What do The Colosseum, the Acropolis, Notre Dame Cathedral, and the Eurovision Song Contest have in common? You got it, they’re all treasured European landmarks of culture not to be missed.
Once a year, the singing competition summons eccentrics and talented hopefuls across the continent to a battlefield marked by lavish costumes, stilt-wearing dancers, and absurdly-themed performances. Yes, occasionally geopolitical voting plays a part, and neighboring countries band together when it comes to awarding points, but mostly this is just a good, fun romp that can be taken very seriously.
Since its inception in 1956, The Eurovision Song Contest has birthed celebrated stars, — Celine Dion, Abba — but the real fascination with the competition lies in the wonderfully wacky entries that truly have to be seen to be believed. So without further ado, EW presents the 10 most memorable contestants of all time. Andiamo!
Verka Serduchka — “Dancing Lasha Tumbai,” Ukrainian entry , 2007
Glitter balls as props seem like old news when watching Serduchka turn herself into a big, bouncing glitterball. Supported by mesmerizing backup dancers, she performs the catchy ditty and sings in four languages: Russian, Ukrainian, German, and English. Serduchka adds punch to the “Ok! Happy end,” closing lyric by tracing a heart sign with her hands and thrusting her hips. That sign-off surely put the singer in first place, right? Nope, she was awarded second.
Lordi – “Hard Rock Hallelujah,” Finnish entry, 2006
Are you ready for the “arockalypse?” Europeans in 2006 sure were. They crowned this Kiss-inspired, heavy metal group winners — the first and only time hardcore rockers have taken the top spot. The band’s monster costumes, which perfect the we-just-stumbled-out-of-an-episode-of-Buffy look, were all made by lead singer Mr Lordi, who is a professional makeup artist and sculptor. After the band’s victory, postage stamps with Lordi’s picture on them were issued in Finland, and a brand of soda was even named after the band.
Cezar — “It’s My Life” Romanian entry, 2013
Cezar’s performance was Phantom of the Opera meets Europop and it couldn’t be more magical. Sure, the title and lyrics aren’t wholly original, but from that bejeweled collar to the major plot twist at the 45-second mark, Cezar is a hands-down fan favorite. Not even the kryptonite-like stage decor could diminish the Romanian’s stage presence. And did you expect barely-dressed male acrobats to emerge from the red sea around him? Eurovision genius. Sadly, though, he only came in 13th place.
Pirates of the Sea — “Wolves of the Sea,” Latvian entry, 2008
There’s no denying a swashbuckling good time was had by all at Pirates of the Sea’s performance. Though there’s a clear homage to Pirates of the Caribbean and full open-water theme, this group only came in 12th place out of the 25 entries that year. But they do get bonus points for including pirates pirouetting in time to guttural groans, the use of an atmospheric smoke machine, and the lyric “We will steal the show, jolly rogers go!”
Dustin the Turkey — “Irelande Douze Pointe,” Irish entry, 2008
In 2008, Ireland sent a turkey to represent their nation in this musical spectacle. Specifically, turkey puppet named Dustin. Need we go on? (And no, the contest wasn’t held in Turkey that year.) Despite the feather boas, it turned out the entry was a bit of a turkey itself and failed to make it past the semi-final stage of the competition.
Buranovskiye Babushki —“Party For Everybody,” Russian entry, 2012
Yes, they mean a party for everybody. This entry featured a group of grandmas having a nice singsong while they waited for their bread dough to rise. And rise, they did — the babushkas bagged second place, narrowly losing out to Sweden.
Krassimir Avramov, “Illusion,” Bulgarian entry, 2009
Dancers in stilts seem to be a Eurovision staple. Ignore the squealing these guys attempt to pass off as singing in the first 20 seconds, and instead enjoy mashup of themes vying for attention. The performance is Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat meets Power Rangers, meets Robin Hood — and that’s just the costuming. If they had stuck to one theme, maybe then Krassimir Avramov would have made it past the semi-final.
Sertab Erener – “Everyway That I Can,” Turkish entry, 2003
We certainly can’t fault a performer for incorporating Shakira-style moves, but what’s inexplicable is the weird desire to witness one of backup dancers tread on the singer’s train and send the whole crew tumbling, neck first. Despite her slightly violent moves, 2003’s winner definitely earns points for her rapping skills. “You make me wanna ‘haha,’” she chants. Yes, you do, Sertab.
Michalis Rakintzis. “S.A.G.A.P.O.” Greek entry, 2002
Here we have a song about a password, accented by marching-style dance moves and a band dressed in bizarre Stormtrooper-esque outfits. Unsurprisingly, the password seekers came in 17th place in the final that year.
Jedward — “Waterline” Irish entry, 2012
It’s quite remarkable that twins can be so out of sync, but 90 percent of the guys’ moves are charmingly out of time with one another — the high five at the 1:58-mark is particularly painful. Between the costumes, the hair, the almost-synchronized head choreography, and the show-stopping cartwheels, there’s so much movement that at times it’s easy to forget there’s even a song to hear. But, that watery ending. Wow. Give the boys their trophy. Or, you know, 19th place.