Top 40: Best non-qualifiers in ESC history [Part 1]

We have two weeks of blogging left before Ukraine kicks off the 2014 national final season the weekend after next. So, what better way to culminate our countdown series than to bring you a mammoth compilation centred on one of Eurovision’s most frequently discussed topics – the non-qualifiers. Of the 165 songs that have been cast aside at the semi-final stage since their Eurovision introduction in 1993*, which 40 do we at ESC Views deem to be the best?

Many expected Femminem to reach the grand final in 2010 - how far up will they feature in our countdown?
Many expected Femminem to reach the grand final in 2010 – how far up will they feature in our countdown?

In recent years, the majority of Eurovision entries have had one major obstacle to circumnavigate in order to bring their countries the contest glory they so desire. This obstacle is of course the semi-final elimination process. Many favourites do manage to traverse these muddy waters, and reach the solace of the grand final on the other side. However, there have been just as many injustices along the way, whereby absolutely amazing songs have been unceremoniously abandoned on the Tuesday or Thursday nights and largely forgotten about. Well no longer! We have collected and resurrected the best of these semi-final casualties, and assembled them for your nostalgic enjoyment (you can thank us later, it’s alright.)

This top 40 will be brought to you in four stages – two articles this weekend, and the other two next weekend, so that we reveal our top 10 in time to get started on our national final coverage the weekend after that! In addition, for the first time since we started featuring multi-stage countdowns, Rory and myself will both be contributing two articles each, rather than having just one narrative voice guiding you guys through the entire list. We have ranked the entries together too, so what we have prepared really is reflective of our combined opinion.

While we’re here, I may as well stress that point – this ranking represents our opinion, and as such it may be a little controversial or unexpected. Please take this into account before passing a condemnatory eye over some of our more ambiguous choices!

That aside, it looks like we’re ready to dive into today’s selection!

* the pre-qualifying rounds from 1993 and 1996 are included in this countdown, alongside the regular semi-finals which have taken place annually since 2004.

40 – Aisha – “What For? (Only Mr God Knows Why)” (Latvia 2010)

We will kick off our top 40 with one of the numerous Latvian entries to have crashed and burned big-style in the semis: Aisha from 2010, with the stylistically challenging “What For?”. Now, I won’t draw a veil over those painful vocals here, I accept she was far from note-perfect, but what really merits her inclusion in this countdown is – comme je l’ai déjà dit – the boundary-pushing nature of the song itself. It’s difficult to cram into a generic box, incorporating elements of folk, soul and R&B – and after a few listens, it’s oddly catchy in a way. It was definitely a brave choice, and it does keep you guessing as a listener – however, something this experimental was always doomed to fail really, wasn’t it… especially when you factor in its eventually woeful vocal performance.

39 – Janika Sillamaa – “Muretut Meelt Ja Südametuld” (Estonia 1993)

1993’s “Kvalifikacija Za Millstreet” featured musical contributions from seven Eastern European nations, of which three were eventually selected, in traditional ESC style, to progress to the regular show in Ireland. Of these three, I would argue that only Bosnia’s “Sva Bol Svijeta” really deserved to go through; the qualifiers from Croatia and Slovenia were remarkably weak, and there were two other entries in the field which I would replace them with. One of these is this lovely little song from Estonia, sung in in inimitably twee – and slightly frightening – manner by Janika Sillamaa. For a country which partially attributes its breakaway from the Soviet Union to its collective passion for song, I find it something of an injustice that this, their first attempt at reaching the Eurovision final, was quietly extinguished before it was even given a chance at a pan-Europen presentation. Janika exudes joy whilst delivering the lilting melody, and one can’t help but be swept along in her wake. In what transpired to be quite a varied line-up at the actual contest in 1993, I have always wondered how this one would have slotted in, and what its reaction would have been.

38 – Anmary – “Beautiful Song” (Latvia 2012)

Many of the non-qualifying songs in this countdown could be described as “guilty pleasures”, and Latvia’s 2012 entry is no exception. It was a song that couldn’t have taken itself less seriously if it tried, which, if I’m honest, is where the comedy really lay, for Anmary – bless her little cotton socks – belted it out as if it had all the lyrical complexity of a falsely inspirational “X Factor” winner’s single. Having clearly learnt her words phonetically, she had no idea how ridiculous the lyrics of “Beautiful Song” really were, and whilst the population of Europe sat back in incongruous laughter, she swanned around the Baku stage with her “Loose Women” backing group, oblivious to how ridiculous she actually looked. The song, though, is stupidly catchy. Hence you find yourself reading its resumé. If it’s any consolation too, her song did reach the vertiginous heights of 16th – yes 16TH – in the semi, which, compared to Latvia’s abysmal record of late, is as good as a top 5 finish really.

37 – Nina Badric – “Nebo” (Croatia 2012)

I can pinpoint this song’s unfortunate failure to qualify to three major flaws. Firstly, the new arrangement of “Nebo” completely massacred the modern dramatism of the original album version, replacing that iconic hand clap with a half-hearted attempt at a live drum kit, and as a result destroying one of the major motifs which had the potential to anchor the track in viewers’ minds. Not only did they do that, however, they then put Nina herself in what can only be described as a glamourised bin bag, with an unidentified mass of sleeve which made her entire body look like a set of amphibious webbed phalanges. It didn’t work for Kati Wolf, honey, and it definitely did not work for you Nina. And then, on top of all that, just when we thought it couldn’t get any more disappointing, they went and ballsed up the key change didn’t they. Whatever the hell those guys were trying to do with that massive bedsheet, it didn’t work. I mean, look at her national song presentation. It was classy, modern, simple and memorable. Why couldn’t they have done that in Baku? WHYYYYY?

36 – Femminem – “Lako Je Sve” (Croatia 2010)

Another Croatian entry features at number 36, this time the criminally underrated ballad from 2010 “Lako Je Sve”. I think it’s fair to say that the majority of us expected this one to go sailing through to the Saturday night, even if we were sceptical of its eventual chances in the final rankings. However – and I can say in all honesty that this still baffles me – Croatia were not one of the names in the envelopes at the end of the Thursday show. I mean, yes, the live performance didn’t show them at their best, with that conspicuous late entry in the first verse being one of a few rhythmic mishaps encountered by the trio. Conversely, their professionalism and vocal control allowed them to soldier on and get through the worst of it. All in all, a polished and relevant song with a decent stage concept and an unfortunate execution. A real shame this one didn’t get through.

35 – Alexandra & Konstantin – “My Galileo” (Belarus 2004)

… aaaaand it’s time for guilty pleasure number two. And I’m not even going to try and defend this one. I know, I accept… it’s shit. But I just cannot stop myself from being drawn in by the cutesy folk arrangement, those spine-tingling register changes and the nonsense lyrics. Pretty much demonstrating why the free language rule isn’t always a good thing, I doubt you’d be able to fathom a single word she’s singing on a first listen to this. “Raaandyyyy goat, das preet to reeeech new uh-raazongzzz” … or something like that anyway. It’s easier to pretend it’s in an imaginary language really. The two of them did look like they had literally been dragged away from some medieval hippy cult and forced to sing this song on the Istanbul stage, and the complete irrelevance of that guy at the side who appears to be playing an elaborate piece of pottery… and the amount of ACTUAL cobwebs in her hair… yeah, showers have been invented for a reason Alexandra.

Scratch that. I’ve just watched it again. Forget cobwebs. She looked like she had just been exhumed. From a grave. After previously dying. And decaying.

34 – Neiokõsõ – “Tii” (Estonia 2004)

Another example of underrated folk music mastery from 2004 here, except there’s a key difference in that the ladies of Neiokõsõ could actually sing. And rather well too. If there just so happened to be a strong feminist movement in remote Estonian villages, then I am pretty much sure they would use something like this as their motivational theme song. It’s all powerful and striking, with dramatically understated percussion allowing the traditional group singing to take centre stage. Back in 2004, this one probably just got lost under the shadow of Ruslana, which is a real shame, because in my estimation, it really deserved a slot on the Saturday night.

33 – Stella Mwangi – “Haba Haba” (Norway 2011)

This one already featured in our Top 10 of fanwank flops, and that in itself justifies its inclusion in this list. This one was supposed to do really well. And I mean REALLY well. Accompanied by a catchy dance routine, an annoyingly memorable chorus, questionable vocal talent and a high energy promotion campaign, Stella Mwangi’s “Haba Haba” had all the hallmarks of what a successful Eurovision entry used to be… problem is, it was entered in 2011, not 2005. And therein lies the reason for its downfall. This formulaic approach was no longer a sure-fire route to success by the time the Düsseldorf contest rolled around, and Norway’s eventual seventeenth place in the semi-final served to cement that fact.

That didn’t stop the song becoming an evergreen with fans, of course – to the extent that our very own Rory (then aged 12, must stress this) performed a cover of the song for a school talent show [disclaimer: he’s a singer, not a dancer folks. apologies for the Martin Vucic-esque rhythmic convulsions *dance moves*]

32 – Miro – “Angel Si Ti” (Bulgaria 2010)

If you have been a regular reader, you’ll know that the two of us – particularly me – are huge fans of Bulgaria, and their contributions to Eurovision. Seeing as how so many of them have been cruelly discarded at the semi-final stage, it shouldn’t come as too much of a shock to find that they will feature quite heavily in this countdown, with the first such appearance being their 2010 entrant Miro. It cannot be denied that “Angel Si Ti” was an oddly-presented number, with the *apparently* straight Miro gyrating in tight white D’NASH-esque attire amidst the chaos created by campest dancers seen on the Oslo stage – oiled and shirtless, of course. Add to that the misguided language change (this song worked SO much better entirely in Bulgarian) and the unfortunate lack of voting allies – not exactly a recipe for success is it. Which is a shame, because as a stand-alone song, it’s actually very good. Contemporary, catchy, well sung. And mostly forgotten about now. *sob*

31 – Tamara, Vrcak & Adrijan – “Let Me Love You” (Macedonia 2008)

This one was definitely more favoured by Rory than by myself, however I do see its merits too. Coming after a string of four consecutive Macedonian ethno-pop entries in this mould, many saw it as certain to sneak over the line in its semi-final, and then end up around 17th on the final night. This was something of a routine for Macedonia in the mid-2000s, as I’m sure you will remember. Imagine the shock then, when this one – on the surface no worse than any of their previous successful efforts – fell foul of the absurd “jury pick” rule that the EBU implemented in 2008 & 2009. When we look deeper into this whole entry though, I’d say the main problem with it is Tamara herself. Or, more specifically, her hairstyle. She came out onto the Belgrade stage looking like a mid-40s housewife drunk at a wedding, and somehow managing to belt out a stellar vocal. Add to that the awkwardness of rapper Vrcak and the sheer irrelevance of Adrijan (like seriously, guys, what did he do?!) and you’ve got something sufficiently flawed to justify a semi-final failure. Let’s hope the same doesn’t happen again when Tamara returns as a backing singer for her sister Tijana (Dapcevic) in Copenhagen next year!

Well, that, dear friends, was the first part of our rankings. With 165 songs to choose from, I’m sure you all have your own favourite non-qualifiers, and if they haven’t been mentioned yet, then they may be featured in our later articles – which means we love them just as much as you do! Make sure you check back to find out if they’ve made the cut.

And in the meantime, what do you think of today’s list?

Your Views:

Which non-qualifiers are your favourites?
Which non-qualifiers are your favourites?

Janne Bruzelius from Sweden: Slovenia 2006, Czech Republic and Montenegro 2007

Hans Leenders from the Netherlands: Switzerland 2009

Azerin Quliyeva from Azerbaijan: I think that there have been a lot of beautiful songs which have not qualified to final. For example Vida Mihna.

James O’Connor from the United Kingdom: I quite liked Israel 2004 but my all time favourite would probably have to be Serbia’s ‘Cipela’ from 09

The views so far on this one appear to be very diverse, and some of the suggestions were definitely in our minds too as we decided which songs to include in this top 40. Will any of the non-qualifiers mentioned above feature in the three remaining articles? Check back later to find out!

And in the meantime – what do you think of the songs we have discussed thus far? Do you agree that they should have qualified for the final? And which non-qualifiers would you say are your favourites? Don’t hesitate to leave us a comment below!

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