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A Guide to Eurovision’s Craziest Performances

Eurovision doesn’t do subtle. Photo: Soeren Stache/picture alliance via Getty Images

When the first Eurovision contest was held, in May 1956, founder Marcel Bezençon couldn’t have imagined his soon-to-be wildly famous Pan-European song competition would one day give us the likes of dancing grannies, rapping astronauts, and the almighty Ukrainian drag queen Verka Serduchka. But as the contest for catchy three-minute tunes has grown, so has its propensity for outlandish costumes, staging, and choreography. As many of its most unforgettable moments prove, some of the best Eurovision competitors involve one country submitting a performance with the simple hope that millions of others will either tap their feet or get the joke.

In honor of this year’s contest in Liverpool, we’re updating our original collection of standout Eurovision sets with entries from 2021 and 2022. These performances took a mad dash to the strange and unforgettable side of Eurovision history, many of them seemingly supported by countries without ever meaning to seriously win. (By the look of this year’s lineup, we can expect more noteworthy acts, especially if Croatia’s Let 3! and Austria’s Teya and Salena embrace those mustaches.)

Sophie & Magaly, “Papa Pingouin” (Luxembourg, 1980)

This list is going to focus mostly on the modern iteration of Eurovision — performances that come after 1999, when the contest got rid of live orchestra accompaniment in favor of backing tracks — but we’ve got to honor the catchy penguin ditty “Papa Pingouin” and the costumes it gave the world. Luxembourg’s 1980 submission featured singing sisters Sophie and Magaly in bright, triangular tuxedo suits that predate Klaus Nomi’s similar fashion, accompanied by a tall man who waddles around onstage in a large sequin penguin costume (the backup singers were in penguin sequins, too). Eurovision entries sometimes waver between bleeding-heart power ballads and eager dance tunes, but this one is silly just for the sake of it, advancing an attitude that would inform countless playful and memorable entries from the decades to come.

LT United, “We Are the Winners” (Lithuania, 2006)

Some countries seem to offer submissions that intentionally throw their chances of victory into the trash, but it was a Lithuanian supergroup that declared themselves winners from the very first sentence. Bringing some pompous sarcasm to the contest’s playful nature, “We Are the Winners” forces audiences to associate its title phrase with their hooky melody, bouncing along like a Green Day song sans crunchy guitars. Performed with specific minimalism, the act featured the men standing on the stage and eyeing the camera, until one of them breaks out into flailing dance moves to the tune of a violin solo. Though the tune only went to sixth place, LT United succeeded in stealing a piece of Eurovision history.

Verka Serduchka, “Dancing Lasha Tumbai” (Ukraine, 2007)

“Dancing Lasha Tumbai,” from Ukraine’s silver-adorned drag queen Verka Serduchka, is undoubtedly one of Eurovision’s most famous performances. Her set in the 2007 contest looked like it was dropped in from a space disco that specialized in sequin dresses. Driven by a repetitive accordion hook, the song has Serduchka marching around the stage in high heels with a big star on her head. Her outfit alone helped make this an iconic moment, but the song achieved its own history when it ended up winning second place that year.

DJ BoBo, “Vampires Are Alive” (Switzerland, 2007)

For some reason, Switzerland wanted to earnestly tell Eurovision audiences that vampires were indeed alive, and also that “we will be forever young.” Built around these sentiments, this peppy banger from DJ BoBo is total Eurovision-grade cheese. There’s no bloodsucking here, but plenty of fierce looks with questionable hair and makeup choices.

Scooch, “Flying the Flag” (United Kingdom, 2007)

Flight attendants don’t have many songs to call their own, but the United Kingdom sought to adjust that with the anthem “Flying the Flag,” as performed by bubblegum-pop group Scooch. This performance was pure flight-attendant campiness, with beverage carts and preflight instructions incorporated into dance moves and lyrics that barely conceal their innuendos (“Would you like something to suck on for the landing?”). It’s one of those Eurovision performances that aimed for a big wink more than anything else; they even made sure to include a metal detector onstage.

Dustin the Turkey, “Irelande Douze Pointe” (Ireland, 2008)

Eurovision’s history of silliness hit another high point when puppet Dustin the Turkey took the stage in 2008 to perform his not-so-subtle earworm “Irelande Douze Pointe.” As a cheeky bid for 12-point votes (the highest any nation can give to another), it was performed by the puppet and accompanied by high-energy dancers meant to look like Irish turkeys. The song leaned into the nation’s desperation of getting points from other nations, even to the point of self-deprecation: “Give us another chance / we’re sorry for Riverdance.” The performance won 15th place.

Pirates of the Sea, “Wolves of the Sea” (Latvia, 2008)

Sometimes, a country’s Eurovision submission seems written by the costumes first, as was the case with the Latvian group Pirates of the Sea. Their 2008 performance “Wolves of the Sea” was basically little more than a pirate costume party that happened to have singing, fist-pumping, and a generic beat. To their credit, the Latvian group fully commits to their wobbly plastic swords, kitschy costumes, and simple choreography. It was enough to get the song to 12th place.

Rodolfo Chikilicuatre, “Baila el Chiki-Chiki” (Spain, 2008)

Comedian Rodolfo Chikilicuatre, wearing an Elvis-esque wig, opened his Eurovision performance with a toy-guitar riff that led into his reggaeton goof “Baila el Chiki-Chiki.” It’s a performance designed to disrupt the usual smoothness of a Eurovision dance routine, with one dancer even making a point to constantly stagger after she initially falls to the ground. All the while, Chikilicuatre’s lyrics are full of sly political references, cementing this as a deep troll move from Spain that adds to the contest’s overall absurdity.

Svetlana Loboda, “Be My Valentine (Anti-Crisis Girl)” (Ukraine, 2008)

We have Ukraine and Svetlana Loboda to thank for a Eurovision performance that breathlessly mixes sexy Roman soldiers, a blinding light show, and a set piece that features three massive gears. Before you even get your bearings, the high-energy Loboda sits behind a drum set and performs a solo while surrounded by Ukrainian flags and pyrotechnics. The lyrics to “Be My Valentine (Anti-Crisis Girl)” might seem like they were devised in a factory, but this must-see moment from Eurovision history is assuredly not.

Who See, “Igranka” (Montenegro, 2013)

Rap does not have an expansive history in the Eurovision contest, but it does have one standout moment from 2013. The rap duo Who See put on astronaut suits for their hardcore rap/dubstep song “Igranka,” set amid a haze of smoke and green lasers. Things got nuttier when singer Nina Žižić emerged from the floor in a makeshift cyborg costume, inspiring the two rappers to pretend like they’re moving in slow motion. The whole thing was presented with complete seriousness, which somehow makes Montenegro’s musical statement (which took 12th place that year) even more spectacular.

Pertti Kurikan Nimipäivät, “Aina Mun Pitää” (Finland, 2015)

The closest that Eurovision ever got to producing a mosh pit came in 2015. That’s when Finland sent punk-rock band Pertti Kurikan Nimipäivät to barrel through their minor-key power chords and garage-ready riffs by performing “Aina Mun Pitää,” the shortest song in the contest’s history. Rarely does a Eurovision track rock this hard (even harder than Lordi’s winning “Hard Rock Hallelujah”), as lead vocalist Kari Aalto screams his words with dissonant abandon.

Slavko Kalezic, “Space” (Montenegro, 2017)

Slavko Kalezic’s commanding performances of his disco ballad “Space” is one for the books — the seductive eyes, the mesh see-through shirt, the lyrics about rocketing to the stars. But what truly launches it into the hall of fame is the moment when Kalezic grabs his long ponytail and twirls it around onstage, like some sort of sexy helicopter. While crowded productions and flashy set pieces have their place, sometimes all you need for an unforgettable Eurovision performance is the right hairdo and the right delightfully cheesy song.

Daði og Gagnamagnið, “10 Years” (Iceland, 2021)

Call it the “Ja Ja Ding Dong” Curse. COVID canceled Iceland’s chance to show off for the 2020 event, just before receiving a loving if goofy representation as the star country in the Netflix comedy Eurovision: The Story of Fire Saga. The next year, the funky bunch was selected to represent Iceland again but had to pull out of the contest when one of them — you guessed it — tested positive for COVID. Thankfully, we have this rehearsal footage that was used in place of a live performance, which features their iconic turquoise jumpsuits (and eight-bit avatar emblems) and a crafty approach to the synthesizer. Of course, it’s up to you whether “10 Years” is as memorable as 2020’s “Think About Things,” but fans of Eurovision’s most assured and creative trailblazers win either way.

The Roop, “Discoteque” (Lithuania, 2021)

Some of the best dance moves aren’t elaborate — they’re relatable. Take the free-flying but coordinated arms, legs, and hands that define the choreography of the Roop’s “Discoteque.” Aided by a minimalist stage presentation and lead singer Vaidotas Valiukevičius’s sultry facial expressions, this earworm of an anthem made it all the way to the grand final in 2021 — but left with a disappointing eighth place. Long may it flourish in solo dance parties.

Manizha, “Russian Woman” (Russia, 2021)

“Every Russian woman needs to know — you’re strong enough, you’re gonna break that wall.” Russian singer-rapper Manizha delivered that message with full fury in her toe-tapping performance of “Russian Woman,” a song that seemed to piss off all the worst people. Manizha, an immigrant from Tajikistan who has become a vocal critic of the invasion of Ukraine, kicked off the song’s competition by stepping out of a Russian doll–inspired dress, one of many ways in which she has publicly criticized conservative ideals. Her performance wasn’t just for the people in the title but anyone with a similar fervor and demand for change.

Go_A, “Shum” (Ukraine, 2021)

Go_A dazzled Eurovision audiences with their “folktronica” approach in “Shum,” a ferocious dedication to spring that featured ring lights being used like Frisbees, a fife solo, and singer Kateryna Pavlenko rocking a fabulous green boa. (If you want even more of the group’s Mother Nature vs. steampunk flavor, you have to check out the official video for the song, which has a leather-clad Pavlenko cruising on a Mad Max–ready truck.)

Citi Zeni, “Eat Your Salad” (Latvia, 2022)

A sexually empowering funk track for all you proud vegans, reusable baggers, and anyone else who identifies as “green.” “Eat Your Salad” was presented with maximum horny swagger by the Latvian chaps of Citi Zeni, who fused funk, rap, and ecofriendly messages in this sly but underappreciated highlight from 2022. The group gave us plenty to savor, though, including veggie-colored blazers and a slick saxophone solo to make sure we got our groovy vitamins. And don’t forget the juicy cherry on top, when guitarist Krišjānis Ozols ditches his axe at the end of the song before doing a split at center stage.

Subwoolfer, “Give That Wolf a Banana” (Norway, 2022)

The wildly catchy “Give That Wolf a Banana” (“before that wolf eats my grandma,” the next line goes) from 2022 represented Norway’s bombastic sense of humor and love of earworm dance-pop. Performed by the mysterious duo known as Subwoolfer (later unmasked to be Ben Adams and Gaute Ormåsen), the two don black suits and snazzy sunglasses with wolf ears, their pouncing dance moves accompanied by three dancers in bow ties and yellow spandex. Never underestimate the legends of Eurovision when it comes to party-starting playlists and Halloween-costume inspiration.

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