REACHING FOR DIVINITY: EUROVISION IN A DECADE
Updated: May 12
This being the week of the Eurovision that never was, here is a look back at at the last decade of Eurovision highs, more highs, double-claps, middle eights and euphoric key changes. And yes, if you're Iceland or Bulgaria you're likely to feel a tad miffed right now. But here's to Rotterdam in 2021. In the meantime, take my hand as we go up, up up, up, up, up.....
20. FUEGO - ELENI FOUREIRA
We kick off with this, not so much a song as a religion in some quarters. The song itself isn't really the point. It gives good minimalist well-produced Mediterranean sex-pop, builds to a nice middle eight and then....the chorus sits it out completely and has a fag, giving way to some A&E-inducing whiplash hair acrobatics. As a performance it's obviously great, as a song it's (...mmmm...yeah?) and we'd all like to go to Cyprus in May at some point, so can they please win sometime? Check out the Vicki Pollard-inspired "high knot" ponytails of the backing singers, straight out of an Atomic Kitten video in 1999.
19. PLAYING WITH FIRE - OVI & PAULA SELING
You don't often think of Eurovision when you think of Romania. Or music at all. But this - although a bif naff - got it right in 2010. It's a bizarre mix of different decades which just about works. And despite it only being ten years old, there's something delightfully dated about it. The double piano is very "Rock Bottom", whilst Ovi looks like he should have represented Yugoslavia in 1986. But it comes together for a memorable chorus. And, you know. Fire!
18. LOVE INJECTED - AMINATA
2015 was a competitive year. This song took some de-rigeur minimalist whooshes and bleeps to bide time time during the versus, and at first you think all this electronic tinkering about isn't going to amount to much. But then a great glorious wail of a dramatic chorus comes in to save the day. Wailing choruses would go on to win in 2016 (...humph) but this is way better than the Ukraine effort. Good work Latvia, well played.
17. HATRIO MUN SIGRA - HATARI
ICELAND - 2019
A love/hate choice, just as Hatari would want it. This BDSM inspired piece of futuristic ice-pop will have you either salivating at its art-house pretensions and 'out-there-ness', or rolling your eyes at 'what a bloody racket.' The distorted vocals of the verses might not be everyone's cuppa, but the chorus sounds like some perfect 2005 electro-clash underground hit, re-imagined in 2032. Not what the future was, not what it is, but what it will be.
16. IF LOVE WERE A CRIME -POLI GENOVA
Bulgaria getting their act together here. This isn't breaking new ground, but it does what Eurovision does very well. Take a trend from the previous year (distorted indecipherable vocal hook a la Justin Bieber) and meld it to a memorable chorus, (although the "If Love Were A Crime/ Then We Would Be Criminals" is a bit of a clunking lyric.) Nevertheless, you can't help feeling a Bulgaria win is coming soon.
15. SPIRIT IN THE SKY - KEIINO
NORWAY - 2019
Sniffed at as bombastic schlager by the juries, but universally loved across Europe by the fans who gave it top marks, this is a banger and a half. They pack a lot into their allocated three minutes, making it sound a lot longer than it actually is (...a good thing). We get three run-outs of a towering chorus, each one with more oomph than the last, and a breakdown Sami chant which should be completely naff, but somehow isn't.
The Northern lights/ Nordic moose background is pretty cool, and by the end of the final euphoric chorus you're....fucking exhausted, But in a good way.
14. SHE GOT ME - LUCA HANNI
SWITZERLAND - 2019
Why can't the UK do stuff like this? Simple, stripped down production (nicked from Descpacito but whatever) and an easy on the eye singer with a shed load of energy. This should be easy. Switzerland got it right this year by keeping it uber on-trend and whilst making the performance look like the video didn't work for Sweden the year before, it works here because Mr. Hanni has enough charisma and charm to still make a connection with the audience.
13. I FEED YOU MY LOVE - MARGARET BERGER
NORWAY - 2013
A song called "I Feed You My Love" by someone called Margaret Berger sounds like it would be some sappy ballad from 1966. But no! This starts with some vaguely Robyn-like machine gun beats, evolves into a powerful drum-bashing chorus, and then decides to adds some Bond-theme jagged strings to up the tension. It's all about the drama, clearly, and actually would have made a pretty good winner in the slightly anaemic 2013 contest.
12. BIRDS - ANOUK
NETHERLANDS - 2013
For years, The Netherlands couldn't really be arsed and then suddenly they could. 2013 was the turning point when they started to put a bit of effort in, resulting in 2019's winning moment. But the return to Eurovision contender-dom started with this, a majestic stately ballad that - although oddly old-fashioned, keeps on the right side of syrupy Disneyfication. Just. The middle eight swoops up into the final chorus just like a flock of (.....yes, we get it) and the whole thing is a bit spine-tingly if you're in the right mood for it. Although, Anouk does sound bizarrely like Judith Durham*
*old person's reference
11. A MATTER OF TIME - SENNEK
BELGIUM - 2018
Fake Bond themes cast a heavy shadow over the last decade (more of that shortly), and Belgium seem to have a particular penchant for them. I thought this was a shoo-in to qualify in 2018 and THEN IT DID NOT QUALIFY! HOW? I blame the staging. In that there is none to speak of. The song itself though, is a wonderful slinky, 'plume of smoke from a cigarette' type of song, winking at you in the verses from beneath an understated shuffle beat, before undoing its hair and shaking it out for an alluring chorus. The Bond credentials are reinforced by the fact that that it borrows straight from Sheryl Crow's "Tomorrow Never Dies" (casually if not very blatantly) but I can't help feeling it was a travesty this got lost in semi-final hell when it could have "done a Caesar Sampson" in 2018 with a bit more presentational thought.
10. A MONSTER LIKE ME - MORLAND & DEBRAH SCARLETT
NORWAY - 2015
Musical theatre collides with Eurovision to produce a stagey but brilliant heartbreak ballad which (similar to Estonia in the same year) introduces a second perspective on the breakup mid way through. It makes you realise that for all the staging innovations of recent years, there's still a place for old fashioned song storytelling , simply and elegantly presented. But it does make you wonder....what did he do that was so awful? It will rank as one of pop's great unanswered questions, alongside Meatloaf's mystery of that thing he wouldn't do for love
9. SILENT STORM - CARL ESPEN
NORWAY - 2014
Norway seem to get the balance right by swinging between a bit of fun-time bombast here and there, and producing simple, heartfelt emotion that's a sucker punch to the gut. And in some ways, although Sweden thinks it's the top dog of Scandinavia (and admittedly has the winner's medals to prove it), Norway might be the actual kings and queens of the Nordics, in terms of consistent quality. 'Silent Storm" may be the ultimate in absolute desolate, yearning heartbreak. Twisted around a simple piano hook, it's compellingly beautiful and had me (not a ballad fan per se) performing an intervention on myself and removing all sharp objects. *inserts emosh emoji*
8. I CAN'T GO ON - ROBIN BENGTSSON
SWEDEN - 2017
Starting backstage and being handed a microphone...a constant obsession with undoing and buttoning up your suit jacket throughout... those running machines. Let's face it, there was a LOT that could have gone wrong here. It's a song noted for cementing the word "frickin'" into Eurovision vernacular, complete with Donald Trump-style hand gestures and shoes with no socks. And yet they pulled it off. Yes, the catwalk poses and Zara shop-window stylings were a tad cheesy, but you can rarely go wrong with hot men in suits. The gloriously sweary remix version of this also bangs harder than your (REDACTED) on (REDACTED)
7. RISE LIKE A PHOENIX - CONCHITA WURST
AUSTRIA - 2014
Eurovision still has the power to cross over and deliver cultural moments that allow it to break out of its bubble. Conchita Wurst was one of them, and is an instantly recognisable symbol of equality, diversity and embracing progressiveness. Eurovision talks a good game about inclusivity and mostly delivers, but this was a real moment of powerful signals and statements that felt important.
All of which wouldn't have mattered if the song was a dud, and it bombed. It did neither. It ushered a wave of Bond-theme style dramatics and - it has to be said - Adele probably needed a writing credit here, such is the similarity to 'Skyfall'. But that doesn't mean it's not a great track, and the staging is perfect, complementing the dramatics of the song without distracting from it. Conchita gives it some serious vocal chops. and it's an obvious, but very deserving winner.
6. GOODBYE TO YESTERDAY - ELINA BORN & STIG RASTA
ESTONIA - 2015
Way too understated to actually win, this has a lovely late 60's louche vibe to it, partly Mama and Papas-inspired, with some cool Burt Bacharach horns parping in the background. Lyrically, the two singers dwell on the push and pull of poor communication and misunderstanding, like the Eurovision equivalent of 'Normal People.' The one minor bug bear being that the song seems a bit too low for either of them to sing it really well. Also, it proves that you don't have to throw the kitchen sink at the staging (hi Russia!) when you can execute a single idea as simply and as effectively as they do here.
5. OCCIDENTALI'S KARMA - FRANCESCO GABBANI
ITALY - 2017
An early front run runner to win, in true Italian style, they sort of buggered it up a bit but it's still great. It's an obvious example of a song suffering by having to be edited down to three minutes, as the original version of this song is a great, glorious life affirming thing. There's traces of Coldplay's "Adventure of a Lifetime" in the pealing guitars at the end and the air of mysticism throughout and the whole thing is really quite joyous.
The lyrics reference Hamlet, Marxism, man's evolution from the apes, appropriating Eastern philosophy into Western culture and the evils of modern consumerism. All heavy weight subjects for Eurovision. Not that you'd get any of that from the staging, which is a an odd acid-induced mish mash complete with a dance that looks like they're running for a bus whilst doing the Slosh. Not sure the gorilla adds much but...Namaste! Allez!
4. RHYTHM INSIDE - LOIC NOTTET
BELGIUM - 2015
It usually takes around 18 months for a worldwide hit or trend to filter down to Eurovision, and it would be impossible to talk about this song without mentioning Lorde's "Royals" as its template. 'Rhythm Inside' takes two of 2015's trends and does them better than most. A stripped down, sparse, echoey instrumentation and a sudden, surprising burst into a angsty chorus (...the source of angst not being 100% clear, as is tradition).
2015's staging really upped its game. and the dramatic, monochrome styling here is really great., although it maybe creates an austere disconnect with the audience, which hampered its cause (unlike the winner's staging which invited you in). Kudos for singing an entire verse laid down flat on your back as well.
3. CITY LIGHTS - BLANCHE
BELGIUM - 2017
You feel that Belgium really got their act together this decade and produced a fair few contenders but nothing that felt that it was actually going to win., "City Lights" being the best of them. This is a cool slice of mid tempo electronica, neither banger nor ballad, but existing as a sort of "semi-bop" with hints at a darkness underneath. It has to be said that poor Blanche looks absolutely terrified throughout the entire thing and comes across like she wants to be literally anywhere but here. But in a way this adds to the mystery rather than hampering the performance. I hope Blanche found peace with herself after this and that the nightmares have stopped.
2. SOLDI - MAHMOOD
ITALY - 2019
Italians do it better. This is why fans love them so much. They do their own thing, sing in their own language, don't really care that much, give a charmingly insouciant shrug of their shoulders if it doesn't work, but when it does work...you get this. "Soldi" is very cool, very authentic, yet very emotive, addictive even without the double-claps (but....double-claps everyone....yeay!)
From the very first"Uh-Huh" onwards, everything about this performance is great. From the flurry of angry sounding Italian, to the "fingers on temple" moment, and the sloganeering backdrop messages. Even the bits that aren't great are still brilliant....the shonky "interpretive dancers" and Mahmood's ill fitting shirt that looks like your Grandmother's lampshade. Probably always destined to be runner up, which is always a bit cooler than winning. Bella Italia!
1. EUPHORIA - LOREEN
SWEDEN - 2012
This had 'winner' running through it like a a stick of rock that I'm surprised anyone else bothered to perform. From the moment you hear the 'moment of doom/ship coming into harbour' boom at the start, you know this is going to be brilliant . As a Euro- banger, it instantly works anywhere from an Ibizan super-club, to a village hall disco, and its instant translatability is what makes it such a sure fire classic.
Cleverly, although they could have upped the ante with some "in the club' staging, they keep it classy and ever so slightly arty by having Loreen do her own interpretive dance against a backlit stage, evoking hints of Kate Bush to press some artistic buttons for the critics. Amazing.