Picking a song for any given year at Eurovision is a complicated task. Some countries manage to select an entry that’s more or less contemporary, others bring something dated, and then there are those special instances in which a country sends a song for the future of Eurovision. Think 2040, not 2020.
Most of these songs met little success in the contest, and neither juries nor televoters backed them. But that doesn’t always mean there isn’t merit. It just means the songs and stage shows were ahead of their time. Here’s our tribute to some of those misunderstood masterpieces.
Poland 1995: Justyna Steczkowska – “Sama”
One would think that coming after Edyta Gorniak’s second place, Poland’s representative in 1995 might have tried to match her predecessor in terms of style or genre. However, Justyna had other plans: she was to deliver a song from the year 2051. The then 22-year-old singer opened the show with the sound of Warsaw’s alternative bars. Joined by some musicians, she mixed vocal flourishes, opera and a curious handography. Sadly, Europe wasn’t impressed: Poland received 15 points and finished 18th.
Israel 1990: Rita – “Shara barkhovot”
Not only was Israel’s entry in 1990 ahead of its time musically, but also lyrically. Rita sang about a woman who left the hell of her relationship with a man and found a much brighter future. We’re talking about 1990, a time when many countries in Europe didn’t keep statistics on the number of women murdered by their husbands (a statistic and issue that is now widely tracked). Musically, “Shara barkhovot” is an incredibly rich composition which has aged much better than most of the entries of that year. Rita performed it passionately, but Europe gave her a cold reception: 18th place, 16 points.
Montenegro 2013: Who See & Nina Žižić – “Igranka”
“Igranka” was too much for the jurors in 2013. This is probably the song that most fans agree was the most unfairly eliminated in a semi-final ever. Montenegro threw a party on stage like no other and that performance alone has more power than all the other Montenegrin entries combined (and that includes “The Real Thing“). In the end, while the televote placed Montenegro fourth, the jury left them 14th and that resulted in a painful 12th place overall.
Iceland 1997: Paul Oskar – “Minn hinsti dans”
Just like with “Igranka”, “Minn hinsti dans” was too much for the jurors, while televoters seemed to back the song. In 1997, Austria, Switzerland, Germany, Sweden and the UK experimented with televote for the first time ever. Iceland managed to score points in all those countries except for Germany, while the Estonian jury was the only one to award points to this vinyl-filled performance from Paul Oskar. Also worth noting: he was the first openly gay performer (at the moment of his participation) to enter Eurovision.
Slovenia 2002: Sestre – “Samo ljubezen”
One would think Eurovision’s first drag act would be a glitter-filled performance by a single artist. However, Eurovision is extra for a reason, and thus its first drag act had to be a trio of Slovene queens dressed as glittery flight attendants. While “Samo ljubezen” could even be defined as slightly dated for 2002, Sestre definitely weren’t. In fact, their participation caused a ruckus heard even in the Slovenian parliament, with some deputies arguing the group should be unendorsed. Luckily, they weren’t. They got to Tallinn and placed 13th. Would they have fared even better years later?
Portugal 2019: Conan Osíris – “Telemóveis”
Y’all were waiting for this one. In 2019, Portugal bared all with Conan Osiris and his dancer João. And Europe let them flop. Portugal sent the most unique performance of the year: contemporary dance, a mix of traditional elements and ultra-modern beats and the striking quirkiness of Conan and João. The jurors placing this last hurt more than the dancer’s death drop. While nodding to the ancient traditions of kabuki and buto, this reached so far into the future it may just have rewound to the past. A mind-bobbling performance that left many with tingles.
Turkey 1980: Ajda Pekkan – “Petr’oil”
Was the ballad-dominated Eurovision of the early 1980s ready for the precursor of belly-dance pop? Clearly not. Turkey’s third Eurovision attempt was carried by one of their biggest stars, Ajda Pekkan. She brought to Den Haag a forerunner of the much successful Turkish bops of the 2000s, which equally deserve some love. Sadly, the jurors placed them 15th with 23 points, 12 of which came from Morocco, who participated for the first and last time ever.
Germany 1996: Leon – “Planet of blue”
Germany’s flawless Eurovision attendance record was broken in 1996 when they were relegated in a pre-qualification round. The country picked Leon’s dance-pop track “Planet of Blue” in their national final. The song could have gone on to become a Europe-wide hit, had the Eurovision jurors not buried it. Discuss: how would “Planet of Blue” have placed two years later, when the the relegation system was changed and the televote implemented?
Russia 2001: Mumiy Troll – “Lady Alpine Blue”
Throughout the 2010s, Russia has been sending quite formulaic “Love, love, peace, peace” power ballads, which have given them great results. Before finding that formula, in the early 2000s, Russia thought a bit more outside the box. And in 2001 they even brought an indie-pop band, before that genre rose to the mainstream. “Lady Alpine Blue” had everything that has defined the genre: a slightly underground sound and overly complicated lyrics. Russia only managed to come 12th in a field of 23 entries.
Yugoslavia 1974: Korni Grupa – “Generacija ’42”
The song that preceded “Waterloo” at the 1974 grand final was a progressive rock number that talked about the generation born during the years of WWII. “Waterloo” was one of the first pop songs to win Eurovision. But how did the 1974 juries receive Yugoslavia’s answer to Deep Purple? Korni Grupa finished 12th in a field of 17 entries and only managed to pick up six points. Far too few for a whole generation.
These are 10 songs that dared to defy Eurovision conventions…and were beaten by them. Which other songs do you think were ahead of their time at the contest? How would any of these have fared in other years? Especulate in the comment section below!