Since the release of the participating songs for Benidorm Fest a month ago, positive hype reigns not only in the fandom, but also across Spain, From a country which hasn’t made it into the top 20 since 2014, hope springs anew with the variety of songs on offer.
Rigoberta’s ode to motherhood, “Ay Mama”, garnered conversation about its message and has become a hit, hitting #2 on the Spanish iTunes charts and earning thousands of plays on Spotify. Tanxguerias’ “Terra” also earned its fanbase; it’s mix of Galician language and influences on a modern beat made it a fan-favorite before the show. Even Azucar Moreno, who’s better known for their fan-favorite entry “Bandido” in 1990, returned to compete with “Postuero”, sharing similar elements to that entry.
With the final still yet to come, the music festival has held up with its visual design and a number of twists in the voting. How can Benidorm establish itself as an institution—not only for this year, but also beyond like other music festivals?
Their Own City:
When foreigners think about Spain, the seaside town of Benidorm is not necessarily in their radar. Located in the Costa Blanca region of Valencia, it’s well known for its myriad beaches, of which the city was established between two of them; a historic center filled with avenues; and its cuisine based off of fish and rice.
The sunny location is reminiscent of Sanremo, where the famous originator of Eurovision takes place. On the northwest coast of Italy, it started out as a fishing town, before steadily becoming a major tourist draw thanks to its villas, important visits in the late 19th and 20th centuries to enhance it status, and their well known flower festival.
As well as showcasing music, the Sanremo Music Festival was established because of the sunken status of the city after World War II. Because of it, their hotels were bombed, the flower export route was cut off, and no tourism came out off it. This led to the creation of the contest, with its first edition held in 1951. Over seventy years, Sanremo would become an institution, garnering press from across the country to the point where media would move to Sanremo to get the scoop on the event.
The Valencian government has helped the festival on its way, with one million Euros for the first annual edition this year, and it’s expected to get renewed. Considering the circumstances of the pandemic, with a jolt of new interest in the competition, it could go a long way to help this otherwise overlooked city.
While it’s the first time a song festival is used to pick the Spanish representative at Eurovision, a Benidorm Fest is not original. In fact, the first one started in 1959, inspired by the Sanremo Song Festival—including a period in which a song was performed by multiple artists to showcase the songwriting as the most important part of the show.
Over time, the Benidorm Music Festival would garner substantial clout, with such participants such as Raphael (Spain 1966 and 1967) and Julio Iglesias (Spain 1970) amongst its winners.
However, its reputation diluted over the 1970s and 1980s, with mismatches against the rest of the country, unpopular winners, and a smaller setting overall. It was revived in the 1990s, before pausing in 2006.
A similar problem with persistence is with the Thessaloniki Song Festival, which took place throughout the 1960s and 1970s in Greece. Like with the Benidorm International Song Festival, it had a number of stars amongst their winners, including Anna Vissi (Greece 1980 and 2006, Cyprus 1982) and Bessy Argyraki. For the former, she still considers it an important part of her career–she released her debut album not long after.
However, it also started fading in the 1980s–first, with a change of management, and then a loss of interest from larger stars. It tried to revive itself in the middle of the 2000s, with economic crisis sending it away again.
With the initial hype its getting, Benidorm has to change with the times, and always provide interest no matter who’s competing. Through changing when things get tough, it can ensure it will be a hit for years to come.