Now, camp is a hallmark of the Eurovision Song Contest. Most Eurovision song entries are campy. It takes a lot for a performance to be singled out as particularly campy from the dozens of entries each year. It has to be over the top, way way over the top. There must be a slight, or not-so-slight, whiff of failure about it. And it has to make us laugh. We can watch these performances a hundred times and still howl. Our focus is 2006 and later.
1. Kejsi Tola—Carry Me in Your Dreams (Albania 2009). Albania’s 2009 entry was a cute enough disco number. But the staging… a 16-year old lead singer in a pink tutu, b-boy mimes, discoball lights, the 1978 Price is Right set, and a sequined Gumby. Magic.
2. Malena Ernman—La Voix (Sweden 2009). We must approach this entry delicately, because we suspect Ms. Ernman could knock us unconscious with one swipe from her chiseled arm. The costumes, lighting, and set positioned the operatic mezzo-soprano as the ice princess with that voice. But Sweden’s 2009 entry enters the camp pantheon thanks to Ms. Ernman’s facial expressions, as she attempts to meaningfully emote profound pop-opera lyrics she wrote like “can you keep a secret, can you keep a secret, I’m in love with you” to a lay audience and hit high C with no glottal stroke.
3. Svetlana Loboda—Be My Valentine (Anti-Crisis Girl) (Ukraine 2009) “Thank you so much, [point to the crowd], you are the best.” No, Svetlana love, you are the best. In 2009, Ukraine topped itself for slutty performances with “Be My Valentine.” Svetlana had nearly-naked male dancers with Trojan helmets, women on stilts, and a set with giant metal cogs and moving pistons. She pole-danced, played the drums, and did cartwheels. The staging had everything but the kitchen sink only because she could find no obvious double entendre with a kitchen sink.
4. Elnur and Samir—Day After Day (Azerbaijan 2008). Azerbaijan made its Eurovision debut in 2008 with a bat-shit insane entry that tells the epic story of good and evil in the traditional Azeri way: with operatic riffs, oversized angel wings and colored contact lenses. Unfortunately, Elnur’s “angelic” screeching is more demonic than Samir’s devilish posturing. Disturbingly, this finished 8th.
5. Sakis Rouvas—This Is Our Night (Greece 2009). Because choreography is hard, Greece’s 2009 entry begins with Sakis and the back-up dancers tracing out various punctuation marks: !, ?, /. After that, Sakis displays his mad dance moves by imitating a defibrillator. The set piece is a moving walkway, has zero gravity properties, and transforms into a gigantic Greek stapler.
6. Sunstroke Project and Olia Tira—Run Away (Moldova 2010). We must admit, we like this song. Moldova’s 2010 entry makes the cut because of epic sax guy. Fashion note: white sunglasses are totally rad.
7. Flor-de-Lis—Todas las ruas do amor (Portugal 2009). The psychedelic imagery is part of the charm of Portugal’s 2009 entry, but it’s all for naught without that guy playing bongos.
8. Scooch—Flying the Flag (For You) (United Kingdom 2007). Unlike the other entries in this list, UK’s 2007 entry was intentionally campy in the best Saved By the Bell tradition. To their credit, they took it to its logical conclusion—it couldn’t be more kitschy. To their detriment, it’s not that funny, and in 2007 Verka Seduchka out-performed them with a catchier song and a higher energy performance.
9. Kraljevi Ulice and 75 cents – Romanca (Croatia 2008). Croatia specializes in earnest pop ballads with a hint of Balkan folk in them. 2008’s Romanca is a bit more conventional than their usual entries—think “Hernando’s Hideaway”—and would have been unremarkable if it weren’t for the late, great 75 cents, a then-75-year-old Jimmy Durante look-alike who yelled at the audience in Croatian. Why was he yelling at us? WHAT was he yelling at us? His scratching on a phonograph was amusing, but otherwise, this is a befuddling mess.
10. 3+2—Butterflies (Belarus 2010). This song was terrible. The singing was terrible. Their English was terrible. And then… the payoff. The metamorphosis of the ladies in this number was so unforgettable, so perfectly timed, that it launched Belarus’ farce of a song into the 2010 finals (where it placed 2nd to last because it really was a piece of shit).
11. Emmy—Boom Boom (Armenia 2011). Armenia went high concept in 2011, adopting a boxing theme and literally interpreting “Boom Boom” into a 1-2 punch. If camp is your goal, you can never go wrong with an oversized boxing glove with your name on it. They had boxing robes, interpretive dance, and an ad hoc boxing ring. Presentation, however, cannot compensate for dodgy vocals and poor draw. Armenia failed to qualify for the finals.
12. Gaitana—Be My Guest (Ukraine 2012). There is the top. And then there is over the top. And then there is way over the top. Then there’s Ukraine, where subtlety goes to die. Gaitana’s “Be My Guest” had it all: big diva performance, mad dancing, ridiculous backdrop graphics, and then its own flash mob acting like a glitter-covered cherry on top.
BONUS: Lordi—Hard Rock Hallelujah (Finland 2006). The 2006 Eurovision Song Contest winner simultaneously mobilized the Eurovision “vote for the worst” vote as well as the “vote for the best.” Lordi set a standard for theatrics which, to date, remains unmatched. A heavy metal band with orc-weapons as guitars, elaborate latex makeup, skeleton costumes, 18-inch platform boots, demon wings, and fire, so much fire. Lyric highlights include “it’s the a-rock-alypse” and “it’s the day of rock-ening.” It gets the honorable mention because it doesn’t have the “whiff of failure” needed for true camp. It’s hilarious, but nothing about it failed.