Eurovision is absolutely my favourite thing in the world; an event which combines competition, travelling, and good music (generally) – what is there not to love?
Everyone who watches Eurovision knows that the burning question each year is “what’s your favourite song?” It’s relatively easy to pick out one favourite from a pool of 40 and proclaim it as your champion, drunkenly wave their flag in the arena, and cheer like a maniac when it picks up 2 points from Malta. But I recently got to wondering what my favourite country at Eurovision of all-time was. I had an idea, but wasn’t exactly sure who it was.
So, the ultimate-nerd inside me decided to rank all of the entries from the contests beginning with Riga 2003 up the most recent, Stockholm 2016. I then gave each of the countries in the top ten points in true Eurovision-style, that’s 12 points for first place, 10 points for second place, 8 points for third place, 7 for fourth, and so on. The years a country placed first in my ranking, are in a sweet golden font underneath their flag.
I started with Riga 2003 because it was the first contest that I truly paid attention to and got really involved in. I actually vividly remember the first Eurovision that I watched being back in 1997 when Katrina & The Waves took the win for the United Kingdom, the last time we did anything of note at the contest. While I have some super favourites from before 2003, like Antique’s (I Would Die For You) (Greece 2001) and Mekado’s Wir Geben ‘Ne Party (Germany 1994), I decided not to include them in these rankings for cohesion’s sake.
Anyway, here’s the top ten as it came out – my ten most favourite countries at Eurovision ever (or since 2003 anyway)!
Entries in my top ten: 2008, 2009, 2013
Norway kick off the top ten, on the strength of their entries in 2008, 2009, and 2013 alone – three magnificent songs in three completely different genres with an undertone of modern pop. Norway are the chancers of Eurovision, having sent numerous different styles of music to the contest over the past decade and a bit; there’s been glam rock, a damp Strictly Come Dancing-esque knock-off, Afro-fusion with lyrics in Swahili, and a couple of suicidal ballads to name a few. But it’s when Norway takes the exciting and authentic road that they appeal, as seen like never before (or since) with Alexander Rybak’s Fairytale which annihilated the competition, got the highest comparative score the contest has ever seen, and gave Norway a well-deserved third victory. The Norwegian broadcaster is open about its keenness to win again soon, so they’ll be one to look out for in the next few years. Best get ready to mortgage your in anticipation of another contest in Oslo.
Best song: We all know Alexander Rybak’s Fairytale is wonderful and the song that cleaned up all the points in 2009, but here’s Hold On Be Strong from 2008 instead. Watch out for bad crimes and those “true, true, true” hands.
Entries in my top ten: 2005, 2007, 2011
For a little while Hungary were the fairweather country at Eurovision, participating one year and ducking out the next. They now seem to have found their place, and with an extremely popular national final in A Dal they have little reason to turn their back on the contest again. Their (first) return back in 2005, after a seven-year absence, was met with glee from Eurovision fans and whilst hindsight may suggest they shouldn’t have brought along a carbon-copy of the previous year’s winner, Forogj, Vilag was a strong track to explode back onto the scene with. The heartbreaking follow-up (after another year out), Unsubstantial Blues gave Hungary, Magdi, and her bus stop a deserved top ten. Then came the angel Kati Wolf and her gay-anthem What About My Dreams? Picked by many so-called fanboys to win the event and bring the contest to Budapest, a limp and uninspiring performance at the Grand Final left “The Wolf” languishing in 22nd place.
Nevertheless, Hungary have qualified for the Final in their previous six attempts and seem to be slowly getting to grips with understanding what styles of songs tend to do well. A victory for Hungary would surely be welcomed by many, but there’s some startling similarities in their record and enthusiasm to that of Romania who have since lost their way. Hungary – stay on track!
Best song: A throwback to the contest as it was in 2005, when Eurovision was all about those ethnic jam sessions. NOX’s Forogj, Világ blended Ruslana, Riverdance, and na-na-na-na’s together in what winning formulas suggest should have placed higher than 12th.
Entries in my top ten: 2003, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2015
Traditionally rubbish, middle-of-the-road, and hell-bent on sending inoffensive easy listening songs. That, thankfully, is the Germany of the past. Their decision to appoint Stefan Raab (the German equivalent of Simon Cowell) and actually try to do well at Eurovision paid off big time with a win in 2010, breaking a wait of 28 years. Lena’s Satellite took Europe by storm and proved that a Western country could take the spoils if they wanted to. One could argue that it was this win that bridged the gap between the East and West at Eurovision, and poetically it would have to be Germany who demonstrated that, wouldn’t it?
The following year, Germany put on what was the most wonderful Eurovision of all time (bar the winner), despite unorthodoxly choosing Düsseldorf as the host city. Lena was there again, unorthodoxly chosen by the county to defend her crown, and did a great job with the unorthodox Taken By A Stranger (do you see a pattern here?). Germany, with the win it so desired coming after just one year of trying, now had the room to experiment and be different. And whilst that started well, their results of late have slipped – even Cascada, the artist of choice for many youngsters blasting songs out of tinny-mobile speakers from the back of buses across the world at the turn of the decade, couldn’t muster up any support despite being an anthem of sorts. Even Germany’s last two entries, Black Smoke and Ghost, which finished bottom of the pile were good pop songs. Recent results may suggest that Germany has lost its way again, but let’s remember that the last time this happened, they came back with a bang – after taking 28 years to figure out what was going on, of course.
Best song: Is there any doubt? Lovely Lena won the hearts of millions back in 2010 with Satellite, the contemporary pop song that propelled Eurovision into the present day and gave Germany their second victory in 54 attempts. Her charm, cheek, and charisma oozed through the performance, broke the curse of the then ‘ Big Four’, and made the 19-year-old from Hanover a star!
Entries in my top ten: 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2014, 2016
Relative newcomers to the contest, Armenia have littered Eurovision with some wonderful entries over the years. If there’s one thing that Armenia do well, it’s good pop with traditional music elements – and in that sense, they’ve taken the crown from Greece. Who could forget Andre and his whips? Hayko and his toilet roll trees? Emmy and her boxing ring of men?
What made Armenia’s earlier entries so wonderful was that five of the first six were uptempo, followed a similar, accessible pattern, and all had that highly-regarded middle-eight instrumental breakdown. After electing not to participate in 2012, Armenia have come back to the contest with a more mature and current sound, certainly in the way of Not Alone and LoveWave which have, unsurprisingly, given them two of their best results. If there’s one country which is absolutely desperate for a victory, it’s Armenia, and surely their time will come sooner than later – a contest in Yerevan would be spectacular!
Best song: What would Eurovision be without a folk-influenced bop, sang by two sisters in traditional costume, backed up by dancers with green lasers on their fingers singing lyrics such as “sister, here we gooo”? Nothing, that’s what. Jan Jan is the jewel in Armenia’s shining crown of great entries.
Entries in my top ten: 2003, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2012
It was a sad day when Turkey withdrew from Eurovision back in 2013, citing a plethora of reasons for their decision not to take part. It’s always disheartening when a country turns its back on Eurovision, especially so when that country is considered a powerhouse and has racked up seven top ten results in ten years. but thankfully we still have their previous entries to listen to.
In what seems to be a staple of some Eastern countries, blending pop music with traditional music was Turkey’s game too – and you can’t deny they did it well. Sertab’s Everyway That I Can (which the uneducated spectator believes is the same song as Holly Valance’s Kiss Kiss) set Turkey up for a decade of brilliance, it seemed that no matter what genre the country sent it would always score handsomely – Mor ve Ötesi’s Deli proved that even rock could do well at Eurovision if it was done properly. While many will claim than 2010’s maNga was the defining moment for Turkey at the contest, how could we forget Kenan and his knicker-waving antics three years earlier?
While fans have been holding onto the hope that the participants list each year will feature the powerhouse-of-the-past, attempts at getting Turkey back into the fold have thus far been unsuccessful.
Best song: Turkey sent some wonderful slices of pop music to the contest over the years, but the one I always seem to go back to is Sibel’s Superstar. That empowering monologue right after the first chorus and before the drum-led breakdown is just glorious and something that should be on those self-help and positivity memes being shared across the world on social media.
Entries in my top ten: 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2016
With the separation, and ultimate withdrawal, of Serbia & Montenegro in 2006, Serbia’s spokeswoman told us all that her country would be back next year with the winning song. And she was right! Achieving the best debut at the contest ever, Molitva romped to victory over the infamous Verka Serduchka and became the first winner to feature no English lyrics since 1998. Sadly the magic of the Serbian language didn’t strike again, and the insistence on sending the succeeding six entries entirely in Serbian led to a mixed bag of results. True to form, when results are a little shaky, the Serbians roll out their national treasure Željko Joksimović who finished third, and likely would have won in any other year that didn’t feature Russian grannies, or Loreen.
Serbia raised eyebrows around the continent when they sent the unashamedly camp and glittering anthem Beauty Never Lies in 2015. Going down in history as the gayest three minutes of Eurovision, and possibly even television, the larger than life Bojana screamed that “finally I can say, that I’m different and it’s okay!” Yes, that’s right, Serbia shocked us not for sending a song promoting equality and difference, but for singing in English!
Best song: Whilst I absolutely adore Moje 3’s Ljubav Je Svuda (especially the ballad version), my favourite Serbian entry of all time is Oro, the song that Serbia sent to its only hosting of the contest back in 2008. The Serbs, being crafty and clever, knew that this was good enough to win enough votes across the continent to save it from embarrassment, but not appeal to too many and force another hosting on the country. Enchanting, haunting, beautiful – Oro.
Entries in my top ten: 2006, 2007, 2008, 2011, 2012, 2015
Oh Sweden; the darling of Eurovision, the Eurofan’s favourite country in the world, the one country who can do no wrong! To be fair, it’s entirely correct to say that Sweden are amongst the best at the game of Eurovision and they have been rewarded accordingly with their most recent efforts. While they may not always choose my favourite song at Melodifestivalen, their national selection, there’s always enough great pop songs in there to keep me satisfied.
After failing to qualify for the first time ever in 2010, Sweden have hit back with five top five placings in six years, including two wins. There’s no doubt that they’re after Ireland’s record of most wins ever, and with the Irish doing absolutely nothing about that, it’s only a matter of time before Sweden can be officially proclaimed as the most successful country at Eurovision.
Best song: It gets more and more difficult to choose one stand-out entry the higher we get, and that’s certainly true of Sweden who have sent some superb songs to the contest over the years. In fact, barring that blip in 2013 and 2014, the Swedes have been pretty consistent. Heroes, however, takes the prize. Ever since I seen it in the fourth semi-final of Melodifestivalen, I knew this was the winner of Eurovision 2015. The contemporary sound and catchy chorus was good enough to win over the masses, but the gimmick of the screen was what sent it over the edge.
Entries in my top ten: 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2012, 2015
Once guaranteed to send uptempo, dance classics layered with traditional instruments, Greece were always one of the countries that every Euro-fan looked forward to unveiling their song. Since they upped their game and found a successful formula with Sakis’ Shake It back in 2004, Greece churned out some brilliant songs over the years. Helena rose to the top of the field in the extremely high-quality 2005 contest, Anna Vissi brought heartache and passion the year later, and let’s not forget Sarbel and his dad-dancing. Kalomira gave Greece their best result in recent years and managed to connect the lyrics about an open book to an actual opening book on stage – such were the days of their dominance and ability to do no wrong.
Having flirted with more left-field entries of late, Greece’s luck finally ran out this year when they failed to qualify for the Grand Final for the first time. Let’s hope that this acts a wake up call and brings back that obsession with great pop music that Greece were once renowned for.
Best song: The trashiest of all the trashy pop songs ever created (and that definitely isn’t a bad thing). Complete with easy-to-copy choreography, a frantic middle eight, and a backing singer doing all the vocal work, Aphrodisiac is the embodiment of Greece at Eurovision. Perfect!
Entries in my top ten: 2003, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2011, 2014, 2015, 2016
Ah Russia, for so long they were the bridesmaid and never the bride, and that is true even in my rankings. Almost every year they come up with the goods, and they’ve managed to position themselves, quite deservedly, amongst the family of powerhouses. Mamo, their entry on home soil, is seemingly forgotten by the Eurovision-faithful but it remains as one of my favourite entries from the Motherland – the raw emotion and rapid ageing of Miss Prikhodko on the dominant screens behind her was visually stunning inside the Olympiskiy Arena. I also loved Alex’s Get You back in 2011, another entry sadly consigned to the memory-loss of the masses.
Having placed in the top five four times in the past five contests, Russia are sailing dangerously close to their second win – in fact, their first victory was preceded with finishing in second and third place too. The songs that they’re sending are on-trend, visually impressive, and edgy enough to be current and appeal to the masses but there’s always something else that pops up and pips them to the post. Sergey’s unexpected defeat in 2016 will almost certainly give Russia the ammunition to pull out even more stops next year and where would be more perfect for a win right now than Kyiv?
Best song: The one that got away. The song that in any other year would have won. The song that, even if it was entered now, would still score highly and come close – Serebro’s timeless masterpiece, Song #1. Sultry, sexy, and a little salacious, there probably hasn’t been a more hormone-inducing performance at Eurovision since. Kudos to the Russians for getting away with the line “I’ve got my bitches standing up next to me” too.
Entries in my top ten: 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2013, 2014, 2016
Top ten in my rankings every year except 2009 and 2012, Ukraine is the best country at Eurovision. The Ukrainians have a distinct knack for making their entries come alive on stage, and they’ve brought everything you can imagine to their performances over the years to bring their entries to life. We’ve had leather whips in 2004, men chained up in cages in 2005, skipping ropes in 2006, light boxes in 2008, Roman gladiators in 2009, and a giant hamster wheel in 2014 to name but a few. Perhaps the most striking of stage shows came in 2011 when the Ukrainians managed to mask a rather inferior song by their standards with an incredible sandbox display for the viewers at home.
Yes, Ukraine are without doubt the most creative country at Eurovision and their scandal-fuelled national selections just make them that little bit more entertaining. You can always count on Ukraine to select something that seems a little bit safe or dull at first, and then radically change it by the time May comes around. Pulling on the heartstrings of Europe in 2016 gifted them with a long-awaited, and much deserved, second victory and thanks to them the Eurovision Song Contest finally returns back to Eastern Europe in 2017.
Best song: Shady Lady. Not only the best song that Ukraine has sent, but the best song the contest has ever seen. Everything about it was perfect; the lyrics, the choreography, the stage show, the sass, the crawling. EVERYTHING. It was a dark, dark evening in Europe when this was edged into second place by Dima Bilan. May we mourn forevermore.