It burst onto the Eurovision scene in 2008 with two screaming angels and lots of oil money to burn. 

And since then Azerbaijan has become a firm fixture on the Eurovision stage. It has given us a lot of memories over the years, which makes it the perfect subject for our next Eurovision Memories post from Natalie.

Eurovision 2008: Belgrade

“Azerbaijan!? I’ve never even heard of Azerbaijan! Is it even in Europe?” These were the words that Paul O’Grady screamed on his talk show after Terry Wogan mentioned the contest’s new addition. This was a time in which the contest was plagued by allegations of bloc voting and corruption by the east. Europe seemed to be split between the older Eurovision countries and the pesky newcomers “ruining the contest”. It was really sad, because these new countries actually embraced the contest in a way that some older countries hadn’t. Plus, it wasn’t as though the older countries were being good little angels either (Congratulations Silvia Night!). Nonetheless, with many people screaming it wasn’t even a “proper European country”, Azerbaijan had a lot to prove.

And jeez did they make their mark. Their song was a rock-opera-mugham concoction called “Day After Day”. And over a decade later, I still can’t make sense of it. However, it placed 8th – a great result for a new country. Plus it showed that the new kid on the block was prepared to make sure everyone knew they were here. I was excited to see what they did next.

Eurovision 2009: Moscow

After the success of their debut year, Azerbaijan decided to hold a national final, similar to Land of Fire which chose “Day After Day”. However, they simply later cancelled it just because they felt the quality of the entries wasn’t good enough. That’s how much competition Azerbaijan had. And that’s why I really grew to love them. Then I heard “Always”, and I loved Azerbaijan even more. My word, this was a hell of a banger. Sung by the immensely talented Arash with the beautiful and charismatic Aysel, I really thought it could win. And I wanted it to – it combined everything I love about the contest. It had an ethnic charm, it was catchy, it was charming and energetic.

But I also really didn’t want it to win. The EBU were desperate to shift the accusations of bloc voting, even changing the rules to appease the angry West. If another Eastern country won straight after Russia’s victory, the outrage would be explosive. The contest would be thrown under the bus, and it would kill the beauty of the amazing song that is “Always”. In the end, Norway won – thank God, a Western country, an old Eurovision competitor, would host the contest again. And Azerbaijan placed third, a very well-deserved placing. “Always” would take its rightful place as one of the best non-winning songs. It was a great year.

Eurovision 2010: Oslo

So I was really excited for Azerbaijan’s song. I knew they were a powerhouse hell bent on bringing quality. And they seemed to have come up with a magical formula – if you wanna do well, get Swedes to write your song. So it was again for 2010. Another beautiful charismatic teenager singing for Azerbaijan. Another Swedish penned song (Hello Stefan Örn). Another Natalie lovefest. They even got JaQuel Knight, a choreographer who worked with Beyonce and Britney, to do the performance. This might seem a bit pretentious and overdone, and I agree, but hey, it still meant a great dance routine. And that dress gives me goosebumps whenever I see it.

When the song reached the top of the betting odds, it seemed Azerbaijan was unstoppable. There was one fatal flaw in this perfect plan. The song was 40 seconds too long. This is a problem that has killed many brilliant songs in Eurovision history, and “Drip Drop” is no exception. The shortening didn’t carry the emotion and power of the original, and the song placed a lowly 5th. Germany winning was still a great moment for the contest, but Azerbaijan’s hunger for a win was still not satiated.

Eurovision 2011: Düsseldorf

“Azerbaijan – desperate to win”. Graham Norton pretty much summed it up. Azerbaijan’s determination to win may be obnoxious, but they certainly had a fire that we would love to see from some other countries. They went Swedish again for their song (Hello again Stefan), and held a mammoth selection to find their singers. In the end, 77 singers fought for a chance to represent their country, which could only be narrowed down to two. Ell and Nikki sang “Running Scared”, another beautiful pop song that was well-choreographed and looked great on stage. To boot, all the performers wore white – a colour usually associated with winning Eurovision. It was definitely a winning combo in a very open year for the contest.

In the end, Azerbaijan finally claimed their much-awaited victory, although the whole thing left a bad taste in my mouth somehow. “Running Scared” just lacked a little bit of the magic of “Always” and “Drip Drop”. It just seemed like a song that was written to win Eurovision and then be forgotten about. For a country with such a short but fantastic history as Azerbaijan, the fact that the song that bought the contest to Baku was kinda half-baked just felt wrong. If only “Running Scared” and “Always” switched places… ah well. Azerbaijan got what they came for, Ell and Nikki are two wonderful people, and the contest is still alive and well. Happy days.

Eurovision 2012: Baku

They were determined to light your fire, and that they did. With the contest getting bigger than ever each year, Azerbaijan really needed to stand out. So rather than just stage it in a boring old venue like everyone else, they built an entirely new one! The Baku Crystal Hall was indeed amazing, and while Azerbaijan stated it wasn’t built just for the contest, we still claim it as our own. All-in-all, Azerbaijan spent €160 million on hosting the contest, which shows that even if you don’t like the country, at least they really care. It would’ve been nicer if they didn’t repeatedly bleat on about their own country in the interval acts and the postcards (yes, we know the Caspian Sea exists) but still, they embraced hosting a lot more than most other countries would, and we love that. The fact that Baku 2012 delivered possibly the most iconic winner in the contest’s history makes it that bit sweeter.

Flushed with success, they also used the exact same selection method from 2011 (yes, Stefan, now a Eurovision winner, was back). The result was Sabina Babayeva with “When the Music Dies”. Another beautiful ballad with ethnic elements this time, and a charismatic singer. Azerbaijan had a proven formula for breaking the Top 5 – and they did again, coming 4th. The song was a lot more understated than their previous efforts, and the classiness really showed through. It was nice to see Azerbaijan more relaxed and less desperate to win, but still passionate about doing well. And the dress. The dress… *faints*

Eurovision 2013: Malmö

Did winning the contest at last mean Azerbaijan would continue to be understated, more relaxed, less showy? Nope! It’s possible that someone in their delegation was like “let’s just go as frickin’ as all out as possible because wtf not!” Or maybe “we’ve covered 3rd, 5th, 1st and 4th! Where’s our 2nd place?!” Who knows. The point is, Azerbaijan weren’t done just yet. Farid Mammadov had participated in Azerbaijan’s national selections a lot before, and his hunger for the contest was not missed by anyone.

The song was “Hold Me”, another pop fest – not Swedish (no Stefan, sad reacts) and it was a feast for the ears. And my word, was it also a feast for the eyes. There was a man in a box. There was a woman with a ridiculously long train. There were rose petals. It was unlike anything we’ve ever seen at the Eurovision before. It was brilliant. Azerbaijan came 2nd behind Denmark (because Emmelie de Forest is the best), and whoever came up with this idea at Azerbaijan Eurovision HQ really deserves a bunch of red roses. Azerbaijan was on one hell of a streak.

Eurovision 2014: Copenhagen

Azerbaijan’s golden age lasted for so long and was so rich that it felt like it would go forever. But it had to end eventually, and it was very sad when it did. “Start a Fire” was a sweet, jazzy, Swedish composed (Stefan’s back) song sung by Dilara Kazimova, who had the charisma and charm of a winner. It just fell a bit flat in the end. It didn’t have the spark of “Always”, the passion of “Drip Drop”, or the heart of “Running Scared”. Even with a trapeze acrobat swinging on stage, it couldn’t reach the Top 20, let alone the Top 5. Azerbaijan had well and truly run out of steam. And an era had ended in Eurovision history. Azerbaijan remains the only country since the 1980s to have accrued five Top 5 placings in a row. And I guess Paul O’Grady is well aware of Azerbaijan now.

Even for all those who dislike Azerbaijan’s status as a powerhouse and accuse them of corruption and vote buying, the end of the country’s golden era was still a very sobering moment. The Azeri golden era bought some of the most iconic non-winning songs in the contest’s history, and completely changed how some countries approach Eurovision. Getting Swedes to write entries is now commonplace in the contest. Choreography and fashion has now evolved leaps and bounds on the Eurovision stage since Safura Alizadeh stunned Europe. The trend of projection dresses (and Estonia’s 2018 nightmare) all began with Sabina Babayeva. And Baku really set an incredible standard for how countries host the contest in the future. Azerbaijan came to the contest with a dream and a relentless determination to win; and since doing that, Europe as a whole has become much more competitive and much more passionate about the contest. The 2010s was the decade that caused the contest to be revolutionised into becoming more popular, more mainstream, and more spectacular than ever, and like it or not, this lesser-known country from the Caucasus, which some said back in 2008 shouldn’t even be competing, is a big part of why.

What are your best or worst memories of Azerbaijan during these years? How do you think Azerbaijan impacted the contest? Do you think their entries deserved their high placings? Let us know below!

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Polegend Godgarina
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Polegend Godgarina

I’m still cackling at how they started failing when rumors about bribing got too strong in 2013.

AngieP
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AngieP

Great article! I really felt their passion for victory. They were determined from the start to win soon. And they did it. Although I do wish that “Running scared” and “Always” had switched places. It wasn’t my favourite song in 2011. However, we should credit them the hosting, the beautiful venue and the iconic, classic almost winner ever. I loved their passion to do well and present sth great and not just sth good. I also enjoyed the ethnic elements in their entries and the amazing stagings (from the angel and the devil in 2008 to the man in the… Read more »

Jonas
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Jonas

Why should Azerbaijan get any credit for Euphoria? If anything Loreen’s victory was sullied by taking place in such a corrupt & totalitarian place, a complete affront to human rights and everything Loreen herself represents. She said as much herself.

Tom
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Tom

Are you always this fun? lol

Jonas
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Jonas

Always. I aim to please.

Mr. Vanilla Bean
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Mr. Vanilla Bean

Plus, as far as I know, she was the only one who met with the activists who were trying to shed light on the cruel activities of the regime regarding Eurovision.

Jake
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Jake

I always think Armenia and Azerbaijan make interesting choices and take the Contest serious which is fun to see what they pick. Skeletons was a bold choice and I give them so much credit for. Start a Fire was an annunciation nightmare and should not have qualified. It was clear evidence the country was not guaranteed a place in the final, further tempted by Hour of the Wolf which was saved by an able singer and then fully realized by X My Heart which is an easy listen song with interesting staging but performed first was bound to be forgotten.… Read more »

Jake
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Jake

I am shocked people liked Day after Day. I didn’t really start getting into the contest until after that year but I look at that performance and I think it’s a hot mess of a joke entry and can’t comprehend how anyone voted for it let alone place it in the top 10. I’m not sure if countries like Latvia or Lithuania would send that they would get out of the semifinal. But after that things got really better. And Always is a classic. I wonder how many were melfest rejects versus something specific written for Azerbaijan. I know Miracle… Read more »

Kredential
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Kredential

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that as soon as they were exposed for vote buying, their results suddenly worsened…
Nevertheless, Azerbaijan have brought some quality entries over the years (2009, 2012 and 2014 spring to mind), I just wish they didn’t have to rely on Swedish songwriters and composers for their entries. I’m sure the Azeri music industry is filled with talented writers and composers who could provide some quality entries.

AzeriChico
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AzeriChico

Thank you guys for the amazing article. I really hope that after our failure in 2018 ITV will finally start sending strong entries as they did in 2008-2013.

My Top 5 of Azerbaijani entries:
1. “When the Music Dies” by Sabina Babayeva (2012) – I really want to see her as our representative once again, one of my favorite ESC entries ever.
2. “Always” by Aysel & Arash (2009)
3. “Hold me” by Farid Mammadov (2013)
4. “Running Scared” by Ell & Nikki (2011)
5. “Drip Drop” by SaFura (2010)

Hopefully, we will get an entry in Azerbaijani language with traditional elements in 2019. (:

Thanos
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Thanos

I only like Day after Day, Always, Skeletons, Hour of the Wolf, X my heart and Hold me from Azerbaijan

Andrii
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Andrii

Always explained the success of Azerbaijan at Eurovision by money from the oil trade)))
Like only 2012, 2017,2018 in some way 2011,2015

Cesar's salad
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Cesar's salad

My Azeri Top 10

12 pts Day after day (2008)
10 pts Skeletons (2017)
8 pts Always (2009)
7 pts Hold me (2013)
6 pts X my heart (2018)
5 pts Running scared (2011)
4 pts Miracle (2016)
3 pts When the music dies (2012)
2 pts Drip drop (2010)
1 pt Hour of the wolf (2015)

SwedishFan
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SwedishFan

Great article. I always was fascinated by Azerbaijan’s entries as a kid. They always had cool stage performances. But it’s not the same Azerbaijan anymore. They used to have a very long national selection process I remember. And it all was just for the singer. 😀 And then we had to wait for the song for months, there was so much hype around them. LOL. Now their whole participation is like “hey, we’re here too.” 🙁

Jonas
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Jonas

Golden age? They cheated! They showed absolutely no respect for the integrity of the contest, having no history with it (not even a member of the EBU) – they blatantly hijacked the show solely for the purpose of self-promotion. Their Swedish-produced entries only did so well because they bought and paid for it, rigging both the juries and televote. Let’s deal with fact. The 2012 contest was an affront to human rights. After their nefarious and corrupt ways came to light in 2013, the EBU should have banned them from the contest for at least a decade. As it is,… Read more »

Jonas
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Jonas

P.S. I enjoyed this well-written piece, but in the author biography it says you have only been watching since 2012? How can you remember back to 2008 then?

Jo.
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Jo.

The EBU doesn’t do anything about the ridiculously corrupt jury voting, why would they care about cheating? Interesting, we used to have problems with the voting (either 100% televoting or 100% jury voting had to be considered, like in 2014). Now that the votes are split, those problems have all disappeared.

Rasmus
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Rasmus

Yes yes. Every televote is fake and every jury member is bought just to please our swedish king Christer Björkman. Yes yes haha….

Jo.
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Jo.

How did they solve those problems? I’d like to understand that. If you have the answer, I will retract my comment.
I didn’t mention Sweden btw.

Mr. Vanilla Bean
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Mr. Vanilla Bean

Exactly! Luckily, buying their way into the top five and or winning seems to be over for good now.

yom124
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yom124

Or maybe they had 5 pretty amazing songs in a row.
I can get bashing running scared but every other one was awesome and one of my favourites of the night.

Mr. Vanilla Bean
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Mr. Vanilla Bean

I only liked “When the music dies”, but that is not the point. It’s about how they bought their way to the top with shameful methods, which has been proven.

Dave
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Dave

Nothing’s ever been proven. If it has been proven Azerbaijani broadcaster would have been sancionted at least. These all were just assumptions. You believe what you want to believe. They had very powerful entries from 2008 to 2013. It’s just that a lot of people welcomed Azerbaijan just like they did Australia in 2015. So they were actually LOOKING for something to talk about and a fake video was what they wanted to achieve for bashing the country and its participation. The only fact is that Azerbaijan had sent very strong entries during those years. I watch Eurovision with my… Read more »

Mr. Vanilla Bean
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Mr. Vanilla Bean

Erm yeah, YOU certainly believe what you want to believe. And hell no, the last thing anyone needs is more broadcasters like the one of San Marino.

chox
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chox

firstable it has been proved enough 1- The bbcUK released a recorded video where it is clearly proved how tow males linked to the azeri delegation were rigging and giving sim cards to Lithuanian students in order to vote for the azeri entry and they even mention that this method was about to be used in another 15 different countries 2-There was also a clear evidence from the cypriot news where it was reported that during the grand final of the esc 2013 it was registered 10000 SMS to vote for the azerbaijan entry but not a single phonecall eventually… Read more »

Vol
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Vol

First of all, BBC didn’t release anything, they just showed the already existing video which was leaked to the internet by unknown sources and there was an investigation about the video led by EBU. If the video wasn’t fake EBU wouldn’t miss the chance to sanction the Azerbaijani broadcaster just like they did with Armenia in 2016 when Iveta waved the disputed region’s flag on screen. And you’re mentioning the ex-Soviet countries who have huge Azerbaijani diaspora, I don’t understand why are you surprised that they got so many votes from countries like Ukraine, Georgia, Belarus, Lithuania etc.? LOL You’re… Read more »

Charles II
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Charles II

Indeed the Azeri success, along with its winner song were always a mystery to me.
Eurovision had some terrible winners in the past, especially in the 2000s, and all from eastern Europe and beyond.
*However*, without any proof to what you’re saying, it’s all just a conspiracy theory.

Jo.
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Jo.

The should take a new direction and get away from Scandipop. It seems that they are good with jazzy songs, so they could use that go give a touch of originality in their entries.

Anki
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Anki

always least original songs, often allegations of bribing, worst winner ever and Swedish composers….did I miss something?

HJKLÑ
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HJKLÑ

absolutely agreeing with you

mih
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mih

yes, you missed voting – Aremenia is placed last always by all 5 members of jury and people can’t vote for Armenia..otherwise they would have problems like in 2009 I think

rtik
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rtik

I can add: worst ESC presenters ever

12xal
Guest

Thank u guys. I love u all. We will go back!

HJKLÑ
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HJKLÑ

RIGHT START BUYING SIM CARDS AGAIN AS i don´t see any other way for people to vote for a country as such

Rome
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Rome

Nice read! Good job. I wish other countries had put as much effort into Eurovision as Azerbaijan did between 2008-2013. They had very beautiful songs with very interesting stagings.

Anna
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Anna

One of my favorite countries in Eurovision. I still enjoy listening to “Always”, “When the music dies”, “Drip Drop”, and of course “Hold me”. But the recent years they don’t seem to care about the contest as much as they used to do before. Since 2014 I only liked “Skeletons” from Azerbaijan and the staging of that song wasn’t really what I expected to see. 2014, 2015, 2016 entries were just OK. 2018 was their worst effort. They shouldn’t give the generic pop song to a jazz singer, she obviously wasn’t comfortable with that song. Let’s see what they are… Read more »

Fast Food Music Lover
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Fast Food Music Lover

I started following Eurovision before the 2011 edition and I remember I was slayed by Azerbaijan every year and it started becoming one of my favourite countries. Wish they will find their mojo back…

Fiore
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Fiore

They had sent really powerful entries to Eurovision. I LOVE their 2012, 2009, 2010 and 2013 entries. 2008 and 2011 were nice too. But since 2014 it’s like they lost interest or something. And they had their worst entry ever last year. Aisel was a nice performer but that song clearly wasn’t for her. I wonder what they’ll do after their first non-qualification. They have to wake up already.

KESC
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KESC

I think they started to take less care after Turkey left the contest. The same goes to Greece.

Briekimchi
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Briekimchi

….and ironically enough, for me, 2014 was their best ever entry.

AzeriChico
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AzeriChico

I loved “Start a Fire” in the studio version, but I think it didn’t work out very well in live performance.

Paul
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Paul

Really enjoyed this article. Although they didn’t necessarily perform as well 2016,, 2017 and 2018 were all great entries from Azerbaijan as well!

Oh I've been waiting for this Russian Fla-la-lag
Guest
Oh I've been waiting for this Russian Fla-la-lag

My personal ranking:
1st – 2012
2nd – 2017 (still the greatest year for Azerbaijan)
3rd – 2014
4th – 2009
5th – 2010
The rest idk

Matthew
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Matthew

Start a Fire is a song you want to love so much and Kazimova was a charismatic performer with a nice voice, although some imperfect pronunciation. The song just doesn’t go anywhere or hit any heights that it kind of promises in it’s build-up. I still considered Azerbaijan to be one of the mammoth contenders of Eurovision, but this article really puts it into perspective, they’re in a different era, they’ve tried mainstream pop that hasn’t been like their former glory as well as experimental tracks and staging that have resonated with viewers to a degree, but not bought the… Read more »

Fefe
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Fefe

Truly impressing results considering 40+ countries in the competition
2008: 8th place
2009: 3rd place
2010: 5th place
2011: 1st place
2012: 4th place
2013: 2nd place
The only country with a more impressive recent streak is Sweden. They have been great since 2011, but the 14th place in 2013 kinda ruins the perfect score.
2014: 3rd place
2015: 1st place
2016: 5th place
2017: 5th place
2018: 7th place
Russia, Ukraine and Italy are also having constant great results.

PP77
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PP77

We all know, how they did good result from 2009 to 2013. For me only song from 2012 deserved to be in TOP 5 from Azerbaijan and song from 2015,2017 only deserv2d to be in TOP 10.

HJKLÑ
Guest
HJKLÑ

absolutely agree with this one we all know how they did , and they still do as they always get suspicious 12 points from the czech televote or from the montenegrin one otherwise I admit I´ve loved most of their entries especially 2009 2010 and 2012 .. 2013 was good but too overrated one what it was … 2008 didn´t even deserve the final and 2014 was just a mess and the result was deserved 2011 can be the most overrated ( rigged ) entry in the eurovision history Since 2015 all their entries have been good on the side… Read more »

SwedishFan
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SwedishFan

calm the heck down lol.