Forget the tune and lyrics – it’s all about the gimmicks

From Buck’s Fizz whipping off those dresses to the ‘Klingon’ band that brought home the 2006 crown for Finland, Eurovision has always been about standing out from the crowd

A major factor in the enjoyment of Eurovision is the gimmick. Each year competitors try to come up with new and inventive ways to capture the attention of Europe, as the history of the competition would appear to suggest that the non-musical details are just as important in the quest for points.

Between 2002 and 2009, only one of the winners – Serbia in 2007 – didn’t include a strong gimmick in their performance. And while the winners since then have prospered with pared-back presentations, gimmicks still abound every year – last year’s most notable one was Russia’s old ladies (including an octogenarian singer!), who finished second.

It’s difficult to know whether the age of the gimmick is over, or whether it’s going to emphatically return on Saturday night. In the meantime, here’s a selection of some of our favourites.

Germany’s golden cowboys
In 2000, Germany’s entry decided to compete in one of the most unusual outfits in the history of the competition. Comedian Stefan Raab, who had previously composed but not performed Germany’s 1998 entry ‘Guido het euch lieb’ (‘Guido loves all!’), this time decided to perform in person. The song was a catchy disco tune performed by an ensemble of gilded cowboys, with Raab rapping in a German dialect of his own invention. The song finished fifth, but won hearts across the continent. Come on! If you don’t occasionally catch yourself doing the dishes humming ‘Wadde hadde dude da”, whilst dreaming about being a disco cowboy, then you have no right to call yourself a true Eurovision fan.

Ireland doubles up … twice
Jedward, a pair of hyperactive twins who sprung to fame when they finished sixth in ‘The X Factor’ in the UK, are Ireland’s ideal Eurovision entry. While they embody the Irish happy-go-lucky attitude to the contest (every year Ireland’s votes tend to reward those who took the competition the least seriously), there’s also the added bonus that they can’t add to Ireland’s embarrassing, and in the 1990s extremely costly, record haul of seven wins. Or can they, as the twins gimmick is kind of strong. In 2011, John and Edward Grimes performed the song ‘Lipstick’ in a get-up seemingly designed by someone trying to ruin the legacy of Devo. They performed with such abundant energy that night that many people were asking: “Who put crack in the cool aid?” Ireland, to a man, winced at the thought of Eurovision returning. But they finished sixth, and Ireland sent them along in 2012 as well, where they finished 19th.

Britain’s army of has-beens
In recent years, Britain has started sending has-beens in the hope that their past glories will cajole Europe into voting for them – it never works.  Gone are the days when they would send names at their peak (like Lulu, Sandie Shaw, Matt Monro, Cliff Richards, Olivia Newton-John and The Shadows) or even reality singing contest stars. No, now they’re always past their prime –  acts that once would have inspired awe but now only inspire ‘ughs’. In 2011 it was boy band Blue, who a decade ago made songs with Elton John and Stevie Wonder. Their song ‘I Can’ quickly became ‘they can’t anymore’. And then in 2012, they brought out a practically mummified Engelbert Humperdinck, nearly 50 years after his worldwide hit ‘Release Me (And Let Me Love Again)’. But despite the hype, voters weren’t interested in a singer born during the Great Depression and he finished second to last. And this year, it’s Bonnie Tyler, who’s already said she won’t be “stripping anything off” or using any gimmicks. But why would she when she is the gimmick.

Oh Lordi, was Eurovision a good year for gimmicks. Victory went to Finnish monsters Lordi with their song ‘Hard Rock Hallelujah’, which was performed in a variety of costumes that would have looked more at home in Middle-Earth. And then there was Lithuania’s ‘We are the winners’, possibly the most tongue-in-cheek entry ever, which ended with the lines: “Vote, vote, vote for the winners, ‘coz we are the winners of Eurovision. Vote!” It was booed on stage, but ended up receiving 12 points from Ireland.

But perhaps less noticed, mainly because she went out in the semi-finals, was the Icelandic entry, Silvía Night. What most media in Athens were unaware of was that Night was a fictional character, played by the actress Agústa Eva Erlendsdóttir, who had become famous in her home country through an Ali G-esque TV show. Soon after arriving in Athens, Night had managed to establish herself as one of the most unpopular competitors in Eurovision history as she and her fictional boyfriend Romario swore and spat at journalists, as well as cursing fellow competitors. She claimed that the Swedish performer Carola had sex with the chairman of the competition in a car and, following her failure to qualify for the final, she put together a rant that went on to become a YouTube sensation.

Among the rest
There are many other recent year gimmicks that deserve a mention: popular Swedish manboy Eric Saade jumping through glass, the Ukrainian sand artist, and Ireland’s Dustin the Turkey. And if history is any indicator, Malmö will offer up its share of memorable gimmicks. Look out for Ukraine’s magical, secret giant who is set to make an appearance. At second favourite, obviously some people out there think the gimmick isn’t dead yet.   

Read more in our special Eurovision section.