Bonjour! I’m back with another episode of Top of the Eurovision 2010s: my take on all the ‘best of the decade’ stuff every other ESC obsessive took care of months ago. You might say me doing it now is slack, but I’d say I’m just fashionably late.
This time – because if there’s something Eurofans cannot resist, it’s pitting contest songs against each other in fantasy best-of battles – I’m comparing pairs of songs from the same countries, ten years apart, to see who comes out on top. In other words, welcome to a round of start VS end of the decade song fistfights. You’re about to see the entries from Azerbaijan, Cyprus, Estonia, Iceland and Sweden in 2010 face off against their 2019 counterparts (they were the five hardest choices as far as I could see). And it’s not all up to me – after you’ve checked out my thoughts and winners, vote for your favourite so we can crown a collective battle champion.
Now, flex those poll-taking fingers and let’s get ready to ruuuuuuummmmbbbbbblllllle!!! *ding ding*
AZERBAIJAN | Drip Drop by Safura VS Truth by Chingiz
What happened IRL? Drip Drop (5th) > Truth (8th)
My thoughts Azerbaijan hasn’t been an ESC powerhouse this whole decade – as we all know, they failed to qualify for the first time last year. But hey, at least they bookended the 2010s with solid top ten results. You go, Glen Coco. Safura’s Drip Drop is a song I remember liking a lot when it competed, since R&B-esque power-pop ballads (i.e. anything Rihanna could have recorded) are my sort of thing. It was their most sophisticated entry ever at that point, and there was a lot of pressure on Safura’s 16-year-old shoulders to follow in Aysel and Arash’s bronzed-up footsteps. She didn’t quite get there, but 5th is a fantastic finish. I’m still a big fan of this song, and I think it’s aged like the fine wine Safura is now old enough to legally drink. Looking back at the performance, I’d call it simple but effective and a far cry from 2008’s OTT staging. If Azerbaijan had sent Drip Drop in 2011 and won, I’d be able to breathe easier all these years later (without the weight of an eight-year-long grudge against Running Scared on my chest. I JUST CAN’T LET IT GO). Overall, it was slick but not too slick.
This year’s entry from The Most Handsome Man in the Caucasus™, Chingiz, was polished to within an inch of its life – so much so that if weren’t for the touches of Azerbaijani shoehorned into Truth, it could have been Swedish (the song did have a Swedish songwriter, naturally). The perfect precision involved a lot of elements: robot lasers, lights, a very questionable yet somehow still impressive bit of CGI, and of course biceps…such beautiful biceps. Underneath all that (because yes, I did manage to see past the muscle-bound man on the stage) was a banging ethno-pop song that I’ve always had a high regard for. I do think it’s kind of a shame Chingiz didn’t get to go to Eurovision doing what he does best: a unique flamenco fusion blend that’s a lot less cookie-cutter than this. But am I ever going to complain about a hot guy doing an above average job of a solid, well-produced pop song with alluring ethnic influences? Definitely not.
This battle is brutal! I do feel a sense of loyalty to Safura, and the fact that Drip Drop stands the test of time with me suggests it should be victorious. But Truth does so much for me, and I’m pretty sure that will still be the case in another ten years’ time. If it comes down to the song I’d rather listen to right now, then I have a winner.
CYPRUS | Life Looks Better In Spring by Jon Lilygreen & The Islanders VS Replay by Tamta
What happened IRL? Replay (13th) > Life Looks Better In Spring (21st)
My thoughts Think this is an obvious one? Think again! I happen to adore both of these songs from Cyprus, and they’re so different it’s hard to compare them. Life Looks Better In Spring saw the island borrow a Welshman to be front and centre, and I have to admit to having all the feels for Jon Lilygreen back in the day. Come on, he was cute! And the accent was a bonus. These days he’s sporting an old-timey moustache that just doesn’t work for me, so that’s over and I guess I can discuss the song now? OH MY LORDI, I LOVE IT SO MUCH. LLBIS is such a stunner in every department, even if it’s about as Cypriot as a Bunning’s sausage sizzle (that will mean nothing to non-Aussies, but trust me, it couldn’t have less to do with Cyprus. Google it). It’s just so nice. Easy to listen to, melodical, anthemic, lyrically romantic, equipped with a catchy chorus…did I miss anything? Granted, the performance was a bit bare-bones, but I still think this deserved a left-hand side scoreboard result – or at least to get way out of the 20s. It’s another thing I’m still not happy about.
Ten years later in Tel Aviv, Cyprus served up a sequel to Fuego that followed the same formula…but I didn’t mind at all. I can’t blame them for copycatting themselves when (Queen) Eleni did so amazingly well. Replay had a different vibe when it was performed live which set it apart – latex, Lamin (my favourite Swedish backup dancer) and legs for days. But no amount of costume reveals and choreography could distract from the song’s banger status. It’s insanely catchy, and struck a great balance between earwormy Europop and cutting-edge 2010s radio pop. As sequels (fue)go it definitely didn’t outdo the original, but I’m comparing it to another song anyway. Tamta may not have set the stage on fire (figuratively or literally) but she really impressed me by holding her tune AND not missing a beat of her dance steps in very high boots that I would struggle to even take a step in. I feel like Replay ended up more or less where it should have on the scoreboard, proving that ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ can produce decent – if not spectacular – results.
Like I said, I love both of these tracks from Cyprus. But there’s one I love more than the other. The heart wants what it wants, and my heart wants me to hand this victory to my sentimental favourite.
Winner Life Looks Better In Spring
ESTONIA | Siren by Malcolm Lincoln & Manpower 4 VS Storm by Victor Crone
What happened IRL? Storm (20th) > Siren (DNQ)
My thoughts I don’t know about you guys, but I tend to automatically associate Estonia with interesting, off-the-wall entries. Which is weird, since lately they’ve left most of their alternative stuff behind in Eesti Laul and opted to send something more vanilla-flavoured to Eurovision. That’s definitely not what they did in 2010. Siren is nothing if not an interesting song, and I really like to see countries take risks from time to time even if it doesn’t end successfully. I think I underappreciated this track back in the day, but it’s grown on me slowly over time and I’m quite keen on it now (it only took ten years…Douwe Bob will never have to tell me to slow down). One of the problems Malcolm Lincoln had in Oslo was probably Siren not being exciting enough fast enough – it’s a builder, but even when it gets to where it’s going, it isn’t necessarily attention-grabbing. As a listening song rather than a contest song though, it works better. My favourite thing about it is the total lack of clichés in the song style and the lyrics, which makes it sound fresh even when we fast-forward to 2019. Here’s hoping Estonia chooses to be this adventurous – or at least distinctive – in 2020.
I just mentioned Estonia’s vanilla tendencies, and I can’t say Storm is the musical equivalent of an all-the-trimmings banana split sundae. Even so, I can’t help loving it (and only 57% of that love revolves around Victor Crone himself and his beautiful, beautiful face). Stig Rästa knows how to write an accessible country song, and Victor knows how to perform them apparently. This one is a basic but anthemic crowd-pleaser, and sometimes it’s nice to listen to something that doesn’t challenge you too much or need time to grow on you. Storm is clearly way more predictable and cliché than Siren, but unlike that I liked this instantly. There are good things to be said about simple songs that remind you a bit of other songs (Wake Me Up by Avicii comes to mind here). Victor’s ability to look down the camera and make everyone fall in love with him (or was that just me?) plus that pretty cool green-screen storm added something extra to this entry, and if wasn’t for an accidental shot of the side of the stage, his final performance would have been flawless. PS – you can fight me if you think the ‘like this/like this’ rhyme isn’t a valid poetic technique. IT IS.
So, should uniqueness triumph over ‘been there heard that, but liked it both times’ in this case? Not necessarily. I’m going to go with the song that had me from the word ‘All’, if you know what I mean.
ICELAND | Je Ne Sais Quoi by Hera Björk VS Hatrið Mun Sigra by Hatari
What happened IRL? Hatrið Mun Sigra (10th) > Je Ne Sais Quoi (19th)
My thoughts This isn’t necessarily the hardest twosome to choose between, but it is like comparing schlager-doused dance pop with industrial techno. In fact, it IS comparing schlager-doused dance pop with industrial techno. Iceland could have sent anything to Eurovision 2010 and it would be hilarious to pit it against Hatrið Mun Sigra (not as funny as Iceland sending that right after Our Choice, but still funny). What they did send was a big fan favourite in Hera Björk and her Je Ne Sais Quoi. I’m not one of the fans who frothed hard over this, but I do like to press play on it when I feel like a dance (NYE, I’m looking at you!). If I’m being honest though, I prefer all three of the Icelandic entries Hera sang backing vocals for – This Is My Life, Is It True and Unbroken – to Je Ne Sais Quoi. I think it’s the chorus that lets it down for me, because I really like the verses. Or maybe it’s just too predictable. Hera herself is a queen with a kick-ass voice, and I’d happily have her back at the contest as a soloist or even back in the background. She pulls focus either way.
Hatari, Hatari, Hatari. Where do you even start with these guys? Their music isn’t what I usually add to my playlists, so props to Eurovision for broadening the horizons of all of us with mostly pop preferences. I too spent six very enjoyable ESC 2019 minutes screaming ‘HATRIð MUN SIGRA!!!’ at the top of my lungs (and needed a lozenge immediately afterwards). Like I said, Iceland sending this song and this act right after Ari and Our Choice will make me laugh until the day I die, but even if it had come after something more daring, it would have been a risk-taking entry. I really appreciate that. If you can’t be adventurous at Eurovision, then where can you? This was one of the most memorable package deals at this year’s contest, but if you look beyond the shock value there was a substantial song and an iconic, almost studio-perfect performance served up by the boys. And like Lordi, they deserve a round of applause for wearing all that latex under intense stage lights and not passing out in the process. Was Hatrið Mun Sigra one of my personal favourites of 2019? No, but I have a lot of admiration for it and I’d rather see Iceland go big like this than go home after the semis.
You could bust a move to both of these songs on the dancefloor, but that’s where the common thread snaps. The choice is between something safe and something jaw-dropping (at least the first time you hear it/see it). I know where my loyalties lie.
Winner Hatrið Mun Sigra
SWEDEN | This Is My Life by Anna Bergendahl VS Too Late For Love by John Lundvik
What happened IRL? Too Late For Love (5th) VS This Is My Life (DNQ)
My thoughts If you’ve spent more than five minutes on this blog before, you’ll know I’m a fan of Sweden + Eurovision (and the award for biggest understatement of the year goes to…). As the decade comes to a close, they’re probably the cream of the competition, winning twice since 2010 and finishing in the top 5 seven times. But the 2010s didn’t start off so well for Sverige. Melodifestivalen 2019’s redemption queen Anna Bergendahl is the only unfortunate Swedish act to miss out on qualifying for the final (don’t expect to ever see that happen again). Her DNQ with This Is My Life is one I’ve never been able to understand – it’s to me what Hear Them Calling is to most other Eurofans. Safe to say I love the song. Sweden’s ESC entries have evolved a lot since it competed, and looking back the performance was far less polished and precise than we’ve come to expect. But that’s part of it’s charm. It had (even I have to admit) more heart than the likes of Popular and Dance You Off, but it didn’t pay off. I’ve listened to TIML pretty constantly for the last ten years and don’t plan on stopping anytime soon. It’s a perfect guitar-pop ballad and Anna’s vocals are…I don’t have the words, so please picture Robin Bengtsson doing his ‘freaking beautiful’ hand gesture.
This year Sweden sent a song that made the final without any trouble, with a vocalist less unique but more powerful than Anna. Too Late For Love ran away with the right to represent Sweden in Tel Aviv, leaving Anna’s comeback track Ashes to Ashes in its dust. I think the combination of the song, the charismatic John Lundvik and The Mamas gave this entry similarly heartfelt vibes to TIML – just with an extra bit of polish because of course. Obviously, I love this too. As 90s-influenced gospel power pop that’s super uplifting, it checks a bunch of boxes on my list of what makes a song great. Plus, the performance was simple enough to let the vocals shine, but far from boring (I never get tired of that lighting effect that unveils The Mamas – kind of like an ESC version of a chef whipping the cloche off a gourmet meal and saying ‘Voila!’). I really think there were winning vibes to this, and in another year it might have gone all the way. But in the end, Sweden didn’t (win). They had to settle for 5th place instead…how terrible for them. For me, TLFL is up there with their best entries of the decade, and I wouldn’t mind if they carry on down the path of 90s nostalgia as we enter the 2020s.
Choosing between two Swedish songs is like deciding which puppy is the cutest or if pasta reigns supreme over pizza (I bet Benjamin Ingrosso could help me out with that one). But in this case, I have to opt for the entry that has aged beautifully over the years, and the one I still consider an all-time favourite.
Winner This Is My Life
Well, I’ve talked (and talked…and talked) through my decisions, leaving me with 3 in favour of 2019 and 2 for 2010. Now it’s your turn! Hit up that comments box and tell me who your favourites in these start VS end of the decade battles are, and why. Let’s celebrate out shared good taste, or semi-respectfully agree to disagree…