It’s been less than two weeks since Israel won Eurovision, but to me it actually feels like longer – which makes it even more shameful that it’s taken me all this time to pick out my favourite performances of Portugal’s contest just past.
In my defence, it wasn’t an easy decision! Competition was fiercer than Eleni Foureira’s catsuit-and-stilettos combo this year, especially due to the no-LED policy of the stage design which meant countries had to get extra creative when chasing the wow factor. Better late than never, though, I’ve made my choices (just like Ari Oláfsson told me to). And, in reverse order as always, because I like to whip up a fresh batch of suspense every time I do a top 10 countdown, here they are. Let me know what our agree/disagree ratio is in the comments below…
#10| Ukraine (Mélovin with Under The Ladder)
When Eurovision meets Ukraine, the result is usually OTT – but up until 2018, it had been a while since the country lived large in terms of their contest staging (1944 and Time didn’t exactly slap you in the face with such subtle items as hamster wheels and half-naked centurions). So it was nice to see Ukraine changing up their recent less-is-more approach for a) a vampiric-looking artist slowly rising from the hellish interior of his grand piano; b) said artist removing a layer of clothing halfway through the song, which in this case looked a lot more badass than when Alexander Rybak did it; and c) yeah yeah FIRE!!! When you think about it, Mélovin’s performance could have been even more flamboyant – but he seemed to know just when to stop to give it the specific level of drama and Gothic glamour it needed. Under The Ladder on the Lisbon stage was as confident and cohesive as we’ve come to expect from Ukraine, whether they’re keeping things simple or kicking their staging up a notch or two (hundred).
#9 | Israel (Netta with Toy)
If it’s controversial to not have Netta right at the top of a ranking like this, then so be it. I didn’t vote for Israel this year and I can’t claim that Toy is the winning song I would have preferred (let’s just say that I was hoping to be trawling through Air BnB apartments in Limassol right about now). But I can’t argue with the punch this performance packed, thanks mostly to Netta herself and not so much to her dancers, who made the whole thing look more novelty than it actually was. Miss Barzilai, though, even without her looper, was a force to be reckoned with. Every facial expression, hand gesture and note was there; the attitude and sass were sky-high just as they should have been; and it was easy to believe that any guy stupid enough to cross her would be sorrier than Frans realising he really was sorry. Netta sold her song like her life depended on it, with her oriental outfit and backdrop adding an exotic touch to the appealingly bonkers proceedings (and not, IMO, falling into the category of cultural appropriation). The Altice Arena audience went crazy for this, and even on TV it was obvious why.
#8 | Austria (Cesár Sampson with Nobody But You)
Starring in this year’s episode of ‘Surprising Eurovision Third-Placers’ was Austria’s Cesár, who contributed a jury vote-winning rendition of Nobody But You to the grand final line-up. While I didn’t see that overwhelming jury love coming, I did get some spine-tingles from his performance: one that proved he could more than cope with the transition from backing singer to main artist. Commanding the stage – and a spectacular hydraulic platform – completely solo, he made it hard for me to look away from him (or even blink, lest I miss a shot of his impressive arm musculature). Austria also added a mix of shadowy and golden lighting that perfectly suited the song and its soul vibes; a bit of crowd interaction in the second half to up the human connection with Cesár; and, tapping into a trend that was way overused in 2017, the sole giant selfie of the year…which was great apart from the fact that super-sized Cesár was wearing a different shirt to flesh-and-blood Cesár. But that’s a mildly irritating detail I can overlook, based on how boss every other aspect of this performance was.
#7 | Denmark (Rasmussen with Higher Ground)
Like Sweden (a country you should expect me to mention later on in this list) Denmark rarely changes much about their staging between their national final and Eurovision. Unlike Sweden, a lot of the time they need to but just don’t. Fortunately, 2018 was not one of those years – and some credit needs to be given to the ship-inspired Lisbon stage for that. Performing a seafaring Viking song, Rasmussen must have thanked his lucky stars when he discovered how neatly Higher Ground fit in to the concept of the ESC this year. Sure, a ship wasn’t the first thing you thought of when you looked at the stage, but just knowing how appropriate Denmark’s package would appear in the year of ‘All Aboard!’ gave them a boost. Sails, snow, stomping, blue lighting, beards, and a manufactured breeze were all Rasmussen needed to create the ideal atmosphere for Higher Ground – and what came out of the oven once all of those ingredients had been combined and baked was gobbled up by televoters. They ranked Denmark first in the second semi, and in the top five in the final. That’s definitely higher ground than the Danes managed to reach in Kyiv!
#6 | Estonia (Elina Nechayeva with La Forza)
I’ve said this in a previous post, but there was a time when I thought Estonia didn’t need to stick Elina in a ridiculously expensive projection dress to make a statement. La Forza and her insanely impressive operatic talents would do the trick on their own, right? Well, we’ll never know for sure – but what I now know for certain is that The Dress: Eurovision Edition (forget about some wedding guest getup that’s black and blue/white and gold) turned Estonia’s appearance at Eurovision 2018 into a showstopper. What helped to make the performance all the more dynamic were the close-up shots of Elina during the soft, mystical verses (just to hammer home how stunning she is) interspersed with wider shots and aerial shots during the explosive choruses – those showing off the dress projections to maximum advantage. If I was being ultra picky (as I enjoy being sometimes) I would have liked the lighting scheme and projections to be totally celestial – more cool colours to take us all to a galaxy far, far away. But a bit of red lighting here and there and some psychedelic dress swirls didn’t prevent me from being speechless at the end of this three minutes.
#5 | Australia (Jessica Mauboy with We Got Love)
Okay…before you scream at your screen that I must have walked Rasmussen’s plank and drowned in a sea of my own insanity, hear me out. Firstly, I’m Australian and am therefore totally biased when it comes to our handful of ESC entries and my unconditional defense of them. Secondly, when I name Jessica’s performance as one of my favourites of the year, I’m referring more to the stronger semi-final version than the nervy final version. And thirdly, whatever your opinion on her vocals, that dress (which we now know finished 2nd in the Barbara Dex vote) or the characteristically dark Sacha Jean Baptiste staging, you have to admit that Jess is a ray of sunshine who invested every fibre of her energy into her time on stage and brought light to those overly-moody surroundings. I felt so proud (and a little bit teary) after her Thursday night performance – and part of that was to do with the freedom, rawness and authenticity that came from the dreamtime dance moves and a vocal that was a rough diamond rather than a crystal-clear one-carat diamond. Jess did what she does best by bringing her personality on stage as a prop, and I really enjoyed watching her as a result.
#4 | Moldova (DoReDos with My Lucky Day)
Discarding a cool NF staging concept in the hope of wowing people at the ESC with an even cooler concept is risky. Moldova took that risk, ran with it, and ended up providing us with an impeccably-timed slapstick-chic performance that elevated an okay song to sensational status. Try and find a flaw in DoReDos’ Eurovision creation and I will dispute whatever you come up with, because it had it ALL. Eye-catching costumes (in Moldovan flag colours, of course)? Check. Boatloads of stage presence and charisma from all three band members and their backing squad? Check. An oversized Ikea cabinet put to better use than anything with doors has been before? Check! Putting paid to the stereotype that men can’t multitask – and proving that women absolutely can – the trio sang, danced and dashed in out of those doors without missing a beat or looking like it was any sort of struggle. In a day and age of the easily distracted (myself included) keeping all eyes on you for 180 seconds can be difficult – but My Lucky Day live in Lisbon was entertainment well worth the price of admission.
#3 | Czech Republic (Mikolas Josef with Lie To Me)
From being stuck on a hospital gurney with a neck brace on to turning out a performance like this – only to go on and top it in the final? Mikolas, I salute you. For a horrifying few days early on in rehearsal week, we weren’t sure whether the Czech Republic would even get to compete in the contest with their best entry ever. But the Eurovision gods were smiling down on us (that, and Mikolas did what doctors told him to do). He got through his semi show in more restrained style than he would have liked before pulling out all of the acrobatic stops on the Saturday night – moves that capped off a super-fun, well-choreographed, part-music video/part-live performance feat. SWAG. There is nothing I would change about the Czech staging, although I wouldn’t have complained if a hologram camel had materialised at some point. The highlight – besides Mikolas landing the flip and not ending up back in the emergency room – has to be the butt wiggle/floss/backpack combo after the second chorus. That was genius, and in keeping with the saucy subject matter. I can fully understand why plenty of these greedies want to eat Mikolas’ spaghetti (apologies if I just said something super rude…I honestly don’t know).
#2 | Cyprus (Eleni Foureira with Fuego)
There’s a reason Eurofans still talk about Ani Lorak all the time, despite Shady Lady finishing as the Eurovision runner-up TEN YEARS AGO (!). Ani was a crazy-hot woman in an amazing outfit who, backed by a posse of equally attractive dancers, strutted her way through a top-notch pop song to rapturous applause from the audience. Does that sound familiar? Does it sound…fuego, perhaps? I think so. Eleni came to Portugal armed with an ethnopop banger that had all the best elements of Shady Lady in its staging, and also threw back to Secret Combination and Qele Qele (Greece and Armenia’s ’08 entries that finished 3rd and 4th respectively). I loved being reminded of those other fierce women who’d showed the ESC who was boss back in the day, while being treated to a song that was modern enough to work in 2018. Eleni looked incredible, danced like a woman possessed, and whipped her hair back and forth in amongst fake and real fire while wearing that sparkly catsuit you wouldn’t want to have to pee while sewn into. I’m not going to lie…I wanted to BE her. If we must have successful 2018 entry copycats in 2019, can they please be Fuego + Foureira copycats?
#1 | Sweden (Benjamin Ingrosso with Dance You Off)
As we arrive at my no. 1 personal pick for Eurovision performance of the year, it will either be a massive plot twist (because you’re new here and were partly responsible for Sweden’s low televoting score) or a predictable ending (because you know how obsessed with Sweden and how big a fan of Benjamin’s I am). Whatever the reason for that lack of love from the public, it was not a problem for me – someone in awe of the glow-up between Benjamin’s 2017 and 2018 Melodifestivalen performances, and then continually impressed by the Dance You Off performance that was copy-pasted to the ESC (why would you mess with something that slick?). I don’t know why people have an issue with Swedish performances being the same every time, at Melfest and in every Eurovision rehearsal. When you put that much effort in to a stage show – even though Benjamin’s was relatively simple, just extremely effective – and rehearse the crap out of it, why shouldn’t it be flawless by the time it’s going to be on TV? I love this song and I love how it was staged, unconditionally. Jean Baptiste who?
I’ve showed you mine…now show me yours! Which Eurovision performances floated your boat the most this year?