There are so many reasons to love Eurovision: The outfits, the sass, the fact that Australia have somehow weaselled their way into the competition, the continent-wide contempt for the United Kingdom. And another part of Eurovision’s charm is just how abjectly, indisputably awful most of the songs are. Because that’s the point. As the great Terry Wogan said in 1997: “It’s supposed to be bad. And the worse it is, the more fun it is.”
But every so often, a stonking Eurovision entry also reveals itself to be an Actual Good Song. It’ll have a shelf life way beyond one flag-waving night in May, and people will talk about it for years. These are very rare occurrences. What might seem vaguely tasteful in 2010 can seem ridiculously bad a few years later (see: Russian duo T.A.T.U’s tuneless ‘Ne Ver Ne Boisia’ entry, which came third in 2003). But when a real Eurovision gem arrives, it’s worth revisiting. Here are 12 of the best, most listenable Eurovision songs around today:
1. Loreen – ‘Euphoria’
What makes it so great? This is precious – a gigantic dance banger that conquered both Eurovision and Ibiza. Nobody, not even Calvin Harris, would be able to pen a better, more universal EDM-nodding entry. It won in 2012, with former Swedish Pop Idol (Idol 2004) contestant Loreen picking up a whopping 372 points. And the following summer, you wouldn’t be able to walk a mile in any European holiday destination without hearing ‘Euphoria’ blasting from some nightclub or vodka-fuelled party boat. The song was penned alongside Thomas “G:son” Gustafsson, responsible for 13 Eurovision entries at the time of writing – this is the only one he’s won with.
2. Dschinghis Khan – ‘Genghis Khan’
Country: West Germany
What makes it so great? Nothing says Eurovision like a barmy, flamboyant tale about a war-mongering, massacring emperor. West Germany’s 1979 entry was a disco-fused blast, disguising a really quite bleak story of death and pillaging. “They carried desolation throughout the land / And nothing there could stop them in this world.” Cheery stuff. Some perhaps found the subject matter a bit much – it came fourth.
3. Lordi – ‘Hard Rock Hallelujah’
What makes it so great? Not to be confused with the New Zealand pop sensation, Lordi were a goblin-dressed phenomenon. A hyper-pastiche of rock, they sang about “the day of rock-oning”, they looked like extras from Lord of the Rings, and burrowed deep below the power chords was a genuinely great pop song. Eurovision hadn’t seen anything like it, and they roared to success by winning the competition in 2006.
4. ABBA – ‘Waterloo’
What makes it so great? No band encapsulates the fun and flamboyance of Eurovision like ABBA. Debut single ‘Waterloo’ is a timeless classic, and an introduction to one of pop’s most successful bands. Dr Harry Witchel, music export at the University of Bristol, called ‘Waterloo’ the “perfect Eurovision song.” He had the science to prove it, claiming the track combined a perfect chorus, key change, dance routine, costumes, and a clearly-defined finish. Of course it won.
5. Sertab Erener – ‘Everyway That I Can’
What makes it so great? The mid-‘00s saw every other Eurovision entry laced with Middle Eastern drums and a healthy dose of cultural appropriation. Before all this, Turkey did things right. Sertab Erener brought traditional Turkish instruments, belly dancing and the slightest hint of Holly Valance’s ‘Kiss Kiss’ to proceedings. After winning in 2003, it picked up a club remix and a re-dubbed Turkish version, fast-becoming a universal smash hit.
6. Emmelie De Forest – ‘Only Teardrops’
What makes it so great? Making ample use of the flute craze way before Drake and Future got in on the act, Emmelie De Forest was ahead of her time. Part-Avicii folk banger, part-Of Monsters and Men merry-go-round, the song relates the struggles of a doomed couple (“How many times do we have to fight? How many times till we get it right between us?”) but it could easily be applied to Britain’s thorny relationship with its European neighbours.
7. Jessy Matador – ‘Allez Ola Olé’
What makes it so great? An underrated gem, this effort finished 12th in 2010’s contest. But the dancehall-embracing track was a worldwide smash, charting in France, Belgium, Finland and Norway, while also being used to promote the 2010 football World Cup. It’s bright, shiny, addictive pop, and without doubt should have finished higher. The only slight downside is how many times you spot the U.S. flag in its accompanying video.
8. Conchita Wurst – ‘Rise Like a Phoenix’
What makes it so great? One of the very few decent Eurovision ballads – and a worthy winner – Conchita Wurst’s groundbreaking ‘Rise Like a Phoenix’ made her the first drag artist to win the competition. She became an LGBT icon, published an autobiography and performed in front of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon. The song’s message of inner-confidence is inspiring, and it’s been credited as inspiring LGBT people to be themselves.
9. LT United – ‘We Are The Winners’
What makes it so great? This is the ballsiest performance in Eurovision history. Genius, even. LT United – who together look like a pack of retired bankers and football managers – decided to show up to the final by declaring: “We are the winners of Eurovision.” No, really. That’s the chorus of the song. And over starry-eyed, gameshow synths, they declare: “You’re gonna vote! Vote! Vote for the winners!” It’s like applying the affirmative rhetoric of Donald Trump to a Eurovision entry, and it’s genuinely brilliant. The wishful thinking didn’t quite work out – they finished sixth.
10. Verka Serduchka – ‘Dancing Lasha Tumbai’
What makes it so great? Before Conchita’s heroics, Verka Serduchka was the first drag act to stir controversy amongst Europe’s backwards-thinkers. Forget that, though – ‘Dancing Lasha Tumbai’ is pure, shiny, brilliantly silly fun, and was unlucky to finish second in 2007.
11. Morena – ‘Vodka’
What makes it so great? Spirits were high in 2008 when Malta released a four-to-the-floor tribute to vodka. It was called ‘Vodka’, and it sadly didn’t pick up worldwide acclaim, not even making it past the semi-finals. A real shame, especially as there’s way more depth to this song than it was originally given credit. What appears to be a track merely praising an alcoholic beverage might actually be a dark tale of spies, deception and dark crime.“VODKA! That’s the secret word! VODKA! I’ve deciphered the code!” Sorely underrated.
12. Robin Bengtsoon – ‘I Can’t Go On’
What makes it so great? Of this year’s competitors, you’ll find a dancing gorilla, rappers who yodel and an Australian entry so boring they should be forever banished from the competition. Our pick is the disco-tastic ‘I Can’t Go On’ by handsome Action Man figurine Robin Bengtsson, who looks like a cross between Gary Barlow, Robbie Williams and every record label marketing executive you’d want to avoid. The song itself is undeniably great, if a little crass and seedy. A mix of Max Martin-penned pop and Dev Hynes-approved 80’s glitz, it would be a hit for just about anybody, and Justin Timberlake’s probably gutted he didn’t get to release it.