I have been a Eurovision viewer for 20 years, this year’s contest will be the 21st one I’ve seen. The first one I watched was in 1997, when my home country the United Kingdom won! The only time in the past two decades, and let’s face it, the way things are going it may well turn out to be the last time. But as it was 20 years ago, ahead of the grand final next week, I have done a ranking of the Eurovision Song Contest winners of the past 20 years.
20) Dima Bilan – ‘Believe’ (Russia), won in 2008
Well, say what you like about Russia in Eurovision, but one thing you can’t accuse them of is not pulling out all the stops. They had Timbaland produce this song and had a classical composer and violinist playing on it and on the performance they had an Olympic gold medalist figure skater for good measure. For some reason, there’s also a tealight on the floor. A single tealight. The whole thing could not be more pretentious and insufferably pleased with itself if it tried. Dima Bilan’s general smugness, reaching peak point when he opens his shirt, hardly helps matters. There may have been more useless winners over the last couple of decades, but this one has to be the most cringeworthy.
19) Ell & Nikki – ‘Running Scared’ (Azerbaijan), won in 2011
What a bland, air-headed snoozefest this track was. But it is notable in a way, it holds the record for the lowest average score for a Eurovision winning song.
18) Marie N – ‘I Wanna’ (Latvia), won in 2002
‘I Wanna’ was a rather dull, forgettable, “phoning it in” effort. It sounds like it’s an attempt at Latin pop. If people remember anything about it, it’s the big white hat Marie N wore. She dances while dressed in a white suit, then she changes into a pink dress and dances some more, and the dress gets pulled down to a longer length at the end. And that’s about it. OK. Next.
17) Tanel Padar, Dave Benton and 2XL – ‘Everybody’ (Estonia), won in 2001
This was quite an unusual mix of performers really. Skinny 20-year-old rock singer Tanel Padar. Stocky 50-year-old musician Dave Benton, who was originally from Aruba and I think does mainly indie and acoustic stuff. Then there’s hip hop boyband 2XL. The song though doesn’t sound like a mix of those, or like anything you’d expect any of them to make as separate acts. It’s a very cheesy song (yes, even by Eurovision standards). It reminds me of those bands in cheap holiday camps doing covers of ‘The Macarena’. It looks a little like they got a dartboard with photos of random acts on it and threw three darts to see where it landed, then picked a random song out of a hat.
16) Olsen Brothers – ‘Fly On The Wings Of Love’ (Denmark), won in 2000
It’s not that I dislike this song per se. In fact, I kind of loved it when it was remade as a slightly chavvy clubland eurodance track by XTM & DJ Chucky Presents Annia in 2003. I just don’t really like Scandinavian cod-country and western as much as some people seem to. Especially not in this case when it is also put through a vocoder. Perhaps this is an “it’s not you, it’s me” moment, but there you go.
15) Helena Paparizou – ‘My Number One’ (Greece), won in 2005
She’s very pretty. It’s quite sassy. It does the Eurovision ethnopop thing fine. It’s quite good I suppose. But this is another one that doesn’t really work for me. I feel like I should like it more than I actually do, but it doesn’t really grab me.
14) Charlotte Nilsson – ‘Take Me To Your Heaven’ (Sweden), won in 1999
‘Take Me To Your Heaven’ was one of many, many examples of the 1990s trying to sound like ABBA, and it takes it further, as it sounds a bit of a ripoff of ‘Waterloo’, ABBA’s Eurovision winning song from 1974. But, to be fair, if they were trying to invoke the spirit of ABBA to follow in their footsteps and win, it worked like a dream! I quite liked it at the time, I’ve gone off it a little since. To be fair, I’m probably still a little bitter as my favourite that year was the runner-up, Selma with ‘All Out Of Luck’ representing Iceland. Charlotte Nilsson went to hug Selma after it had been confirmed she had won, which was nice in a “gracious beauty pageant winner” sort of way.
13) Marija Šerifovic – ‘Molitva’ (Serbia), won in 2007
I admit, I didn’t really ‘get’ this back in 2007. I’m not going to excuse my own ignorance in that, as it was mainly because I can’t speak Serbian, other than knowing that ‘Molitva’ means “Prayer”. But we shouldn’t let the language barrier be a problem. You can still get the feel of a song even if it’s in a language you don’t speak. Ten years on, and I like this song a lot more. Marija Šerifovic has a very nice voice, and the music sounds quite classy. I would like to see a film based on this staging though! It’s so surreal. The script that could be based on this; butch lesbian in disguise as emo Harry Potter tries to overthrow a dictatorship, which is staffed by tall fembots with ’80s perms.
12) Jamala – ‘1944’ (Ukriane), won in 2016
The incumbent winner. It’s a difficult to rank really. Honestly, the song itself probably isn’t one of the best the contest has ever done. However, the incredibly harrowing and tragic subject matter can’t help but make you think, and the performance of it was moving. On a more aesthetic level, the lighting effects on it were absolutely gorgeous.
11) Måns Zelmerlöw – ‘Heroes’ (Sweden), won in 2015
Hot, handsome guy singing a modern dance track that could be any other modern dance track you hear. It’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with it. It was a worthy winner. But it just sort of blends in. Like ‘1944’, it made great use of the lighting effects. This had lights projected on a screen with Måns Zelmerlöw interacting with them, such as fist bumping a puppet stick-man, catching a shooting star and gaining butterfly wings. It was done really well.
10) Conchita Wurst, ‘Rise Like A Pheonix’ (Austria), won in 2014
I’m not saying ‘Rise Like A Pheonix’ is a bad song, but it’s a bit “Skyfall on a budget” isn’t it? What sold this song was the singer. The lyrics can be applicable to Conchita Wurst or indeed anyone trying to discover themselves and overcome adversity. But when I say it was more about the singer than the song this time, I mean this: Conchita Wurst has that rare thing. She has excellent star quality. Though her creator and alter ego Tom Neuwirth has said he is retiring the character, so it will be interesting to see whether he continues more as himself or creates a new persona.
9) Alexander Rybak – ‘Fairytale’ (Norway), won in 2009
This was a very popular winning song, invoking folk and classical music, even if that is just by using a violin. The “fairytale” is much more of a dark fairytale than the Disney-esque ones we’re more used to. Specifically, the song is based on the Scandinavian folkloric creature the Hulder. It’s also based on Alexander Rybak’s ex-girlfriend, the key word being “ex” there, so it’s more of a Hans Christian Anderson-style melancholy fairytale of how hurtful love can be like The Little Mermaid or The Steadfast Tin Soldier than one where they all live Happily Ever After.
8) Dana International – ‘Diva’ (Israel), won in 1998
Often compared to Conchita Wurst, though Conchita Wurst is a drag queen and Dana International is transgender. Not to get too much on a political soapbox, but it’s important to know that there is a difference.
Just being an openly transgender singer was seen as quite a bold political statement at the time. ‘Diva’ is very fabulous, namechecking Greek Goddess of Love Aphrodite and famous queen of Egypt Cleopatra. ‘Diva’ is very camp and ethnopop, indeed very Eurovision. It’s also one of the few to get past the language barrier, most are sung at least partly in English, this was sung in Hebrew.
7) Katrina and the Waves – ‘Love Shine A Light’ (United Kingdom), won in 1997
You might remember Katrina and the Waves from such hit songs as ‘Walking On Sunshine’ and… yeah, probably just ‘Walking On Sunshine’ to be honest. But ‘Love Shine A Light’ was a higher charting hit in much of Europe, including the UK.
It was originally written as a theme song for charity helpline The Samaritans, but it does fit well with Eurovision, one of those “I wish for world peace” ones. It has that slightly Irish sound which was popular in Eurovision at the time. Ireland had won it 4 times in the ’90s, and were the host country in 1997. But that sound was also prevalent in pop music of the time generally, with Boyzone and The Corrs, and even a bit of the instruments on the theme from Titanic, ‘My Heart Will Go On’ by Celine Dion. ‘Love Shine A Light’ is very soaring and it has a message of all coming together, caring for one another.
6) Ruslana – ‘Wild Dances’ (Ukraine), won in 2004
While I’m not a fan of the term “guilty pleasure”, this is something close to that for me, as despite it being erm, a little messy, I just love this! The Xena Warrior Princess aesthetic! The lightning! The flames! The energetic dance routine! That it’s like an audio punch bowl with about five or six different musical styles in it! The phrase “It’s just crazy enough to work” comes to mind, because it ended up working beautifully.
5) Lena – ‘Satellite’ (Germany), won in 2010
An incredibly catchy and sweet indie-pop song. I liked the central “satellite in orbit” metaphor, I liked the sparkly blue lighting, I liked Lena’s gothish look, and I really, really liked Lena herself, especially her reaction to winning. She seemed so happy. ‘Satellite’ is just generally very likeable.
4) Lordi – ‘Hard Rock Hallelujah’ (Finland), won in 2006
It definitely stood out amongst the other entries in the contest, and it stands out among the winners. You don’t often get hard rock and heavy metal on Eurovision. But sometimes taking a chance with something different pays off. Lordi’s costumes and make-up could rival some big budget movies and TV shows, looking like trolls from a medieval fantasy epic. The two-headed axe and wings from frontman Mr. Lordi were particularly good. The lyrics talk about demons and angels during an Apocalypse, sorry, an Arockalypse. It’s fantastic, and definitely one of the most memorable Eurovision winners.
3) Sertab Erener – ‘Everyway That I Can’ (Turkey), won in 2003
‘Everyway That I Can’ was very majestic. It sounded and looked great, with the Turkish music on the backing track and the big production, complete an elaborate dance routine. Sertab Erener put the song over well. The staging was actually quite minimalist, but it all seemed very big. On the whole, ‘Everyway That I Can’ was very fierce.
2) Loreen – ‘Euphoria’ (Sweden), won in 2012
‘Euphoria’ was a brilliant, atmospheric eurodance track, which more than any other recent song transcended the competition, and actually had a life outside of Eurovision. It was liked by people who don’t even watch it. It was a number one hit in 17 countries. It reached number 3 in the UK, making it the highest charting Eurovision song in the UK since ‘Love Shine A Light’ and the highest charting non-UK entry since 1987! It’s the sort of track that makes you stop, take notice and lose yourself in it.
1) Emmelie de Forest – ‘Only Teardrops’ (Denmark), won in 2013
I was torn between this or ‘Euphoria’, and perhaps the latter was the bigger hit, but as a personal preference I have to go with ‘Only Teardrops’. I loved ‘Rainmaker’ too, Emmelie de Forest’s song released especially for the 2014 contest when Denmark were hosting it. ‘Only Teardrops’ uses tin whistle and drums and it’s kind of melancholy but still breezy and nice, it has a sort of enchanted forest feel to it. It’s a lovely song, and my favourite Eurovision winner of the past 20 years.