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Sunday 18 March 2018

Douze points for madness

It's something of a Eurovision tradition that at least one act should push the boundaries of eccentricity, so our own entrants Jedward should feel right at home this year, says Paul Whitington

Paul Whitington

Although John and Edward Grimes are not exactly short of detractors, they might just be better suited to Eurovision than their critics suspect. They're cheesy, over-exuberant, loudly dressed and prone to sudden, eccentric on-stage movements -- in other words, they'll fit right into Euro-land, and will go into battle for Ireland in the second Eurovision 2011 semi-final this Thursday.

With their gravity-defying hairdos and gatling-gun speech patterns, Jedward might seem a tad eccentric out here in the real world, but they're positively fusty and respectable compared with some of the oddballs that Eurovision has thrown up down the years.

After all, they can dance, they can sing (after a fashion) and they're human, which is more than can be said for one of Ireland's other recent entries.

Our decision to send Dustin the Turkey to Belgrade in 2008 went down like a ton of bricks. The sight of a stuffed bird mincing about behind a desk was dimly viewed by our Continental cousins, and while there was an attempt to dress up Dustin's participation as a high-minded protest about the evils of block-voting, it looked more like a case of sour grapes from a country that used to be a big shot but no longer gets a look-in.

The turkey limped home 16th out of 19th in his semi-final.

Sometimes, though, madness is richly rewarded in Euro-land. There were howls of derision in our house when Finnish rock band Lordi took the stage in the Olympic Hall in Athens in 2006. They were dressed like orcs and made a noise that sounded like a serial killer's theme tune. But Lordi and 'Hard Rock Hallelujah' won the contest by a country mile, scoring almost 200 points more than Ireland's Brian Kennedy, for instance.

There's no knowing what will fly in Europe, and Israel's Dana International was an even more controversial Eurovision winner back in 1998. With her spangly frock and overblown pop anthem 'Diva', Dana International seemed on the surface like your average Euro songstress, but in fact wasn't really a she at all.

Sharon Cohen had been born Yaron Cohen before undergoing a sex change in 1993. Prior to that she'd made her name as Israel's first drag queen, and Orthodox Jews were outraged when Cohen was selected to represent Israel in 1998. But she romped home, and the bad news for conservative Israelis is that Dana International is back, and will represent her country again in 2011.

Dana opened the door to kindred spirits, and in 2007 Ukrainian drag queen Verka Serduchka finished a very creditable second after performing the song 'Dancing Lasha Tumbai' dressed in what looked like bacofoil.

Stupid costumes and bizarre performances are par for the course in Eurovision. In 1981, Marty Brem appeared for Austria wearing an inoffensive white dinner jacket and singing a cheesy and forgettable anthem called 'Wenn Du Da Bist'. But while he was singing, four shapely ladies cavorted inanely behind him, one of them wearing a sequinned swimsuit and an American Football helmet.

In 2006, British entrant Daz Sampson perpetrated a disastrous gaffe while performing his dirgy street anthem 'Teenage Life'. He was accompanied during the song by a group of glamorous dancers dressed as schoolgirls, lending the song a no-doubt unintentionally seedy undercurrent. The judges were not amused, and poor old Daz finished 19th out of 24.

Spanish sisters Antonia and Encarnación Salazar endured every entrant's worst nightmare in Zagreb in 1990, when, after a technician failed to start their backing track in time, the girls were left standing on-stage in silence for minutes on end before walking off again. To their credit, they came back on and performed 'Bandido' with feeling. They finished an honourable fifth.

Swiss trio Peter, Sue and Marc's bid for Eurovision glory in 1979 nearly ended before it had begun when they were refused entry into Israel. Their act involved the use of props such as watering cans, hoses, rakes and bin bags as impromptu instruments, but to jumpy Israeli border officials this must have looked like the makings of an eccentric Euro bomb.

They were eventually allowed in to complete their bizarre performance, which was every bit as ridiculous as you might suppose.

Moldovan rock group Zdob si Zdub proved once and for all that the Eurovision is no place for subtlety and finesse while representing their country in the 2005 contest in Ukraine. While performing their noisy song 'Boonika Bate Toba' (Grandmama beats the Drum), they hammered the point home by having an old lady dressed in traditional peasant costume wander across the stage banging -- you guessed it -- a drum. Zdob si Zdub finished sixth, and will represent Moldova again this year.

Before he'd even sung a word at the 1998 contest, Germany's Guildo Horn had been declared a national embarrassment amid calls for his entry to be withdrawn. This proved a red rag to a tone-deaf bull, and Guildo duly provided one of the most memorably eccentric performances in Eurovision history, pulling half his clothes off and diving into the audience. He has not been asked to represent his country again.

Some contestants approach the competition with a certain cynicism. Lithuanian outfit LT United thought it might be a clever wheeze to perform a song called 'We are the Winners' as their entry in the 2006 Eurovision in Athens. This involved pulling faces for the camera and repeating the dirgy line "we are the winners of Eurovision". They were loudly booed by the live audience, but voters saw the funny side and LT United ended up finishing sixth, their country's best performance to date.

In 1980 Belgian electo-pop act Telex set out with the deliberate intention of lampooning the competition with a song so bad it would ensure they finished last. 'Euro-Vision' featured deliberately dire lyrics, a disinterested performance and some rather annoying on-stage antics from singer Michel Moers, who concluded proceedings by taking a photograph of the audience. But Telex's nihilistic masterplan backfired when Portugal gave them 10 points and poor Finland finished last instead.

Dustin represents a low point in eccentricity for Ireland, but let's not forget Donna and Joseph McCaul, who perished in the 2005 semi-final with a song that included the immortal line "love can be the best, until it's passed you by".

John and Edward Grimes at least know how to get a crowd going, and may have the right mixture of madness and exuberance to give us our most respectable Eurovision placing in years.

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