Most of us, when we think of the Eurovision Song Contest at all, think of things like irritating but irresistible ear-worms, twee costumes, high-camp stage performances, and of course, “Huh? Australia’s in Europe now?”
But beneath the saccharine and gloss, there’s enough infighting and scandal to make any soap opera proud. And then, of course, there are those outfits that go out awash with confidence, and get it horribly, hilariously wrong. We picked a list of five of our favourites…
1. Sir Cliff Vindicated 30 Years On
Eurovision was already stirring up scandal 50 years ago, when Spain’s Massiel won in 1968 with a ridiculous ditty called ‘La La La’ – when the world and his wife were convinced that Cliff Richard’s triumphant love song ‘Congratulations’ had nailed it. Fans shouted “Fix!”, but they were ignored.
It was only 30 years later, in 1998, that a Spanish documentary of the period confirmed that General Franco, Spain’s dictator, had indeed had the vote rigged – to boost Spanish international prestige at a time when he was facing increasing pressure for democratic reform.
In 2008, Sir Cliff told a reporter that the revelation left him feeling finally vindicated, although he wished the ESC organisers would make it official and reverse the 1968 result in the record books.
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2. Jemini and the Nul Points Albatross
In Manchester, in front of a screaming English crowd, deluded duo Jemini delivered perhaps the worst UK performance ever at Eurovision in 2003 with ‘Cry Baby’. The dreaded ‘nul points’ was the verdict from the judges – the horribly off-key, out-of-tune rendition being the first British tune, and still the only English-language song, to score zero.
Someone was so incensed by the performance, that Jemini’s dressing room was broken into and vandalised after the show.
3. Russia and Ukraine at War
The 2017 event saw another first: a host state refusing entry to another country’s representative. Ukraine got wind that the Russian entry, Yulia Samoylova, had toured Crimea after Russia’s annexation of the peninsula, and banned her from entry.
Complicating the issue was the fact that Samoylova is confined to a wheelchair, so disability activists opposed to Russian land-grabs were in a dilemma. Russia retaliated by refusing to air the 2017 contest on Russian TVs.
4. Russia and Georgia at War
In 2009, Russia was actually at war with Georgia when Eurovision took place in Moscow. The Georgian entry ‘We Don’t Wanna Put In’ was disqualified, because Eurovision doesn’t allow ‘political comment’, and the Russian president’s name in it, er… Putin.
Come on, guys – try a little subtlety will you?
5. Conservative Nightmares and Liberal Dreams
We’re not sure which scared the more strait-laced viewers more: the drag queen in 2007 or the transgender in 1998. It’s proof that for all the infighting, outrage and scandal, Eurovision does pay a somewhat progressive role in pop.
In 1998, Dana International became the contest’s first transgender winner, despite outraging conservative Jews in her homeland, Israel. They felt she had no right to represent their country, but she went on to prove them wrong in spades.
Drag queen Verka Serduchka, Ukraine’s bold entry in 2007 and alter-ego of comedian Andriy Danylko, was also viewed with horror by pearl-clutchers at home, who thought her ‘vulgar’. She was loved by the crowd, though, and finished second.