Music

Eurovision: Seven weird moments that show why it’s the greatest song contest

Every year, Eurovision sees the continent come together in peace, hope and song. And if you’re lucky it’ll get a bit weird.

Weird Eurovision star Verka

Weird Eurovision star Verka. Credit: Alina Vozna

There are many great reasons to tune into Eurovision – the spectacle, the message of peace between nations, the generations of breakthroughs for LGBT+ representation, the drinking games. Last year, the contest proved it still has the power to strike a blow for liberty against aggression. Ukraine lifted the trophy following massive, continent-wide support for the nation’s entry, Kalush Orchestra, in what was widely seen as a smack in the face for the Russian leader, Vladimir Putin. It is a tribute to the genius of the show that it can do all this and still be deeply weird and often hilarious.

If you aren’t lucky enough to be heading off to Liverpool to see this year’s contest in its real-life glory – do not despair! This series of what-the-hell bombshells will get any Eurovision party off to a great start.

A monster hit from Finland, 2006

After years of Eurovision disappointment, in 2006 Finland looked at the song contest and thought, ‘You know what this needs? More metallers in monster outfits.’ And lo, with Lordi’s Hard Rock Hallelujah they were proven right. Possibly the competition’s most surprising winner, the song nonetheless brings some classic Eurovision elements to the cauldron. Though delivered gruffly into a microphone that doubles as an axe, the song is instantly hummable, with satisfyingly cheesy lyrics (“It’s the arockalypse, now bare your soul”) and a monster chorus. As Terry Wogan astutely observed, “Every year I expect it to be less foolish, and every year it is more so.”

Verdict: Satisfying for Eurovision’s rocker fans, but we can get weirder. 

Weirdness rating: Two out of five

I’ve got Eurovision in my pocket: Telex at Eurovision 1980

A trip back to simpler times. 1980 – when the sprinkling of handfuls of glitter out of your pocket was the showstopping moment for Belgian surrealists Telex’s sorely underrated entry, Euro-Vision. Everything about this performance is sheer perfection, from the dissonance between the upbeat keyboards and the curiously disenchanted vocals, to the synchronised swaying dance, to the moment singer Marc Moulin makes his hands into goggles and looks through them straight to camera. As an Irish woman, I am constitutionally incapable of besmirching the good name of eventual victor Johnny Logan, the only man to win Eurovision twice – watch this space to see if Sweden’s Loreen can join him in 2023 – but Telex were profoundly ill-served by the national juries, coming 17th out of 19 countries. They’d aimed to come last.

Verdict: A deadpan masterpiece.

Weirdness rating: Three out of five

Guildo loves you… and he’s gone to death-defying lengths to show it

Leading a band called Die Orthopädischen Strümpfe (the Orthopedic Stockings), Guildo Horn immediately cuts an odd figure in this 1998 performance of Guildo hat euch lieb (Guildo Loves You). Turquoise velvet-suited, he throws aside a floor length cape to launch into a production that has to be seen to be believed. Energetic just doesn’t cover it. You might think he’s peaked half-way through the song when he leaps off stage to accost the front row of the audience. You’d be wrong. There’s still a hand bell solo to come and the moment when it all almost ends in tears, as he finishes with an eye-wateringly ill-advised clamber up the set… while wearing platform boots. We genuinely thought we were about to watch a Eurovision tragedy live on TV.

Verdict: Alarmingly weird. Remains a toe-tapper.

Weirdness rating: Four out of five

 

Love, Love, Peace, Peace: Sweden Frankensteins together the perfect weird Eurovision entry

Swedish pop singer Måns Zelmerlöw was already a Eurovision Hero for his ground-breaking multi-media performance of 2015’s winning entry… but it was one year later, in his native Stockholm, that he ascended to Eurovision godhood. He and comedian Petra Mede launched headlong into the weirdest half-time performance ever – and the best host entertainment since Riverdance blew everyone’s minds in 1994. Frolicking along the fine line between sarcasm and affection, Love, Love, Peace, Peace skewers Eurovision with a Cupid’s arrow of mockery.

Verdict: Hilarious, but too self-aware to be properly strange.

Weirdness rating: Two out of five

 

BDSM, anarchism and a fine for political protest: Hatari represent Iceland, 2019

Proving that Eurovision isn’t always anodyne messages about peace and love, Iceland’s punk performance artists Hatari arrived in Israel in 2019 determined to make waves. Their entry, Hatrið mun sigra (Hatred Will Prevail) was three minutes of heavy industrial techno, delivered in BDSM outfits, surrounded by leaping flames. It features the contest’s most unusual plea for European unity: “Hate will prevail, and Europe’s heart impale; burn off its web of lies. Now from that conflagration, rise in unity.” But it was their pro-Palestinian protest at the end of the contest that got them into hot water. Having flouted warnings from Eurovision head honcho Jon Ola Sand not to break Eurovision’s no-politics rule, the Icelandic public broadcaster was fined €5,000 for Hatari’s actions – the smallest possible penalty.

Verdict: Oddly righteous.

Weirdness rating: Three out of five

 

Time for a tipple: Raising a glass to the late, great Sir Terry Wogan

Over the course of more than three decades, Eurovision became synonymous for UK audiences with the dulcet tones – and frequently cutting observations – of veteran broadcaster Sir Terry Wogan. Though Eurovision producer Christer Bjorkman shockingly claimed he “totally spoiled” the competition with his cheek, Tel’s legions of UK fans know the truth: his twinkle-eyed commentary was as essential to Eurovision as the big voices, big hair and shambolic voting system. Wogan famously enjoyed a refreshment or two during the marathon show, but when fellow Irishman Graham Norton took over the BBC commentating job in 2009, Tel handed over some sage advice: don’t crack open your first drink until you have eight songs behind you, otherwise you’ll not make it to the end. Since Sir Terry sadly left us in 2016, it has become a weird Eurovision tradition to stop and raise a toast to the great man just before song nine.

Verdict: Sláinte! An essential tribute to the ultimate broadcaster.

Weirdness rating:  One out of five

 

Verka Serduchka’s shiny earworm, Eurovision 2007

Resplendent in an airhostess outfit made of tinfoil, with a Christmas tree ornament on his head, Ukrainian drag artist Verka’s 2007 performance is one of the all-time great ‘what am I looking at?’ moments in the history of Eurovision. The song is infuriatingly catchy, has its own arm-waving dance, and employs the traditional mid-song key change to deadly effect. Verka has gone on to become a bit of a Eurovision mainstay, making much-loved guest appearances in both 2017 and 2019. He also scored a cameo in the 2015 Paul Feig-directed Hollywood comedy Spy, alongside Melissa McCarthy, Jason Statham, and Miranda Hart. Verka remains a Ukrainian national hero – expect another visit in 2023. For extra points, this is a hell of an outfit for anyone heading to the contest in Liverpool!

Verdict: Douze points. The Ukrainian drag queen of Eurovision weird.

Weirdness rating: Five out of five 

The Eurovision Song Contest 2023 runs from May 9-13. Read our essential guide to this year’s competition here.

Read all our Eurovision coverage here.

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