. From the first time I heard “Soldi” I was completely sold(i); I just knew that no other song would even come close to it in Tel Aviv. For me, that is. I do realize that there might be people out there who don’t agree. They would of course be wrong… ;)
The song stands out in so many ways at Eurovision, for instance in its structure. It doesn’t have an actual proper chorus, instead it has three bits which are repeated throughout the song. The first is the word “soldi” (money), the second is the question “come va?” (what’s up?) and the last is the irresistable double clap. It also contains a sentence in Arabic; “Waladi waladi habibi ta’aleena”, which translates to “My son, my son, my love, come here”. This was the way Mahmood’s father, who is Egyptian, used to call him as a child.
The video has close to 200 million views on Youtube, if we add the numbers from the on on his channel and the one on the Eurovision Song Contest channel. It is also the most streamed Eurovision entry ever on Spotify. (I might be the cause of approximately half of those… :P ) And it obviously won the Marcel Bezencon Composer Award.
The thing about this song that stands out the most (in addition to everything else!) is the double clap, which is repeated nine times throughout the song. It is very close to impossible resisting the “clap-clap”. I know for sure that I would struggle terribly, it’s an unconcious reaction, so I don’t even try to resist. The “worst” example of this happened on May 4th last year. I participated in a 10K, and was running up a hill at around 3K when “Soldi” came on on my playlist. I was singing along (very quietly), and at the first clap-clap I stopped, struck the pose and clap-clapped. It took me a second or three to realize what I was doing… Then I just laughed at myself and kept running.
I’m not sure the thing in the cartoon below has happened, but I’m equally unsure that I would be able to resist clapping in these scenarios…
What the others think
Italy is great at being Italy. Sometimes that means following the script, others it means being unpredictable. With Soldi they went the “off piste” way and it was sublime. The song itself is spectacularly good, engaging, captivating. Mahmood’s performances of it lift it to near perfection. Having reflected post 2019, I reckon Soldi would have probably been a better winner. I guess we’ll never know. Clap clap.
Soldi successfully navigates a rare Eurovision path. It brings us a catchy tune, a contemporary sound and a powerful message – which is not even about love or peace, nor needs a man in a hamster wheel to grab our attention. A bold shirt and an invitation to clap-clap are the touches to lighten a poignant entry of dysfunctional family life. Well balanced, Mahmood, well balanced.
Every couple of years, there is ‘that’ song. A song that stands out in the cohort of a contest. A song that for whatever reason is ‘ahead of its time’. Perhaps the staging or broader performance or maybe lyrical or musical mastery. Ultimately – three minutes at the height of artistry. Soldi is that song for 2019. It represents what the contest should be about – seamlessly fusing Mahmood’s heritage, evocative memories and languages into a poignant continental (and global!) introduction to an artist. I am so excited to see what happens with his career – he is an utterly mesmerising performer. If I had to be super picky – I wasn’t a massive fan of the dancers and the slightly existential lyrics on the LED that don’t entirely match the original Italian lyrics. But that is a minor quibble. Italy were very close to winning last year but I’m not sure I would’ve necessarily wanted them to win – which sounds strange. I think ‘runner-up’ gives an act the immediacy to market yourself across the continent but without the slightly awkward pressure for immediate follow up material when the buzz of the contest has died down. Anyone who loves his Eurovision entry should definitely check out his exquisite follow up material!
When Mahmood won Sanremo I was quite surprised, especially being a massive fan of “Musica Che Resta”. I thought Il Volo would have walked it. “Soldi” is one of those songs that I can’t help but feel it’s a little overrated. I’m not saying it’s the worst song but it should have never finished 2nd. It’s just very bland and feels like something that a country would have experimented with in the late 90s and finished really low à la “Où aller” for France in 1998. For me, I would have placed it about 20th in the final. But then as the night went on, and the points racked up, I knew it was on to be a rival to Duncan. And to be fair, I do think I fall into the minority that doesn’t really rate the song. My friend, who had never watched Eurovision before, messaged me the day after and said that Mahmood was her favourite. Maybe it was more of a song for the casual viewer. As a fan, I felt a little bit flat after the song.
Can you keep from clap-clapping when “Soldi” comes on? Is Italy the “moral winner” of 2019? Do you think the shirt cost Mahmood 26 points? What was your fave entry in Tel Aviv? Let us know in the comments below or on social media @escxtra. Don’t miss next week’s slideback, when Simon will take us all back to a great Moldovan entry!