Sanremo, Italy’s multistage music festival, has a track record of producing strong winners. Since 2011, every Sanremo-selected entry has done well at Eurovision, accounting for four top-ten finishes. The other two entries in that time period were not Sanremo winners and … well, let’s say they were not received as enthusiastically. Eurovision lovers were so excited to hear this year’s Sanremo winner, Francesco Gabbani, would be taking “Occidentali’s Karma” to Kyiv that they made it the most-watched video ever on Italian Vevo the very first day it was published.
After a few rounds of watching, I’m still mentally filing this video under “Maybe awesome? Maybe a joke?” along with last year’s San Marinese disco whatever-that-was. I think I get why people love this song. It’s chock-full of cultural references, and questions how the West turns to Eastern spirituality for temporary comfort while remaining materialistic at the core. I can’t help but roll my eyes at the hypocrisy, though, when that message is being delivered through a pop song contest by one man in an impeccable Italian suit and another wearing an actual ape suit.
Musically speaking this song is pretty solid, if about 30 seconds too long. It’s upbeat and catchy, with lots of obvious places for audience participation. I love the gravelly texture of Gabbani’s voice, and his enthusiasm is so infectious that I can’t help but enjoy the performance, in spite of what I said before. For that reason — and because I generally love hearing songs at Eurovision that aren’t in English — I really hope they decide to keep the Italian lyrics, and not switch in full or part to English, as has been speculated. Only twice in the past 20 years has a non-English language song won the Contest, but given how good Italy has been in recent years and how overwhelming the response has been so far, I think Gabbani and his ape friend could be just the ones to pull it off.