A list of genuinely ICONIC Eurovision performances that burned brightly but sadly too quickly.
10. Quartissimo featuring Martina – ‘Love Symphony’ (Slovenia, 2009)
It would’ve been a brilliant protest against the very idea of a song contest in a visual medium if they’d just stayed behind those screens forever, wouldn’t it? I’d be the first to admit that the staging ended up being slightly underwhelming: if you take over two minutes to reveal your lead singer (especially when you’re only playing with a three-minute time limit in the first place), I think her costume should be a little bit more exciting than Alana: The Girl From Tomorrow. I also concede that four blokes on strings playing the theme music from Casualty while some random occasionally warbles something about flying in order to circumvent the ban on instrumentals isn’t the most arresting concept ever, but this was one of the two songs from the 2009 semis that ended up lodged in my head for weeks afterwards (the other being Yohanna’s ‘Is It True?’ for Iceland, which went on to finish second overall), so I was a little disappointed when it finished in a dismal 16th place in its heat.
9. Feminnem – ‘Lako je sve’ (Croatia, 2010)
Deserved a spot in the final for the group’s name alone, and don’t even think about telling me that you disagree.
8. Vilija Matačiūnaitė – ‘Attention’ (Lithuania, 2014)
Finishing 11th in a semi-final is probably the most agonising position of all, because you were so close to making it to the main show and yet still so far. That was the fate that Vilija met when she represented Lithuania last year, although when you look at the actual scores it wasn’t actually that close at all, since she was a clear 16 points behind the act in 10th place (Tinkara Kovač for Slovenia), but still, I imagine it must have been very frustrating. As for the track itself, there probably aren’t masses of blogs out there that would liken a track to the early solo work of Alesha Dixon and mean it as a compliment, but if I told you that this was a lost cut from her unreleased pre-Strictly solo album, would you really be so confident that I was bullshitting you? (Also, thank god for the copy-and-paste function, because there’s no way I would have found all those accent marks in her surname by myself.)
7. Trackshittaz – ‘Woki mit deim Popo’ (Austria, 2012)
One of the great things about Eurovision is the way that a single country’s fortunes can vary so hugely depending on the strength of their song in a given year, and it’s jarring to think that just two years before their storming victory with Conchita Wurst’s ‘Rise Like A Phoenix’, Austria’s attempt at Eurovision glory was this deliberately niche hip-hop song about shaking one’s ass, as expressed in a specific Central Bavarian dialect of German known as Mühlviertlerisch. Sure, sometimes you can rely on the novelty vote to drag an unlikely contender far into the competition, but even the people who vote for the lulz seemed a bit baffled by this one, which ended up finishing 18th out of 18 in its heat. Still, the song is stupidly infectious. Frankly even if it wasn’t, since I handed out points to Feminnem for being called Feminnem, I can hardly fail to laud an act called Trackshittaz, can I?
6. Moje 3 – ‘Ljubav je svuda’ (Serbia, 2013)
Possibly one of my favourite gimmicks in recent years, mostly because it seemed to lose something fairly significant in translation, the Serbian Sugababes won my heart the minute they all appeared on stage dressed as Strawberry Shortcake’s louche older cousins. Then they launched into what – if I have interpreted the basic GCSE Drama-level choreography correctly – was a stirring girl power anthem about how men are rubbish and we should forget about them entirely and just set-up some sort of wimmin-only commune, and I was well and truly in love. True, the singing wasn’t great, but I loved the way the chorus ran up and down the scales, and while I enjoyed many of the acts that made the final that year, I couldn’t help thinking it would have been a much brighter place if the Cupcake Warriors had made it.
5. Mei Finegold – ‘Same Heart’ (Israel, 2014)
I’d assumed that the second semi-final of 2014 was a comparatively soft playing field – countries who ended up here were spared from having to go up against Armenia, Sweden, Russia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan or Netherlands, and really the only serious adversaries they faced were Conchita, the host fiddle-player from Switzerland, returning bronze medal-winners Paula Seling & Ovi, and those sexy Polish milkmaids. As a result I thought it might be slightly easier for some of the less-favoured countries to qualify here, but regrettably this didn’t help out poor Mei, whose alarmingly violent dance breakup song (“I’m skinning you out / No longer a part / We don’t beat from the same heart”) failed to impress. Perhaps it was the switch to Hebrew in the second verse that put people off (only three of the songs that qualified from the semis weren’t sung entirely in English), perhaps it was the fact that she had her back to the audience for so much of the performance, perhaps people were just a little bit scared by the whole thing – we’ll probably never know, but it was a tragic waste of a superb key change.
4. Valentina Monetta – ‘The Social Network Song (Uh Oh – Oh – Oh Oh)’ (San Marino, 2012)
For so long San Marino were the afterthoughts of Eurovision: after four years of either failing to gain much traction or having to pull out due to financial constraints, they finally made it onto everyone’s radars with this effort in 2012, albeit probably for the wrong reasons. Originally titled ‘Facebook, Uh Oh Oh (A Satirical Song)’, the entry fell afoul of the EBU’s rules regarding commercial content in songs, so a hasty rewrite was required to turn it into ‘The Social Network Song’, which sadly necessitated the removal of excellent lyrics like “You’re logging in, with just a friend / But soon Mark Zuckerberg’s hammerin’, clamourin’ round the bend” and replacing them with more generic equivalents (although thankfully “Do you wanna be more than just a friend? / Do you wanna play cybersex again?” survived the cut). Then there was the promo video, which styled Valentina in one of the most unflattering outfits I’ve ever seen and was released to general derision. The reveal that this song was the work of veteran Eurovision composer Ralph Siegel (who wrote 1982’s winner ‘Ein bißchen Frieden’) also raised a few eyebrows. Still, as they say, there’s no such thing as bad publicity, and at least this meant that a greater number of people went into the 2012 competition at least aware that San Marino were actually competing. Sadly they failed to qualify, hence their inclusion in this list, but the 14th place finish in their semi-final was actually a personal best for San Marino, qualifying this as a success of sorts.
3. Valentina Monetta – ‘Crisalide (Vola)’ (San Marino, 2013)
Having been written off as a novelty act the previous year by many people (and I include myself in that), it was a pleasant surprise to see Valentina put herself forward to represent San Marino again the following year, even if it did lead to a lot of jokes about her being San Marino’s only pop star. What was an even bigger surprise was the drastic tonal shift: gone was the cheery boop-boop-beep of ‘The Social Network Song’, to be replaced by a sweeping ballad that actually showcased Valentina’s pipes very effectively. Bizarrely, the little microstate that could went into the 2013 contest as an underdog fan favourite, with some fans (again, including me) genuinely convinced that they could beat the odds and actually qualify for the finals for the first time. Sadly, once again it was not to be (although Valentina improved again on the previous year’s results by finishing 11th in her heat and narrowly missing qualifying by one place, even if the actual points gap was still fairly sizeable) – but the tale had a happy ending when Valentina returned for a third and assuredly final attempt in 2014 with ‘Maybe’, where she actually did qualify for the first time in Sammarinese history and got to perform on Saturday night. Sure, she only finished 24th out of 26, but I think qualifying itself was the prize she was aiming for, and this way she got to retire with (relative) dignity.
2. Olivia Lewis – ‘Vertigo’ (Malta, 2007)
It is honestly a mystery how a performance that opens with a buff shirtless man playing the violin before another buff shirtless man pretends to strike a gong could ever fail at Eurovision, but this just goes to show that this competition can occasionally surprise you. I’m a sucker for an overblown metaphor in pop music, and this song delivers over and over again (“You’re spinning me round and you’re holding me down / Loving you gives me vertigo”, “You colour me blue, turn my passion to red / It’s feeling like I’ve become indigo” etc), and combined with a sweeping orchestration that I’m convinced would make the perfect paso doble on Strictly Come Dancing when the right couple comes along, I feel like this song did so many things right – and yet its 25th place finish in a field of 28 suggests that it also got a lot wrong. Sure, Olivia (who had already attempted to represent Malta many times before) did kind of biff that big note at the end of the middle-eight, which may have played a part in the voters not turning out. Although my memory is hazy, I remember seeing people being sniffy on the internet at the time about the song seeming like too much of a populist effort, trying to grab votes by piggybacking on other trends rather than being appropriately Maltese, which I didn’t entirely understand at the time and which makes even less sense now. More than anything, I’m just sad for the fact that Malta literally threw everything at this entry – strings! gongs! shirtlessness! dancers! – and it still wasn’t enough. Eurovision is a strange and unjust place sometimes.
1. Silvia Night – ‘Congratulations’ (Iceland, 2006)
There is a long and proud tradition of outright trolling at Eurovision, but for my money no one will ever do it as well or with such commitment as Silvia Night. Played by Icelandic actress Ágústa Eva Erlansdóttir (who went on to voice Elsa in the Icelandic dub of Frozen, fact fans), Silvia Night existed as a comic creation in the Ali G mould before Eurovision, interviewing people who were unaware that this spoiled celebutante wasn’t actually a real person so that we could all laugh at their baffled reactions to her questionable behaviour. When Iceland voted to send Silvia to Eurovision, she courted controversy from the off – her song contained the line “the vote is in, I’ll fucking win, too bad for all the others”. Being a family show, Eurovision has a strict no-profanity policy, and Silvia apparently responded to the attempt to censor her by saying “I’ll fucking say what I fucking want”. (In the end, she replaced the lyric with “I’ll freaking win” for the live performance.)
Her performance at the semi-finals received a significant amount of boos, amid reports that she had been rude and insulting to the crew at Eurovision ever since she arrived (because Ágústa Eva didn’t drop character whenever she was in public) – this in turn led to rumours that the crew actively sabotaged her performance, which I can’t really see much evidence of in the video, even if it is a good story. She failed to qualify and for other, lesser trolling efforts, this might have been the end of the story. But not for Silvia.
Admirably, Ágústa Eva saw Silvia’s failure to qualify as the comic gift that it was, and doubled down on the character’s offensiveness, leading to one of the most memorable meet-the-press moments in Eurovision history, where she admonished people for not voting for her “because I’m not a slut from Holland, and I’m not an ugly fucking old bitch from Sweden”. (Bonus points for hilarity: the “slut from Holland” didn’t qualify either, and the “ugly fucking old bitch” was Eurovision legend Carola.) One bemused journalist’s response – “this is not good, why are you saying this?” – was met with a bark of “fuck you!” The sheer brazenness of the whole thing was glorious – other highlights included the singling out of a particular journalist later on (“somebody has been telling lies about me, and I think it was you!”) and the triumphant conclusion to Silvia’s speech that “I will sue you, and I will sue the competition, and you will all go to jail.” So sure, it was a shame that Silvia didn’t get to host the competition as the winner in 2007 (which I’m hoping was the ultimate goal of this experiment), but since her loss in the semi-final gave us that iconic video, I’ve made my peace with it.
But even if you were to divorce this song from its context (and I don’t know why you would because the context is amazing, but for the sake of argument let’s just say that you did), what sets this apart from other trolling attempts is the sheer amount of effort that went into crafting a genuinely good and memorable song. Both deploying a knowing wink to Eurovision history in its title and serving as a tribute to Silvia herself (“in a different league, no damn Eurotrash freak”), it’s clear here that Ágústa Eva and her team weren’t just trying to cruise through on shock value but actually wanted the song to be able to stand on its own feet as well. From the middle-eight where Silvia phones up God to remind him that she’s her favourite person in the world, to the infectious chorus that even nine years later I still find myself singing as I’m alighting from a train (“Congratulations! I have arrived!”), nothing about this entry was half-arsed, and as far as I’m concerned, Silvia set an almost impossibly high bar for all future joke acts to live up to.