RIP Eurovision 2020
This is so sad, Alexa play Waterloo.
I am not the only person devastated by the (understandable) decision to cancel this year’s Eurovision Song Contest, though many of my friends like to tell me that I must be.
I have been a lover of Eurovision from a young age. Something about its ridiculousness has always appealed to me. However, it’s more than that. It is one the longest running international TV contest and one of the most watched non-sporting events. There truly is nothing like it in the music world, to have so many original songs performed in one night written for that occasion is something special. Despite what a lot of reaction videos online think, it is not a singing competition, but a song competition and this makes it unique and exciting to me as a writer. The fact that we can hear a song and describe the sound/genre as ‘eurovision-esque’ is truly wonderful to me.
In mourning of the loss of this year’s competition, I would like to share some of my favourite (good and bad) Eurovision performances I remember watching in their full live glory. This is not a ranking of most iconic or best just some that stand out to me for different reasons, so don’t worry if you think I’ve forgotten some (I could’ve also made this twice as long) and remember this is just my own silly opinion with no intention to offend.
Verka Serduchka - Dancing Lasha Tumbai (2007)
One of the most iconic performances of all time. Honestly. This song is one of my earliest Eurovision memories, in that it entertained me so much that I talked about it with friends at school (I was 11 at the time). This performance is so memorable that I would guess that many casual viewers would assume this won that year (though Molitva is a great song and should not be slept on).
Insanely catchy, this song has a way of sticking with you after just one listen. Many of my friends wouldn’t know who I am talking about by name, but as soon as you play a clip they remember the performance instantly. This song is also probably exactly what lots of people would think of when trying to find examples of why Eurovision is ‘trashy’, but you can’t deny this performance stays with you.
Verka has rightfully secured a place in the Eurovision hall of fame and was invited back when Ukraine hosted the competition in 2017 as well as participating in the half-time performance in Israel 2019 singing the previous year’s winning song ‘Toy’ which is also iconic.
Alexander Rybak - Fairytale (2009)
Alexander is another sweetheart of the Eurovision Song Contest, consistently coming back for cameos and even representing Norway again in 2018 (and looking like he hadn’t aged a day since 2009). This song is something that would only be such a success in this context; I don’t think you’d listen to it or hear it played on the radio, but with the performance and concept it stands out. Truly ‘Eurovision-esque’. I remember watching this performance and rooting for Norway to win and being completely unsurprised when they did. In fact, at the time he won with a record breaking score (which has since been broken by Portugal in 2017).
However, if you stop to think about this song or analyse the performance it all, it’s not really that great. One of my favourite things is knowing that the ESC abolished live music in performances in 1998 so all instruments are played through the backing track but all vocals must be live. Sad to say, this means he is in fact miming the violin, but doesn’t he do it convincingly until that one moment when he forgets to? Still iconic though.
Lake Malawi - Friend of a Friend (2019)
Never before have I loved and hated a song so much at the same time. The verses are creepy, the pre-chorus somehow gets creepier and makes no sense but then you get to the chorus. THAT CHORUS. Those chords. That synth. The best and hookiest chorus of the competition in 2019, and there were lots of excellent choruses last year. Every time I listen to this song I go through an emotional journey; firstly I wonder why I’m bothering, preparing myself to skip as the singer’s awful English(?) accent comes in and then BAM we hit that chorus again and I’m transported. Truly, this is a song of two halves and I applaud it for managing to be so simultaneously awful and amazing.
Regardless of the music, the concept of this song is also baffling. Is he saying that he can hear people making love through the walls? Who is he telling this to? Can he recognise the person he is listening to? Is this extremely creepy? Has he somehow managed to make it weirder by having this conversation with his current love? Also she was 13? Have I misunderstood this whole thing and am looking into it far too much? All these are questions I still don’t have the answers to. The line 'I don't know if you understand' speaks to me because I truly have no idea either.
This was another song that I heard before I watched the performance, and I think the band somehow manage to make it even more cringe than hearing the song alone. I still don’t know if the suffering of the verse is worth the chorus however I do know I won’t forget either any time soon.
Benjamin Ingrosso - Dance You Off (2018)
This is a tricky one for me. I used to go into the Eurovision Final blind every year but as my obsession has grown I’ve become one of those sad people who listens to the songs before the final night. When I first heard the recording of this song I was blown away. It has hook after hook, the production is so tight and it wouldn’t have felt out of place in any of my standard pop playlists. The baseline is so solid, the little guitar riffs and the synth off-beat chords just add up to make a perfect dance groove. I loved it so much it was actually in my top 5 most listened to songs that year according to my Spotify Wrapped.
I raved about this to my friends and bigged up the song for the night of the final. When it came to the performance itself, none of the things I loved about the track were there. It was suddenly kinda lame instead of cool. It was bland and flat. I was so sure that Sweden had it in the bag and of course they were still favoured by the jury but they did not stand out enough to gain the public vote. This type of song as worked so well for Sweden in the past as well but this time it didn’t pay off.
I’m still not sure to this day how it managed to lose so much in translation on the night but nothing seems to live up to the track. Maybe it was my own expectations. However, I still have the track to listen to and I would strongly encourage you to do the same.
Loreen - Euphoria (2012)
Contrary to the previous track, this was a time where Sweden got everything right. You may have heard this song and not realised it was a Eurovision song, and that really is one of the best things going for it. This song was so popular before and after the competition it was played around Europe for months after. I even remember hearing it on the radio on holiday in the Netherlands the August after that May’s competition.
That Chorus. The way the first half is exposed and the drop happens halfway through the first time, and how the second time it’s just a blasting anthem. It’s such a lift from the darker, softer verses. The build into the final chorus as well is filled with soaring strings and the final stabs that repeat at the end of the track to really hit the message home. It truly is euphoric.
The live performance of this song is also stunning, my favourite part being when the second dancer appears out of nowhere for just the last part. Truly extra in a way only seen on Eurovision. In all seriousness, Loreen is so engaging to watch and this was again a clear winner for me the moment it was performed.
Josh Dubovie - That Sounds Good To Me (2010)
The hot mess that came in last place for the UK. I realise that sentence doesn’t really narrow it down…
This song to me is a perfect example of how catering your song to Eurovision can go extremely wrong. This year had everything going for it: a prime-time TV show selecting the artist, huge promotions from Graham Norton and a song written by Stock-Waterman (two thirds of one of the most successful songwriting/production teams the UK has ever had). Stock Aitken Waterman’s (SAW) style was often labelled as ‘Eurobeat’ which you’d think would also fit well. So how did it go so wrong?
Sadly, what I think is that the approach was all wrong. Rather than writing something targeted for the chart or using something aimed for commercial release, the song just feels like it was written for ‘Eurovision’. It’s cheesy and optimistic in an uninspired way. Sadly, the UK have fallen into the same trap since (just listen to our 2020 entry). It feels like we separate what a ‘Eurovision’ song should be from what a UK Top 40 song should be. I’m not saying we’re the only country that does this, but maybe that’s why even hiring the best writers around doesn’t work if they aren’t being briefed to write in the style they are best at.
It also doesn’t help that sadly the live performance on the night was not the best performance. This song isn’t even on Spotify in its original form so this is the lasting version we have. Most people have completely forgotten this entry altogether and if you had, let me just say you’re welcome. Poor Josh.
Conchita Wurst - Rise Like a Phoenix (2014)
The bond theme that never got to be a bond theme, this song absolutely had to be on this list. This act seemed like the perfect top 10 entry that would get respect for making a point but not winning because it was ‘controversial’. When the song won the competition I cried, seeing floods of affection online and people talking about how important it was to see this win. I remember seeing Conchita appear on Graham Norton's show after winning as well and feeling ecstatic that Eurovision made the news enough for actual British TV to care about it.
The song itself is a wonderful, soaring ballad and Conchita’s performance was absolutely flawless on the night. If you don’t feel something when that brass comes in in the second chorus then I truly feel sorry for you. If anyone's first response to seeing Conchita was that this was going to be another 'gimmicky' performance it is instantly shattered by Conchita's class.
I think it's too soon for us to truly see the affect this win has on the competition as a whole but I hope it encourages more countries to take 'risks' and choose a range of people to represent them.
There are so many other songs I could've written about here but these were the first that came to mind when I think of performances that stuck out to me for varying reasons.
Some honourable mentions: Moldova 2010, Finland 2006, Israel 2018, Netherlands 2017, Ukraine 2018.
As for the songs submitted in 2020, my personal favourite and honorary winner is
Iceland’s ‘Think About Things’. If you didn’t already have this song in your life, you really need to.