Vienna (AFP) – Love it, hate it or both, Europe’s unashamedly over-the-top and enduringly popular annual Eurovision Song Contest, which is set to shake up staid Vienna on Saturday night, is nothing if not entertaining.
As the event celebrates its 60th anniversary watched by some 200 million worldwide, here is a trip down Eurovision memory lane — turkeys, dictators, Mormons, orcs, drag queens and all.
– Winner takes it all –
Having failed the previous year to even win their country’s nomination, ABBA triumphed in 1974 with “Waterloo”, sending the Swedish foursome on the way to all-conquering global superstardom.
Most performers though sink back into obscurity — many deservedly so — although Eurovision boosted the careers of Sandie Shaw (1967), Bucks Fizz (1981) and Celine Dion (1988).
Some of the songs themselves have been big hits, like France Gall’s “Poupee de Cire, Poupee de Son” (1965), written by Serge Gainsbourg, and more recently “Satellite” from Germany’s Lena (2010).
Domenico Mudugno’s “Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blu”, also known as “Volare”, has been covered by David Bowie, Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong, Barry White and many more — despite only coming third in 1958.
– Wadde hadde dudde da? –
Being famous already is no guarantee of winning. In 1968 “Congratulations” by Britain’s Cliff Richard was pipped by Spain’s entry “La La La” — allegedly thanks to foul play by dictator Francisco Franco.
That song had “La” 138 times. Other lyrical highlights include “Diggi-Loo Diggi-Ley” (1984) by golden-booted Swedish Mormon brothers Herreys, Lulu’s “Boom-Bang-A-Bang” (1969) and Germany’s “Wadde hadde dudde da?” (2000).
And who can forget the chorus to Austria’s 1977 entry: “Boom boom boomerang, snadderydang. Kangaroo, boogaloo, didgeridoo. Ding dong, sing the song, hear the guitar twang. Kojak, hijack, me and you.”
At least, though, the words were mostly real. Belgium’s entries “Sanomi” (2003) and “O Julissi” (2008) were in imaginary languages.
– Norwegian no-hopers –
Votes from viewers and a jury are combined for each country, ranking the favourite 10 acts of the 27 in the final. The top ranked song gets 12 points, the 10th one point, from each nation.
Some countries therefore can score nothing — the dreaded “nul points”. Norway holds the record for this, failing to win any points four times, although in 2009 it scored 387, the most ever.
Ireland are overall Eurovision champions, winning seven times, followed by the UK, Luxembourg, Sweden and France on five. The Netherlands have four victories, and Israel, Denmark and Norway three.
– Get up, stand up –
Geopolitics is never far away, with the annals of Eurovision littered with boycotts — like Armenia’s of Azerbaijan in 2012 — and songs with not-so-subtle messages, often involving Russia.
In 1968, year of the Prague Spring, Austria chose a Czech singer, and in 2009 Georgia tried, and failed, to enter with “We Don’t Wanna Put In”, with Russian President Vladimir Putin clearly in mind.
Last year, tensions over Ukraine saw Russia’s entry booed. Israel’s 2007 entry “Push the Button” was taken by some to be about Iran being about to nuke everybody.
Armenia’s 2015 entry, intially called “Don’t Deny” but since changed, was widely seen as a reference to the 100th anniversary of the mass killing of its citizens by Ottoman forces, which Turkey — Eurovision no-shows since 2012 — refuses to call genocide.
– Girls just want to have fun –
Generally though, the songs are about things like love, peace and tolerance — as witnessed by Slovenian cross-dressers Sestre (2002), Israeli transgender Dana International (1998) and bearded Austrian diva Conchita Wurst (2014).
And most importantly, having evolved from its civilised black-and-white beginnings with live orchestras and restrained applause into the riotous carnival of camp it is today, Eurovision is fun.
Recent highlights have included orc-like Finnish rockers Lordi (2006), Ireland’s Dustin the Turkey (2008) and silver-star-helmeted Ukrainian drag queen Verka Serduchka (2007).
“I always wanted to be a princess,” said Serduchka, possibly the best act to have come second — except perhaps Sir Cliff.