Americans who imagine entertainment as the Super Bowl halftime show or silly shows in Las Vegas need only glance across the Atlantic to see true spectacle in all its weird and wonderful glory — welcome to Eurovision. The Eurovision Song Contest, or simply Eurovision, was created in 1956 by the European Broadcasting Union to heal the trauma from World War II. The rules are pretty simple: Each participating country submits and performs an original song, and the winner is selected by a jury of professionals and the general European public.
Today, Eurovision is the largest music contest in the world; it elicits an exciting nationalistic frenzy akin to the Olympics, and its extravagance celebrates European cultural and ethnic diversity. While the 2020 competition was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s Eurovision stepped up to bat with iconic moments to make up for lost time: We were blessed with Germany’s dancing middle finger, Serbia’s hair flips, Greece’s green-screen choreography and even a Flo Rida jump-scare (thanks, San Marino). In a show of show-stopping performances, let’s check out the top eight finalists to see what made these acts so incredible.
First Place: Måneskin (Italy) – “Zitti E Buoni”
They’re the hottest people you’ve ever seen, decked out in studded leather and radiating raw talent. Roman rock band Måneskin brought the heat to Eurovision, in more ways than one, with an electric performance of “Zitti E Buoni.” Lead singer and lyricist Damiano David captured everyone’s attention with his arresting vocals and glam punk prowess, steering the band to its well-deserved victory. It’s an important achievement for Italy and a moment of pride and joy after a devastating year. Måneskin’s unapologetic, gravelly sound and the members’ rock ‘n’ roll ethos heralded a bright future that’s sure to blaze just as intensely as the pyrotechnics from their performance.
Second Place: Barbara Pravi (France) – “Voilà”
The tight runner-up is France’s Barbara Pravi, who sang a powerful chanson titled “Voilà.” “Voilà” is much more than its straightforward lyrics initially let on. It’s a vulnerable, powerful and spinning declaration of selfhood, and Pravi was sirenic above the evocative, undulating strings. It was a beautiful performance that surely gave listeners goosebumps as they watched the simple, yet hypnotic visuals that heightened Pravi’s emotional honesty.
Third Place: Gjon’s Tears (Switzerland) – “Tout l’Univers”
Gjon’s Tears, also known as Gjon Muharremaj, brought Switzerland to its highest Eurovision ranking since 1993. In “Tout l’Univers,” Gjon’s Tears showcased jaw-dropping falsetto in an inspiring song that champions the importance of loving one another.
Fourth Place: Daði Freyr og Gagnamagnið (Iceland) – “10 Years”
After their legendary Eurovision debut in 2019, Daði Freyr and his band Gagnamagnið were set to carry the competition, and they delivered! The Icelandic band embraces a kind of quirkiness and self-aware humor that makes its members the coolest nerds on the planet. Its 2021 synth-heavy pop song “10 Years” is sure to get you on your feet, but it’ll never get out of your head.
Fifth Place: Go_A (Ukraine) – “Shum”
Representing Ukraine, the band Go_A gave a spectacular answer to the question: What if Ukrainian folklore went to a rave? Go_A experiments with sonic styles to cleverly revamp traditional Ukrainian music. The accelerando into a bass drop was epic, and Kateryna Pavlenko’s final trilling note astonished as it emerged from the chrysalis of her “white voice” technique. Even though Ukraine made the top five, this writer believes “Shum” deserved a few ranks higher for its musical innovation and sheer star power.
Sixth Place: Blind Channel (Finland) – “Dark Side”
Anarchy finds its anthem in Blind Channel’s song “Dark Side.” One moment the singers are barking orders (“Put your middle fingers up / Take a shot, throw it up and don’t stop”), the next they’re literally barking — “Hands up and follow me saying (hoo, hoo, hoo, hoo.)” The Finnish band lacquers its pop-rock sound with lyrics about inner darkness and hedonistic living. The performance crackled with fun and fervor; perhaps chaos can be pretty fun when we’re all in it together.
Seventh Place: Destiny (Malta) – “Je Me Casse”
At a mere 18 years old, Destiny, the entrant from Malta, dazzled audiences with her powerhouse vocals and glitter fringe bodysuit. The title “Je Me Casse” comes from a French expression used to make a quick exit, and Destiny revamps the phrase to confidently assert her standards, and those who don’t meet them, in a fun and feminine pop song.
Eighth Place: The Roop (Lithuania) – “Discoteque”
The word “bananas” comes to mind when describing the costuming, choreography and general vibe of The Roop’s performance. The song “Discoteque” is addicting, almost unsettling, in its urgent syncopation. Dancers in 1970s discotheques would lose themselves in the music’s four-on-the-floor beats and rhythmic precision, and The Roop’s “Discoteque” conjured a similarly immersive ambiance with an otherworldly gravitational pull.