Another Friday evening, and we have another ESC Views Top 10 for you guys! Tonight, I will be tackling something a little less controversial than last week, and looking more at the aesthetics of the contest rather than actual entries: yes, I’m counting down what we consider to be the best backdrops in Eurovision history! Got any stand-out candidates in mind? Read on to find out if they’ve made the cut!
So, as is to be expected with a countdown on this kind of technology-dependent subject, all of our top 10 entries here are pretty recent. That is simply owing to the fact that the advent of more advanced stage designs and the increasing use of LCD screens over the years has led to a rapid increase in the complexity and spectacle within the realm of possibility for a Eurovision backdrop. Rewind to 1990, and to a modern audience, the high-tech screens set up in Zagreb look like nothing more than a tacky 80s theme night at your local bar, or at best, the paraphernalia of a hire DJ at a low-budget wedding. But back then, that was top-of-the-range, boundary-pushing stuff.
With that in mind, we have looked specifically at the contests from 2006 onwards when shortlisting our top ten here. Whilst there have been notable instances of interesting backdrops before Athens, it was the Greek stage design which first allowed for the kind of elaborate projections which have made it into our list. Finland elaborated on the concept in 2007, with the first stage to revolve around a major LCD screen providing each act’s main backdrop, and since then, it has pretty much become a staple of the competition! So, from the multitude of impressive backdrops we have seen since then, which ten performances have been lucky enough to make it into tonight’s countdown?
10 – Hanna Pakarainen – Leave Me Alone (Finland 2007)
As mentioned above, Finland pulled out all the stops when they hosted the contest back in 2007, and whilst pretty much everything about the show holds a special place in my heart (owing to the fact it was my first live ESC, if you didn’t already know) the one aspect of Helsinki which to this day hasn’t been beaten in my eyes.. is that stage. The Finns certainly showed it in its best light for their own entry’s performance too – revolving around a projection of Hanna’s tattoo and alternating flashes of isolated blues and fiery oranges, the backdrop here really encapsulated the anger and frustration within the song’s lyrics and suited the genre down to a T. If only it had resulted in a higher placement for this fantastic song *sigh*.
9 – Filipa Sousa – Vida Minha (Portugal 2012)
Whilst technically brilliant, the Baku stage divided opinion when its aesthetic merit was concerned; with a number of fans finding it so vast that the performers were simply lost on it. However, the 2012 Portuguese entry was the one performance where the backdrop managed to work with the stage design in order to not only emphasise that aspect of the sublime, but also capitalise on it. Using the truly beautiful imagery of Lisbon, the team behind Filipa Sousa managed to produce a breathtaking yet understated stage show, which – in conjunction with the fado instrumentation – underlined the message of the song, by having Filipa appear as a tiny speck on the Lisbon skyline, quietly, yet flawlessly singing out into the night. And unfortunately, I don’t think many viewers really “got” that. 😦
8 – Nelly Ciobanu – Hora Din Moldova (Moldova 2009)
From something subtle and understated, to what was arguably the most energetic, full-throttle, gloriously mental three minutes on the Moscow stage: the fantabulous Nelly Ciobanu. The backdrop consisted of a series of geometric patterns – which actually resembled the detailing on the Belarussian flag, anyone else see that? – which incorporated the gyrating figures mirroring the movements of her live hora dancers on the stage. The whole thing came across as very authentic, down to the adorable stitching effect on the backdrop which was replicated in the performers’ costuming. The song itself was one of my absolute favourites back then – and still is to this day – and it came across even more effectively live, thanks to the backdrop.
7 – Yohanna – Is It True? (Iceland 2009)
Forever remembered as “the one with the bog brush dress”, Yohanna managed to grab Iceland their best result to date, with an impressive 218-point second-place showing in Moscow. Now, the stage that year was just stunning in so many ways, but in this performance (and also the Estonian performance of “Randajad”) the backdrops highlighted both its epic scale and its potential to create a really intimate feel. The genius here is how much it changes, without you even realising it. I mean, take the beginning. Yohanna, awful dress aside, appears to be singing against a dark and somewhat underwhelming landscape shot. You focus initially on the song, because there’s nothing else to distract you. And then, you get drawn into it. You appreciate the beauty of the melody, the simplistic nature of the backing, the soft power of her vocals… and then you suddenly realise that this magical song is being sung against a completely different backdrop. There are clouds. There is a moon. And, one by one, a ghostly ship, a dolphin, stars… they all make their appearances with the effect of simply supporting the aesthetic of what has become a sublime viewing experience. It serves the entire purpose of a backdrop, then, in that you hardly realise it is there, but it brings a whole other dimension to the performance.
6 – Sopho – Visionary Dream (Georgia 2007)
Back to that amazing 2007 stage now, and the one performance which really made it shine was the début entry from Georgia, Sopho’s brilliant “Visionary Dream”. As if the sword-dancing and stick-on-tattoo antics on stage weren’t enough, the backdrop – whilst being somewhat unexplainable – was just mesmerising. A colourful bohemian montage of ever-changing faces, white handprints and psychedelic spinning flowers, the projection didn’t keep still for a moment, and the splashes of blue and red brought even more power to the imagery. The song, which was already strong enough on its own, was taken to another level by how memorable it’s backdrop was.
5 – Nina – Caroban (Serbia 2011)
Ahhh, Düsseldorf. There were no less than seven entries from 2011 which we were considering for inclusion in this countdown, and the lovely Nina from Serbia has ended up as one of the lucky ones, charting here at #5. And why? Well just LOOK AT THAT BACKGROUND! I doubt there was ever a better-executed “concept performance” in recent years at Eurovision. And what I mean by that, in this case, is that every single aspect of the performance was an authentic and original reconstruction of the sixties, done in a modern way. That psychedelic backdrop is perhaps the crowning glory of the entire performance. Described at the time as resembling “a fallopian tube” by the fabulous Elaine Dove – of eurovisionireland.net – the concentric circles which form the backbone of Nina’s stage show were emulated in the costumes and the accessories of the performers, as well as in hippy colours on the screen. What more could you want from a sixties throwback, ey?
4 – Gianluca Bezzina – Tomorrow (Malta 2013)
One of the most inspired decisions of the 2013 contest was undoubtedly Malta opting to use the official lyrics video for “Tomorrow” as the backdrop for the song in Malmö. A gesture like that encourages the viewers – and perhaps more importantly the audience in the arena – to sing along… and let’s face it, it’s that kinda song, isn’t it. I’m pretty sure that the “oh-oh oh-oh time to follow her tomorrow” was being tunelessly repeated in households across Europe by the end of the second chorus. And, its surprising top ten showing definitely indicates that the decision paid off for them – through clever manipulation of the backdrop, they turned what could have been a dull and forgettable acoustic number into a charming and memorable stadium anthem. Congratulations PBS!
3 – Anastasiya Prikhodko – Mamo (Russia 2009)
The dark, mysterious and downright brilliant “Mamo” has already featured in the upper reaches of one of our top 10s before, based purely on the merits of the song. However, on that occasion, we didn’t discuss the song’s performance, and that in itself is worthy of note. For the home entry in 2009, Russia threw out the rulebook on how to stage a Eurovision entry, and instead decided to present to us all the versatility of their stage, and the almost unnerving technological prowess they had accumulated. This all came to a head with the song’s backdrop, consisting entirely of Anastasia Prikhodko’s face, apparently miming the song’s lyrics, but – startlingly – appearing to grow older as the music progressed. Whilst the real-life Anastasia was still belting out the song (dressed in her best shower curtain, naturally…) her 70-year-old projected self, white-haired, age-spotted and wrinkled, was reduced to tears on the screens. Powerful stuff. And all a little bit weird, really. But powerful. Very powerful.
2 – Flor-De-Lis – Todas As Ruas Do Amor (Portugal 2009)
From the disturbing antics of “Mamo” to another of the stand-out performances of Moscow 2009: the absolutely adorable presentation that year from Portugal. Flor-De-Lis came to Moscow with a strong catchy song, and from the moment the performance started, you couldn’t help but smile. Rays of yellow, pink and green struck out across the LCD screens, with little cartoon clouds rising joyfully in the song’s introduction. Like something out of a Super-Mario game, the stage floor was coloured green, and the smiles and energy of all six members of the band were truly infectious. Lead singer Daniela Varela gave a truly amazing vocal performance, leaving everyone watching in no doubt that the Portuguese delegation were having an absolute blast on stage, and that they were sending a truly deserving entry to the contest, with a stellar presentation to match! Indeed, two years later in Düsseldorf, Anna Rossinelli adopted a similar concept in her backdrop, but we felt that Flor-De-Lis did it a whole lot better, hence their inclusion as our second place!
1 – Paradise Oskar – Da Da Dam (Finland 2011)
Only very slightly ahead of Flor-De-Lis in this particular countdown, we have a similarly adorable performance, although executed in a completely different style. The song itself is so simple, and in essence, so is the staging and the backdrop. Boy alone with guitar. Cute face, cute melody, cute lyrics. The message behind it was featured blatantly in the lyrics – “going out in the world to save our planet” – therefore, you’d imagine that the projection of some kind of planet would be only logical, yes? Now, I’m not often one to get sentimental about this kind of thing, and I have no idea why, but with this performance, the moment when that earth appears behind him is truly, truly magical. The backdrop is stunning, but the camera work itself is just beautiful; zooming out steadily, as the globe rises and the figure of Mr. Oskar appears to shrink, silently affirming the message that no matter how small we feel, we are all capable of making a difference. And, as if on cue, that’s the precise moment where he reaches the “da da dam da da dam” section of the chorus, and the entire Esprit Arena just joins in. Effortless. Amazing. Inspired.
Congratulations to Paradise Oskar, who now has the title of “ESC Views’ best backdrop in ESC history” to add to the rather disappointing 21st-place from the 2011 contest. He’s our winner, but would you agree??
Marcus Fuchs from Germany: For me it was Poli Genova – great visuals!
Vesa Pöllänen from Finland: Paradise was great. Me like 🙂 from my home country
Teresa Varela from Portugal: Portugal 2009!! FLOR de LIS 🙂
Robbert Landegent from The Netherlands: The Jedward backdrops
Alongside the other opinions mentioned here, we also had a lot of support for Yohanna’s backdrop, the suggestion of both Lena and Anouk, aswell as agreement with our third placed song “Mamo” and our number one choice of Paradise Oskar. Therefore, it would seem that the most iconic backdrops of recent years are widely accepted and hopefully well represented in tonight’s compilation – but if you disagree and think we have missed out an absolute highlight, then please do not hesitate to leave your thoughts below!! 😀