The Most Important Eurovision Win Of The Past 10 Years

Those of us who have followed the Eurovision Song Contest for many years are tempted to tell the story of how the Song Contest has changed over time as a linear tale. But like any history, Eurovision history is not linear. It is characterized by multiple plot lines that play out simultaneously. These plot lines start, pause, and fade away on different timelines, sometimes in conversation with other plot lines.

As we try to make sense of the Song Contest over the past 10 years, we see a watershed moment where several plot lines converge: Marija Serfovic’s win in 2007.  When it comes to influencing the Eurovision Song Contest we see today, we argue that “Molitva” is the most important winner in the last 10 years.

Molitva

In the mid-2000s, many countries voiced a growing dissatisfaction with Eurovision’s direction. There were many reasons, and we are not going to include them all here. However, we think there were four main concerns. First, the songs entered into Eurovision were divorced from current pop music. Next, there was the growing emphasis on performance and staging over song. There was anxiety that the inclusion of more Eastern European and former Soviet countries in Eurovision could greatly impact the Song Contest, both because of the potential for bloc voting and because of the sheer number of entries to get through. Last, there was concern that performing at Eurovision offered participants little chance of garnering career growth or fame.

The dissatisfaction bled into Eurovision entries in a few ways. One approach was the pandering multicultural entry sung in multiple languages that could be easily understood across Eurovision’s increasingly diverse participant base (e.g., Ich Troje, Todomondo). Another approach was the Eurovision protest entry, a reactionary way to express annoyance or anger at the Song Contest (e.g., LT United, Silvia Knight, Dustin the Turkey).

The protest entry reached its pinnacle in 2006. The aforementioned LT United and Silvia Knight performed similar entries declaring themselves the winners of the Song Contest. If Lithuania’s and Iceland’s entries were directly snarky, Finland’s choice still smacked of the same dissatisfaction with Eurovision demonstrated by several other countries at the time. While Lordi is a seasoned and professional act, their theatrical make-up, presentation and over-the-top pyrotechnics (the first year pyrotechnics allowed in the contest) indirectly commented on Eurovision’s excesses. And yet the song completely entertained us all. It transcended its status as a protest song and it was a runaway winner.

Sociological literature indicates that, when faced with high costs of entry but low outcome uncertainty, organizational actors tend toward certain mitigating strategies. These strategies include mimicry, conservatism of choice, and reliance on previous success. We see these behaviors consistently exhibited in the Song Contest, even today.

Therefore, the 2007 Eurovision Song Contest had to answer a question: Is Lordi now what a Eurovision Song Contest winner looks like? Many other countries attempted a similar theatrical, gimmicky route in Helsinki: Switzerland had “Vampires are Alive,” the United Kingdom had “Flying the Flag (for You),” and of course Ukraine had “Dancing Lasha Tumbai.”

There were a number of old plotlines playing out as well. Romania had opted for a vaguely cynical multicultural entry, Todomondo’s “Liubi, Liubi, I Love You.” Meanwhile, France went the protest song route with Les Fatals Picards’ “L’amour à la française,” which subtly mocked that year’s entries from Belarus and Ukraine.

Eurovision 2007 also included important contributions to another plotline: the emerging LGBT identity of the Song Contest. For example, two countries entered drag acts. While Denmark’s “Drama Queen” did not make it out of the Semifinal, Ukraine’s Verka Serduchka was one of the bookies’ favorites to win it all. (We’ll come back to this later.)

The Eurovision Song Contest would likely have taken a different direction in subsequent years had Verka gotten the win the year after Lordi. Artists would take the “safe” choices of what previously worked, and country selections would to defer to the purported tastes of the European voters.

But it didn’t pan out that way: “Dancing Lasha Tumbai” finished second behind “Molitva.”

The win by “Molitva” felt like a rejection of performance over songwriting and of the cynicism towards the Song Contest that was becoming part of the conventional narrative (one that BBC’s Terry Wogan followed in the United Kingdom during his final years as commentator). It was simply a quality entry, and it won because it was the best song that year.

Make no mistake: it did not harken back to the days when Eurovision was just a Song Contest. Perhaps chalk it up to the fact that this was Serbia’s maiden entry, but Marija and her stage partners didn’t just stand there and sing. “Molitva” was as stylized and choreographed as any other entry that year. But at its core, “Molitva” was an excellent song and it was performed by a powerhouse vocalist.

Marija’s vocal was commanding, grounded, and emotional; you didn’t need to speak Serbian to relate to what she was singing about. Indeed, it is to date the only winning entry performed in a language other than English since the language rules were loosened up in 1999.

Moreover, Marija’s strong artistic identity and interpretation embraced and celebrated LGBT pride. It forwarded that agenda by adopting a sincere approach, rather than a campy one.

Marija’s moment didn’t result in every country immediately redefining their approach to the song contest. In 2008, Dima Bilan–returning after his second place finish behind Lordi–had a solid song, but he performed it with a strong stage gimmick. The following year, Alexander Rybak sailed to a win with a preponderance of stage presence and an only-at-Eurovision song.

But slowly, slowly Eurovision has changed. Fewer joke entries have entered the Song Contest, and those that do often flounder in the Semifinals. More countries have been looking for artists that could manage chart-friendly success. The trend was further facilitated by the introduction of juries; with that second audience in play, countries now had to anticipate not only the tastes of the voting public, but also international groups of music industry professionals. The first artist to truly piece it all together was Loreen in 2012. Not only did she capture the votes, but “Euphoria” went on to be a summer hit throughout Europe. However, it was Marija who established that in this performance era, the whole package matters most.

Cracked's Take On Eurovision 2007

Since Eurovision is next week, let’s kick off the celebration by looking back at last year’s show: Dustin Glick and Jason Newman of Cracked review “The 10 Most Insane Moments from the European Version of ‘American Idol.’” Yeah, the title is a misnomer, but the content is still pretty amusing:

Ireland came in last place in this year’s Eurovision, and… well, it’s pretty easy to see why. You’ve got a warbling lead singer who can’t even sway (not to mention sing), a walking cliché of a band straight out of the Ireland pavilion at Epcot Center, and a song that’s not even worthy of the end credits in Lord of the Rings.

Eurovision 2007 Superlatives

I have vivid memories of live-blogging the 2007 Semifinal in a library carrel. Yet even with a small video screen open in one window of my tiny laptop so I could post on Blogger in another window, I could still tell those mannequins onstage during “Vampires Are Alive” looked completely stupid. On with the awards.

  • Best lullaby: Bosnia and Herzegovina (Marija Šestić – “Rijeka bez imena”)
  • Most engaging way to learn the English pronunciation of vowels: Spain (D’NASH – “I Love You Mi Vida”)
  • Least likely to fool Penn & Teller: Belarus (Dmitry Koldun – “Work Your Magic”)
  • The Dervish Award for tone-deaf vocals: Ireland (Dervish – “They Can’t Stop the Spring”)
  • Best goth tribute to Greta Garbo: Finland (Hanna Pakarinen – “Leave Me Alone”)
  • The “Did She Say ‘Douche’?” Award for non-English lyrics that turn us into 12 year olds: Macedonia (Karolina – “Mojot svet”)
  • Most exuberant plea to talk to the hand: Slovenia (Alenka Gotar – “Cvet z juga”)
  • Best prequel to Thelma and Louise: Hungary (Magdi Rúzsa – “Unsubstantial Blues”)
  • Best song on the soundtrack of a Red Shoe Diaries episode: Lithuania (4Fun – “Love or Leave”)
  • Smallest arsenal of dance moves: Greece (Sarbel – “Yassou Maria”)
  • Best debut (because Jesus Christ, just look at what Azerbaijan sends in 2008): Georgia (Sopho – “Visionary Dream”)
  • Best attempt to hypnotize the audience into voting for them: Sweden (The Ark – “The Worrying Kind”)
  • Annual award for most successful theft of France’s thunder: Les Fatals Picards for coming off as kind of douchey when they lifted a bit of Verka Serduchka’s staging and sampled the opening riff of “Work Your Magic”
  • Best PBS pledge drive by hobos: Latvia (Bonaparti.lv – “Questa notte”)
  • Most sultry Wednesday Addams impersonators: Russia (Serebro – “Song #1”)
  • Best display of shameless self-promotion: Germany (Roger Cicero – “Frauen regier’n die Welt”)
  • Best one-two punch in Eurovision history: Serbia followed up Ukraine (Marija Šerifović – “Molitva” and Verka Serduchka – “Dancing Lasha Tumbai”)
  • The LT United Award for most self-aware entry: United Kingdom (Scooch – “Flying the Flag (For You)”)
  • Best 30 second idea stretched out to the worst three minute song: Romania (Todomondo – “Liubi, Liubi, I Love You”)
  • Best musical representation of the premise for The Perfect Storm: Bulgaria (Elitsa Todorova & Stoyan Yankoulov – “Water”)
  • Worst advice to give to a şekerim holding a can of Diet Coke: Turkey (Kenan Doğulu – “Shake It Up Şekerim”)
  • Best song between the Turkish and Moldovan entries at the 2007 Eurovision Song Contest: Armenia (Hayko – “Anytime You Need”)
  • Best audition for the Trans-Siberian Orchestra: Moldova (Natalia Barbu – “Fight”)
  • Most likely to get there, popular: Serbia

Originally published 25 September 2015

Wrap Up

All in all, a pretty good year I thought. A couple of strong songs, and the winner is an able singer with a song that, while Eurovision-y, also improves upon multiple hearings.

Very pleased that Russia, Turkey, Hungary, and Bulgaria finished so strong. They did great and totally deserved it.

Georgia finished 12th overall, and considering it was their first year, that’s a nice showing.

Germany, not so hot in the end, a lot of bridesmaid points, but never a bride, never the big points. but again, I don’t think ROGER CICERO was really expecting the win anyway, just the exposure. And if that’s indeed the case, then, HEY, he already is a winner. However, I must say that I don’t think Frank would smile upon that kind of attitude.

Also very pleased that Ireland finished last. It really was an abysmal song and an abysmal performance.

Ciao darlings. Kiss kiss.

Jen's Running Commentary (Part 2 of 2)

Jen’s commentary, based on notes, continued.

France

Wow, this seems pretty disrespectful, like they’re mocking other Eurovision countries. And, wait, is that in the opening riff a sample of the Belarus song? Sheesh. They come off like total assholes.


Latvia

Let’s bring it boys, the contest is ripe for the picking. Their performance has benefited from the extra rehearsal time. They sound much better than in the Semis.

All of them are holding white roses. Except the Italian. He gets the red rose. You know, like the flag.

At least I now have the answer that nagging question: what does it sound like when 6 opera singers sing Leo Sayer.

Dangerous. They sounded good.


Russia

Doesn’t pretend to be anything anything other than what it is – barely legal eye candy singing a dance confection. And they work it. I love it, and so does the audience.


Germany

It’s hard to follow Russia. But he’s a pro – sounds good, looks good (although maybe a tad too much like Jack Black for my liking), and has a 5 piece jazz combo complete with upright bass. There’s some sensitivity in the vocal – he knows exactly how to sing to a big crowd like this.

On the backdrop is only a giant ROGER CICERO in BIG ASS LIGHTS. That suggests to me he doesn’t think he’s got a shot at this and is only here for the exposure. Eh, so be it. He’s the best entry Germany’s had in years, and I dig it.


Serbia

I see we’re in the heavy artillery section of the draw. She’s got a great voice, and sings with great musicality. And, unlike Georgia, knows not to oversing. I’m very impressed by the amount of support she’s got on the really big notes.

Really good – I think she’s got it.


Ukraine

He’s dressed like a giant disco ball, with a communist star on his head. On his back is a 69, like a ballroom dancing competition number. The backup singers are dressed in silver lamé ’40s-GI-inspired outfits. To me, it really does remind me of WWII. And cartoon mice, like when they’re “making the dress for Cinderellee,” except in this case they’re mocking Germans. “La la lalalala la la…”

But, hey, the performance has good energy, and is well sung even though there is a lot of movement. This is the better performance compared with Denmark. Of course, it doesn’t change the fact the song goes nowhere.

I don’t get it.


United Kingdom

It’s rough placement for the UK to follow Ukraine, especially with this fluff. It’s like having a 5-year-aged blue cheese, followed immediately by mild cheddar.

They’re dressed like flight attendants, and clearly the song isn’t strong because they have tons of props. Utter theatrics.

Miserable. An embarrassment.

I guess they deserve points
1) for their commitment; and 2) for being in tune.

Bottom line: it’s Saved By The Bell comes to Eurovision. I’m so excited… so excited… so… scared.


Romania

Like Latvia, this act is 6 men. Except each one is singing in a different language. And, aw, it’s at Eurovision… like we should all come together. Kumbaya, my lord, kumbaya.

They have better choreo than Latvia, but not better singing, and it’s not a better song.


Bulgaria

Sigh… 3 more left. Rock it, kids.

I like that the intensity of this song is driven by percussion. By drums, not by backup dancers or by singers trying too hard.

This builds nicely – it’s really good, they look relaxed and like they’re having fun. They did better than the Semis. They might place top 10 after all.


Turkey

Good placement for Turkey here, the last song of consequence. He too looks comfortable, better than the Semis. He’s also playing to the crowd – nice touch. I’m digging it.


Armenia

Someone TP’d his tree. Probably the Turks.

Who’s strangling the cat?


Moldova

Over singing in a big way. Sheesh, she’s pitchy, screechy.

Moldova could learn a lesson from Bulgaria.

Jen's Running Commentary (part 1 of 2)

Notes taken during the show but not posted…

Bosnia & Herzegovina

Natalie Portman isn’t known for her singing. Dressed like a chartreuse ballerina, and I don’t know why she has on her hand a giant postage stamp with a grasshopper in it. But, hey, at least all the dry ice means I don’t have to see how she’s dressed anymore. The backup singers are white figure pottery.

Started rough at first – but got bettter as the song went on. Boring song – closing credits to a Bond film.


Spain

Well, now the competition begins, and Spain comes on with a high energy performance. All dressed in white, they look like 98 Degrees. Probably could’ve won 5 years ago – except it’s not 5 years ago. Tight, though cheesy choreo. I HEART YOU MI VIDA E A O. Huh?

Plus, there’s a giant rotating triangle on the lights. Shameless plug to the gay contingent. But it sounded like it got a good reception.


Belarus, again 3rd up.

Aw, he’s so dreamy. And the rock pose, feet planted 4 feet apart from them is so very well rehearsed. Seems to me he could take a lesson from Darren Romeo; at least he is able to sing in tune and do his magic moves at the same time. Dunno about this one, I picked him to do well, but… it feels a little safe to me.


Ireland

Oh, god, Ireland – this is gonna be death. Man, she is really flat… terrible. Kill me now.

She sits on every note. Like a fat woman crushing a big tuffet and her ass cheeks are hanging over. Like when a square is sat on and becomes a trapezoid.

Giving the mp3 away isn’t going to help them get votes with as crappy a performance as this. And whipping out the bodhran isn’t going to help either. I stand by my haiku.

England may have competition for 0 points this year.


Finland

She’s stolen Slovenia’s outfit.

Feed issues – but I don’t really feel I’ve missed much.


FYR Macedonia

She’s in better voice tonight. Impressively, at one point she’s lifted up by a dancer and doesn’t miss a note. She looks comfortable up there.

Doesn’t change the fact the song isn’t good. But if performances were the only thing that got them into the top 10, she’s in.


Slovenia

This song is like an Olympic theme, I can see the torch being lit… no, wait, that’s just her hand.

The crowd loves her, especially when she goes into opera voice. Some pitchy with some pretty simple intervals, but overall pretty strong performance. Big voice, and it works well in a big arena.


Hungary

It’s rough to follow Slovenia with a gritty blues song. Most singers would feel a temptation to oversing at the outset to overcome a big operatic number right before, could be trouble. I’m worried that song order could ultimately hurt her. It’s tough, you spend 1 minute of your 3 minutes winning the crowd over.

I get chills on “why did you leave me,” and it leaves the crowd cheering.

I think she won them over, but I don’t think she’ll win.


Lithuania

Yawn. Too many women in a row, and, honey, you do not compare.

Pixie haircut, the rest of the band only gets to be a big shadows on a scrim. She looks nervous.

Again, I have problems with the name and the image. A group with a name “4Fun” should not dress all in black, have shadows, and in general, present a visual image only of black. Drab.


Greece

Wow, Greece has the same staging as Turkey. But it is nice to see him being backed up by the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders, and then turned into a maypole.

The song, however, ain’t no Turkey tune. “No lies, she’s the bomb” Do people use that slang anymore?

The choreo ain’t nothin to write home about either. I haven’t seen choreo this bad since DJ Bobo.


Georgia

Sopho save us!

But, sadly, she’s totally running on adrenaline, and seems to be having less fun than she did in the Semis. She’s trying too hard to project, and it’s too much. Pulling back just a little would’ve helped. I’m hoping, but not sure that top 10 finish I want is possible.

I still don’t care, I love the song.


Sweden

Ah, good timing for some fluff. However, the lead singer has the same problem as Blake Lewis – dead eyes. Also he’s playing too much to the camera. Again, a lot of black staging this time. Although having him sit and spin on the spiral is a nice touch. Funny, “sit and spin” is about where my thoughts were at.

This performance reminds me of the Scissor Sisters. A LOT.

Chris' Finals Recap, Pt. 4

So it’s time to vote. To get us started, Jaana and Mikko bring out… Santa Claus, who is apparently drunk. Anyway, we get our recaps during the voting window, then while the votes are tabulated, we get heavy metal cellists surrounded by acrobats on trapezes. Again, seriously disappointed there’s no Lordi tonight. Ah well. (UPDATED: As mentioned in part one, Lordi did perform, but we missed it due to feed issues.)

Serbia, Ukraine, and Russia jump out to early leads during the voting and hold onto them. The United Kingdom, Ireland, and, surprisingly, Latvia, go a long time without points. It takes until Ireland reveals their votes before the U.K. gets their first points, although Malta, of all places, gives Scooch the full 12. Weird. Ireland finishes worst on the night with just 5. They didn’t deserve that many. Back to the semis for you.

Anyway, here are the top 10, who get the byes into the finals in next year’s competition:†
10. Moldova
9. Hungary
8. Armenia
7. Greece
6. Belarus
5. Bulgaria
4. Turkey
3. Russia
2. Ukraine
1. Serbia

I got 6 out 10, which is okay, and I did pick the winner. I really didn’t think Ukraine would do so well. Georgia, by the way, finished 12th, which is not too shabby for their first time out.

I thought this was a strong year this year. I’m looking forward to what 2008 brings.

† As it turns out, the EBU updated the rules in 2008, creating two Semi-final shows, and giving only the previous winner and the Big Four (France, Germany, Spain, and the United Kingdom) the bye into the Final.

Chris' Finals Recap, Pt. 3

Ukraine

Euro-kitsch at its most manic. Verka has a big 69 sewn into his coat. He dances in high heels much better than DQ did, incidentally. Really, this is competently performed and all that, but it’s just such an awful song. If I were from somewhere in Europe, maybe I’d see the appeal.

United Kingdom

This is so fucking stupid.

Romania

My goodness, it’s a lost Benny Hill skit! Is it really just three minutes? It feels as long as “In-a-Gadda-da-Vida.”

Bulgaria

This song is growing on me, I must say. Elitsa and Stoyan are doing it better than they did on Thursday, too. It’s a really intense, exciting performance. I hope they do well in the voting.

Turkey

Kenan sang this much better tonight than he did during the Semis. I hate how much I like this song. I have a good feeling that it’ll do well tonight.

Armenia

A dead tree covered in ribbons as a stage prop. What a bland song. Why can’t our feed kick out now?

Moldova

How did this make the cut during the Semis? Natalia isn’t doing herself any favors. She’s almost in tune throughout. Eurovision has had a strong show this year, so it’s unfortunate to end on these last two songs.

Chris' Finals Recap, Pt. 2

Sweden

What is The Ark’s singer wearing? It looks like a metal bib. Good pop from the crowd for them, but this performance really lacks energy. I was wrong in my preview, by the way: this does sound like ABBA. It sounds like “Waterloo” covered by a glam band. This would’ve won in 1977, but I don’t think it has a chance thirty years later. I like the swirling spinning lazy susan the vocalist rides on near the end, though.

France

They’re dressed in pink and black. This is supposed to be cute and funny, but instead it’s just frantic and grating. There’s a brief sample of Belarus’ opening riff in the middle. Really bad.

Ooo, a shushing librarian segment! Actually, the librarian hisses more than shushes. Is that how they do it in Finland?

Latvia

Where’s my wine? I need some right now. Although they’re singing really well tonight. I’m still concerned it will do well, but man, I hate this song.

Russia

As mentioned, we had to watch this during the replay because of our connection problems. “Song #1” is a complete guilty pleasure song. It’s staged pretty straightforwardly, as if it were a rock concert performance. There’s a little choreography and a lot of posturing, and great use of the electronic backdrop. This was a lot of fun for me.

Germany

Very Vegasy. The electronic backdrop has “ROGER CICERO” displayed in giant letters, with RCs all over the place on stage. Roger’s performance is so smooth. I don’t know if he even remotely has a shot to win, but I thought he did a great job.

Serbia

The staging of this is anti-staging. They really let Marija and the song be the stars. She is giving me chills. I can’t see anyone (not even Ukraine, who are the favorites) winning this besides Marija. Brilliantly done.

Chris' Finals Recap, Pt. 1

Jen & I decided not to liveblog the final, since writing and viewing is a pain. We’re each going to do our own write-ups.

We had problems with the feed from Octoshape going out on us, to the point where we actually missed all of Russia’s number. We’ll fill in our thoughts on that one after we watch the replay.

One disappointment was that Lordi didn’t perform live. The show kicked off with a video for “Hard Rock Hallelujah,” but I don’t know if Lordi was even there. Too bad.

UPDATED: Lordi did perform live. We just missed their performance due to our feed issues.

Bosnia & Herzegovina

What is she wearing? It looks like a Christmas tree right before you take it down. It’s kind of a dull start to the show. She’s singing fine, but the song just doesn’t do it for me. She should benefit from bloc voting, but I don’t know if anyone else is going to remember this in the end.

Spain

Wait, is this 2007 or 1997? A boy band? Seriously? There’s not much harmonizing going on, and the dancing is pedestrian at best. They are in synch… er… so to speak. Technically, they’re fine, but this is a huge whatever.

Belarus

Koldun looks like Hugh Jackman. Apparently, this song is about alcohol. It has grown on me, I must say, but I don’t think he’s singing it well. He doesn’t think so either, I bet, since he decides not to go for the high note at the end. Good choice.

Ireland

The problem with trying to predict winners based on the songs is that the live performance has the potential to be utterly disastrous (case in point: Jemini). Had I known that Dervish were going to be so pathetically awful live, I would not have predicted the U.K. would get the nil vote. The singer sounds like the folk singer in the Lemmiwinks episode of South Park. Abysmal.

Finland

Our feed went out here, but watching the replay showed that I didn’t miss much. Again, it’s Evanescence-lite. It’s gothy and it rocks and whatnot, but it’s just mediocre. I doubt Helsinki will get to host Eurovision again next year.

There’s a little host segment where our hosts Jaana and Mikko meet a girl named Krisse, who says she’s the world’s biggest Eurovision fan and dreams of hosting. She ends up doing backstage bits for the rest of the evening. This is ridiculously staged, since Krisse is a famous Finnish comedienne apparently. She actually turns out to be kind of amusing (especially during the voting when she consoled Scooch when they weren’t doing well).

Macedonia

The fog machine is working on overload! Karolina’s singing better here than she did on Thursday, but this is such a dull number. She may do well, but I’m so not into the song.

Slovena

Alenka is so happy to be there! It’s kinda sweet, actually. Sadly, the more I hear this song, the more it grates on my nerves. Too low-budget Lloyd Webber. She still loves the lights-on-the-hand bit.

Hungary

This is really early, so I hope her distinctive style and the uniqueness of the song (compared to your standard Eurovision fare) helps her get votes later. She’s singing better tonight than during the semis, save for an invisible high note. Excellent performance.

Lithuania

Not just 4Fun, The 4Fun. The staging is very simple: lead singer with guitar up front, rest of the band behind a screen in silhouette. The song is bad, though, which the lack of over-the-top staging just points up. Not terrible, but not good either.

Greece

Play up that Zorba the Greek stereotype, Sarbel! The words are pathetic: “All eyes on Maria/No lie, she’s the bomb.” Wow. Horrible lyrics, annoying melody. The little “Walk Like an Egyptian” dance moves don’t help, obviously. They do some dancing with ribbons that’s cute, and the dancers end with the ribbons shaped in the form of the Eurovision heart logo. That’s about all that’s good about this, though.

Georgia

Sopho’s oversinging it a bit, but I don’t care. I would love for her to win, although I know it’s not going to happen. This is my favorite song of the competition, and generally she’s given Georgia a good showing tonight.