The second semi-final of Festival da Canção is quickly approaching, with another six acts vying for an opportunity to compete in the final on March 10th. One of those acts is João Couto, an artist who started out in garage bands before becoming the winner of Portuguese Idol in 2015. This year will be his second appearance in the national selection, this time being selected via the festival’s public submission process.

Learn more about João Couto below!

Hello there, João Couto! Welcome to ESCUnited for an interview! How are you doing today in the build up to Festival da Canção?

Hi! I’m doing well. Not going to lie, a bit nervous. It’s a performance I very much wished for, and this build up to it is being really quite the ride, things are getting real. What we’re preparing and imagining for the performance is slowly taking shape and I’m so excited to bring it to stage.   

Now, you have some competition experience, having participated in Festival da Canção 2019 with the song “O Jantar”. What did you learn about yourself as an artist during that experience?

I learned that I needed to grow up as a musician, and fast! I felt like nothing I was working on at the time was remotely at the level of other artists in the competition and I needed to pick up the pace. I am, first and foremost, a songwriter and I am very hands-on with every song, lyric and production of mine and, in 2019, I felt at a crossroads. I was sort of stuck to a sound that I wasn’t evolving in or adding anything new to and, because of it, I was losing the excitement I had in the beginning of my career.

My surprise participation in Festival da Canção 2019 was just the shake up I needed to motivate me. I got to know amazing artists and musicians who inspired me to try new things, new ways of writing and performing and, thanks to that experience, I grew tremendously and am now a more confident and unafraid creative.

Photo credit: Tiago Alves

I’m going to ask some quick questions to help our readers get to know you better. If you could collaborate with any Eurovision artist on a new song, who would you choose to work with and why?

ABBA are musical idols of mine. I love and respect them so much. To me they are the blueprint of how to make infectious, perfect pop music with a hint of darkness in it. If I could have a one-on-one songwriting or production lesson from them, or something along those lines, that would be a dream, for sure. And a collaboration would be out of this world…

When did your passion for music first start and when did that passion transition into a career opportunity?

As lame as this sounds, music was always my passion. I can’t recall a single moment where music wasn’t the end-all be-all. It started to become an actual career when I was fortunate enough to win the 2015 edition of Ídolos (Portuguese Idol) and signed a record deal right after. I was 19 years old and it was a huge thing for me, it allowed me to pursue music full-time right after my bachelor’s degree.

What is one thing that our readers would be surprised to learn about you?

I actually don’t need glasses. I only use them to increase sex appeal.

Have you always had an interest in participating in Festival da Canção and go to Eurovision or has this been more a recent goal or dream for you as an artist?

Some of the best Portuguese songs ever written were made for this competition so I definitely had respect for Festival da Canção. It has an historical dimension that can’t be denied. But I would be lying if I said It was an old dream of mine, because the Festival, at least when I was a kid, didn’t have the cultural impact that it had in the past. It was a show that felt out of touch with the times when I was growing up. It only became the songwriter paradise it is today when RTP changed the Festival’s model in 2017 to reflect more accurately what is the contemporary Portuguese music scene and the change was so successful that they got it right the first time and Salvador Sobral crushed it in Eurovision. It was remarkable to witness.

From then on, most songwriters in the country, especially the up and coming, want to have a go at the festival, because the artistic freedom that RTP gives us is really great, they open the doors for your ideas. I was no exception, I wanted to be in the race too and take advantage of the blank canvas they give us. It’s absolutely the main reason I wanted to be back but as a songwriter. I craved the opportunity of expressing myself in this big stage as writer, so here I am. Eurovision is a crazy production, I am blown away each year by the sheer magnitude of the event, can’t even picture what it would be like to perform there so, right now, Festival da Canção is the only thing I’m focusing on and I want to show the people watching the second semi-final a good time.

What was the songwriting process like to create your song “Quarto Para Um” and is there a specific inspiration or message behind its lyrics?

I was writing songs for my upcoming album and I was in a real pop song-writing mode. I wanted to write uplifting and infectious songs like the ones I love listening to in my alone time. I’m a real pop music geek at heart and I felt like I needed to be more upfront about that in the actual music I was making. “Quarto para Um” came from that necessity of making something unashamedly pop that still felt super musical, with somewhat of a live feel, and also let my 80s and 90s influences shine through in a way none of my songs had up to that point. I was toying around with the melody and the title of the song — which was kind of weird that the song title came first — and eventually the lyrics just poured out of me when I started reflecting on a relationship of mine that was growing at the time, to a point that every time that person was not around I didn’t feel at home anymore.

I was a stranger in my own house and my bedroom felt cold and huge every time I laid my head at night alone. I wanted to write about how new and exhilarating this feeling was, how it started to become strange waking up alone, when for years I was completely fine and contempt with it. I focused on the beautiful and positive side of that strange new feeling of discovering home in someone else, and not a physical place.

If I only gave you ten words to describe what we’ll see from you on the Festival da Canção stage, what words would you use?

A shy pop music geek discovers that “home” is connection. 

As we wrap up, for those who want to connect with you ahead of or after the selection, where can they find you and your music? 

You can find my music in every streaming platform there is, just type João Couto in the search bar. I have two albums and a handful of singles under my belt and a new record is coming out this year, if everything goes to plan! If you really enjoy what I’m doing, support it on Bandcamp!

Last question – is there any message you’d want to share with the ESCUnited readers?

Hey ESCUnited readers, thank you for checking out my music, I’m so thrilled it’s reaching all of you out there. Just want to say this: take Eurovision as an opportunity to discover new music and connect with other fans like yourselves. This is a chance to create bonds and open your minds to sounds and cultures you wouldn’t check out otherwise so seize that. We need more open minded and tolerant people in the world, now more than ever. Also, Portuguese artists are the most badass musicians in Europe, and I stand by it.

Thanks so much, João Couto! We wish you the best of luck in Festival da Canção!

If #YOU want to support João’s pathway to Eurovision 2024 make sure you tune in to their semi-final on Saturday March 2nd and vote!

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