Grading the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest Finals!

Eurovision is the world’s biggest singing competition. Its finals were held this weekend in Baku, Azerbaijan. Below are the 26 finalists. And Grantland’s Molly Lambert graded them all.

1. Engelbert Humperdinck, “Love Will Set You Free” (England)


Eurovision is all about schmaltz, and who does schmaltz better than Engelbert Humperdinck? From his Wikipedia page: “Humperdinck’s easygoing style and good looks, a contrast to Tom Jones’s energetic and overtly sexual style, earned Humperdinck a large following among women. His hardcore female fans, who included the young Princess Anne, called themselves ‘Humperdinckers.’” This ballad is all about the crucial key change two and a half minutes in.
Grade: B+
Best YouTube Comment: “it’s not Engelbert’s fault they lose the contest. He just singing REAL MUSIC but kids these days just love deep shits” — s19971997

2. Compact Disco, “Sound of Our Hearts” (Hungary)


Electronic pop from Budapest. Compact Disco once remixed Franz Liszt’s “Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2″ into a drum and bass song for Red Bull Hungary. This song sounds like the Sneaker Pimps’ “6 Underground” and Rihanna’s “Rehab” (which Justin Timberlake wrote).
Grade: B+
Best YouTube Comment: “The most underrated song of the contest!” — bandaplanet

3. Rona Nishliu, “Suus” (Albania)


Wicked Queen fashion, Chrissie Hynde vibrato, and high-pitched performance art pop wailing from Albania’s Rona Nishliu. The hysterical intensity is because “Suus” was sung in tribute to a horrific school bus accident that claimed 12 lives earlier this month.
Grade: B
Best YouTube Comment: “I think my ears hurt and that she broke all the glasses out there! It’s obvious and I don’t doubt that she has a great voice but in this particular song she rather screams out her pain than singing … Or maybe this was exactly the intended purpose, to have a song that emotionally transmits.” — 1love4music88

4. Donny Montell, “Love Is Blind” (Lithuania)


Rhinestone-studded blindfold is a strong look. Donny Montell, who was born Donatas Montvydas in Lithuania, is a pop singer influenced by Michael Jackson and Freddie Mercury. I’m also getting some George Michael energy. I kept waiting for a piñata to come down, but then the blindfold came off instead and so did all inhibitions. Nice moves, Donny!
Grade: A-
Best YouTube Comment: “HIS EYES!!!!!!!!!!! hypnotizing …” — FashionIsForPleasure

5. Maya Sar, “Korake ti znam” (Bosnia & Herzegovina)


Bosnian singer Maya Sar brings her architectural shoulder pads, wind machine, and invisible string section to the stage but never quite ascends.
Grade: C
Best YouTube Comment: “NEXT YEAR WE WILL NOT LIKE YOUR SONG TOO. BYE BYE YOUR DREAMS.” — dr38a

6. Buranovskiye Babushki, “Party for Everybody” (Russia)


You cannot defeat the Russian grandma band that makes a Star Wars cantina party rock, you can only hope they surround you in a bear hug.
Grade: A
Best YouTube Comment: “these ladies are heroes they did use their money for their small village and church not for themselves if I ever will become 80 years old I want to enjoy life like these beautiful babuschkas :-)” — Kappelfreunde

7. Greta Salome & Jonsi, “Never Forget” (Iceland)


Total Game of Thrones music with Viking Edda overtones. Salome even has that white-blonde Daenerys Targaryen hair. This white-teethed Jonsi (Jon Josep Snaebjornsson) bears absolutely no relation to the other most famous Icelandic musician, Jon “Jonsi” Por Birgisson from Sigur Ros.
Grade: C
Best YouTube Comment: “I really like this song but I’m not sure which terrifies me more; Jonsi’s eyes or Greta’s smile. o.o” — Tasrayryn

8. Ivi Adamou, “La La Love” (Cyprus)


Eighteen-year-old Ivi Adamou was the sixth-place finisher on the Greek franchise of The X Factor. She’s gorgeous, but so what? Played-out genre sound and shaky live notes.
Grade: C+
Best YouTube Comment: “beautiful girl and a good song, but this style is used many times” — turkasha83

9. Anggun, “Echo (You and I)” (France)


Male gymnasts, Cher chiffon trailing off a gold breastplate, and synth whistles from low-voiced Indonesian-French belter Anggun. Shake that hair cape! This reminds me of the Pet Shop Boys and I like it.
Grade: A-
Best YouTube Comment: “oh hot boys I voted that song only for this boys” — Fidan567

10. Nina Zilli, “L’amore e femmina (Out of Love)” (Italy)


Spaghetti Amy Winehouse. Nina Zilli’s first band was called The Jerks (not to be confused with Lydia Lunch’s band Teenage Jesus and The Jerks). Zilli changed her name from Marie to Nina after Nina Simone. This kitschy lite-soul jam isn’t bad, but it’s nothing to send a postcard home about. I could see Quentin Tarantino developing a crush on Nina Zilli.
Grade: B-
Best YouTube Comment: “Actually she started her career BEFORE Amy Winehouse.” — PinofratellodiPaolo

11. Ott Lepland, “Kuula” (Estonia)


Winner of the third season of Eesti Otsib Superstaari (Estonia Is Searching for a Superstar) Ott Lepland has a strong pop-rock voice, but this song is bland fare. Ott played the Zac Efron–originated role of Troy Bolton in Estonian State Puppet & Youth Theatre’s version of High School Musical.
Grade: C
Best YouTube Comment: “This is proof positive that great performances transcend language differences, how many people were moved by this song without understanding its meaning.” — 1iceland

12. Tooji, “Stay” (Norway)


Tooji is a Norwegian pop star of Iranian descent. He was a model and now works as a “child protection consultant in the department of after-care.” I was all set to dismiss this, but then he started yelling “YOU BETTER WORK” and I was like, Tooji should be opening for Lady Gaga. He finished in last place.
Grade: B-
Best YouTube Comment: “His sexy hip moves just drive me wild. Song isn’t great though, but as others have said, it’s a million zillion times better than the Russian grannies.” — donnaghm

13. Sabina Babayeva, “When the Music Dies” (Azerbaijan)


Sabina Babayeva has the homecourt advantage, as Eurovision took place in Azerbaijan’s capital, Baku, this year. I love how mugham singer Alim Qasimov is killing it in the background. Björk has called Qasimov her favorite living singer.
Grade: B
Best YouTube Comment: “Has anyone even listened to this woman? Her voice reaches so high, but everyone keeps bitching about those lips! At least that mouth can produce a beautiful sound!” — ChocoladeVerslaafde

14. Mandinga, “Zaleilah” (Romania)


Oh you know, moonwalking dancers, bagpipes, and pyro effects. Original Mandinga lead singer Elena Gheorghe was replaced with current vocalist Elena Ionescu. This is truly the most European of all the entries. “Zaleilah” is the new “Zou Bisou Bisou.”
Grade: A-
Best YouTube Comment: “she could be a good wonder woman!” — nedada

15. Soluna Samay, “Should’ve Known Better” (Denmark)


Soluna Samay is the captain of the good ship coffeeshop rock. Soluna was apparently a “wild card” pick for Denmark. I wanna know more about the guy playing a cello in streetwear. Are those jellyfish or hot air balloons in the background?
Grade: B
Best YouTube Comment: “too good for eurovision!” — tsugify

16. Eleftheria Eleftheriou, “Aphrodisiac” (Greece)


Not the best Greek pop has to offer. The giant clam shell Aphrodite routine is perfect for Eurovision, but the song is grating and repetitive without being especially hooky.
Grade: D
Best YouTube Comment: “I would Greece her up … ” — CTFxC4LIFE

17. Loreen, “Euphoria” (Sweden)


This Swedish dance-pop trance anthem won the overall competition and will likely be a worldwide summer hit. I want whatever Loreen is on. It apparently gives you the power to swan around barefoot in scarves like Stevie Nicks while doing the Hammer dance. A perfect tacky electronic sunshower.
Grade: A
Best YouTube Comment: “A Swede girl dancing like a Japanese martial artist singing a power ballad to techno music. I like the 21st century :)” — Vaeran7

18. Can Bonomo, “Love Me Back” (Turkey)


Like the world’s most embarrassing musical I didn’t know existed. Can Bonomo is a Sephardic Jew from Turkey. This reminds me of, like, Big Bad Bad Voodoo Daddy and Andrew Lloyd Webber. So weird and campy I almost want to like it, but I’m cringing too much. Vampire sailors?
Grade: C
Best YouTube Comment: “didn’t know sacha baron cohen was doing this now :3″ — immortalinfernape

19. Pastora Soler, “Quedate Conmigo” (Spain)


A big barn burner from Spanish singer Pastora Soler, who is better known for her electronic copla and flamenco pop. Soler nails all the high notes and looks like an awesome witch doing an incantation.
Grade: B+
Best YouTube Comment: “I just can’t get enough of her … thank you for participating this year Pastora!” — MrUilenstede

20. Roman Lob, “Standing Still” (Germany)


Roman Lob was the lead singer of alternative rock band Rooftop Kingdom and a founding member of German metalcore band Days of Despite. This song was written by Jamie Cullum and put me to sleep without making me feel anything, despite all the grand flourishes.
Grade: D
Best YouTube Comment: “He looks somehow like a friendly cute toy animal. I wanna buy one.” — zanechi

21. Kurt Calleja, “This Is the Night” (Malta)


Maltese singer Kurt Calleja wrote this inspirational anthem that combines all the tropes of recent pop music and stews them into a bland nocturnal soup. Nice footwork, though.
Grade: C
Best YouTube Comment: “Love the footwork ^__^” — TheLadySilverMoon

22. Kaliopi, “Cmo i belo” (Macedonia)


Kaliopi is a Macedonian diva whose power metal-ish voice (and scream) makes this ballad easily rise above all the other similar entries.
Grade: A-
Best YouTube Comment: “I LOVE IT … and the scream. I had the music loud and I saw it with my mom. She screamed also because the scream scared her so much :D” — 1Vorname1Nachname1

23. Jedward, “Waterline” (Ireland)


If you want the essence of Eurovision, here you go. Jedward are an Irish duo of identical twins that make bubblegum pop like this song, which features manic energy, nautical Wham! waves, and a flamboyant accompanying dance routine in gold lamé spacesuits. They remind me of Terrance and Phillip. Just when you thought it couldn’t get more insane, they get wet.
Grade: A
Best YouTube Comment: “If You’re Gonna Be Mean bout Jedward Just Bury Your Head In A Hole! What’s There To Hate? They Don’t Drink, Smoke, Do Drugs, Don’t Party Like Wild Yokes And They CAN SING! They Were The Real Winners To Jedheads!” — MissEmma085

24. Zeljko Joksimovic, “Nije ljubav stvar” (Serbia)


Serbian singer/composer/producer Zeljko Joksimovic wrote the music for this song, whose lyrics were written by Marina Tucakovic and Milos Roganovic. He has a silky voice and the instrumentation soars.
Grade: A-
Best YouTube Comment: “so sensitive song, my heart is full …….. congratulations Zeljko” — emiliaconstance

25. Gaitana, “Be My Guest” (Ukraine)


Gaitana is a Ukrainian singer of Ukrainian and Congolese descent. She has a collection of purses, a pet dog named Pipita, and is a fantastic table tennis player. Flower crowns, cheesy rave graphics, and ’90s vibes. Is this a fashion blog? Gaitana has a voice on her. What’s with the dubstep?
Grade: C+
Best YouTube Comment: “I dunno, I find it hard to groove to this one, I just don’t know why … ” — blackjudas77

26. Pasha Parfeny, “Lautar” (Moldova)


Jazzy high jinks from Moldova’s Pasha Parfeny. Are those harem riding pants? This song is about a trumpet. OK, I have to go listen to hours of looped guitar feedback or something to clear my mind palate now.
Grade: F
Best YouTube Comment: “I thought he was singing ‘this wallet makes you mine girl’ Apparently he’s saying trumpet, now the song doesn’t seem so seedy lol.” — AmusementWorldWide

Filed Under: Grading the Charts

Photo on 2014-01-10 at 12.58 #3

Molly Lambert is a staff writer for Grantland.

Archive @ mollylambert