A countdown of the most musically accomplished and memorable songs featured in Europe’s biggest music night during the last decade.
The Eurovision Song Contest, Europe’s annual celebration of cultural diversity, international friendship and the transformative power of popular music, besides being a fascinating field for studying the geopolitical dynamics among the participating countries and the ever-present tensions between national identities in the face of modernity and global integration, can also serve as a microcosm of the interactions among global trends in our understanding of what “pop” music can be. At its core, the contest remains an over-the-top, grandiose display of the “unity in diversity” values held sacred by the European Union, where positivity and friendly competition play a central role, and even in the wake of Brexit, the rightwards, nationalistic motions taken by several European states, and the undeniable political implications that the very concept of nation-branding in song form contains, the show takes place mostly as usual, with the gusto and the hopes of a continent moving forward, somehow retaining wide popular support, and a hell of a dedicated fanbase.
During the decade, the EBU was faced with several severe challenges; from factors like funding and financing, which caused the withdrawal of some countries in different points, the changing public view of countries like Russia and Israel for the questionable actions of their right-wing governments, to issues regarding the internal functioning of the Television stations affiliated with the Union, and of course, the strained relationship between the LGBTQ community, arguably the core of the Eurovision fandom, and some participating — and event hosting — nations, due to the homophobic and transphobic policies enacted by their leaders. However, the triumphs have outweighed the losses: In 2011, we witnessed the return of Italy, one of Europe’s most important music markets and the ancestral home of the show itself — originally modeled after the Sanremo festival —, and even after the definitive departure of Turkey, a country that represented the complete integration of Muslim-majority countries into the European family, the constant increase in the number of nations taking part in the event, and the introduction of Australia, the biggest Eurovision-watching nation outside the continent and a huge music market to boot, have effectively secured the well-being of the contest, and a bright future for the EBU’s interests of steady expansion in the following years.
It was a wild decade, but in the end, what matters most is the music. Yes, in the past few years we’ve seen a more prevalent focus on the visual aspect of the performances, and the search for a more “modern” approach in the production has led to countless failed attempts at trend-hopping, but unlike previous eras, the global music scene’s relentless forward motion has contributed to a serious rise in quality, and most importantly, a more sonically diverse contest. Judging by musical merits alone, it has been particularly difficult to select just one hundred songs to be considered the best of the 2010s, which is a welcome change from the 2000s, where it was very hard to come up with even 50 songs good enough for consideration. Nevertheless, and as a way to celebrate the Eurovision Song Contest’s true greatness, I decided to take matters into my hands and create The Young Folks’ definitive list of the Top 100 Greatest Eurovision Songs of the 2010s.
Here’s to a new decade, and the hope for more amazing music to come.
1. The ranking will be based on musical merit, regardless of the song’s results in its respective year.
2. The visual aspect of the performance will be relevant but not central to our evaluation of the song.
3. Previous versions of the songs will not be considered. Only the version performed in the contest and featured in the Eurovision Song Contest official album will be evaluated.
100. John Lundvik – “Too Late For Love” (Sweden, 2019)
It’s absolutely no surprise that Sweden excels at Eurovision; they are the most successful nation in the last 20 years, winning three times and making the top 10 basically every year. In 2019, John Lundvik brings a delicious slice of soul-pop, complete with gospel vocals and some early 90’s arena pop influences. The song did not do as well as expected with the public, but it’s a tasteful, effective track regardless.
99. Emma Marrone – “La Mia Città” (Italy, 2014)
Marrone is a vocal powerhouse, one of the most respected performers in recent Italian pop history, and one of the most musically versatile artists out there. She won the Sanremo festival in 2012 but declined the ESC offer, yet she took the call in 2014 and brought us this stomping rock track, with a forceful two-part chorus, a killer guitar riff, and a confident, top-of-the-game performance. Questionable staging decisions by her delegation ended up hurting her in the final, but Marrone remained top-notch in her vocals and stage presence.
98. Who See – “Igranka” (Montenegro, 2013)
Montenegro is one of those countries that is always pushing the boundaries of what is an “acceptable” ESC song, and in 2013, they were heavily criticized when they selected the irreverent hip-hop group Who See, especially since rap has historically done very poorly in the contest. What is undeniable is the duo’s talent; “Igranka” combines fierce flows, dubstep bass, aggressive rhymes, and a hook so relentless it could easily come from a metal song. They were one of the first who dared to challenge the preconceived notions of what countries could bring to the table this decade, a precursor to the several styles and trends we would hear in the following years.
97. Amaia y Alfred – “Tu Canción” (Spain, 2018)
Out of the “Big 5” nations, Spain is the one that has had the worst historical results; they haven’t won since 1969, and in the last 15 years they have been especially affected by not being able to adapt a fast-changing musical reality and the contest’s push for a more modern, global-sounding, predominantly English-sung musical panorama. What they still do very well is ballads, and the last great one is “Tu Canción”, a very tender, almost Disney-styled number, in which then-real-life-couple Amaia and Alfred express their feelings for one another. Their personal history gave the song a kind of honesty and credibility rarely accomplished by other duets, and they kept that fire on the Big Saturday night.
96. Sunstroke Project – “Hey Mamma” (Moldova, 2017)
Yes, this is the group with the “epic sax guy” from 2010’s “Run Away”, but seven years later, they returned to the ESC stage with “Hey Mamma”, a shameless exercise in trend-hopping, obviously influenced by tropical house, but with a breezy, catchy delivery that enchanted the continent in the final and gave Moldavia their very first top 3 placing. Maybe it was the killer sax/violin riff that works even better than any beat drop.
95. Hannah – “Straight Into Love” (Slovenia, 2013)
This already feels trapped in its time — granted, 2013 was still part of the peak EDM-pop era, and Eurodance is a major factor in its development — but American-born Slovene artist Hannah Mancini took this template and infused it with a powerful, memorable hook, and a keen sense of melodicism, gracefully complemented by the track’s piano lines. She succeeded right where countless others failed; I still don’t understand how she failed to make the final.
94. ByeAlex – “Kedvesem (Zoohacker Remix)” (Hungary, 2013)
Hungarian singer-songwriter ByeAlex inadvertently created a trend; “Kedvesem” was an understated, earnest song in a time where EDM blasters and huge ballads reigned, and it even required an electronic remix to make it more in line with the show (not to mention the fact that it’s sung in his native language), but it proved to be a massive win for him and for the Hungarian delegation, which scored its first top 10 finish of the decade. We got more of that subtle, semi-acoustic vibes in the second half of the 2010s, but it started right here.
93. Max Jason Mai – “Don’t Close Your Eyes” (Slovakia, 2012)
I’m a sucker for a good Eurovision rock song; it was actually metal band Lordi’s 2006 victory that made me a loyal fan of the show in the first place, and every now and then we get great anthems with loud guitars and blistering drums. Max Jason Mai, the alter-ego of Slovakian singer Miro Smajda, entered the Baku contest with “Don’t Close Your Eyes”, a demolishing song with double bass-drum attacks, guitar riffs that alternate between alternative rock and speed metal, and a chorus with enough power and pop sheen to make Myles Kennedy proud.
92. Eugent Bushpeppa – “Mall” (Albania, 2018)
Simply put, Eugent Bushpepa was one of the most technically impressive male vocalists we heard in the ESC stage during the decade, and the in crescendo structure and the pop-rock anthem quality of the “Mall” was the perfect vehicle for his great pipes and his impassioned performance to shine in the Portuguese stage. Very few people actually thought this could make the final, but as it’s usually the case, great singers always come through.
91. Robin Bengtsson – “I Can’t Go On” (Sweden, 2017)
Robin Bengtsson is one of those artists that can deliver a great performance out of any song you give him. Fortunately, the slick “I Can’t Go On” is the kind of piece that fits his biggest strengths, giving him space to bring the confidence, the energy and the kick-ass dance steps to get Sweden yet another great result. Again, these guys are just great at this.
90. Polina Gagarina – “A Million Voices” (Russia, 2015)
In lesser hands, a song like “A Million Voices” would be just another generic, peace-anthem ballad that can be easily discarded, but Polina Gagarina is a force of nature. She took this template and gave it life, creating something memorable, and maintaining Russia’s consistent track record as a top competitor in Eurovision. No wonder she consolidated an International career after this.
89. Compact Disco – “Sound of Our Hearts” (Hungary, 2012)
Another underrated masterpiece of the early decade. “Sound Of Our Hearts” offered an interesting mix of elements — interesting rhythmic patterns, distorted bass pulses, an airy lead piano, and some elegant textures — but it’s the catchy vocal melody and hooks that give it its pop appeal. In Baku, it outperformed expectations, making the final, and although it struggled on Saturday night, it’s still remembered and defended by fans of the alt/indie scene within the ESC universe.
88. Mikolas Josef – “Lie To Me” (Czech Republic, 2018)
The bounce, the horns, and the innuendo-filled lyrics suggest a strong Jason Derulo influence, but the most pervasive element in “Lie To Me” is the Timberlake-lite, post-Bieber freshness in Mikolas Josef’s performance. This is a track that can be easily ruined by lesser personalities, whether by under-selling its natural swagger or by coming off as arrogant, but Josef gives us a balanced take, where his innate charisma shines through. Pop is supposed to be fun, and the Czech entry truly delivers.
87. Sabina Babayeva – “When The Music Dies” (Azerbaijan, 2012)
Azeri jazz singer Sabina Babayeva was given the tough mission to follow up on 2011 winners Ell & Nikki when the South Caucasus nation became hosts, and “When The Music Dies” was kind of a gutsy move. The soul-inflected delivery, combined with the stark orchestration and the traditional mugham back-up voices give it both an East-meets-West and an ancient-meets-modern vibe, and the production keeps it classy and controlled.
86. Måns Zelmerlöw – “Heroes” (Sweden, 2015)
Let’s not fool ourselves: Måns Zelmerlöw’s “Heroes” won the Eurovision 2015 contest mainly on its groundbreaking visual presentation and the perfect execution of dance, song, and staging. And yet, even when it has been overplayed for the past four years, the song still holds up on its own. Yes, it’s directly lifted from a previous Swedish House Mafia hit, but Måns is such a magnetic presence and such a capable performer that the song translated so well in Vienna.
85. Sergey Lazarov – “You Are The Only One” (Russia, 2016)
There are countless reasons why Russia hasn’t won the contest since 2008, and believe me, it’s incredibly complicated, but one thing we can all recognize is that they’re a consistently top 10 nation that keeps producing quality tracks with wide appeal. Lazarev’s “You Are The Only One” was the decade’s best; from the solid 6/8 beat to Sergey’s strong yet clean vocals, and of course, the complex visual staging, and it gave the giant Federation their second top 3 finish in a row, fighting toe to toe with eventual winner Ukraine until the very end.
84. Ermal Meta & Fabrizio Moro – “Non Mi Avete Fatto Niente” (Italy, 2018)
Italian Pop, especially in the last few years, is known for offering a fair share of emotion, social commentary, and even philosophical insight, and this kind of wordiness is kind of a curse for the Italian delegation — it certainly was in 2017; the witty, early favorite “Occidentali’s Karma” ended up losing to Portugal because the message it tried to convey was just too much for a three-minute performance. Ermal Meta & Fabrizio Moro are a bit more accessible, and in “Non mi avete fatto niente”, their voices work well as a duo, and the feeling behind the lyrics can be transmitted by their sheer performance. There’s true chemistry in here.
83. Conchita Würst – “Rise Like A Phoenix” (Austria, 2014)
Conchita’s victory in Copenhagen was an enormous event, a massive win for Europe’s LGBTQ community, and an important triumph for representation. It was also, naturally, one of the most divisive moments of the decade, since several more conservative European nations objected and even protested the contest results. But all of these obscures the fact that, musically, “Rise Like A Phoenix” was a great song. A classic orchestral number that takes a page directly from the book of John Barry/Shirley Bassey’s Bond soundtrack era, the song is the ideal vehicle for Würst’s towering performance, which not only shines for charisma but for the serious vocal chops in action.
82. Minus One – “Alter Ego” (Cyprus, 2016)
Pop-rock, by its very nature, straddles the fine line between rock’s raw energy and aggression and pop’s polish and catchiness. 2016’s Cypriot entry is one of those cases where the ingredients and sonics of rock music are controlled by a pop perfectionist, in this case, super-producer Thomas G:Son. “Alter Ego” is masterfully mixed, and arranged in a way where even guitar lines are hidden hooks.
81. Malcolm Lincoln – “Siren” (Estonia, 2010)
We tend to use the term “ahead of its time” very lightly when it comes to analyzing music; Yes, several artists bring experimental tendencies and disparate elements to the mainstream at times, but true innovators are rarely found. Estonian duo Malcolm Lincoln was one of those mavericks, using indie rock’s passion for textures and atmospheres, echo-laden vocal melodies reminiscent of golden-era Peter Gabriel, folktronica music box arrangements and haunting pianos for a song that still feels like a hidden predecessor to some songs that, unlike Lincoln in 2010, actually did well in the most recent contests. One of Eurovision’s unsung heroes.
80. Cesar Sampson – “Nobody But You” (Austria, 2018)
Let’s give their due credit to the songwriting team of Boris Milanov, Sebastian Arman, and Joacim Persson; they have managed a consistent track record, working with a host of interesting new artists in the process. Austrian participant Cesár Sampson is, without a doubt, their most important discovery — a remarkably expressive voice, with enough soul and gospel flavor to give any pop song an extra depth. “Nobody But You” is completely driven by his vocal offering. After a couple of years as the backing vocalist to Bulgarian artists Poli Genova and Kristian Kostov, 2018 was the time for him to take the lead role. He got the song to back it all up.
79. Rambo Amadeus – “Euro Neuro” (Montenegro, 2012)
He’s mostly remembered as a mere troll, infiltrating Europe’s biggest music night to sing a joke song about European unity made up of weird raps and off-kilter synth lines, but “Euro Neuro” is volumes more than that. First, Rambo Amadeus is Eastern Europe’s Frank Zappa, a genre-destroying, an all-encompassing musical genius with a catalog that makes the word “avant-garde” an understatement, and most importantly, the distinct musical elements in the composition, from the main funky bass to the Syrian dabke keyboard and the Turkish classical strings, reflect the subject matter of the lyrics in a deeper way. In 2012, post-financial crisis Europe was still trying to find a coherent way to deal with its turbulent relations and contradictions, and no song in the contest resonated with this weird reality than the Montenegrin entry.
78. Nina Badric – “Nebo” (Croatia, 2012)
Balkan ballads are a staple of the Eurovision Song Contest; it’s one of those inside clichés that prevail after years of changing musical trends, and a welcome one at that, since most years we are graced by one or two great ones. For some reason, we don’t remember Croatia’s “Nebo” as much as we should, but the power of hindsight helps us reassess its greatness, as it’s one of the few from the first years of the 2010s that actually hold up. There is something in the main vocal melody that still moves me.
77. Iveta Mukuchyan – “LoveWave” (Armenia, 2016)
The intro in the video is kinda lame, which was indeed not a good way to introduce this, but Iveta’s “LoveWave” is one of those songs that benefit from repeated listens, with an infectious main vocal melody, some interesting atmospheric textures, and of course, miss Mukuchyan¿s immense personality. In Stockholm, it went to the final mainly on her incredible magnetism as a live performer, but there was always a pretty good track underneath.
76. Zdob si Zdub – “So Lucky” (Moldova, 2011)
Moldova has a reputation for always bringing some kind of gimmick to the song, and Zdob Si Zdub, one of the nation’s biggest rock bands, is mainly remembered as those who brought the drumming grandma in 2006, and those who performed with enormous cone hats with people in unicycles in 2011. “So Lucky”, however, should be more appreciated as a song, not every day we get such an intriguing mix of ska brass arrangements and traditional Balkan clarinets with circus music motifs.
75. KEiiNO – “Spirit In The Sky” (Norway, 2019)
By now, uplifting EDM songs are a tired trope in the contest, and while several countries still take them to the main stage, it’s increasingly difficult to come up with something special or memorable, but Norway’s “Spirit In The Sky” does exactly that by creating a great contrast between musical elements, and above all, voices. The traditional Sami singing feels not as a mere addition to give it an “exotic” character, but as an essential component that works perfectly with the main female and male vocalists.
74. Nadav Guedj – “Golden Boy” (Israel, 2015)
What makes this song absolutely phenomenal is the way it flips through music styles; from heartfelt semi-ballad in the intro to bopping pop song in the pre-chorus, to complete ethno-dance banger in the hook. We even get a trap beat in the second verse. You can safely say this one here is the precursor to Israel’s eventual 2018 winner. It sounds just as fun.
73. Ivi Adamou – “La La Love” (Cyprus, 2012)
The EDM banger was pop’s most ubiquitous occurrence in the early half of the decade and depending on your personal taste, it was either great fun or massive annoyance. But we have to recognize those that actually worked, whether by detailed, flawless production or by sheer virtue of catchiness and Ivi Adamou’s “La La Love” excels in both. The premise is incredibly goofy, but one has to admire the commitment to make it work, and it does, on many levels.
72. Harel Skaat – “Milim” (Israel, 2010)
We love non-anglo ballads, and desperately need more of them in the contest these days. Even harder to find is a good male-sung ballad that goes beyond being fodder for belting or become oversold by posturing, but Harel Skaat’s subtle but earnest delivery makes “Milim” work wonders. The chorus melody wraps you and never lets you go, as the soaring strings give Skaat a solid framework to take it to the next level.
71. Blanche – “City Lights” (Belgium, 2017)
It’s still beautiful that this song reached a spot in the top 5, even in such a top-quality, musically diverse year, mainly for two reasons: First, this Pierre Dumoulin masterpiece does not have much of a clear hook, as verses and chorus blend into the track’s electronic textures, and second, because what “City Lights” really sells is not a tune, but a vibe. It’s the perfect soundtrack for a midnight walk in the streets of your city, in which you can feel both the hopes and the pains of everyone around.
70. Ruth Lorenzo – “Dancing In The Rain” (Spain, 2014)
Remember what I said about cheesy, Disney-like ballads? It is indeed an overused trope in the contest and often leads to disastrous results, but when it actually works it can reach the very top. Also, it’s one of the few things the Spanish are really good at. “Dancing in the Rain” is one of those songs that works insanely well with Ruth Lorenzo’s natural vocal skills — her powerful delivery and thick tone especially bring the song across and her voice takes center stage even with the prominence of the string arrangements. The fact that we almost got an even better song still astounds me.
69. Hera Björk – “Je Ne Sais Quoi” (Iceland, 2010)
This is perhaps the most traditionally “Eurovision-sounding” dance song of the decade since it contains every single trope we associate with Eurovision, and with Eurodance in general for that matter, but Iceland’s Hera Björk makes every single second work. She is that kind of singer, one that can captivate audiences on personality alone, and even when she does a fairly by-the-numbers job at tackling this track, there is — quite appropriately — a je ne sais quoi about her presence and delivery that just makes complete sense.
68. Dihaj – “Skeletons” (Azerbaijan, 2017)
The 2017 Azeri entry was ahead of the curve, at least in the context of Eurovision, when it came to the use of elements like the heavy bass and sizzling synths of retrowave, but most importantly, the production enhances the darkness of composition and melody better than those who also tried that approach that year. And better than the previous year’s attempt by the Azeris themselves.
67. Amir – “J’ai cherché” (France, 2016)
We have to give it to the French: Despite their highs and lows during the decade, they did try several different, interesting styles of songs and presentations, and even when great songs were hurt by bad staging or hindered by subpar live performances, they always brought something unique to the table. But it was 2016 where it all clicked; “J’ai cherché”, with its streamlined production, endearing flow, and uplifting melodies, gave the delegation its first top 10 result in a while. And it was perhaps the best use of the natural musicality of the French language in these ten years.
66. Maja Keuc – “No One” (Slovenia, 2011)
The 2011 entry from Slovenia was widely regarded as a fairly average track that would obviously struggle to make the final and fail to leave an impression in the contest… Until they actually heard Maja Keuc’s live vocals. Her impassioned, R&B-indebted, forceful presentation and the way she dominates the key change in the second chorus put this tune firmly in the hearts of those present in Düsseldorff. This is a lesson on how there is a big difference between a good singer and a great one.
65. Lena – “Satellite” (Germany, 2010)
The very first winner of the decade is arguably the only actual superstar that resulted from the contest in this era. Miss Meyer-Landrut, through her endearing stage presence, her “girl next door” charisma, and yes, Europe’s fascination with the ingenue archetype, took the continent by storm in Oslo, and built a career as one of Germany’s most beloved entertainers. The song itself is an easy hit, but she turned it into an earworm.
64. Conan Osiris – “Telemoveis” (Portugal, 2019)
Perhaps the most underrated entry in this year contest, Portugal’s “Telemoveis”, with its avant-garde stage presentation, its unusual blend of fado melodies with deconstructed Angolan batida rhythms, and its cold industrial synths, was a bit too much to handle for mainstream Europe, but it is proof that the ESC stage can be used to push the idea of pop performance forward, and that the message underneath — the isolation that has resulted from our dependence on our mobile phones — can still be articulated in creative ways.
63. Nina Zilli – “L’Amore é Femmina” (Italy, 2012)
There was a bit of a 60’s retro trend in European pop at the beginning of the decade, with artists from all over the continent incorporated both the melodicism of classic chanson and golden-era soul and R&B, with lush brass arrangements and organ flourishes. It didn’t last much, but we got a great Italian song in 2012 with “L’Amore e Femmina”. The song centers on Nina Zilli incredible abilities as a jazz and soul singer, and while she was constantly dismissed as not much more than an Amy Winehouse clone, she was already an established singer before the Amy era, and her storied career in soul, pop, rock, and even reggae could speak for itself.
62. Nika Kocharov & Young Georgian Lolitaz – “Midnight Gold” (Georgia, 2016)
One of the most interesting rock songs we’ve got in recent ESC history, Kocharov’s “Midnight Gold” was kind of an oddity in a contest heavily marked by electronic beats and new visual techniques. Or at least that was at first, because the song goes from alt-rock ditty with killer riffs to a total frenzy of psychedelic strobe lights and disco drums after the second hook. It instantly reminds of the Madchester sound, and it did capture the spirit of reckless abandon of the rave era.
61. Soluna Samay – “Should’ve Known Better” (Denmark, 2012)
She already had a great backstory — the daughter of legendary blues street musician Gee Gee Kettel, who made her career accompanying her father since she was 5, was born in Guatemala, speaks 4 languages, and spent her formative years traveling the world making music —, but “Should’ve Known Better” works for itself. The wistfulness and the resignation in the lyrics, and Soluna’s grounded, earnest delivery really come across through the stripped-down organic instrumental, and the punchy percussion offers great dynamic contrast. If you’re a fan of the poppier side of the singer-songwriter boom in the late 90’s/early ’00s, this is right up your alley.
60. Nina – ” Čaroban ” (Serbia, 2011)
If Nina Zilli’s “L’amore é Femmina” was an attempted return to 60’s soul, then the lively ” Čaroban” by Serbian singer Nina is a complete throwback to the technicolor sounds of 60’s yé-yé, with captivating brass arrangements, a jumpy drum beat, sun-kissed organs, and a massive dose of sheer joy. Nina’s intense, perky performance truly drives the song across, and the whimsical staging encapsulates its optimistic spirit.
59. Kristian Kostov – “Beautiful Mess” (Bulgaria, 2017)
He was heavily marketed as a kind of Bulgarian answer to Justin Bieber — dynamic presence, boyish charm, catchy pop tunes — but in “Beautiful Mess” he offers a nuanced, more mature take on the imperfections of love, and his mid-range, dulcid tone works the chorus melody to convey the fragility and frustration of a relationship full of highs and lows. And it gave the Bulgarian delegation their best result ever.
58. Eye Cue – “Lost and Found” (North Macedonia, 2018)
I completely flipped out the first time I heard the reggae breaks in this song, but this is no mere gimmick; Eye Cue created a very cohesive, melodically compelling genre-flipper of a tune. The aforementioned reggae verses feel at home along the upbeat pop hooks, never feeling ham-fisted or disjointed, mainly because — and this is important, kids — there is a solid song to support it all.
57. Marco Mengoni – “L’Essenziale” (Italy, 2013)
Oh, what a classy, emotionally satisfying piece of Italian balladry. Mengoni won Sanremo 2013 on the strength of his now legendary performances of both rock-ish numbers, and symphonic ballads that he elevated to operatic heights. In “L’Essentiale”, he rides the gorgeous arrangements and leads them into one of the greatest crescendi I’ve heard in recent ESC history, and the emotion he transmits took Europe by surprise, and Italy into yet another top 10 finish.
56. Ira Losco – “Walk On Water” (Malta, 2016)
Maltese ESC legend Ira Losco returned to the contest this decade with “Walk On Water”, a song that works mostly on the eclectic aspect of its production; at first, we hear Losco crooning a wistful melody on a bed of echo-laden synths that hinted at the tropical trend, but then we get an incredible garage-influenced beat that reminds of a Maya Jane Coles track. This combination perfectly enhances the lyrics that focus on survival and overcoming adversities, as the chirpy reverberated synths convey the light while the rhythms and bass represent the darkness.
55. Dino Merlin – “Love In Rewind” (Bosnia & Herzegovina, 2011)
A stomping acoustic number that sometimes feels like a cantina tune, others like late ’50s chanson, and even contains jazz manouche-sounding guitars, while in the end, retains the spirit of a good Balkan ballad. Dino Merlin’s 2011 entry was an endearing piece, and it stood out even in one of the most diverse contests in recent memory, and while it enjoyed a way longer life after the Düsseldorff stage as an anthem for the then young decade, his modest but charming presentation is still one of the most beloved among Eurovision fans.
54. Luca Hänni – “She Got Me” (Switzerland, 2019)
Dancehall and reggaeton have conquered the world, without the shadow of a doubt, and that shows in domestic charts all over the globe now. Artists from every country imaginable are using the dembow beat and breezy synths to create hits of their own, and this is no exception in the ESC universe. But still, a really good one is hard to find, which makes Luca Hänni’s “She Got Me” all the more impressive. The guitar-led production, the blaring hooks and hard-hitting rhythms all work in a balanced way, and Hänni’s charismatic performance completely sells it.
53. Knez – “Adio” (Montenegro, 2015)
Balkan balladry at its finest. Knez’ deep voice slides through the exuberant, traditional-meets-modern arrangements as the song keeps evolving into a more and more riveting experience, and like any trademark Zeljko Joksimovic composition, there is a sweeping climax in the last hook that elevates this song and gives an incredible conclusion to the proceedings. This is a triumph of song craft.
52. Elhaida Dani – “I’m Alive” (Albania, 2015)
Albania is famously “the land of skillful singers”, which is why watching Festival I Kënges, the contest that also serves as a national selection for the ESC ticket, is such a delight. In 2015 they came to Vienna with perhaps the most soulful of them all, at least in this decade. Elhaida Dani’s “I’m Alive” is pure passion, and her determined, gut-wrenching delivery, even on top of the already dated production, makes it feel timeless. You just gotta hear those inflections and that vocal power.
51. Aram MP3 – “Not Alone” (Armenia, 2014)
Dubstep sounds so dated by now, it’s sometimes incredible to look back and remember how much of an impact it left in the pop world, and how many pop/dubstep/EDM crossovers attempted a run on the charts and the talent shows. But kids, I was there, and it was mostly horrible. However, the ESC stage was graced with a great one; Aram MP3’s “Not Alone” had the arrangements and the structure of a classy ballad, and as it slowly builds up the tension and into the climax, we hear the production grow and grow and grow, until we are hit with a barrage of bass wubs, hard beats and piercing synths that somehow made complete sense with the rest of the track, working not only as a drop, but also as a typical ballad last-chorus climax.
50. Jedward – “Lipstick” (Ireland, 2011)
Yeah, it’s those annoying Irish twins, but they came to the Düsseldorff contest with what’s actually their very best song. “Lipstick” plays to their strengths because of its relentless energy, and its pummeling 6/8 beat is catchy enough for the boys to dominate every second. They got a top 10 finish, and then they tried their luck the following year, but that song isn’t nearly as memorable.
49. Daniel Kajmakoski – “Autumn Leaves” (North Macedonia, 2015)
Despite the cheesy music video, “Autumn Leaves” is a very heartwarming song and this time is all about the melodies. From Daniel’s opening lines, which establish a reflective minor tone, to the pre-hook build up, and then to a very powerful two-part chorus, that goes from catchy to anthemic. And yes, the backing vocals do wonders framing these melodies into the structure, never feeling overpowering or out of place. In the end, it meant to be motivational, and every section functions as a means to get there.
48. Valentina Monetta – “Crisalide (Vola)” (San Marino, 2013)
In 2012, perennial Sanmarinese representative Valentina Monetta got one of the silliest songs ever to enter the contest, but the following year, she came back with a vengeance, and with a notable banger at last. Veteran composer Ralph Siegel, known for Eurovision winners in the 80s, gave Monetta a golden-era disco throwback, complete with swirling orchestrations and the classic circle-of-fifths chord progression (think “I Will Survive”), and she throws her heart and soul out. Her vocal inflections, the commitment, the high drama, the passion; Monetta went completely over-the-top, and it paid off. Her omission from the final remains a mystery.
47. Zala Kralj & Gašper Šantl – “Sebi” (Slovenia, 2019)
The golden culmination of the “subdued but compelling” mini-trend of the decade. “Sebi” is all understatement — minimalistic production, skeletal rhythms, muted guitars, restrained vocals — but there is a haunting quality in it, and its particularly infectious melody makes it stick in your mind. It’s one of the stand-outs in this year’s contest, and even when we celebrate the loud, elaborated ESC moments, we always come back to this quiet wonder.
46. Hersi – “One Night’s Anger” (Albania, 2014)
The best goth rock/goth metal is the one that, instead of centering on mere signifiers of darkness and sorrow, concentrates on convey it through atmospherics, arrangements, and the natural power of chord progresions to get these sentiments across. Albania’s “One Night’s Anger” is not a gothic song, at least at first glance, but the way every part of the composition conveys the difficult grey areas of life (in this case, the dangers of heavy emotions), and the minor chord progressions echo some of the best in the dark music game. And many goth bands wish they have such good guitar solos.
45. Laura Tesoro – “What’s The Pressure?” (Belgium, 2015)
If the previous song is all darkness, this one is all celebration. The incredibly joyous “What’s The Pressure?” came to the 2016 contest with serious question about how such an energetic tune will be presented, but Laura Tesoro’s effervescence and charisma, together with the track’s spectacular brass arrangements created such a party vibe on stage, that we couldn’t help but just start dancing.
44. Barei – “Say Yay!” (Spain, 2016)
The other big dance song from the 2016 show. Barei’s “Say Yay!” has two main strengths; the first, the remarkable house music production, that goes the classic way and centers on an astonishing piano riff, and the second and most important, Barei’s force of personality. She is one of those performers that makes every second memorable, and watching such personality on stage fully enjoying her music and genuinely basking in her time in the spotlight was a breath of fresh air.
43. Amandine Bourgeois – “L’Enfer et Moi” (France, 2013)
The 2010s were kind of a strange time for the French delegation, as their song selection often showcased the tensions between the kind of chanson that charted in the domestic market and the one they actually send to the ESC. At times, they err spectacularly (2014, for example) but other times they completely nail it. One of such was the inclusion of powerhouse singer Amandine Bourgeois, and most impressively, to have her bring a rock song. “L’Enfer et Moi” is special for its crisp guitars, its blustery drums and hard-hitting riffs, but above all, it’s one of the very few rock songs that still felt dangerous. That’s rare even for the rock bands that appeared in the ESC this decade.
42. Benjamin Ingrosso – “Dance You Off” (Sweden, 2018)
Don’t you get a bit pissed about how damn good the Swedes are when it comes to Eurovision? They have dominated the contest, and the general panorama of pop music, for a reason; a song like Benjamin Ingrosso’s “Dance You Off”, for instance, contains all the elements that make a true banger — bouncy rhythms, an incredibly slick production, undeniable bass lines — and it’s driven by a capable performer with a catchy, clean falsetto and an appealing personality. Ingrosso has now consolidated himself as one of the most reliable and stellar pop songwriters, producers, and singers, and he’s even taken his talents to the K-Pop world — which, frankly, makes complete sense as a natural progression.
41. Loïc Nottet – “Rhythm Inside” (Belgium, 2015)
At the time, this was written off — even by me, honestly — as a Lorde rip-off; the minimalist beats and sparse arrangements and the claustrophobic mixing are clearly reminiscent of the Kiwi superstar, but Loïc’s unique voice, and a very smart staging carried this tune into the top 5 in the Vienna contest. “Rhythm Inside” became a lesson on how to use a current trend and spin it correctly.
40. Maraaya – “Here For You” (Slovenia, 2015)
Slovenian act Maraaya were part of the duo domination that occurred in the 2015 edition of the ESC, but they surely stood out in the crowd. Their eccentric stage performance (yes, the headphones gimmick was noteworthy), the brilliant production (particulary the genius vocal mixing), and the vibrant drum beat, turned them into early favorites and sealed this entry as one of Slovenia’s best.
39. AWS – “Viszlát Nyár” (Hungary, 2018)
This was such a surprise for the Lisbon contest, not only for the sake of diversity but for how necessary a song like this is in the ESC. First, it’s a metal song in a native language, which corresponds to both a trend from 10 years ago making its triumphant return and a trend inspired by a recent winner respectively. Second, the song itself is really great; heavy, but with a melodic edge, graced by a monstrous bridge, yet returning to an anthemic, multi-layered chorus, and containing the most Eurovision of features, a key change in the end. It also sounds like the opening theme of an anime series, which may be the root of its entire appeal.
38. Jana Burčeska – “Dance Alone” (North Macedonia, 2017)
North Macedonia has been on quite a roll in the past few years; they’ve been trying different musical approaches, from refined balladry to reggae-pop oddities, but in 2017 they presented one of the most spectacular dance numbers of the decade. Burčeska’s “Dance Alone” is a perfect amalgam of ’80s-indebted beat and synths and modern production flourishes, and the empowering lyrics, together with a hint of darkness in the chord progressions and a resolute, zestful performance, translated perfectly on stage. Electropop at its finest.
37. Eleni Foureira – “Fuego” (Cyprus, 2018)
Finally, an ethno-pop banger that works in all three levels; it’s club-ready, which increases its commercial possibilities — it’s also basically a reggaeton/EDM crossover —, it displays the Cypriot musical elements well, which contributes to its uniqueness, and most importantly, Eleni’s fierce vocals make every moment memorable. “Fuego” is exactly what the title suggests, and it came to the 2018 show as the most likely to become an International charts hit, and we were all right.
36. Emmelie de Forest – “Only Teardrops” (Denmark, 2014)
“Songs with a message” don’t work in the contest the way they used to. First, because a new generation of audiences is now able to see the emptiness and the blatant vote-grabbing intentions of such entries, but also because they rarely come together in a musically interesting package. Maybe the very last special one was 2014 winner “Only Teardrops”, which rested primarily on an iconic tin whistle melody and an enchanting performance by Emmelie de Forest, who made this little ditty about peace and understanding come off as honest and important.
35. Hattari – “Hatrið mun sigra” (Iceland, 2019)
One of the Eurovision Song Contest’s supposed tenets is to celebrate diversity, and to use it as a means for positive discussions and messaging. However, the ESC has been rightly criticized for its “no politics or religion” rule, since these themes are also an integral part of Inter-European diversity and should be discussed. Icelandic group Hattari took this to the next level; they are the personification of different kinds of diversity: Musical (they’re a brutal Industrial band with harsh BDSM aesthetic), Sexual (clearly representing the LGBTQ community, one of the ESC’s actual core audiences), and above all, Political diversity (They are leftists that rightly defended the Palestinian cause even in the midst of a show taking place in Israel). Their performance was necessary in the ever-present battle for representation, but we also need to say something even more relevant: “Hatrið mun sigra” fucking slaps.
34. Koit Toome & Laura – “Verona” (Estonia, 2017)
“Verona” is kind of a miracle. Koit and Laura are passionate performers with a clear, undeniable chemistry and a strong capacity for conveying the feeling of love dying out, but the biggest accomplishment here is the songwriting and production. It takes the formula of late 80’s synthpop titans like Erasure — shiny synths, enormous hook, echoed vocals, and a penchant for taking intimate subjects and giving them a monumental scope — and makes it work in a new context for a new generation. This is pop songwriting that recognizes its History, and points out why pop music has such an enormous capacity for connecting with wide audiences in every Nation.
33. Ott Lepland – “Kuula” (Estonia, 2012)
This. This is how you sing a ballad. Estonian singer Ott Lepland came to the Baku contest in 2012 and gave Europe one- of the most earth-shattering vocal performances by any male singer in the History of Eurovision. The songwriting itself is also superb, with an in crescendo structure and riveting string arrangements, but Lepland put this tune above and beyond all expectations. His confident, vigorous delivery and his complete domination of the song’s climax is simply chill-inducing, and it enchanted everyone watching in the Land of Fire.
32. Joci Pápai – “Origo” (Hungary, 2017)
In the words of a very wise musician: “Songs take a message directly to your heart. When you can’t speak for yourself, sometimes a song can say something in three minutes that you’ve been trying to say all your life”. This is exactly the source of the 2017 Hungarian song’s power. Joci Pápai, a singer of ethnic romani music (and obviously, a roma himself) conveys the pain and anguish of his historically marginalized community, and even when he’s chanting and not singing lyrics, you can understand every piece of emotion he’s trying to convey. “Origo” is also impressive in the musical sense; the lead violin melody echoes back to centuries of Hungarian romani music, and it feels at home with the modern production, and even with the rapped verses. A work of folk art in the highest order.
31. Poli Genova – “If Love Was a Crime” (Bulgaria, 2016)
This song is maybe the one that began the “manipulated synth voice intros and tropical synths” trend in the contest, but here it’s put to good use, not only because is consistent in its production and presentation, but because there’s an effective communicator and a magnetic performer at the helm. Poli Genova is perhaps Bulgaria’s most famous face in entertainment for a reason; she just has a knack for winning people over, and the song gave us anthemic moments like the now iconic “they will never take us down” line. And Europe loved it because they love Poli, and that’s never a bad thing.
30. Zlata Ognevich – “Gravity” (Ukraine, 2013)
This song is a juggernaut. Its scope, ambitions, and most importantly, delivery was supposed to leave an indelible mark in the 2013 contest, but what puts it so high on this list is how impressively it fulfills its lofty ambitions. For both music and music video production, they got a huge budget in order to come up with a grandiose presentation of Disney proportions (not a joke, just look at it), and while its epic drums and cinematic strings are big enough, the true driving force in “Gravity” is the evolutive chord progressions and tonal shifts, which make this sound like a real journey. How the chords lead you from one section to the other and the way Zlata’s humongous voice leads these sections is an accomplishment on its own, and the stage performance didn’t disappoint either.
29. Equinox – “Bones” (Bulgaria, 2018)
After the great success of Poli Genova’s “If Love Was A Crime” and Kristian Kostov’s “Beautiful Mess”, the Bulgarian delegation aimed at greatness and they have given us a true anthem. Vocal ensemble EQUINOX takes this dark, minimalistic track and crafts an impressive song around simple yet hard-hitting motifs. Besides having diverse tones and vocal capacities, the five members are gifted melodists, and if this wonderful dynamic is evident in the confines of a studio version, it went over the roof on the big night.
28. The Common Linnets – “Calm After the Storm” (Netherlands, 2014)
This was perhaps the least likely song to conquer Europe — a country song that stood out for how subtle and understated it was, and for the quiet cheesiness of its main premise — but when Waylon and Ilse took the stage, and what came out was pure magic. Looking back, the song was already a gem to begin with; its scattered arrangements and muted chords served as the perfect backdrop for the duo’s voices to meld together, and their tender, enchanting delivery, sealed the Netherlands’ best ESC result in decades. One more thing: Aspiring US country singers, why don’t you cover this one? If you do it right, you’ll get an easy hit. I promise.
27. Dami Im – “Sound of Silence” (Australia, 2016)
Yes, this one works much better on stage, where elaborated pyrotechnics matched Dami Im’s imposing, heavy-hitting voice, but again, the entire purpose of “Sound of Silence” is pure, unadulterated melodrama. The Australian song (and 2016’s runner-up) redefined the concept of power-ballad, adding modern production flourishes and a lyrical content adapted for the times (some questionable lines here and then, but you get the point), but it’s Dami’s conviction that sells and elevates the track.
26. Lena – “Taken By A Stranger” (Germany, 2011)
When the 2011 contest rolled in, the German delegation tasked Lena to defend her crown in Düsseldorff, a smart move considering the fact that she was at this point the hottest music star of the Nation and the EBU’s living embodiment of its objective to create celebrities with Inter-European appeal. And Lena’s camp came up with this; a dangerously minimalistic electronic production, adorned by mysterious vibraphone lines and an aura of darkness that signified a 180-degree turn from the peppy stylings of “Satellite”. But it was Lena’s hushed delivery and gloomy lyrics that shocked Europe. There were serious questions about the song and the performance, as many critics of the time thought she was intentionally tanking on home turf, but when the time came, “Taking By A Stranger” became one of the most daring, most innovative songs the Germans had ever put on stage. And it got Lena another top 10 result.
25. Margaret Berger – “I Feed You My Love” (Norway, 2013)
This was a bold entry, not only because it’s a dark song with cryptic lyrics set to a cold, industrial production, but mainly because it happened in a year where Melodi Grand Prix, Norway’s internal selection process, was rebuilding from pretty disastrous circumstances. Nevertheless, they took a big risk, and it resulted in a top 5 finish that announced Norway’s return to ESC relevance. But the track itself should also be acknowledged as one of the most intelligently produced of the decade, and, even though it’s kind of tiresome to put this label on anyone, it was definitely ahead of its time. Written by legend Karin Park and produced by MachoPsycho, it anticipated the wave of “dark pop” that would come to define the latter half of the 2010s, in a way predicting the post-Susanne Sundfør wave of both Nordic and international artists that would make this a bonafide trend.
24. Eric Saade – “Popular” (Sweden, 2011)
Yes, the crisp, semi-robotic electropop sound and the Confessions On A Dancefloor vibe are attention grabbers on their own, but the most remarkable element in Eric Saade’s “Popular” is what happens structure-wise. You see, the verses are in a nice C#m key, but somehow, we get a one-step key change into the choruses, and it works. And when we get to the bridge, now steadily in Dm, and for the final hook we get yet another one-step key change (D#m), and it feels absolutely triumphant. A clever way to get a true climax.
23. Duncan Laurence – “Arcade” (Netherlands, 2019)
This year’s winner is a natural-born anthem. The indie aesthetic and production do a great job at highlighting Duncan’s skill as a communicator, laying the foundation for something that would eventually grow into a stadium-filler. And then the hook comes, and it’s even more magnificent than we all expected. The fragility in his vocals during the verses turns into determination when approaching the hook, which is why the release is so satisfactory. And come on, the lines “All I know/All I know/Loving you is a losing game” make this also a great Karaoke song. Try it next time.
22. András Kallay-Saunders – “Running” (Hungary, 2014)
Hungary’s 2014 entry granted them their first top 5 result ever, and to be completely honest, the reason why this worked so well in Copenhagen comes down to that monstrous, relentless drum & bass beat in the chorus. Yes, András’ soulful singing leads the track effectively, especially in the way he deals with the song’s dark subject matter, but without that innovative hook — at least, innovative for ESC standards —, “Running” would be just a serviceable, R&B-laced tune that would reach the final but wouldn’t do much else. Instead we got one of the most striking songs of the decade.
21. Pastora Soler – “Quédate Conmigo” (Spain, 2012)
The Iberian nation only reached the top 10 twice this decade — You can attribute that to a million reasons, each more frustrating than the last one — but their first taste of glory in the 2010’s came from one of the most stirring vocal performances in the whole History of the ESC. Pastora Soler is a belter, a certified balladeer with ice-melting pipes and a wide-ranging arsenal of emotions, tones and approaches, and her throat-grabbing delivery impacted the Baku stage like a meteorite. You just gotta hear to believe.
20. Greta Salóme & Jónsi – “Never Forget” (Iceland, 2012)
Musical and compositional refinement epitomized. “Never Forget” on the surface, is a power-ballad with a harrowing waltz rhythm and a minor key progression that evokes longing, but every detail in the structure, production and even instrumental execution shows chops beyond belief. There is even a facemelting violin solo, encompassing both folk and classical traditions and played by Greta Salóme herself, and the distorted guitar fuses with the strings and the hard drums for a true display of power. And on top of that, “Never Forget” is epic as fuck.
19. Softengine – “Something Better” (Finland, 2014)
It always feels like a victory when a quality indie rock act makes it this far into the contest, let alone reach the final and get such a positive reception. But Softengine built their status out of sheer merit; their talent as songwriters — especially as melodists — is evident in “Something Better”, an uplifting number that takes the typical quiet-loud dynamic and provides some stadium rock excitement, using catchy pop melodies and motifs for an awe-inspiring, colossal final section. For rock fans, the Finnish band was one of the 2010’s greatest discoveries, and their post-Eurovision singles showed a band that was already taking astronomical steps forward.
18. Rona Nishliu – “Suus” (Albania, 2012)
What a weird song. What a weird concept. What a weird presentation. What a weird singer. And all that weirdness was only the sign of a talent beyond this world, a song so tremendously advanced in composition, and a unique moment in the contest’s History. Rona Nishliu, without a doubt one of the most impactful vocalists that has ever graced the ESC stage, brought her one-of-a-kind style of experimental music and performance art, to a Baku show that did not seem ready for something this idiosyncratic, but the crowd ended up embracing her regardless. Albania’s first and only top 5 result came by the hand of a track that is as classical as it is avant-garde, as atmospheric as it is also a massive punch to the face, and simply, a sound unlike anything we heard before or since.
17. Elina Born & Stig Rästa – “Goodbye to Yesterday” (Estonia, 2015)
Songs about relationships falling apart is a common duets trope in the ESC concert — more on that later —, but rarely does it sound as honest and as classy as in the case of Estonia’s 2015 entry “Goodbye To Yesterday”. Elina and Stig brought their chemistry with a track that calls back to early ’60s “death-rock” (The Roy Orbison kind, not the Christian Death kind), and this form of music is great at capturing the regret and bitterness of separation, with the rock & roll guitar lines and the cinematic brass accentuating the storytelling. And by the end of the song we find out that this break-up was basically a result of mutual self-sabotage, showing the nuances in both the protagonist’s personalities. It’s a song about failure that actually does such a difficult topic some justice.
16. Salvador Sobral – “Amar pelos dois” (Portugal, 2017)
Despite his unfortunate and entirely disrespectful statements following Portugal’s 2017 victory, “Amar Pelos Dois”, with its cinematic arrangements, its bright Chet Baker-isms and Luisa’s tender lyrics, was without a doubt a clear early favorite, and one of the most memorable male-sung ballads of all time. Sobral’s enthralling, deeply affected performance showed everyone what live music magic feels like. It’s remarkable how time has gone by, trends have come and gone, and we still can’t really figure out what “a song for Eurovision” really is, since we witnessed a jazz tune sung entirely in Portuguese take over the continent in Kiev. The impeccable orchestrations and the jazzy harmonic progressions were carried by one of the most emotionally raw yet vocally spotless singers we’ve had the fortune to hear, and his execution turned our hearts into dust. In the end, I was really glad Portugal had finally broken the curse. “Amar Pelos Dois” was unstoppable.
15. Paula Seling & Ovi – “Playing With Fire” (Romania, 2010)
Romania has a very peculiar relationship with the ESC: They are usually a surefire finalist, making the big night in most contests, as diaspora voting plays a huge role in their cause, even making the top 10 a few times, but their best result ever (tied with Luminita Anghel in 2005) came with what’s definitely their best song, and perhaps the most fiery performance in the Oslo show. Paula Seling & Ovi are complete equals — The former, a formidable and influential singer-songwriter, and an accomplished piano player; the latter, a powerhouse songwriter and producer, and an accomplished piano player as well — and their incredibly evident chemistry was put to great use in one of the most dynamic, virtuoso pop compositions and live exhibitions of all time. “Playing With Fire” conveys the defiance in the lyrics through the duo’s intensity, and their mix of classical piano and punchy electronics offers the strong vs. delicate contrast and the tensions to make the vocals work.
14. Mahmood – “Soldi” (Italy, 2019)
We have to recognize the greatness of a song festival like Sanremo, not only because it showcases the very best the Italian pop world has to offer, but also because of the excellent work it does in giving us a wide range of voices, musical styles, trends, and entertainers. For that reason, it is also a very good selection process for Eurovision, as artists are able to test their sounds and songs in a big domestic stage before crossing over to the whole continent, having gained precious previous experience. And the results have been terrific; every year they send a unique act with a lot to say and an interesting tune. This year’s entry was an enormous surprise, though, as Egyptian-Italian singer/rapper Mahmood came to us with “Soldi”, an ingenous song about the evils of money and our loss of dignity in an unequal society, performed with uncompromising sincerity, and most impressively, with one of the catchiest hooks in recent memory. You just can’t help but clapping along.
13. Sennek – “A Matter of Time” (Belgium, 2018)
Belgium keeps surprising us with elegant, carefully constructed, sophisticated entries, but what they sent in 2018 goes galaxies beyond. “A Matter of Time”, with its sumptuous strings, organic drums, and sinister-sounding chord progressions, feels like some of the best James Bond soundtrack themes, but there’s also a hint of mysterious coolness that reminds us of 90’s trip-hop/indie-pop acts like Catatonia or Portishead. Sennek is in a class of her own, and for some reason that baffles me to this day, in one of the biggest injustices in the contest’s history, she didn’t go to the final. Shame on you, Europe.
12. Dilara Kazimova – “Start A Fire” (Azerbaijan, 2014)
2014’s Azeri entry is a ballad that not only has an emotional power to move even the largest mountains and melt even the coldest of hearts, it’s also sung with such a conviction, such a range, and such a spirit that can surely lead anyone to tears, a rare thing in the age of cynicism. “Start A Fire” is that and more, built on spine-tingling piano chords, underlined by sumptuous strings, and adorned by a duduk — which caused a scandal in her home nation since it’s a traditional Armenian instrument, and both countries are literally still at war with each other —, the song is lead by a voice with such a deep, smoky quality that reveals music’s universal soul.
11. Raphael Gualazzi – “Madness Of Love” (Italy, 2011)
The return of Italy to the ESC was marked by one of the most exquisite showings of musicianship the contest has ever witnessed. Raphael Gualazzi, jazz veteran, piano virtuoso, proficient songwriter, and rising pop star, brought “Madness Of Love”, a smooth jazz number infused with touches straight from the classic era of canzone italiana and an earth-shattering solo on the keys by Gualazzi himself. He outperformed and outclassed everyone in Düsseldorff, and showed the entire continent that Italy meant business, and that they have returned to the European stage to be a true contender.
10. Mørland & Debrah Scarlett – “A Monster Like Me” (Norway, 2015)
With the year 2015, another wave of changes took place at the MGP. This time there was no semifinal, and the NRK reduced the selection to just 11 songs (but once again, the selection was flawless). The most important change, however, was the re-introduction of the Orchestra, an element that evokes classic Eurovision, and it accompanied every single entry in the final. The eventual winner was “A Monster Like Me” by Mørland and Debrah Scarlett. This song stood out from everything in the final and everything in any national selection and the ESC itself. It is, once again, a ballad, and it tells a tragic break-up story, but it’s surrounded by an aura of gloom in both vocals and musical arrangement that is beyond explanation, and the lyrics hide a mystery that made it even more intriguing (what did he do that’s so awful?). However, it is in the musical structure in which the song has its greatest strength, and the orchestral section before the big final chorus is perhaps the most beautiful musical moment in the entire decade. The Norwegians are uniquely skilled in how to go dark — more on that later — but in 2015 they went dark and frightening. Frighteningly great.
9. maNga – “We Could Be The Same” (Turkey, 2010)
Boy, we miss Turkey. During their fruitful time in the contest, the Asia Minor nation graced us with their most engaging, musically diverse, charismatic and era-defining names in their domestic market, mostly to great results, securing a historic victory in 2003 (during the most dramatic voting process of all-time), but also with several top 5 and top 10 appearances, from Sebnem Paker’s breathtaking “Dinle” to Mor ve Ötesi’s barn-burning rocker “Deli”. They withdrew in 2013, right around the time their leadership was turning more right-wing and nationalistic, but in 2010 they had left the decade’s best ESC rock song, and one of the genre’s brightest points ever. Veteran group maNga, with their combination of rap-metal, electronic and industrial flourishes, symphonic synths, and even traditional Turkish percussions, jumped to the Oslo stage with “We Could Be The Same”, a perfect representation of their sound, and accesible enough to appeal to all of Europe, rock fans or otherwise. This is still regarded as rock music’s moment of true Eurovision excellence, and a testament to why Turkey was so important to the diversity of the Festival.
8. Netta – “Toy” (Israel, 2018)
Oh my God, there’s so much going on in here, and it’s all so freakin’ exciting, I don’t know exactly where to begin. Okay, the song is built around a vocal looper, and Netta’s incredible acrobatics, chicken noises, percussive clicks and sheer rhythmic brilliance, but there’s also a bonafide ethno-pop banger underneath, in which we can hear her deliver all sorts of ear-catching melodies (even going full Migos flow for a while). And just because she’s that much of a badass, there’s a full-on dabke break in the second verse, a homage to the rich musical traditions of the Levant. “Toy” is a work of genius; both accessible and experimental, both ethnic and cosmopolitan, in line with contemporary trends, but compositionally in another dimension. It just had to win in Lisbon.
7. Zeljko Joksimovic – “Nije Ljubav Stvar” (Serbia, 2012)
This is an ever-flowing stream of beauty, from the singing, the prodigious string arragements, the structure and composition, the traditional Serbian instruments and how they complement each other during every second of the song’s runtime. Zeljko Joksimovic, an undeniable musical genius and a proven Eurovision star, when “Lane Moje” finished as a runner-up in Istambul 2004, brought “Nije Ljubav Stvar” to a Baku show that was set to define what will be the real future of the contest — the EBU was experimenting with different forms of representation, visual styles, designs, music trends and trying to define a cohesive line of action for the young decade — and even when many other more modern genres came to dominate Europe, his amazing song and its third-place finish guaranteed the durability of the Balkan ballad as a viable songform, and a fan favorite. But if you’re going for that style, you better do it this well.
6. Francesco Gabbani – “Occidentali’s Karma” (Italy, 2017)
In his controversial acceptance speech, 2017 winner Salvador Sobral decried the lack of “songs that mean something” in the contest, and the EBU’s preference for “disposable” entries. But if he really tried, he’d find out that the kind of song he looks for was right by his side all along. Italian singer-songwriter Francesco Gabbani consolidated his stardom in his home nation after winning Sanremo with one of the most lyrically clever songs ever presented, a tune which still has fans and critics analyzing every line to this day. “Occidentali’s Karma” is a humorous, poignant, and refreshingly empathetic critique of the tremendous hipocrisy of Western “mindfulness” culture; in a modern world where everything is commodified, and even our search for connection and healing is put to monetary terms and constraints, Gabbani brilliantly points how Westerners appropriate Eastern spiritual principles to serve our deep-rooted greed and materialism, losing the entire purpose of these philosophies in order for us to feel a little better instead of prompting us to enact real change. And on top of that, the singalong chorus is simply inescapable.
5. Carl Espen – “Silent Storm” (Norway, 2014)
Ok, look: You can’t go through the full 3 minutes of this track without getting your heart utterly destroyed in the process. Espen’s “Silent Storm” is such a standout just on how simple it is, and how perfectly the singer takes this skeletal piano tune and dumps the emotional weight of a wrecking ball. Carl Espen’s voice contains a sincere relatability that even the most refined balladeer would kill for, and the way the piano supports the choruses is so delightful, no other instrumental adornments and flourishes are necessary. “Silent Storm” is an irrepetible moment of sheer desolation, and proof that the ESC stage can provide moments bigger than the songs and the contest itself. It spoke to the entire continent’s soul.
4. Jamala – “1944” (Ukraine, 2016)
Mugham singing — a cultural staple of the peoples of the Eurasian steppe — is the crux of this track’s colossal resonance. According to tradition, mugham is both mournful prayer and lullaby, as it’s transmitted from mother to baby. It serves as a perfect expression of honor to Nazylkhan, Jamala’s ancestor, and it carries her message. She was a Crimean Tatar who lost a child while being deported to Central Asia by Stalin’s USSR in 1944. Jamala’s devastating take on this subject, accompanied by duduk and a beat that feels close to Burial’s Untrue record, or William Orbit’s Ray of Light ethno-explorations, is a breath of fresh air in Eurovision history; a beam of light in a contest so obscured by both understated hostility and aggressive neutrality. This is not only politics, it’s a History lesson. It’s the sound of pain, personal and collective, but also of hope. A message to all displaced peoples, that they’ll too be home soon. And now that Crimea is, once again, an occupied territory, “1944” feels twice as powerful.
3. Loreen- “Euphoria” (Sweden, 2012)
Loreen’s “Euphoria” will be universally regarded is the song that changed the game. Before the Swedish-Moroccan star was chosen to represent the Nordic nation in 2012 — again, a year where ESC was going in full transformation mode —, Eurovision was a Festival for the bizarre, the silly, the uncomfortably over-the-top and the gloriously camp, and just like that it was viewed from the outside, as Americans struggled (even more than today) to even understand its appeal and its meaning, and United Kingdom became disillusioned at the way they no longer were the dominant European market force. More importantly, all that the contest stood for and represented was already old-fashioned, obsolete; songs that did well in Eurovision rarely represented what was going on in the International charts, as these particularly strange pieces of audio and video had nothing to do with what people in Europe actually listened to.
“Euphoria”, in the other hand, place the entire contest right in the present: First, the production is an incredible amalgam of the underground and mainstream electronic music currents going on at the turn of decade, masterfully layered by the great Thomas G:Son and Peter Boström, but it was until this exhilarating piece of audio porn was lead by the spiritual conviction and the massive voice of Loreen Talhaoui where the song really came into its own. Sweden was already getting started in his run for pop domination, but this is the song that made everyone in Europe know. From this moment on, the national delegations have to change with the times, take a look at the charts, the music scenes, and the rising stars, and come up with tracks that both the fierce Eurofandoms and the streaming service giants embrace. Songs with a guaranteed staying power, in an ever-changing, increasingly diversifying, technology-centered decade. Europe is listening.
2. Anouk – “Birds” (Netherlands, 2013)
Duncan Laurence’s 2019 victory made sense to everyone, not completely on the strength of the song itself, but because it felt natural, as a result of a longtime process several years on. Indeed, the Netherlands started the decade in the worst way possible, failing to even reach the final since 2004, with failure after failure, unable to really capture the fans or the juries no matter what they tried. These abysmal results even threatened their permanence in the ESC, a delegation in dire straits. And then, this happened.
Anouk was — still is — the greatest rock star in the Netherlands, with several albums and a considerable number of hit singles under her hand, and her popularity was still on the rise across continental Europe and the UK. Some galaxy-brain-sized prophet invited her to become the Dutch representative in the Malmö festival, hoping that such a huge name could break the curse and lead them to the final. Her rock credentials were solidified, she had an album on the way, and her songs actually charted. What did we expect from her? A socially conscious, acoustic folk-rock tune about the struggles of blue-collar communities? A vicious, power riff-based alt-rock bonanza? A late ’80s-inspired power ballad? She is perfectly capable of all three, but she responded with “Birds”. The song was unlike anything we had previously heard from her; an exceptional display of composition and orchestration, in which the endless chord progressions take you from one dimension to another, as the strings and brass arrangements are laced together with outstanding precision, and Anouk’s vocals, delicate but reflective, in a demonstration of sheer elegance, lead us deeper into a song that never stops evolving. “Birds” is the kind of song that explains why we still need entire symphony orchestras to create music that lasts forever. It brings back memories of the early years of the ESC, but the results are timeless.
1. Aminata – “Love Injected” (Latvia, 2015)
If Anouk’s “Birds”, 2013’s best song, recalled the glory days of decades past, and Loreen’s “Euphoria”, 2012’s best song, set the entire contest in the present, then where are we going? Where is the song that can provide the contest with a drive to expand, experiment, dare, and put the show further and further into the Future? Well, it all comes down to two words: “Love Injected”.
The Latvian song for 2015 is sung, performed, written, produced, and arranged by one Aminata Savadogo, a then 22-year-old Latvian upstart of Burkinabe descent. Virtually unknown outside her own country, where she rose to notoriety in the previous year’s internal selection, the world just wasn’t ready for what was coming. She came to 2015 with a song that sounded and felt like nothing before, genuinely breaking new production grounds, as her deft mixture of Industrial music, electropop, noise, and even future bass and r&b defied categorizations of any kind. Her style was unquestionably unique, but most impressively, she actually sounded like the Future. In a 3-minute song, she was anticipating a host of musical trends and elements that were just about to connect in the following years, predicting the paths of American, European, and even Asian pop artists would take later in the decade. She had an ear on the global underground and gave mainstream Europe a taste of all that was about to surface. It was just mindblowing to see it happen in the continent’s biggest music TV show. But why “Love Injected” did that well and reached the top 10 is due to the great song she wrote underneath its innovative production. At its core, this is still a celebration of love and how such a powerful emotion can transform you, sung by an extraordinary vocalist, that also happens to be a skilled composer and a genius producer. This is undoubtedly the best Eurovision song of the decade, because is the actual ideal of what a song for Eurovision should be like. Pop music is supposed to push forward. The ESC’s mission is to keep pushing forward. It represents the contest’s most sacred value; it celebrates diversity, recognizes the legacy of music, and envisions a bright future.