Catalonia’s (uneasy) relationship with the Eurovision song contest
Cuban-Catalan Chanel comes third at 2022 edition, the best result for a Catalan since Salomé's victory in 1969
Fire, smoke, mad dancers, extravagant clothing, traditional instruments, bizarre performances, a multilingual (but overwhelming English-speaking) show, and an endless round of countries voting and allocating their points for artists. This is, obviously, what the Eurovision song contest is all about.
Catalonia has, in a way, been involved in it for over 60 years, but its relationship with the event can be described as uneasy. Why is this?
No entries in Catalan by Spain in over 60 years
Ever since Spain's Eurovision debut in 1961, over a dozen Catalans have had a chance to vie for victory, including one who achieved it, and two who came in last.
Yet, none of the 13 Catalan performers have ever sung in the Catalan language, despite a very well-known attempt to persuade Spain’s public broadcaster TVE to allow one of them to do so.
Indeed, the public media outlet is the only one representing Spain as a member of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) and ultimately picks a song and artist. This means that the Catalan public television, TV3, has never had a say, and Catalonia is not at all likely to be able to send representatives selected through TV3 unless it becomes independent – EBU only accepts entries from territories in the International Telecommunication Union, a UN agency that only accepts states that are recognized by the United Nations, and thus, that are globally recognized as independent.
Lone victory of a Catalan singer, in 1969
The first appearance of a Catalan artist dates back to 1962, when Víctor Balaguer had no luck – nor points – for ‘Llámame’. The following year, Josep Guardiola came in 12th for ‘Algo prodigioso’ – which translates as ‘Something prodigious’, which unlike what someone may think, was not to honor his unrelated yet-to-be-born namesake in the world of football.
In 1968, then 25-year-old Catalan singer-songwriter Joan Manuel Serrat famously refused TVE’s offer to perform in Eurovision with his song ‘La, la, la’ since he wanted to perform in Catalan but that not possible under Francisco Franco's fascist regime – not that the song had many more lines beyond its title. His replacement, Massiel, won the contest with the same song – in Spanish.
A year later, Catalan artist Salomé performed ‘Vivo cantando’ and won – it was admirable, but spectators had to share their admiration with three other contenders, since there was a four-country tie in first place for 1969 Eurovision, the only year this ever happened.
Peret’s ‘Canta y sé feliz’ Catalan ‘rumba’ song did not sway judges in 1974, nor did ballad singer Bacchelli in 1981.
23-year-old rising star Nina, who would become one of Catalonia’s most successful artists, came in 6th position in 1989 with ‘Nacida para amar’, while Sergio Dalma, also from Catalonia, fell short of reaching the podium in 1991 with his memorable ‘Bailar pegados’.
21st century: hype, parody singers, false notes, and romantic love, but no success
Beth was one of the 2003 favorites since Spain had just revamped its contestant selection system with a popular reality TV show, ‘Operación Triunfo’. Yet, ‘Dime’, the videoclip of which was filmed atop Gaudí buildings in Barcelona, only came in 8th.
One of the most embarrassing years for TVE came in 2008, when a comedian from another broadcaster parodying the contest won the popular vote represent Spain. David Fernández, an actor playing a singer called Rodolfo Chikilicuatre, could not believe he really had to perform at Eurovision but he did – toy-guitar included – and his ‘Baila el Chiki-Chiki’, full of jokes and political references, came in 16th.
It might not come as a surprise that Catalans had to wait until 2017 to see a fellow Catalan go to Europe’s top song show. Yet, it did not work out for either TVE’s or Spain’s interests. Manel Navarro and his ‘Do it for your lover’ ended up last, with the young man notoriously singing off-key at one point.
Alfred García partnered with Navarran Amaia in 2018, with much hype in Spain since they were a real couple, but Europe did not fall for their displays of love on stage and they ended up 23rd for ‘Tu canción’. They broke up a few months later, so things did not work out for them personally either.
Miki Núñez with his ‘La venda’ did not do much better, coming in 22nd in 2019, and Cuban-Catalan Chanel came third in 2022.
Yet, things did not get off to a good start for her either because of public anger over TVE picking her and not Tanxugueiras or Barcelona's Rigoberta Bandini with ‘Ay Mamá’ despite having won more votes in the contest.
Catalan language did make it to Eurovision… but not thanks to Spain
So, has the Catalan language ever been heard at Eurovision? It has, but only in the six performances of Andorra, the tiny state in the middle of the Pyrenees, during the years 2004 to 2009, and only in the semifinals – the Catalan-speaking country north of Catalonia has never made it to the finals before giving up their participation for economic reasons amid the financial crisis.
Several Andorrans, such as Marta Roure and her ‘Jugarem a estimar-nos’, sang in Catalan, as did Catalonia’s Gisela in 2008 with ‘Casanova’. Yet, many may not have noticed her that year since they were distracted by Rodolfo Chikilicuatre making it to the contest.
Will a Spanish Catalan-language entry happen in the future? Only time will tell, but not even ‘Terra’, by sang in Galician by Tanxugueiras, was able to make a breakthrough for minority languages in Spain in 2022 even though it won 70% of the people’s vote while Chanel only had 4%.