The Eurovision legacy of Russia's Dima Bilan
There is an elite list of Eurovision winners that includes Lys Assia, Johnny Logan, Elisabeth Andreasson, Linda Martin, Gigliola Cinquetti and.... Dima Bilan.
They are the Eurovision winners who have also finished at least runner-up at another Contest (Johnny of course had two wins).
It's an exclusive group with Dima the only member from the 21st century, however he doesn't appear to be held in the same regard as his colleagues.
We want to look over Dima's career and make the case that he has built an outstanding Eurovision legacy.
Dima Bilan was born Viktor Nikolayevich Belan on the 24 December 1981 in the town of Ust-Dzheguta located in southern Russia near the border of what is now Georgia.
His family eventually moved to Maysky (a few hundred kilometers east) where he spent most of his childhood and adolescence
He took up music during this time and won the several prizes including the "Young Voices of Caucasus” award.
Aged 16 he travelled to Moscow to compete in the Chunga-Changa festival where he received a diploma from the renowned Soviet singer Joseph Kobzon.
He then began his musical education at the Gnesins State Musical College which counted Joseph Kobzon himself, as well as Philipp Kirkorov among its alumni.
A career start
While still studying in the year 2000, he had his first song and video clip (for 'Autumn') get into the rotation of MTV Russia.
He was noticed by producer Yuri Aizenshpis and the duo began to work together.
He then officially took the stage name of Dima Bilan which came from his grandfather Dmitry Bilan who he had a very close relationship with.
In 2002 he entered New Wave finishing in fourth place and his first commercial single 'Boom' was released followed by his first album 'Ya nochnoy huligan' in 2003.
However, it was his hit single 'Na beregu neba' (above) in 2004 that really got him noticed among the Russian public reaching no.2 in the charts and the subsequent album of the same name becoming one of the best-selling in Russia of 2004, receiving a gold certification.
The Eurovision years
Following his success in 2004 Dima entered Russia's national selection for the 2005 edition of Eurovision.
He had previously entered an unknown song the year before in an internal selection but was not successful.
Despite being one of the favourites in 2005 his song 'Not that Simple' finished runner-up to Natalia Podolskaya's 'Nobody Hurt No One' by a result of 20.2% to 15.0%.
Another internal selection process took place in 2006 with Dima Bilan entering two songs, 'Never Let You Go' and 'Lady Flame', with the former taking out the internal competition ahead of artists Varvara and Ariana.
With a memorable performance Dima went on to place 2nd in Athens, losing out by 44 points to the unstoppable juggernaut that was Lordi's 'Hard Rock Hallelujah' for Finland.
In 2007 he recorded music in the United States and started working with Jim BEANZ and OneRepublic's Ryan Tedder.
The single from that work 'Number One Fan' went on to reach no.1 in the Russian charts.
But that would not be the end of their collaboration...
Before competing for a spot at Eurovision Dima had a battle with the estate of his now deceased producer Yuri Aizenshpis over his stage name.
The estate claimed they owned the name and the matter was settled out of court.
Dima's entry for the Russian national final ahead of Eurovision was 'Believe' which was written and produced by himself with Americans Jim BEANZ, Ryan Tedder and Timbaland.
Dima said that the collboration worked well and the song was put together in just one day.
"In one day we wrote a song, the lyrics, the music and produced it all.We wrote the song 'Believe' with Jim Beanz and Ryan Tedder. I really enjoyed working with Timbaland and his team. It was his first ever Russian collaboration."
The song is based on the book and documentary 'The Secret' by Australian Rhonda Byrne that took the world by storm in the 2000s (it was based on the laws of attraction of visualising goals and positive thinking).
This was also the reason Dima also recorded the song in Spanish saying,
"I want my song, which has such beautiful words and such a magical message to be comprehended by most people. That is why we decided to make it also in Spanish - one of the most widespread languages in the world."
He performed the song in Russia's 27 entry national final taking out both the jury and televote to earn his way to Belgrade.
In the semi-final at Eurovision itself the song could only place 3rd but with friendlier voting in the final, he finally got his win.
His live performance was quite an epic rendition where he was barefoot and bare chested and featured Russian figure skater, Olympic gold medalist and three-time world champion Evgeni Plushenko as well as Hungarian violinist Edvin Marton.
The song won the Contest 42 points in front of Ukraine's Ani Lorak with her song 'Shady Lady'.
At the Eurovision Song Contest Dima performed a memorable rendition of 'Believe' to open the Grand Final despite and earlier wardrobe malfunction that saw his jacket get caught up in his wired harness.
He also joined Lys Assia on stage to hand over the Eurovision trophy to 2009 winner Alexander Rybak.
Post Eurovision years
Following Eurovision Dima continued to tour, release music, dabbled in film and also appeared as a judge on The Voice Russia for several seasons.
However he was never too far from the Contest.
In 2011 he read the votes for Russia and in 2012 he attempted to return to Eurovision for Russia with the duet 'Back to Her Future' with Julia Volkova.
The pair finished runner-up to Buranovskiye Babushki with 'Party for Everybody'.
Later that year he also signed an open letter attacking the author of a St. Petersburg bill against homosexual propaganda, alongside Philipp Kirkorov.
This anti-LGBTIQ stance would plague Russia for many years at Eurovision.
Outside Eurovision new music continued with his song 'Kid' reaching no.2 in the charts in 2013 and he even took out 'Best Male Pop Singer of the Year' at the Russian Music Awards in 2016.
In 2016, he also came under gossip and scrutiny (as he did for much of his career) over his appearance while carrying the Olympic Torch alongside Polina Gagarina.
He dismissed the concern over his weight loss saying "I decided to listen to my body and be more attentive to my health. Now I practice a raw food diet. I go in for sports. I eat often, but little. I’ve just become more selective with what I eat."
In recent years his music has continued to be successful with 'About White Roses' reaching no.2 and 'Chemistry' reaching no.3 on the Russian charts in 2019 and 2020 respectively.
In 2021 he also supported Manizha when she came under criticism in Russia saying:
"Manizha, there is fire in you. You really say and do a lot in the direction of, let’s say, inclusivity of people. You are familiar with problems that not many of us think about. We are all busy with surviving, especially after these moments.”
So what is Dima Bilan's Eurovision legacy?
'Believe' may not be rated by fans as one of the greatest winners of all time (it finished no.205 on last year's ESC250 countdown), but he certainly deserves to be recognised.
Russia has been a Eurovision juggernaut and he remains their only champion.
His two performances in 2006 and 2008 and his reprise in 2009 have all given us iconic staging and Eurovision moments.
He was always dedicated to Eurovision, competing in national finals for several years before going to the Contest, then coming back to eventually take out the title.
That 'never say die' spirit can be attributed back to his humble beginnings and his drive to succeed and explains why he continues to make an impact on the music scene over 20 years since his first single.
He has not been afraid to go against the grain in Russia supporting LGBTQ+ equality and criticism over Manizha's entry this year.
And his legacy may not be over yet, Dima has stated numerous times over the years his desire to return for a third time, but only if Russia were to hold another national final.
Now they have gone down that path, will we see him back?
Could he become as successful as Johnny Logan?
Only time will tell.