On the surface, the Eurovision Song Contest is a banal, harmless competition. An evening where nations come together to belt out utterly forgettable songs, but barely a year goes by without the stench of scandal to spice up the proceedings. Here is a top ten list of Eurovision oddities and controversies over the years, counting down from ten to one.
10. More holes than Swiss cheese
Already at the first contest, held in Lugano in 1956, the stage was set for future voting conspiracies. Each country had just two votes. Unfortunately, the Luxembourg delegation could not make it to Lugano in person, so the Swiss voted on their behalf. The Swiss unsurprisingly snatched first place, and the awarded votes have never been disclosed. Needless to say, this bizarre scoring system was never used again.
9. You said you want a revolution?
While John Lennon musically mused about revolutions from the comfort of his bed, the Portuguese entry in the 1974 contest actually started one. Paulo de Carvalho’s ‘And After The Goodbye’ was used as a coded signal on the radio to kickstart the overthrow of Caetano’s dictatorial regime and send the tanks rolling into Lisbon. Eurovision therefore proved to be Caetano’s Waterloo, which is apt as the sequinned Swedish superstars of Abba took first place with their very own ‘Waterloo’. While the Portuguese entry might have finished last, it achieved immortality for its role in the transformation of a nation.
8. Bring on the Baku bulldozers
In 2012, the host nation Azerbaijan came under heavy criticism, not only for its human rights record, but also for the forced eviction of many of its own citizens in Baku as flats were bulldozed to make way for the song contest arena. During the voting, the no-nonsense German spokesperson Anke Engelke sent a sideswipe to the Aliyev regime: “Tonight nobody could vote for their own country. But it is good to be able to vote. And it is good to have a choice. Good luck on your journey, Azerbaijan. Europe is watching you.”
7. It’s in her kiss
Keep an eye out for the Finnish entry this year as Krista Siegfrids with ‘Marry Me’ is planning a surprise at the end of her routine. Apparently, in protest against Finland’s ban against gay marriage, the blushing bride will smooch one of her female backing singers. It’s a bit of mouth-to-mouth that is sure to resuscitate feelings of outrage among certain viewing groups.
6. Eurovision pun contest
Georgia’s official entry for 2009 was banned for the dreadful pun in its song title. Okay, it was actually banned for violating Eurovision rules on songs containing overtly political content. ‘We Don’t Wanna Put In’ (grooooan) by Stephane and 3G was clearly a rage against Russia and its prime minister Vladimir Putin. Georgia refused to rewrite the song and withdrew from the contest in protest.
5. Belgian waffle
In 1978, the foot-stomping Israeli Eurovision classic ‘A-Ba-Ni-Bi’, sung by Izhar Cohen and Alphabeta, romped to victory with a massive 157 points. The popularity of the show was such that it was televised live in several Middle Eastern countries. Israel’s success was, though, too hard to stomach for Jordanian broadcasters, who pulled the plug on the show and instead entertained the viewing public with a picture of daffodils, before announcing runners-up Belgium as the official winners.
4. Fly the flag
Israel also kicked up a fuss in their own homeland in 2000. Ping Pong were actually a spoof group, the brainchild of two journalists, and had somehow won the honour of representing Israel. During rehearsals they concluded their utterly dire performance of ‘Be Happy’ by waving small Syrian flags. A furious Gil Samsonov of the Israeli Broadcasting Authority ranted: “They will compete there, but not on behalf of the Israeli Broadcasting Authority or the Israeli people − they are representing only themselves.” Needless to say, the band paid their own way to and from Stockholm.
3. And the winner is … err
The 1969 contest was heading for a thrilling finale with France, the Netherlands and Spain tied on 18 points with just one country left to vote. Enter the mischievous Finns who gave the countries nul point and the UK one point, which caused a four-way tie. With no tiebreak rule in place, the hapless hostess fell to pieces onscreen and things quickly degenerated into a shambles. The organisers didn’t have enough winners’ medals and a shell-shocked audience then had to watch all four songs played again – exactly a quarter of the entire field.
2. More like commiserations
The hip-thrusting international popstar Cliff Richard, with the song ‘Congratulations’, came second to the melodramatic home entry ‘La la la’ in the 1968 Eurovision Song Contest in Madrid. But then 40 years later, a Spanish documentary claimed that result was a foregone conclusion. In the months leading up to the contest, General Franco, the dictator in charge of Spain at the time, had apparently sent corrupt TV executives on a spending spree at various European national broadcasting companies to buy TV series that would never be shown and sign contracts with obscure groups and singers. Richard, who still bears the mental scars of the defeat, told The Guardian in 2008 he remains hopeful that one day he might get a phone call. “I’ve lived with this number two thing for so many years, it would be wonderful if someone official from the contest turned around and said: ‘Cliff, you won that darn thing after all.’”
1. Swizzed out of first place
To beat Cliff Richard into second place, it has to be bad, and it is. Ahead of the 1963 contest, the Danish hopes of a victory were high. Its entry, ‘Dansevise’ by virtuoso guitarist Jørgen Ingmann and his wife Grethe, is a pleasant enough jazz waltz ditty, but in the end it needed a helping hand from a neighbour to win. Voting fifth out of 16, the Norwegians failed to follow the correct procedure for giving the results, prompting the somewhat condescending presenter Katie Boyle to admonish them: “Well, hold on Norway … I’m afraid I shall have to ask you to give those votes all over again … because, first you have to give the number on the board, then the name and number of the country, I don’t think we did quite do that.” The panicking jury asked Boyle to return to them later, but had clearly and audibly given three points to Switzerland and two points to Denmark. Fast-forward to the end of the show and Switzerland were now two points ahead of Denmark with just Norway left to vote. Surely it was in the bag for the Swiss. Well, no. Shady Norway this time gave their chums four points and Switzerland just one point – and the victorious Danes brought home the bacon.