The Festival da Canção, also known as Festival RTP da Canção, initially called the Grande Prêmio TV da Canção Portuguesa, is an annual contest promoted by Rádio e Televisão de Portugal, since 1964, with the aim of selecting a song for the Eurovision Song Contest. .
The “Grande Prêmio TV da Canção Portuguesa” had its premiere, at Estúdios do Lumiar, on the night of February 2, 1964. The objective was to choose, for the first time, Portugal’s candidate song for the Eurovision Song Contest created in 1956 Until 1964, some music competitions were held, in the so-called Portuguese Song Festival, but these without European ambitions.
The final featured 12 songs, out of the 127 submitted, defended by António Calvário, Artur Garcia, Madalena Iglésias, Simone de Oliveira, Gina Maria and Guilherme Kjolner.
The initial designation remained until 1975. In 1976 it was called “Uma Canção Para A Europa” and in 1977 was the year of “As Sete Canções”. In 1978 the name “Uma Canção Portuguesa” was adopted.
From 1979 onwards, the name of the event was fixed at “Festival RTP da Canção”.
1980 was the year that marked the start of regular color broadcasts by RTP. The first broadcast was precisely with the Festival da Canção on the 7th of March transmitted from Teatro São Luiz, won by José Cid.
Over the years, changes have been introduced in the organization of the festival and in the selection criteria. In 1986 it was designated “A Song for Norway”, in 1988 a pre-festival called “Prémio Nacional de Música” was created and “We like to be with you” was the designation adopted in 1990.
For some years, RTP selected a song for Eurovision without organizing an internal festival. This was the case in 2003, 2004 and 2005. In 2003, RTP selected the singer Rita Guerra and the public, through televoting, chose one of three songs in the competition. Their presentation was made on the talent show Operation Triunfo. In 2004, the first three winners of Operation Triunfo presented a song each and the viewers, by televoting, chose the one they thought was best, having been selected the one interpreted by Sofia Vitória. In 2005, RTP selected a team of producers/composers, headed by José da Ponte, who chose two singers (Luciana Abreu and Rui Drummond, who performed together under the name “2B”) to interpret the song he wrote. In the last decade, there were Portuguese songs considered strong in the Eurovision Song Contest, with emphasis on the performance of Vânia Fernandes (2008), one of the revelations of Operation Triunfo, who was one of the favorites, but who ended up in 13th place in the final.
The Festival RTP da Canção did not take place in 2002, 2013 and 2016, and in those same years Portugal also did not participate in the Eurovision Song Contest. Meanwhile, a study was carried out, based on a line of scientific research (in the framework of the Lusófona University of Humanities and Technologies), which concluded that “there was never a political and financial framework to boost the export of Portugal’s image at an international level”, in an investigation to find out “what image of the country has State television been exporting through the Festival da Canção?”. Until Salvador Sobral’s victory at the 2017 Eurovision Song Contest – and despite some no-shows -, Portugal was the country that had participated for the longest time without ever winning, with only nine songs in the top 10 in 50 years of final positions.
In 2017, the event returned, but with a new format: 2 weekly semifinals, held at RTP studios, in Lisbon, with 8 songs each (13 in 2018) with 4 finalists (7 in 2018) to be decided by a jury of room and televoting, and, in case of a tie, the decision is made by the jury; and 1 final, held in a concert hall in the country, with 8 songs (14 in 2018) with the winner to be decided by 7 regional juries and televoting, and, in case of a tie, the decision is made by televoting. Therefore, the format started to fill 3 weeks. The songs are made by composers invited by RTP, and, as of 2018, one song was chosen through the Antena 1 contest, Masterclass, and another through a public tender. The format proved to be a success, with the victory of Salvador Sobral, with the song “Amar pelo dois”, at the Eurovision Song Contest 2017, in Kiev, and is still used today. In 2017 and 2018, the shows were held on Sundays, moving to Saturdays in 2019.
Portuguese participation in the Eurofestival
Portugal won the Eurovision Song Contest once in 2017, with the song Amar por dois performed by Salvador Sobral. Interestingly, in 1977, the contest was won by the French song “L’Oiseau et L’ Enfant” interpreted by the Luso-French Marie Myriam, daughter of Portuguese parents and born in the former Belgian Congo.
In 1996, Portugal obtained sixth place, with the song “O Meu Coração Não Tem Cor”, performed by Lúcia Moniz
Carlos Mendes (1972) and José Cid (1980) won the 7th position. In 1991, “Lusitana Paixão” by Dulce Pontes ranked 8th. The same place was obtained by Sara Tavares, in 1994.
Tonicha (1971) and Manuela Bravo (1979) reached 9th place, while Fernando Tordo (1973) and Anabela (1993) achieved 10th place.
In 2008, Vânia Fernandes with “Senhora do Mar” reached the final with an excellent 2nd place in the semi-final with 120 points, the best score of Portugal since the semi-final was imposed (just behind Ukraine who scored 152 points) . In the final, Vânia ranked 13th with 69 points among 25 countries.
In 2021, The Black Mamba qualified for the grand final in 4th place in the semi-final with 239 points. In the final, Pedro Tatanka and his group reached 12th place with 153 points among 26 countries, having the 3rd best ranking in the 21st century, and the 2nd was obtained the following year by MARO with a 9th place.