Close But No Cigar: Second Places in the 21st Century
Words by Hugo Burstin
Songs that claim the Eurovision crown are etched into history forever and achieve instant stardom. However, where there is a first place, there must also be a second.
We'll look at some of songs from this century that took out the number two spot and divide them between the categories of: those that nearly made it, those eclipsed (at least numerically) by the winner and those that have nevertheless secured iconic status amongst fans.
The close calls
Mahmood - 'Soldi' (Italy 2019)
Let’s begin with last year’s contest, the 64th edition of the contest hosted in Tel Aviv. Having been awarded 472 points, Italy’s Mahmood and his song ‘Soldi’ fell just 26 points short of The Netherlands’ Duncan Laurence and ‘Arcade’. The up-tempo, R&B/hip hop number sung in Arabic and Italian and featuring that “clap-clap” in its chorus won fan plaudits and clearly also drew in more casual viewers.
Dami Im - 'Sound of Silence' (Australia 2016)
Australia’s very own Dami Im came second with 511 points at Stockholm 2016 with her power ballad ‘Sound of Silence’. Everybody remembers her stunning vocal performance, winning the jury vote. This contest was the debut of the current voting system, with the jury and televote scores being awarded separately. Dami led the scoreboard up until the last moments of voting and would have won under the previous year’s voting arrangements, but was ultimately pipped at the post by Ukraine’s Jamala and her ‘1944’ with a final tally of 534 points (a mere 23 points more than Dami, the closest margin of the 2010s).
Urban Trad - 'Sanomi' (Belgium 2003)
The last close call we’ll look at is the closest of them all: back in 2003, Belgium’s Urban Trad received 165 points and finished an agonising two points short of the winner, Turkey’s Sertab Erener with ‘Everyway That I Can’. The remarkable aspect of the Belgian entry, ‘Sanomi’, was that it was sung in a made-up language, prompting late Eurovision legend Terry Wogan to comment “they’ve got four languages in Belgium and they’re singing in an imaginary one”. Clearly an example of music and melody transcending language and lyrics!
The point gulfs
Kristian Kostov - 'Beautiful Mess' (Bulgaria 2017)
Next, we turn to those second place finishes which were truly eclipsed in terms of points by the winners. At Kyiv 2017, Bulgaria pulled off its best result to date when Kristian Kostov placed second with his song ‘Beautiful Mess’. However, even with an impressive 615 points, he was still 143 points adrift of Portugal’s Salvador Sobral and ‘Amar pelos dois’. However, Kostov’s song still won hearts with its edgy sound and modern appeal.
Yohanna - 'Is it True?' (Iceland 2009)
The 54th edition of the Eurovision Song Contest held in Moscow in 2009 saw another landslide victory: Norway’s Alexander Rybak attained 387 points, the highest score ever at the time and a record held until 2016, with his song ‘Fairytale’. Yohanna from Iceland finished second with 218 points, 179 points behind its Nordic neighbour. ‘Is It True?’ sees Yohanna deliver a powerful vocal performance with impressive staging.
The fan favourites
Eleni Foureira - 'Fuego' (Cyprus 2018)
The final batch of second place finishes comprises those songs which have gained significant traction within the fandom and are now considered to be Eurovision staples. Cyprus’ Eleni Foureira has achieved iconic status since her appearance at the Altice Arena in Lisbon in 2018, when she truly brought the ‘Fuego’. Who can forget that outfit and that performance, chockful of on-point choreography, paired with a true “banger” with an infectious hook.
Buranovskiye Babushki - 'Party for Everybody' (Russia 2012)
From sexy dancing to grandmothers baking on stage, Russia’s 2012 act Buranovskiye Babushki was an odd pairing – elderly ladies in traditional dress and a dance number. Nevertheless, their song ‘Party for Everybody’, sung mostly in the Udmurt language, was a resounding success, claiming second spot. While falling far behind Sweden’s Loreen and ‘Euphoria’ in points, the song is a memorable addition to the world of Eurovision.
Verka Serduchka - 'Dancing lasha tumbai' (Ukraine 2007)
And last but by no means least, it quite simply wouldn’t be Eurovision without Ukraine’s Verka Serduchka. The 2007 contest saw Verka finish in second position, falling 33 points short of the win amidst considerable political controversy, with the song ‘Dancing lasha tumbai’. Ever since its release, the song has been a hit due to its memorable lyrics and chaotic and crazy vibe. Verka has appeared several times in subsequent contests: as a spokesperson, interval act and special guest, usually accompanied by her "mother".
So, although there’s always a runner-up, second place finishes come in many different shapes and sizes. They can provide a fantastically close race, emphasise the scale of the victor’s win and/or secure lasting fan acclaim.