We all know Eurovision is a song contest, right?
Well, partly, anyway. I’m sorry for using such aggressive capitals to inform you of this, but if Eurovision was just a song contest, it would be a radio-only affair. Either that or every audience member and viewer at home would be required by law to wear a Donny Montell blindfold for the entire show.
That’s right – it’s a show. There are visuals. There are performances. There are vocals, costumes, props and pyrotechnics (good, bad and badder) that we all love to dissect over social media. Eurovision is both a song and a performance contest, particularly in this day and age. Do you think Ukraine would have come 4th in 2011 had it not been for Lady Dracula, the renowned sand artist? If people weren’t voting for the sand, it may well have been the sand that made them remember Mika Newton and Angel. Even I, as an Angel lover, can vouch for that. If a song is a bit weak, there are few of us who haven’t noted that it will need something special onstage to qualify. The performance matters, people!
So in honour of that, I’ve compiled a list of my favourites from recent history – the performances where clever props were used, vocals were faultless, choreography was mind-blowing, costumes were bang-on and/or the charisma of the artist was second to none. These entries weren’t all success stories, but they floated my boat. Prepare for a sickening amount of gushing as you read through.
Fairytale – Alexander Rybak (Norway 2009)
Kicking off my list (quite literally) is the runaway, record-breaking winner of Year Moscow and his amazing trio of dancers (that’s where the literal kicking comes in). Not to mention his two stellar backing vocalists, dapper waistcoat and supreme violin-miming abilities. I have to admit, I didn’t see Norway as an obvious winner at the time, what with a generally high standard of performances all round and particularly stiff competition from the likes of Iceland, Turkey and even *gasp* the UK. But looking back, I can see how they managed to destroy the other 41 entries. The choreography of both the dancers and backing singers, plus Alex’s boyish charm, polished up their three minutes so much so they simply outshined everyone else.
Taken By A Stranger – Lena (Germany 2011)
What I loved most about Lena’s title-defending appearance was how much of a contrast it was to her winning one a year earlier. Back then, she’d been an unknown, inexperienced 19-year-old who had a mighty fine pop song, and the gift of dancing so awkwardly that it was somehow endearing, up her LBS (little black sleeve). That Lena was cute and ditsy. The 2011 version was nothing of the sort. She strutted out on to that stage looking like a sexpot (whatever that is) and owned a dark and mysterious performance perfectly suited to her second Eurovision song. From the costume, to the dancers (again with the dancers!) to the moody lighting and that onscreen glass-shatter, this was a sophisticated show that proved Miss Meyer-Landrut had grown up.
Eastern European Funk – InCulto (Lithuania 2010)
Now for something I wouldn’t dream of calling ‘sophisticated’, but would call ‘extremely well-executed fun’. Say what you will about InCulto, you can’t deny they sounded brilliant live, especially when they were making music with their mouths one minute and harmonising like champions the next. That was the credibility factor taken care of. The fun comes in the form of the catchy song, instruments made out of secondhand gym mats, and the sight of five grown men ripping off their trousers to reveal sequined short-shorts. You couldn’t ask for a much better opening for a semi-final, and I think it’s a shame this didn’t squeeze into the final.
Lejla – Hari Mata Hari (Bosnia & Herzegovina 2006)
A performance doesn’t have to be OTT to get attention. And so it was that no amount of pyrotechnics, costume changes or Svetlana Loboda brand Hell Machines could have made this one from our dearly departed B & H any more magical. It was subtle body movements instead of dance, and that stunning starlit background, that made me feel like I’d just witnessed something special – something that maybe I’d end up writing about on The Greatest ESC Blog In The World one day. Well, I was half right. I’m sure the fact that Lejla is one of my all-time favourite entries makes me a little biased here, but I honestly think this performance was perfection.
Let Me Try – Luminita Anghel & Sistem (Romania 2005)
This is another song I’m mad about (and so was Romania evidently, since they sent it again in 2006) but it’s possible that I love the ‘industrial chic’ staging a bit more. Luminita’s killer vocal and general bad-ass commandment of the stage was the foundation – the batter, if you will – of a successful recipe, but the icing on the cake was most definitely all the banging and grinding that went on. My favourite part is when Luminita gets in on the action, but that ever-present element of danger was pretty exciting too. If I remember correctly, a few of Kiev’s bigwigs got their knickers in a knot over the flying sparks…but apparently relaxed enough to allow Ruslana to open the final with a gigantic blowtorch. Go figure.
Show Me Your Love – Tina Karol (Ukraine 2006)
The Ukrainians know how Eurovision should be done. I’m just saying that to prepare you for the multiple Ukrainian acts you’re yet to encounter on this list. The first is the lovely Tina Karol, who wore the most magnificent pair of boots I had ever laid eyes on in Athens, and who had an attractive and well-dressed posse on hand to dance around her a) with tambourines, b) without tambourines, c) with detachable skirts, and d) without detachable skirts. Oh, and e) with skipping ropes. This performance had it all! Tina was partly responsible for that, looking so hot and singing her guts out.
Suus – Rona Nishliu (Albania 2012)
Here’s a woman who was almost entirely responsible for making her country’s performance great. Rona of the Gravity-Defying Dreadlocks found some way of nailing the emotion required by Suus every single time, complete with an expression of intense anguish throughout and that clincher of a sob at the end. As a result, I couldn’t tear my eyes away from her (although that could have been something to do with that infamous outfit). I would also like to congratulate the well-timed lighting person for coordinating the dramatic red glow with the music. A virtual high five from me to you.
Shady Lady – Ani Lorak (Ukraine 2008)
And so begins the Ukrainian domination. Ani Lorak’s performance was another in which absolutely every element was on point. Allow me to demonstrate (kinda): she looked uh-maaaayzing; her vocals were excellent, and would be even for someone standing still; the choreography was in total sync with the lyrics and music of Shady Lady; there was that nifty light box that was useful for silhouettes, posing in front of and climbing on top of, and even though it was a big prop it wasn’t too flashy; and, Ani gave it 110% of her energy. I am one of the party who believe Ukraine should have taken out the contest in Belgrade, which says a lot because I am also one of the party who LOVE Dima Bilan.
Sweet People – Alyosha (Ukraine 2010)
Knock, knock! Who’s there? Oh, it’s Ukraine again. This time, it’s their jaw-dropper of 2010, a relatively pared-back performance (by Ukrainian standards, anyway) that made a massive impact. I don’t think many people were enthused by Sweet People when it was internally selected, especially after two songs had come and gone before it. I certainly wasn’t. But this was a song that thrived on being performed live, and the way it was presented changed everything. Alyosha appeared on that big stage all by herself, dressed in a fabulously weird getup, and proceeded to belt out her song like nobody had ever belted one before, accompanied only by flashing lights and the deft application of a wind machine. Nothing else was required to make this incredible.
Wild Dances – Ruslana (Ukraine 2004)
She won the contest in ’04, and now she tops my list of the greatest Eurovision performances in recent history. The staging of Ruslana’s Wild Dances has become something of a model for the perfect balance of…well…IT ALL. For me, it was at a level that made all of the other performances look a little dodgy (except for Lane Moje, of course). From the opening horns to the discarding of fur capes; from the fierce Xena costumes to Ruslana getting down with her backup dancers; from the whip-cracking to that final pose, it couldn’t have been done any better. This was one of the most deserved victories ever, and I’m yet to come across anyone who thinks another song should have won.
Do you think these performances deserve a belated round of applause? If not, which ones would make your list?
PS – UPDATE! The results of last week’s Big 6 poll are in, and here they are.
Have your votes predicted what will happen to the auto-finalists in Malmö? In a mere eight weeks time, we’ll find out…