There are less than three weeks to go until Sweden’s Melodifestivalen kicks off, and that makes Jaz a very happy lady. MF is arguably the most awesome of all the national finals, inarguably my personal favourite, and this year, the one that will select the host entry.
Whoever wins the title of The Act Who Has To Live Up To Loreen on March 9th can go into the big show knowing one thing – they’re bound to get one of the biggest rounds of applause on final night, whether or not their song is any good. The thing is, some countries thrive on choosing their own entry when they have the responsibility of hosting. The pressure of trying to win is off, and so they don’t try so hard, and often what result from that is a really good effort. Other countries either don’t care at all about succeeding in front of the home crowd or, I suspect, purposely pick something average/rubbish to make sure they don’t win again (it’s kind of tough on the wallet, the old ESC). But rest assured, we will get something douze-worthy from Sweden this year. My psychic told me so.
The point is that MF’s nearness got me thinking about all the host entries past – the good, the bad, and the ‘meh’. For today, I’m only focusing on the good. So without further ado (as if there could be much more) here are my top 10 host entries of all time.
#1. Israel 1999
Yom Huledet by Eden (in Jerusalem)
I have tried and failed to get my family to sing this to me on my birthday instead of the usual song, I love it that much. In case that comment made no sense to you because you don’t know what Yom Huledet means or haven’t heard the bilingual version, a) it means ‘birthday’ and b) Eden repeat that quite often in the bilingual version. My scientific Eurovisiony studies have found that this song is guaranteed to increase your happiness level by 43%, so if you’re feeling a little Rona Nishliu today, you know what to do.
#2. Turkey 2004
For Real by Athena (in Istanbul)
I didn’t know ska could be so good until Turkey brought it to the ESC stage on home ground. Actually, I didn’t even know what ska was (and still don’t) but that’s irrelevant. What I do know is that this song is super catchy, energetic and a little bit bonkers, which is what makes it so good (the trumpeting also helps). It was great to see the hosts go for something so different to Everyway That I Can in…well, every way.
#3. Denmark 2001
Never Ever Let You Go by Rollo & King (in Copenhagen)
If you’re a country holding Eurovision, and you don’t want to fall flat on your face in front of the local crowd but you by no means want to win again, coming second by a small but not too small margin of points would be a dream come true. Denmark made that dream a reality in ’01 with this bluesy toe-tapper, which was in many ways a stronger entry than winning Estonia’s. For one, the lyrics did not refer to carpet.
#4. Serbia 2008
Oro by Jelena Tomasević (in Belgrade)
Neither Serbia nor Željko Joksimović can do any wrong when it comes to Eurovision (Željko especially is perfect in every way) and the two combined made magic in Belgrade. There’s something about his compositions that always wins me over. They aren’t infectious earworms, but they are ethnic, atmospheric builders. That trademark style, plus the body (not prop) focused staging and Jelena’s engaging performance did the hosts proud. Oh, and so did the expertly poofed dry ice.
#5. Ireland 1993
In Your Eyes by Niamh Kavanagh (in Millstreet)
Ballad haters, avert your eyes – I’m about to get all gushy about the middle win of Ireland’s triple whammy. For me this is a classic entry, at least of its decade, and it’s ten times better than the winners that came before and after it. Niamh’s vocal was flawless, adding punch to the big notes in the chorus and elsewhere that could’ve gone sour in the wrong hands (or vocal cords). All in all, a great song in the mould of what Ireland used to do best.
#6. Azerbaijan 2012
When The Music Dies by Sabina Babayeva (in Baku)
The top 5 probably came too easily to Sabina last year, but I have to commend Azerbaijan for the effortlessness with which they choose polished pop songs – cough, almostalwayswrittenbySwedes, cough – as their entries. Watching this performance back recently, I found I’ve even gotten used to the last-minute Azeri-ness thrown in to distract us from the fact that the song was written by Swedes. Shh, don’t tell anyone!
#7. Yugoslavia 1990
Hajde Da Ludujemo by Tajci (in Zagreb)
It was all about having fun for The Bunch of Countries Formerly Known As Yugoslavia when the Croatian capital hosted the contest. Needless to say, Tajci’s performance of this effervescent entry got the most enthusiastic ovation of the night (according to those who had been born at the time). I definitely would have given it a vigorous clap.
#8. Israel 1979
Hallelujah by Milk & Honey (in Jerusalem)
Before Ireland got in on the act, it was Israel that specialised in winning on home soil. This was a classic entry that deserved to win no matter where, and still makes as good a singalong song today as it did in ’79 and again in Jerusalem in ’99, when all the contestants came together at the end of the show to sing it (obviously – what else were they going to do with it?). A real Eurovision anthem.
#9. Finland 2007
Leave Me Alone by Hanna Pakarinen (in Helsinki)
Unlike Turkey in Istanbul, Finland’s mentality was ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ when they hosted the show. Sure, they got a real person and not a creature of the undead and co to represent them in Helsinki, but that real person was singing yet another rock song. The lack of gamble didn’t pay off, but I have to say I rate this as a rock number. It takes itself more seriously than Hard Rock Hallelujah, but Hanna had the right voice, intensity and ability to look both frightened and mental at the same time to carry it off. I guess she really did go crazy just to stay sane.
#10. Luxembourg 1973
Tu Te Reconnaîtras by Anne-Marie David (in Luxembourg)
Before Ireland or Israel, there was Luxembourg, and before Luxembourg…well, I could go on, but let’s just stick with Luxembourg. Anne-Marie (who has apparently come out of hiding to submit a song for Malmö) won for the host country with this dramatic ballad that I love equally in French and English. If it wasn’t for those pesky EBU rules and regulations, we could be seeing a dance remix representing France this year.*
* That is really not what I’d like to see representing France this year.
EBJ extras (a.k.a. the ones that just missed out)
Rock Bottom by Lynsey de Paul & Mike Moran (1977, London, UK), Everything by Anna Vissi (2006, Athens, Greece), Mamo by Anastasia Prikhodko (2009, Moscow, Russia) and Taken By A Stranger by Lena (2011, Düsseldorf, Germany).
Which host entries would you rate as the best?