Each year in Spring, citizens of Europe take a break from sabotaging the global economy and gather round their TV sets to enjoy the greatest cultural event known to human civilization: The Eurovision Song Contest.
For over five decades, members of the European Broadcasting Union have sent their finest musical talents to compete against each other in a battle to the death of their self-respect. It’s a bit like an international X-Factor, but with fewer egos and more lederhosen. Performances have ranged from the fantastical to the downright ghoulish, including ice-skaters, robots, pirates, creatures from the underworld and Céline Dion.
This year’s competition culminates in Saturday’s final, with semi-finals on Tuesday and Thursday. There are even some rumours of potential lady-kissing. That wouldn’t be the first instance of girl power in the competition’s 57-year history, so what better way to celebrate this cavalcade of all things ridiculous than by taking a look back at the fabulous evolution of the women of Eurovision!
1. The Kessler Twins – “Heute Abend Wollen Wir Tanzen Geh’n“ (Germany 1959)
At the dawn of Eurovision, almost all acts were solo crooners. Then these German sisters burst onto the stage in 1959 like an angst-free, boy-crazy Tegan & Sara. Ok, so maybe they are the polar opposite of T & S, but they did kickstart Eurovision’s weird obsession with twins.
2. Muriel Day – “The Wages of Love” (Ireland 1969)
Did you know that during the 50s and 60s Eurovision banned dancing? By the end of the 60s, most artists, like poor Muriel here, had so much pent up dance energy they resorted to increasingly vigorous wiggling on the spot. If this anti-dance totalitarianism had lasted much longer, I think acts would’ve started self-combusting on stage, a la Buffy.
Sadly this era lacked any paeons to female empowerment, so I’m just going to pretend that “The Wages of Love” is a secret protest song about the right to pay for stay-at-home mothers.
3. Doce – “Bem Bom” (Portugal 1982)
After all the turgid love songs of the 60s and ABBA clones of the 70s, the ladies of Eurovision really started getting their act together in the 80s.
I first thought this quartet were some kind of permed space musketeers that fell to Earth on an endless quest for sequins. However, a quick google translate revealed these intriguing opening lyrics:
“One in the morning, a touch, a twinkle in her eye
Two in the morning, two fingers of magic
At two for three who knows where it will stop?”
That’s a question I’m sure many of us have asked before.
4. Cocktail Chic – “Européennes” (France 1986)
It’s a common Eurovision tactic to sing about as many different European countries as you can fit into 3 minutes, in a cynical attempt to suck up to judges.
While these ladies may be bigging-up their lavish city-hopping lifestyle, you get the feeling they’re really rejects from an aborted French remake of Dynasty.
5. ENI – “Probudi Me“ (Croatia 1997)
Eurovision usually catches up on pop trends about half a decade after they happen, so it was mildly surprising to see a Spice Girls clone pop up so quickly. Sadly, the cloning technique was not successful at producing sporty backflips.
6. Dana International – “Diva” (Israel 1998)
The ultimate Eurovision ode to female power.
Dana’s appearance was packed with controversy, right from the moment she landed in Britain to her late arrival for the winning encore in this video. Evidence suggests she’d been chugging magic potions backstage and was halfway through transforming into a bird like that witch in Sinbad.
7. Ruslana – “Wild Dances“ (Ukraine 2004)
It’s all gone very ritualistic-fertility-dance. The only thing that could boost this Ukrainian Xena-clone’s estrogen levels any more would be her very own Gabrielle.
8. Sinéad Mulvey & Black Daisy – “Et Cetera” (Ireland 2009)
Remember how I said Eurovision was a few years late catching onto pop trends? Female rock angst finally makes its debut here with a very Alanis/Avril Lavigne tune. Also some serious Pink-ish alternative lifestyle haircut there.
9. Stella Mwangi – “Haba Haba” (Norway 2011)
While Eurovision seems to revel in camp oddness, it often has a problem realising there’s anyone in the entire continent that isn’t white.
Nigerian-Norwegian Stella Mwangi attempts to remedy this while imparting her Grandma’s wisdom in this upbeat number. And everyone knows you don’t mess with Grandmas.
10. Buranovskiye Babushki – “Party For Everybody“ (Russia 2012)
Speaking of Grandmas…
This is the kind of stuff that makes Eurovision great. Where else can half a dozen Russian grannies attract a worldwide audience of half a billion people by singing an ethno-folksong about baking and dancing?
Let us consider though: does the on-stage baking undermine their anti-ageist feminist triumph by subtly reinforcing patriarchal notions of domestic gender roles? Problematic.