Ah, Eurovision: the contest Europeans love and Brits love to hate. (And just like the EU, it seems Eurovision probably doesn’t like us much either. Grand Bretagne – Nul points!). Devotees of kitsch in their hundreds of thousands flood every year to a generic-looking stadium in some Mitteleuropean capital to watch an endless succession of long-haired chanteuses and hectic prepubescent boy bands mangling the English language in the name of continental unity. Made bearable by Graham Norton’s wine-soaked voiceover, Eurovision loudly proclaims itself a cultural icon, considerably detracting from its own appeal, which lies almost solely in wacky outsider charm.
So far, America has held itself irritatingly aloof from Eurovision’s grip on the western world. Fans pop up across the States each year to poke fun at the oddest contestants, but it has always maintained the status of fascinating spectacle to them, like a bizarre bodily growth on a TV medical show. Europeans have to constantly acknowledge responsibility for the whole hairy mess. The recent Netflix release Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga seemed to be the culmination of their rubbernecking dance with obsession, but it looks like America has been careless with its wishes. The US’s interest in the contest has allowed the Eurovision producers to feel justified in creating an American spinoff, titled – wait for it – The American Song Contest. Rather than pitting country against country, US states will battle it out for the dubious honour of being allowed to host the competition the following year. Whether Americans will dive headfirst into the light fun of a competition with no cash prize remains to be seen.
In honour of the expansion of the Eurovision empire, here are some of the most bizarre, iconic and funny songs ever to come out of the European contest. Batten down the hatches, America; there’s a storm a-brewing from the east.
10. Izhar Cohen and Alphabeta – A-Ba-Ni-Bi (1978)
Back in the days when Eurovision singers were backed by a full studio orchestra, this was Israel’s first win, its nonsensical lyrics composed in a Hebrew children’s language that adds “b” after every vowel. A relic from a simpler time, when the stage was small enough to see the performers on.
9. Telex – Euro Vision (1980)
Undoubtedly the most intentionally boring entry in Eurovision history, Euro Vision is a parodic gem that shows us just how much dancing you can get out of a scarf. Belgium’s entrants later claimed that they were aiming for the bottom spot, but they were elevated to 17th out of 19 contestants. Bad luck.
8. Cezar – It’s My Life (2013)
Romanian banshee Cezar made the executive decision to dress as a vampire onstage. And that wasn’t even the weirdest part of his act – with a falsetto to rival Morrissey, he goes up a full two octaves from the first chorus on.
7. Lordi – Hard Rock Hallelujah (2006)
This Finnish entry was an improbable favourite in 2006. The song reached number 25 in the UK Top 40 following the contest. I dread to think how long it took him to get into that costume.
6. Dustin the Turkey – Irelande Douze Pointe (2008)
Surely the most brazen attempt at point-gathering in all of Eurovision history, this hyperactive muckfest from Ireland failed to make it to the final despite openly soliciting “douze points” (twelve points) from the booing spectators.
5. ABBA – Waterloo (1974)
This was the winning song that shot the Swedish four-piece to European and, eventually, world fame. Who could have predicted that the line “And I have met my destiny in quite a similar way” would usher in superstardom for Agnetha, Benny, Björn and Anni-Frid? It also means we have Eurovision to thank for Pierce Brosnan’s vocals in Mamma Mia. Thanks, Eurovision.
4. Donatan & Cleo – My Słowianie (We Are Slavic) (2014)
The “highlight” of this Polish offering was the suggestively unclad milkmaids who churned butter onstage in time with the surprisingly belligerent-sounding lyrics. Notable, too, for being a popular entry featuring the main language of its country, My Słowianie is an endearingly tasteless paean to “hot Slavic blood”. Gosh.
3. Conchita Wurst – Rise Like a Phoenix (2014)
Donatan & Cleo didn’t stand a chance against Conchita Wurst, the power-ballad-belting Austrian drag queen who took the competition by storm in 2014. While her song contains a hefty dose of typical Eurovision cod philosophy, Conchita’s performance is undeniably captivating, and she gained an unusually large degree of success after her win.
2. Buranovskiye Babushki – Party for Everybody (2012)
How can you not love these matchy-matchy Russian grandmas? Enthusiastically singing in an unintelligible mix of English and Russian, they garnered attention for their can-do attitude and the biscuits they baked onstage during their song. They really had it all.
1. Verda Serduchka – Dancing Lasha Tumbai (2007)
I remember watching Ukraine’s entry for 2007 on TV, wondering if life would ever be this good again. With even more languages under their belt than the babushki, their lyrical simplicity (90% of the song is just the words “Ein zwei”) and space-age Teletubbies outfits clinch this act as the weirdest Eurovision product ever.