Girl Power In Eurovision: 10 Songs Charting The Evolution

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)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oh8oVKo2xVw

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.

Sally does something with computers for a living. Beyond this, she enjoys making gifs, dreaming up stories, and overthinking. She lives over a river in the South of England, but her heart belongs forever to the North.

Sally has written 15 articles for us.

51 Comments

  1. I totally hadn’t realised it was this Saturday- thanks for the heads up! I’ll now have to speedily organise a Eurovision party so we can gather round and watch Europe show their disdain for us in the UK by rejecting our pop offerings.

  2. I kind of expected Marija Šerifović to be on this? if only because people go so far out of their way to hide the fact that she’s gay that I feel like telling everyone about it / her constantly.

      • Oh and also just watched it again – she holds hands with one of the backing singers and it makes to halves of a painted heart meet up! Trying to tell us something I think…

  3. Also, I’m a total sucker for Ruslana, she’s my absolute favorite Eurovision winner of all time out here. I think I might even called in for her at her Eurovision back in ’04 and bought her albums? Yep, no regrets.

  4. This made me laugh rather a lot. Entertaining AND educational – you should write more things!

    Also, I think I’m going to be going around singing “Hallo Booooy” and then made up German-sounding words tomorrow. (My usual course of action when I get a catchy song in my head that’s in a language I only partially understand).

  5. I’m glad that Dana International is on this list. Not only is she trans* and a beautiful singer but she’s also Israeli, and i’m always surprised that Israelis can sing (speaking from my own experience as Israeli first, American second)

    This article was super funny and made me LOL quite a lot. You should write more!

  6. Yes! This is the single main reason why the UK should not leave the EU.

    But where is Bosnia & Herzogovina’s 2008 offering? Probably the finest (if most misunderstood) Eurovision entry of all time. If this isn’t a commentary on women’s domestic plight then I don’t know what is: http://youtu.be/V_tspk1ifFI (I’m assuming this because of the laundry and brides, I don’t actually know what the lyrics mean)

    Anyone wanna come round mine on Saturday and play the “Eurovision WTF Drinking Game”?

    • I totally loved that song!

      I think my subconscious dismissed it from consideration because there was a dude involved, but she definitely looks like she’s breaking chains of patriarchal oppression there. Or maybe she’s celebrating finally getting a tumble-dryer?

  7. Oh yessss i adore Eurovision.

    As long as there’s Ruslana (my all time favourite) all lists are great.

    Also 2003 could have used a Tatu victory. My heroines. in a doubly subversive, right middle finger to the straights, via the gay image – and left to the queer hierarchy, via the straight&bi reality. All the while having their tracks more electrotastically danceable AND more resonating with my experience as a gayer than most. Tatu = a win, then and forever.

    And yea could throw in Dana too. Pretty catchy and awesome, like herself. Would benefit from a Goa psy remix tho 😛

  8. Ah Eurovision, my favourite time of year: a time to sneer, a time to laugh. Seriously, though, everyone knows that most of the songs are terrible, but there’s always a gem in there somewhere.

    Pro tip: watch while reading the #eurovision twitter feed. Hilarious.

  9. K, so I know her winning song prols doesn’t get interpreted as queer very often (“I’m in orbit all the way around you, can’t go a minute without your love”), but I have a terribly huge crush on Lena Meyer-Landrut who won in 2010. See, when she says “I bought new underwear for you”, I just imagine her singing it to Shane McCutcheon and it’s a very nice scene.

    • Me too – song’s very catchy, but what really tickles my fancy is that it sounds to me like she is singing with a German-English cockney hybridised accent. Adorable.

      Oh, and she looked a little like Ashley from South of Nowhere, at that time.

  10. okie dokie i have a problemo….. ireland the most successful country in the eurovision is represented in this list by…. muriel day… never even heard of it!! what about dana ‘all kinds of everything’ linda martin ‘why me’ eimear quinn ‘the voice’ niamh kavannagh ‘in your eyes’…. just throwing it out there ha 🙂 🙂 🙂

      • I guess the song itself isn’t political, so maybe it’s some sort of loophole? That or she’ll get a stern talking to and warned not to do it tonight. We’ll know in the next hour or so.

        It’s disappointing but not that surprising, to be honest. There were a lot of reports of human rights violations in Azerbaijan in the run up to the contest being hosted there, which the EBU refused to comment on.

        Censoring a kiss between two girls (or two guys) seems like overkill to me, especially considering the event is like the gay Olympics. I guess it’s a reminder that we still have a long way to go 🙁

  11. I am perturbed by the lack of any critical thinking attached to this. Is it not self-evident that the Germans entered twins in 1959 to emphasise the entrenched division that was happening to their nation? They were twin spirits, of East and West. They were brining harmony to humanity.

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