Over the past few years, I’ve been introducing Eurovision to my friends and family who weren’t familiar with the idea (as Americans, the ESC can often be, quite literally, a foreign concept). Often times, when I explain the idea of a European pop music festival to others, I get the response of “Oh! Wasn’t (insert band here) in that?”.
While many correctly recall that ABBA and Céline Dion were famous alumni, others seem to think that any and every campy, catchy, European song that has entered the American consciousness has tread the boards at Eurovision at some point. That being said, some of these red herrings could have easily made an impact on the scoreboard if they were actually ESC songs.
Would they have done better than their real-life counterparts?
Dragostea Din Tea, by O-Zone
Released in 2003, the globally-popular “Numa-Numa Song” actually predates Moldova’s participation in Eurovision by two years. Arguably the biggest global hit to come out of Chisinau, “Dragostea din tea”, or “Love from the Linden Trees”, topped a dozen singles charts and was eventually translated into numerous languages.
It became famous (or, more accurately, infamous) in the US when a video of New Jersey resident Gary Brolsma awkwardly lip-synching to the Romanian-language hit went viral. Interestingly, after O-Zone broke up in 2005, member Arsenium took the stage with Natalia Gordienko on behalf of Moldova in Athens. The pair came in 20th place with “Loca“.
Stereo Love, by Edward Maya and Vika Jigulina
Massive hit “Stereo Love” topped the charts in ten countries, and even cracked into the US Top 20, a rare feat for a Romanian song. It was released in October of 2009, making it eligible for the 2010 contest. If it had gone in place of Ovi and Paula’s “Playing with Fire“, could the hypnotic accordion riff have beaten the saucy piano duet’s third place?
Prisencolinensinainciusol, by Adriano Celentano
Ok now, let’s go a bit retro. When it comes to appealing to a universal audience at Eurovision, many countries tend to default to performing in English, as opposed to their own national language. On the other hand, Belgium’s 2003 entry, “Sanomi“, nearly struck gold by performing in a completely made-up tongue. What would happen if someone came in and sang in gibberish that was designed to sound like English?
The November 1972 (and therefore 1973-eligible) release “Prisencolinensinainciusol” was brassy, bold, ballsy, and catchy as heck, while taking perfect advantage of the EBUs recently-loosened restrictions on language. Italy’s actual entry that year, “Chi sarà con te” came in a disappointing 13th place in Luxembourg. Would Adriano Celentano’s experimental proto-rap performance piece have done any better, or would it have been too ahead of its time? (And for you eagle-eyed readers, yes, that is Raffaela Carrá flailing about wildly in the video below.)
Bom-Bom, by Sam and the Womp
Ok, I realize this is a bit of a love-it-or-hate-it song, so let’s just look at it in a logical, mathematical sense.
“Ovo Je Balkan” + Lena Meyer-Landrut = Sam and the Womp’s “Bom-Bom”.
Blending a musical style that is highly popular across a swath of Eastern Europe with a fun, quirky female vocal, this is a bouncy slice of ethnopop confectionery that makes its presence known. It’s even a Eurovision-perfect 3 minutes long…shame it was released before the September 1, 2012 deadline, or else the BBC could have had a bouncy little contender that would have completely washed the aftertaste of Humperdinck out of Europe’s collective mouth.
MFG, by Die Fantastischen Vier
It’s not easy to top Germany’s performance in 1999; Süpriz’s “” took the country to a very respectable bronze-medal position that year. However, that was also the year that brought us arguably the biggest hit from groundbreaking German rap group Die Fantastischen Vier, “MfG”. Catchy and more than a little bit cheeky, it would have been an interesting counterpoint to the other rap entries submitted to the Contest by that point (namely, the United Kingdom in 1995, Denmark in 1997, and, arguably, Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1999).
Like “Prisencolinensinainciusol”, would it have been too “out there” for voters and juries? (By the by, the idea of Eurovision isn’t lost on Fanta 4 member Thomas D, who headed up the jury on “Unser Star für Baku” that discovered Roman Lob!)
Save Your Love, by Renée and Renato
When I told Ewan about my ideas for this article, he immediately chimed in with this doozy. If you want songs that are in a nation’s collective psyche, then you can’t go wrong with the one-hit wonder of “Save Your Love”. While it was the 1982 Christmas number one in the UK, the timing of the song would have made it eligible for Eurovision 1981 if it had only been lifted from the vaults in time.
Allegedly inspired by the previous winning UK song from the Brotherhood of Man, it would have replaced the next winning UK song (and that costume change) from Bucks Fizz…and likely handed victory to Ralph Siegel’s “Johnny Blue”. So we saved something.
Who did we miss?
There are plenty of other examples of “Eurovision Red Herrings”, especially to American ears. I’ve fielded questions about songs by Ace of Base, Right Said Fred, or the Vengaboys, and even 1983 hit “99 Luftballons” (which, frankly, could have gone over brilliantly in Munich, where that year’s event was hosted). Which songs have confused your non-Eurovision-addicted friends and family over the years?