We now come to the final qualification group and it is perhaps apt that it is arguably the most competitive group yet or as tournament-speak goes, the group of death. Malta are the top seeds having celebrated a fantastic history at the contest without winning but Bulgaria have earned their status at the top table of Eurovision following their own impressive work since their return to the competition in 2016. Behind them in the chasing pack are Lithuania (the only Baltic nation to undergo qualification but arguably the one with the most varied and eclectic history at the contest) and Albania (another Balkan nation but one who have always brought a very specific flavour and style of entry to the contest). Lastly, everybody’s favourite micronation will compete for its place in the tournament final and if anybody considers ruling San Marino out of contention, I would with no hesitation ‘Say Na Na Na’.
Malta (7th Wonder – 2002)
Whilst I select the showcase entry for each nation objectively based on points score divided by sets of points, I have to come clean straight up and admit that this is my favourite Eurovision entry of all time. When I came across Ira Losco’s performance of this song in Tallinn during my initial Eurovision retrospective, it was love at first sight and a wonderful reminder of how music at the contest can be songs that remain special to you for life. Malta have consistently done this at Eurovision though, given us fun, accessible English pop songs that not only export the sunshine and good vibes that are readily available on the island itself but also packed the songs full of heart and love that make them more than just a bop. Let’s face it, for a nation of less than 500,000 people with no immediate neighbours to have placed in the top 10 at Eurovision 13 times, they have to be doing something right and they would be sorely missed at the finals should they fail to qualify.
Lithuania (We are the Winners – 2006)
It says almost everything you need to know about Lithuania at Eurovision that despite this being the year in which they achieved their best ever result that the Athens crowd still roundly booed them during both the Semi and Final. It says even more about them that Donny Montell was personally responsible for two of their best five finishes at the contest and that The Roop were set to finally better LT United’s result. What’s there to say about Lithuania at Eurovision? Well, let’s face it, it’s never boring, is it? Whether it’s all male football chant-style songs, singing with a blindfold on, three couples kissing on stage or backflipping off a ramp, you always know you’re getting something interesting with a Lithuanian performance (and that’s just a selection of entries that qualified out of the Semi). So do your bit fans of Lithuanian Eurovision and “vote for the winners”!
Albania (Suus – 2012)
From talking about the highs of Ira Losco in Tallinn to what is subjectively one of the lows in Rona Nishliu’s… performance? Baku was a weird year but Albania’s contribution definitely made it just the tad more austere. Disagree with me? Fantastic, you are probably a fan of Albania at Eurovision so let’s talk about some of the great things they have brought to the contest like the epic nature of many of their entries brought about by Festival I Kegnes’ focus on the orchestra. How about when they keep their entries in Albanian and we as fans are given access into a full cultural adventure within the song that brings us from the highs of ‘Mall’ to the internal retrospective of ‘Ktheju tokës’. Who can forget the lightness of Elhaida Dani in 2015 or the energy of Anjeza Shahini in 2004? Sure, it’s not everybody’s cup of tea but as with many nations we have looked at so far in this qualification process. If you love Albanian Eurovision, you love it and you will do your part by voting for it here.
Bulgaria (Beautiful Mess – 2017)
I will never forget where I was at the moment that I heard Poli Genova’s ‘If Love Was a Crime’ for the very first time. I instantly knew that the song was something special and that Bulgaria were returning to Eurovision keen to be part of the contest and to be competitive. At that point, I had no idea that Poli was on course to place 4th in Stockholm but I had even less of an idea that it would be just the beginning. When Kristian Kostov took to the stage in Kiev towards the end of the 2017 Grand Final, there was no debate on the matter, a star had been born and Bulgaria were officially a force to be reckoned with at Eurovision. You wouldn’t believe it but before their return, Bulgaria had only qualified for the Grand Final once with the 2007 classic ‘Water’ complete with arguably the greatest percussion performance ever seen at Eurovision. Alongside the acts already mentioned as Bulgaria’s Grand Final participants, 2018’s ‘Bones’ remains a cult classic and Victoria’s ‘Tears Getting Sober’ was set to push Kristian’s result all the way in Rotterdam. Bulgaria haven’t had the longest or most illustrious history at Eurovision but when they’ve gotten it right, they’ve gotten it very, very right and would make a lot of established nations very worried should they qualify for the main tournament.
San Marino (Say Na Na Na – 2019)
And we end with the gift that never stops giving, San Marino at the Eurovision Song Contest. Yes, it may sound from the outset like chocolate teapots or spaghetti trees but when Serhat took to the stage in Tel Aviv, everybody sat up and wondered why San Marino hadn’t qualified more often. Sure, at the beginning San Marino’s strategy at Eurovision felt a little bit like throwing large quantities of mud at the wall to see what stuck. Now however, it’s very clear that the San Marinese entry has a clear and welcome identity, it’s disco, it’s fun, it’s an artist perhaps slightly past their prime but who embraces Eurovision with all the energy of a Labrador puppy. Sure, most of the times, the songs are pure, sugar-filled candy but we need a bit of everything at the banquet of Eurovision and you can’t deny that watching this, it’s hard not to smile.
Please vote no later than July 4th and on July 5th, we will begin the tournament itself at the group stage. Stay tuned for more details on the outcome of the draw.