It’s rare for Americans to know what Eurovision is, let alone be rabid fans. If we’re looking to rope in more Americans into der wahnsinn, we bring up a few of the artists and songs that have found success in the United States. We were going to mention Las Ketchup, but as it turns out, everyone here forgot they were briefly famous in the U.S.
ABBA (Sweden, 1974): As mentioned in our bio, when I was a kid, I knew ABBA won Eurovision before I knew what Eurovision was. This speaks more to how huge ABBA was in the 1970s than any sort of cultural imprint Eurovision made in the States. “Waterloo” still captures everything Eurovision is about: catchy melodies, flashy outfits, fairly silly lyrics. It’s the perfect hook to lure in new Eurovision fans.
Celine Dion (Switzerland, 1988). It’s hard to not know who Celine Dion is (though many wish they could purge her from their memories), so it’s surprising to a lot of folks in the States to find out she won Eurovision before she was famous in the States.
Andrew Lloyd Webber (United Kingdom, 2009). Technically the performer was Jade Ewan. But Lord Andrew was the power behind the UK’s 2009 entry “My Time.” He wrote the song, promoted it (memorably lobbying Vladimir Putin for Russia’s 12 points), and played piano in Jade’s Eurovision performance. Even if Americans don’t know the name, just about all of us know Cats and Phantom of the Opera.
Julio Iglesias (Spain, 1970). In 1970, a very young, very nervous-looking Julio Iglesias competed for Spain with “Gwendolyne.” A decade later, he was a household name in the U.S. In 1984, 1100 Bel Air Place went quadruple platinum and “To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before,” his duet with Willie Nelson, reached #5 in the Billboard pop chart. Younger Americans may simply recognize the surname — Enrique Iglesias is his son.
Katrina and the Waves (United Kingdom, 1997). Katrina and the Waves’ 1985 hit “Walking on Sunshine” reached #9 on the Billboard pop charts, which may surprise people who know it as an advertising jingle. (It’s just perfect for pharmaceutical ads.) They were well past their heyday when they won with “Love Shine a Light.”
Engelbert Humperdinck (United Kingdom, 2012). Crooner Humperdinck had a lot of chart success in the U.S. in the late sixties, with three of his first five albums hitting the top 10 on the U.S. charts (and the other two peaking at 12). He had a number four hit with “Release Me” and later hit number eight with “After the Lovin’.” However, since that last peak in 1976, he has steadfastly remained a fixture on the Las Vegas and U.S. casino circuit.
Olivia Newton-John (United Kingdom, 1974). Grease is an iconic film in the U.S. and “Physical” was the biggest of Newton-John’s five number one hits here. She also had a big hit with the soundtrack to Xanadu (and a big flop with the movie itself). Jen points out that there weren’t many little girls growing up in the ’80s who didn’t want to be Olivia Newton-John.
Cliff Richard (United Kingdom, 1968 and 1973). Far from the legend he is in the U.K., Sir Cliff had some chart success here in 1979 with “We Don’t Talk Anymore.” He also hit number 20 here with “Suddenly,” the duet Olivia Newton-John did with him at the height of her power. Aging hipsters in their 40s know him as the object of Rik’s obsession on The Young Ones.
Lulu (United Kingdom, 1969). Lulu had a number one hit in 1967 with “To Sir with Love,” and as such she is more known to boomer audiences than younger generations. However, she did appear as a mentor on American Idol in 2007. More recently, “To Sir with Love” was covered on Glee. And of course, James Bond fans will also recognize Lulu as the singer of the theme song to The Man with the Golden Gun.
Nana Mouskouri (Luxembourg, 1963). It’s not her music as much as the eyewear that we recognize. But Nana Mouskouri specials were long a staple on PBS pledge drives.
t.A.T.u. (Russia, 2003). t.A.T.u is a one-hit wonder in the States: “All the Things She Said” reached 20 on the Billboard charts in 2003. They also made a splash with the “is she or isn’t she” fake lesbian shtick that tabloids at the time couldn’t get enough of. The Onion’s A.V. Club later named their album Dangerous and Moving with the Least Essential Album of 2005.
I mentioned “Waterloo” when discussing ABBA, but there are a few other Eurovision songs that crossed over to the American charts.
“Save All Your Kisses for Me” (United Kingdom, 1976). Popularized in the U.S. by Margo Smith and Bobby Vinton, it was years before we realized this was a Eurovision song. This was also the song I used as a gateway to get my mom into Eurovision, although her fascination with Jedward helped too. (Don’t ask.)
“Volare” (Italy, 1958). Dean Martin popularized “Nel blu dipinto di blu” in the U.S., reaching number 12 with it on the Billboard charts. Barry White later performed it as a new jack swing number, which we would link to if we were mean.
“Ooh Aah… Just a Little Bit” (United Kingdom, 1996). Gina’s Eurovision entry finished in eighth place in Oslo, but it hit number 12 on the Billboard charts later that year. It also received a Grammy nomination for Best Dance Recording in 1998.