With this year’s Eurovision final just a day away, we’re taking a trip down memory lane to revisit some of the New East’s most memorable offerings of years past. Expect vampires, grandmothers, butter churning, scandal and yodeling in this nostalgic (though absolutely not exhaustive) voyage into New East Eurovision nostalgia.
Party For Everybody by Buranovskiye Babushki (Russia, 2008)
Never have we looked forward to being old as much as when watching the Buranovskiye Babushki strut their stuff at the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest. With their name meaning Buranovo Grandmothers, in tribute to their village in the Russian region of Udmurtia, the Buranovskiye Babushki combined several key elements of Eurovision success: a disco-style song, traditional costume, relatable dance moves (centring on arm waving) and bread. The large oven on stage, accompanied by steam and spinning on a platform, was the cherry on top of an already very pleasing, kitschy cake (baking pun very much intended). The grandmothers’ performance of Party for Everybody won a very respectable second place, leaving us confident in the knowledge that age is but a number, a sense of reassurance that somewhat faded upon discovering that the youngest of the “babushki” was only 44 at the time of the performance…
Most misguidedly confident
We Are The Winners by LT United (Lithuania, 2006)
One of relatively few acts to ever be booed at Eurovision, Lithuania’s LT United went into the 2006 contest with a simple message: “We are the winners of Eurovision / We are, we are!” They were not the winners. Nonetheless, their tongue-in-cheek performance skillfully brought together the catchiness of a football chant, devastatingly sharp suits, a violin, a megaphone and a particularly exciting dance section after the 1:30 minute mark. Made up of some of the Lithuanian music scene’s best known stars, LT United finished up in sixth place. This, of course, wouldn’t have been nearly as catchy.
Most stylish headgear
Dancing Lasha Tumbai by Verka Serduchka (Ukraine, 2007)
Who could forget post-Soviet pop culture’s favourite drag queen? Dubbed the best song never to win Eurovision, Verka Serduchka’s Dancing Lasha Tumbai was runner-up in 2007 but created a storm big enough to rival any winner. The song’s title sparked controversy due to its striking phonetic resemblance to the words “Russia goodbye”, with Russian media additionally launching accusations that Serduchka (real name Andriy Danylko) purposely sang “Russia goodbye” during the Grand Final live performance. You wouldn’t be blamed for having let these things pass you by, though: the strong aesthetics were enough to distract anyone. With the crucial elements of Serduchka’s look consisting of tin foil, oversized glasses and a giant silver star perched atop the singer’s head (à la Christmas tree), you’ve got yourself the ideal low-cost, low-tech outfit for this year’s Eurovision party. What’s more, you’ll have the opportunity to enchant and annoy everyone with this catchy refrain: “Sieben, Sieben / Ai lyu lyu / Sieben, Sieben / Ein, zwei”.
Best Eurovision/Winter Olympics cross-over
Believe by Dima Bilan (Russia, 2008)
Russian megastar Dima Bilan took home the Eurovision crown at the 2008 contest in Belgrade with the song Believe. This was the singer’s second bite of the Eurovision cherry, having won second place for Russia two years previously. This time he wasn’t taking any chances and brought out the big guns: Olympic gold medallist and three-time world figure skating champion Evgeni Plushenko and Hungarian violinist Edvin Marton. The performance saw a barefoot Bilan begin crouched on the ground, at one point proffering a lit candle to the camera, and later standing together with a vigorously playing Martin while trying to dodge the enthusiastic arm movements of Plushenko as he zipped around on artificial ice. For more classic Dima Bilan stage gimmicks, check out his performance of Never Let You Go at Eurovision 2006. Suffice to say it features a women trapped in a grand piano.
Most incongruous vocal stylings
Yodel It! by Ilinca feat. Alex Florea (Romania, 2017)
Last year Romania was represented by duo Ilinca and Alex Florea, who stick in the mind mostly for their noble attempts to unite two great art forms: (pretty pedestrian) rap and, you guessed it, yodeling. Come for the enchanting fusion genre we are already affectionately calling “Yap”, and stay for the very conspicuous and inexplicable cannons that grace the stage during the performance. Although the track drew criticism for its reliance on a singing style that is not a typical element of Romanian culture – perhaps unsurprisingly, given that the track was originally written for a Swiss group – Ilinca and Alex Florea managed both to gain seventh place and to restore Romania’s place on the Eurovision stage, after the country was disqualified from the previous year’s contest when national broadcaster TVR failed to pay its debts to the European Broadcasting Union.
Don’t Believe, Don’t Fear by t.A.T.u. (Russia, 2003)
Known for their faux-lesbian teen act, Russian pop sensation t.A.T.u. had already made it big with All the Things She Said when they took to the Eurovision stage in 2003. Finishing third, just three points behind winner Turkey, t.A.T.u. found themselves at the centre of a voting polemic after Russia’s Channel One claimed the pair were robbed of victory due to receiving “improbably low points” from certain countries. Beyond indignant accusations of vote rigging, the duo were also threatened with disqualification from the contest both for trying to skip rehearsals and for their plans to perform the contest's first lesbian kiss live on stage. There were also rumours that t.A.T.u. would attempt to perform nude, after asking organisers if they were obliged to wear clothes.
Best use of stereotypes
It’s My Life by Cezar (Romania, 2013)
2013 was the year Romania decided to lean into stereotypes and send a vampire to Eurovision. Although his song made no reference to the supernatural, nor is he from Transylvania, Cezar appeared on stage as perhaps the first ever vampire to perform a rare opera-dubstep crossover. Complete with staggering falsetto, Cezar’s performance went down in Eurovision history as one of the most flamboyant of all time.
Leto Svet by Kreisiraadio (Estonia, 2008)
Kreisiraadio’s 2008 performance starts off straightforwardly, if a little brazenly, with half-clothed women waving Estonian flags. Things get weirder very quickly, as the flags make way for placards bearing pictures of cake and onions and the women are joined by three middle-aged men whose demeanor and dance moves recall something between 80s TV game show hosts and creepy children’s entertainers of birthdays past. The German and Finnish flag also make appearances on stage, along with an exploding accordion and a disturbing moment involving a piano and some enthusiastic thrusting. No less confusingly, the song is performed in Serbian, German and Finnish, with lyrics including “Green beans, that’s enough!” and “Who am I? Bill please. I ran out of gas”. This one is clearly a bit too deep for us.
Bonus: Most conspicuously absent
Flame is Burning by Yulia Samoylova (Russia, 2017)
Russia’s boycott of last year's contest in Kiev, after its entrant Yulia Samoylova was barred from Ukraine for three years over an allegedly illegal visit to the annexed Crimean peninsula, served as a powerful reminder of the extent to which politics can and will play out in Eurovision. After having Samoylova perform on Victory Day in Crimea at the same time as last year’s first Eurovision semi-final in a not-terribly-subtle snub, Russia is defiantly sending the singer to the contest this year in Lisbon, albeit with a different song.