At Saturday night's Eurovision Song Contest, a trippy X Factor-meets- Idol sing-off, performers will compete in one of Europe's strangest annual exports. To catch up on the contest's 54-year history, WATCH VIDEO of the oddest performances yet.
Less Cowbell, Please!
Since the competition began in 1956, singers chosen by their respective countries have gained notoriety with campy and strange performances on Eurovision. The Swedish pop group ABBA had its breakthrough moment when it won the 1974 competition with the future hit " Waterloo," and later Celine Dion won the 1988 contest for Switzerland before taking the world by storm. While Germany's Guildo Horn didn't quite achieve international stardom with his 1998 performance of "Guildo Hat Euch Lieb," aka "Guildo Loves You," he triggered Guildo fever in his home country with the song. In the performance, which took seventh place, Horn parades around the stage in a cape, has an interlude in which he plays six cowbells, and writhes along scaffolding on the side of the stage. Now the only question is: Did the audience love Guildo?
A Performance Fit for a Turkey
Eurovision boasts that its voting procedure is " legendary"—conceivably for all the wrong reasons. A professional jury and residents of the participating countries vote up to 20 times to advance the top 10 semifinal performers to a final round of competition, and then to crown a winner. (Each participating country sends one act.) While the voting process is convoluted—residents aren't permitted to vote for their home country—it did manage to pull the plug on Dustin the Turkey, Ireland's chosen singing avian puppet. Dustin reportedly " brought down the house" by taking lyrical potshots at Riverdance in his 2008 Eurovision performance of "Irelande Douze Pointe." But fortunately for the audience, his vocal prowess—or lack thereof—wasn't enough to advance him to the final round.
Azerbaijan's Crooning Angels
It doesn't matter what artists Elnur & Samir are singing; the message is perfectly clear in their 2008 Eurovision performance. Dressed in dueling angel and demon costumes, the singers (if they can be considered singers) howl their way through "Day by Day" and act out a battle between good and evil, backed up by a gaggle of matching dancers. Good triumphs in the end, and the demon performers become angels, but there's nothing good about any of it. Elnur & Samir managed to place eighth at Eurovision, despite what can only be described as an assault on ears around the world.
Too 'Divine' for Heaven
Fake wind, sunglasses galore, and a digital eclipse on a giant screen might sound like the makings of an intriguing performance, but France's 2008 entry brings a new definition to the phrase "coup de théâtre." Sebastien Tellier's performance of "Divine" takes a turn from quirky to creepy when a closeup shot of his backup singers reveals that they aren't merely bearded and sunglassed men, like the singer himself, but are really women with an uncanny resemblance to Tellier. The French singer's music has been used in popular movies and TV shows, but Tellier's experience only earned him 19th place and outraged French officials with its English lyrics. The song is tolerable, catchy even, but aperitifs should be required when viewing this video.
Garbage Bag Instruments
Innovative or ineffective? The Swiss group Peter, Sue, and Marc competed in four Eurovision competitions, each in a different language, but their 1979 performance showcases their real talent. The performance begins with the band dancing in front of a cartoon background and devolves into a garden tool hootenanny, when the musicians don a hose and garbage bags, among other items better suited for lawn upkeep than making music, for their song "Trödler Und Co" ("Dawdler and Co."). The seemingly nonsensical performance may have gotten lost in translation: Peter, Sue, and Marc came in a respectable 10th place that year. No word on whether the band was able to purchase real instruments after the competition.
Board the Flight to Nowhere
At its heart, Eurovision allows singers to showcase their patriotism in pursuit of the glory of winning. Some, however, take it too far. For the United Kingdom's 2007 entry, the pop group Scooch invited Europe on a trip to bubblegum hell with the song "Flying the Flag (For You)." The performance put a literal spin on air travel and featured Scooch, dressed in flight-attendant costumes, celebrating Europe's multiculturalism by repeating the line "flying the flag all over the world" ad nauseam. And, if that wasn't bizarre enough, the song is rife with unexpected sexual innuendo. The singers-cum-flight attendants whisper "blow into the mouthpiece" when explaining a fake life vest's features, promise a "pleasurable" trip, and close with the query "Would you like something to suck on for landing, sir?" The Guardian hailed Scooch's tune as a " wholesome sexual innuendo"—a forgiving description for the song, which came in second to last place in the competition.
"Rock and Roll Hallelujah"?
Apparently weirdness can sometimes work in the favor of Eurovision performers, or at least that was the case for the Finnish death-metal band Lordi. The rockers just might have their strange aesthetic to thank for their 2006 Eurovision victory, for which they wore devil masks, bat wings, and sky-high platforms to profess their love for "rock and roll angels" in the song "Rock and Roll Hallelujah." The band stirred up controversy before the competition, when officials accused them of—surprise, surprise— worshipping Satan and protested their selection for the contest. The choice was an unorthodox one for Finland, which had been shamed for an especially poor record at Eurovision in the past. So it's only natural that the country selected a band better equipped for a Halloween party than the stage of an international music competition.
Alex Berg is an assistant video editor at The Daily Beast. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post and iVillage. She holds an M.S. in journalism from Columbia University and a B.A. from Cornell University. You can see more of her work here.