There is nothing quite like the Eurovision Song Contest, a show where anything goes and more is almost always more. As this year’s Eurovision week kicks off in Liverpool, here’s a reminder of some of the weird and wonderful moments from contests past. Warning: contains an out-of-tune singing turkey.
20Montenegro’s memorable hairography
At the 2017 contest in Kyiv, Slavko Kalezić gamely sang ‘Space’, a disco tune packed with ludicrous innuendo. “The spaceship is ready to blow, drunk in love, I’m gonna explode!” he sings with a wink. The performance peaks in the middle, when he grabs his glorious plaited ponytail and spins it around like a helicopter. Guttingly, Kalezić only finished 16th in his semi, so we didn’t get to see his “ponycopter” again in the final.
19The UK’s surprise snub
Gina G’s Eurodance banger ‘Ooh Aah… Just A Little Bit’ is one of the best Eurovision songs ever: it became a global hit after the 1996 contest in Oslo, and even got nominated for a Grammy. But surprisingly, it only finished eighth in that year’s grand final, which was the last to be decided solely by jury vote. A year later, Eurovision introduced televoting for the first time, changing the game forever.
18Norway’s mystery pop stars
At last year’s contest in Turin, everyone was talking about Subwoolfer, an elusive duo hiding Daft Punk-style behind wolf masks. Though Eurovision sleuths guessed their true identities at the time, Subwoolfer finally confirmed in February that they are in fact Norwegian singer Gaute Ormåsen and Ben Adams of boyband A1. Still, the PR trick paid off, helping them to a creditable 10th place finish with their psychedelic EDM anthem ‘Give That Wolf A Banana’.
17Russia’s big reveal
In 2021, singer-songwriter Manizha made an all-time great Eurovision entrance by gliding on stage in a giant patchwork dress. Less than a minute later, she emerged from the front of the costume in a jumpsuit – a reveal worthy of RuPaul’s Drag Race. It wasn’t just a gimmick, but a clever visual shorthand for her song ‘Russian Woman’, which challenged stereotypical notions of femininity.
16Sweden’s tongue-in-cheek interval triumph
Interval performances at Eurovision can be hit or miss – just ask Madonna, who misunderstood the assignment in 2019. Three years earlier, Swedish presenters Mans Zelmerlöw and Petra Mede smashed it with ‘Love Love Peace Peace’, a thoroughly affectionate and very funny pastiche of Eurovision tropes featuring cameos from past winners Lordi and Alexander Rybak. Even on a parody track, nothing beats Swedish songwriting.
15Germany’s military disco
In 1979, Germany formed the disco band Dschinghis Khan especially for Eurovision. Their song, also called ‘Dschinghis Khan’, was a bizarre but catchy tribute to Gengis Khan, founder of the Mongolian Empire. Boney M had scored a big hit a year earlier with ‘Rasputin’, you can kind of see the logic – historical disco sells! But given that Khan’s empire had conquered chunks of Eastern Europe back in the day, it perhaps wasn’t the most tactful choice. Still, they managed to claim fourth place anyway.
141969’s four-way tie
In Eurovision’s early years, fewer countries competed for far fewer points. At the 1969 contest in Madrid, four acts – the UK’s Lulu, Spain’s Salomé, France’s Frida Boccara and Netherlands’ Lenny Kuhr – finished with 18 points apiece. Because there was no tiebreaker rule in place, they were all declared joint winners – the first and last time this would happen. Shared or not, Lulu deserves credit for snatching victory with a throwaway trifle ‘Boom Bang-a-Bang’.
13Croatia’s unusual duet
Jacques Houdek made Eurovision history in 2017 by becoming the first contestant to duet with himself. Throughout ‘My Friend’, a sappy boyband-style ballad, he switches between singing in English in an angelic falsetto and belting out Italian lyrics in an operatic style. His vocal dexterity earned him a credible 13th place finish, proving that a dash of camp can improve even the most saccharine song.
12Ireland’s famous turkey
Ireland has won Eurovision seven times, more than any other country, but their recent record is pretty spotty. The low point came in 2007, when they sent comedy puppet act Dustin the Turkey with ‘Irelande Douze Points’, a crushingly unsubtle novelty song. “Give us another chance, we’re sorry for ‘Riverdance’,” Dustin barks over a tinny beat. It’s a bit like Mr Blobby repping the UK with a tune called ‘Let Us Do Less Shit This Year’. Except Blobby would do better.
11Moldova’s rogue circus performer
Eurovision rules state that you’re allowed up to – but no more than – six performers on stage. In 2005, Moldovan five-piece Zdob și Zdub gave their spare spot, somewhat inexplicably, to a random unicyclist who rode on stage pretending to play the bugle. Their folk-rock stomper ‘So Lucky’ finished in 10th place, so perhaps the gimmick paid off.
10Romania’s bloody great showstopper
Romanian’s 2013 entrant Cezar was the very definition of ‘extra’. Dressed like a camp vampire, he belted out his operatic club banger ‘It’s My Life’ in a piercing falsetto while hoofers painted red performed an interpretive dance. Chuck in a dubstep breakdown, and a ridiculous finale in which Cezar hovers high above the stage, and you have a properly bonkers Eurovision moment.
9Iceland’s scandalous anthem of hate
Because Eurovision is all about “love love peace peace”, it’s fun when an act really goes the other way. In 2019, Icelandic techno-punks Hatari claimed 10th place with ‘Hatrið Mun Sigra’, a song whose title means “hatred will prevail”. Their Eurovision vibe was also basically ‘performance art in an S&M club’ – quite a thing to beam out to 182 million viewers. An honorary “douze points” goes to the guy in the cage who spends the entire three minutes swinging a hammer.
8Moldova’s epic sax guy
Sergey Stepanov – sax player in Moldova’s SunStroke Project – became an internet sensation during the 2010 contest. The band’s Eurodance tune ‘Run Away’ only finished 22nd, but on YouTube you can watch a 10-hour remix of Stepanov gyrating his hips mesmerisingly while he plays his instrument. When SunStroke Project returned to Eurovision seven years later with a stronger song, ‘Hey, Mamma!’, they claimed a well-deserved third place. #JusticeForEpicSaxGuy.
7France’s awkward performance
French electropop singer Sébastien Tellier caused controversy in 2008 because his Eurovision song, ‘Divine’, was sung almost entirely in English – something the country had never allowed before. At that year’s final in Belgrade, Tellier arrived on stage in a golf buggy and tried to hit a high note after breathing in helium from an inflatable globe. Gallic kitsch or taking the piss? Probably a bit of both, but it only got him 19th place.
6Poland’s provocative parody
Donatan & Cleo only finished 14th in 2014, but their performance of ‘My Słowianie’ certainly caused a stir. Featuring one female backing dancer suggestively churning butter and another performing laundry with a glint in her eye, it was dismissed as “soft porn” by a pearl-clutching member of the UK jury. Given that the song’s Polish lyrics send up sexist stereotypes of Slavic women, Donatan & Cleo should definitely take this prudish critique as a compliment.
5Finland’s hard-rocking triumph
Lordi made history in 2002 when they became the first heavy metal act to top the leaderboard. Performed by the band in monster costumes, and set off by eyebrow-singeing pyrotechnics, their winning song ‘Hard Rock Hallelujah’ was like nothing Eurovision had seen before. It’s a brilliant, disruptive moment in the contest’s history that arguably paved the way for glam-rockers Måneskin to claim victory 19 years later.
4Australia’s pop-opera pole-dancing
When classically trained singer Kate Miller-Heidke represented Australia in 2019, her performance really soared. Quite literally: she sang ‘Zero Gravity’ while attached to a bendy pole that allowed her to swoop and sway to the music. Miller-Heidke’s genuinely innovative staging – and superb operatic vocals – should have got her much higher than ninth place.
3The UK’s crude cabin crew
The UK got it iconically wrong in 2007 when we sent Scooch – the Tesco Value Steps – to Helsinki. The group’s airline-themed banger ‘Flying The Flag (For You)’ was packed with end-of-the-pier double entendres that failed to land anywhere outside of Ireland and Malta, the only two countries to award it points. It’s still wild to recall that it actually features the lyric: “Would you like something to suck on for landing, sir?”
2Russia’s dancing grannies
In 2012, the contest was almost won by Russian six-piece Buranovskiye Babushki, whose name translates as “Buranovo Grannies”. Their techno-folk banger ‘Party For Everybody’ kind of slaps, but they almost certainly snatched second place thanks to their charming performance, which involved baking bread on stage. The whole thing could be read as a sly challenge to ageism in the music industry… but in reality, it’s probably just dancing grannies.
1Ukraine’s drag disruptor
Eurovision’s unique brand of kitsch peaked in 2007 with Verka Serduchka’s ‘Dancing Lasha Tumbai’. Gloriously tasteless, shamelessly silly and strangely infectious, it finished in second place, making Verka – who was serving Christopher Biggins crossed with Su Pollard – a Eurovision legend. She’s back this year as a interval act: expect the fact that “lasha tumbai” sounds a lot like “Russia goodbye!” to feel more pointed than ever.