Top 10: WTF moments in ESC history

The “top 10” series continues today, with what is doubtless one of our most random topics to date. Quite simply, as the title says, in the next few paragraphs, I will be leading you on a journey through Eurovision’s ten most unbelievably weird and unexplainable moments… Be it an untimely orchestral mishap in the 50s or a Swedish comedienne doing a voting sketch in the 2010s (you know who you are Madame Woodruff) – there have always been, and always will be, a plethora of unexpected happenings at the contest, which could only be categorised with a single acronym: “WTF”.

Will Remedios Amaya be a challenger for today's title?
Will Remedios Amaya be a challenger for today’s title?

It must be said that many people who wouldn’t consider themselves Eurovision fans would probably label every single entry to the contest as a “what the fuck” moment. However, even for us die-hard fans, there has been many a time over the years where something so insane has come to pass at the contest that we too would respond in the same way. So: today’s countdown will explore what we at ESC Views consider to be the very best ten of those such moments. We’re not limiting this one to individual songs, and as you will soon see, the entries in our top ten are comprised of all sorts of Eurovision antics – both planned and spontaneous. Will your personal #1 WTF moment make the cut? Read on to find out!

10 – Igor Vovkovinskiy as part of the performance for “Gravity” (Ukraine 2013)

We start by rewinding to May this year, where our personal favourite of the Malmö contest, Ukrainian Zlata Ognevich, arrived for the rehearsals with a killer song and high expectations of success… however, I genuinely thought it was all over for her when I saw the first rehearsal videos, where her performance began with Igor Vovkovinskiy, the “gentle giant”, carrying her onto the stage in what has to be the most awkward manner humanly possible. Now, having read some of Igor’s facebook statuses in the run-up to the contest, it transpires that he was absolutely loving the opportunity to give his mother country a helping hand on the Eurovision stage, and he thoroughly enjoyed his time as part of the Ukrainian delegation… but the fact remains that the moment he walked out in that first rehearsal, everybody just couldn’t stop laughing. God knows what the unsuspecting European public will have made of his ten-second appearance, seeing it for the first time in the live final… I mean, HOW are you supposed to take it seriously?!

9 – Ulrika Jonsson – “A long time ago, was it?” (Voting 1998)

[apologies that there isn’t a video which isolates the specific moment – skip to around 6:23 in the video above to see]

Ahhh, the voting. Number nine on our countdown is the first of today’s multiple voting moments, and it’s one that has most definitely left an enduring impression on the collective fan conscience since its occurence in 1998. Trust the BBC to be responsible for this episode of political incorrectness, ey… so, picture the scene: we are about three-quarters of the way through what looks like the most exciting voting sequence since 1988, and Ulrika calls The Netherlands, whose results are being announced by their 1965 representative Conny Vandenbos. Conny, bless her soul, launches into one of those “ohh I remember when I was there” speeches that tend to pop up whenever ex-participants read out results, and then, to everyone’s horror and amusement, Ulrika comes out with the hilariously unintentional and back-hand “a long time ago, was it?”. Realising her mistake almost immediately, she morphed into an “oh woooowww” response, when Conny confirmed it had been 1965, but the damage had already been done. Awkwaaaaard! Let’s move on, shall we.

8 – Jimmy Jump stage invasion (Spain 2010)

A more recent WTF moment now, in the form of the notorious stage invasion during Spain’s performance in Oslo in 2010. Daniel Diges was warbling his way through the frankly dreadful “Algo Pequeñito”, accompanied by an equally bizarre stage show comprising of jesters and clowns who – to my eyes at least – seemed to be playing the least effective game of musical statues in the history of the universe. It was pretty dire, and all-round weird, so to be perfectly honest, when “that guy in the black t-shirt and the beanie” came creeping onstage and ingratiated himself with the crowd of performers, I assumed he was a further extension of the planned chaos. Apparently not. It soon became clear, as he was chased off the stage by security guards, that his inclusion in the performance had been anything but planned, and looking back at it now, the look on Señor Diges’ face when he first appears is priceless! Explains it all!! Maybe Jimmy Jump was just proving the point that Spain should have sent Coral Segovia that year?

7 – Lill Lindfors’ wardrobe malfunction (Host 1985)

Another moment that has acquired a notorious reputation in the years since it took place is at number seven in our countdown: Lill Lindfors’ infamous “wardrobe malfunction” of 1985. Although it later transpired to be a planned stunt, the audience’s reaction in the video above just says it all. Pure shock. Assuming it had been a legit accident, there will have been countless uncomfortable squirms as Ms. Lindfors appeared to be struggling to cover herself up on live television. However, looking back at it now, the configuration of the dress itself appears almost predictable – even 80s fashion trends couldn’t disguise the impending costume change when you look at the top-half. But as a “WTF moment”, this DEFINITELY qualifies as one of the contest’s many highlights.

6 – Helga Vlahovic – “I don’t have it” (Voting 1981)

Back to the voting, and in 1981, we enjoyed what has to be my absolute favourite voting mishap in the history of the contest. After taking an uncomfortably long time to make contact with Dublin, the hilariously flustered and abrupt Yugoslav spokeswoman Helga Vlahovic, when asked for their votes, snapped “I don’t have it”. I mean, god knows what was going on in Belgrade at that point, had no-one actually told her what the votes were, or were they, as Terry Wogan put it, “throwing a bit of a strop”? I have  no idea, but what ensued was a bout of laughter from the audience, and then further mayhem as Helga became convinced that she wasn’t getting through to Dublin at all, and exchanghed thirty seconds of “can you hear me? Hello Dublin?” with the increasingly exasperated host Doireann Ní Bhriain. Oh, Helga. Never fails to make me laugh.

5 – Jean-Paul Maric – “Printemps, Avril Callione” (France 1961)

Now, obviously, having not been alive to see the contemporary response to this one, my assessment of this, the sixth French entry to Eurovision, as a “WTF moment” relates to how it comes across in a modern context. Watching the above performance, it appears to have all the hallmarks of a typical 50s/60s era ESC performance… a grand orchestral introduction, a single, smartly-dressed performer making a leisurely entrance onto the stage, and, of course, the guarantee of French lyrics… and then, the guy opens his mouth and all the comes out is “bing eh bong eh bing eh bong”. And I’m gone. I’m not even kidding you, there were ACTUAL tears of laughter the first time I watched this. Even once he reverts to the more conventional method of using actual words, his facial expressions and in particular his eyebrows become all the more funny. And then the “bing eh bong” comes back. It is pure hilarity from start to finish, and no matter how hard you try to take it seriously, it leaves you with one overwhelming thought – “what the actual fuck was that!?”

4 – Announcement of the four winners (1969)

[as with Ulrika, this moment isn’t isolated on YouTube, so skip to 1:26:00 in this video of the entire contest, to see what I am referring to]

So, as of yet, the entries in our top ten have been a mixture of planned outtakes, weirdly-interpreted performances, and accidents which highlight the perils of live TV… however, at number four, we decided to reserve a special mention for what has to be the singular most confusing moment in the last fifty-eight editions of our beloved contest. Namely, 1969: the year of the infamous four winners. The specific moment I’m highlighting is THAT look on presenter Laurita Valenzuela’s face once Finland’s votes have been completed, and the camera pans back to her, with all of the assembled audience in the theatre and across Europe expectantly waiting for her clarification of the result. That expression is priceless… hastily reverting to her mother tongue, she babbles on for a bit, with a wide-eyed expression which pretty much reflects what every single person in the venue will have been thinking.. “WTF happens now?!” Indeed, she is rumoured to have asked the producers the procedure in the event of a tie, receiving the response that “such a thing would never happen”… If that is indeed the case, then god only knows what infuriation that expression was also masking!!

3 – THAT sax solo in “I Anixi” (Greece 1991)

[1:15 in the video]

Okay, so Greece are one of my favourite ESC countries ever, and this, their sublime 1991 entry, is one of their highlights. A beautiful, energetic and dramatic song, performed admirably by Sophia Vossou. Admirably, I say, especially when you consider that she had to overcome what has to be THE worst orchestral mishap in the contest’s history. All was going well until the instrumental break after the first chorus – when the saxophonist managed to completely slaughter his solo, both missing the majority of his notes, and seemingly losing any concept of rhythm he may once have had. The composition of the song even meant that the off-key end note was squawked out almost in isolation, leaving it to reverberate around the hall, almost exaggerating just how bad it was… If anyone has seen the “recorder by candlelight” version of the Titanic theme, it is amost as bad as that. Except this one wasn’t intended as a joke. This was a legit live performance – the awkwardness and hilarity of which is further highlighted by the director’s decision to cut to a shot of the guy struggling to get through the solo, whilst Sophia is left trying to pick up the pieces of her challenge for the Eurovision title. Bless.

2 – Remedios Amaya – “Quién Maneja Mi Barca” (Spain 1983)

Compared to the other “WTF” songs that are featured in this top ten, the Spanish entry from 1983 stands head and shoulders above the rest in terms of its universal rejection by the Eurovision juries – Remedios Amaya’s “song” “Quién Maneja Mi Barca” ended up without a single point at the end of the night. And, as is the theme of this countdown, we can pretty much guarantee that the reason for it’s failure was how bloody weird it came across… Thinly veiled as some sort of “traditional style of singing”, Remedios shrieked her way through the discordant melody whilst barefoot, dressed in what could quite easily pass for a circa-1971 deckchair cover and pulling some of the most constipated faces ever seen on the Eurovision stage… I for one actually enjoy the song, but from the moment she opens her mouth and that first “A quien maneja mi barcaah-ahh-ahh-uh-ehhh-aahhhh” comes out, I am just in stitches. It is just insanely funny, made even more so by how seriously she is taking it. I imagine a goat attempting to walk a tightrope whilst wearing Paula Seling’s catsuit and having consumed all the free alcohol in Greece would inadvertently produce similar sounds to Señora Amaya, agree?

1 – Sverre Kjelsberg & Mattis Hætta – “Saamid Ædnan” (Norway 1980)

[for the specific WTF moment, skip to 2:00, sit back and *enjoyyyy* :’)]

Deciding on which of our top two selections would triumph in this countdown proved decidedly difficult for Rory and I earlier this week. However, we settled on this one, the Norwegian “power plant” entry from 1980 as our number one. Or, more specifically, the moment where the second guy walks out. Because there are just so many reasons, in that precise moment, to stare in bewilderment at the screen and yell “WTF IS GOING ON HERE?!” Let me guide you through. So, we have the first part of the song, very over-dramatic and orchestral, performed by either Sverre or Mattis, I have no idea which is which (basically, the one who overdid the eyeshadow..) You think you have the gist of it, you reckon the entire song will continue in this manner, don’t you. And then.. everything stops, and you hear some random ass chant coming from stage left. What the hell, you think, what’s happening? “hey oh lo lee lo lee lo lo lee loa”, it repeats. And then.. and then you see him. The first thing you notice is that he appears to be dressed in a reject costume from your average low-budget 60s medieval adventure film. Like some sort of mentally-challenged jester, that type of character. And it gets even better/worse when the director blesses us with a facial close up… The expression on this guy’s face, as if he has literally just been prematurely dragged from a trip to the toilet and is still carrying the resultant mess in his imitation-medieval pants… Truly. What. the. fuck.

Those are our highlights, but what would you say is the biggest “WTF moment” in Eurovision history?

Your Views:

Is the top 10 accurate when compared to your own?
Is the top 10 accurate when compared to your own?

Susan Mathieson from Canada: Kejsi Tola’s Giant Green Smurf comes to mind

Sally-Ann Fawcett from the United Kingdom: The false start for Bandido – an historic moment of cringe!

Christian Schaffrath from Germany: Well there are a lot but dont remember everything… When I take this year, my most WTF moment was Macedonia. The 1st WTF moment as she went on stage with that awful Furby-dress and the 2nd WTF moment as she started to sing, erm SCREAM… Montenegro was WTF too but its no surprise getting that feeling from a Montenegrin song 😛

Costas Pom from Germany: I agree with all the above! I´d add performance-wise the whole Bulgarian act in 2009,the apples of Poland and Safura´s run back to the stage in 2010,the hammer woman of Cyprus in 2011 and every second Ukrainian performance 😛

Judging solely by these four views – and we have had an inundation of opinion on this one, so we really do thank you for sharing your thoughts with us – there have been a number of extra moments – from contests long ago and more recently – which we didn’t even manage to mention in the main top ten. Such a phenomenon can only be expected when dealing with a subjective topic such as this, but hopefully you agree with some of our selections, and if you have any others you wish to add, then feel free to leave a comment below! 😀

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6 thoughts on “Top 10: WTF moments in ESC history”

  1. I feel I have to defend Ulrika Jonsson here. What seems to have been a rather cheeky remark actually is a response to what Corry Brokken says. Ulrika merely repeats what she has said. If you listen closely. Corry actually says “It was a long time ago,” BEFORE Ulrika says her infamous phrase. “A long time ago, was it,” was just a continuation of the conversation, instagated by Corry. Due to the audience applause drowning out what Corry says, it seems that Ulrika is being very cheeky. I can’t be the only person who has noticed that, surely?
    As to the “winnner,” I don’t see what is so funny. I live in Norway, so maybe it has something to do with that, but the Joik is sami folk music. I suppose it might seem a bit strange if you haven’t heard it before, but I think it’s quite ignorant to even include it in the top 10, let alone have it at ‘st place. Sami music, and the joik especially is actually quite beautiful to listen to. I don’t think ignorance can be equated with comedy. For all you Britsh people, I have two words. Morris Dancers. I can think of a lot more cringe-worthy moments in Eurovision history than Sami Ædnan.

  2. Thank you very much for your comment Anton 🙂

    In particular, thank you for the clarification regarding Ulrika. Although – as I mentioned in the article, it was Conny Vandenbos, and not Corry Brokken who was the Dutch spokesperson that year! 😛 But you’re absolutely right: Ulrika’s comment does indeed come across as “cheeky” what with the audience drowning out the original comment from Conny (which I wasn’t aware of, so thank you for pointing that out) and also the technical blip that seems to affect all remaining footage I’ve seen of the moment. We should probably reassess Ulrika’s comment with consideration to these oversights, you’re right.

    In regard to “Samiid Ædnan”, you said it yourself: you don’t find it funny because you live in Norway, where the joik is a part of the heritage and culture of a particular group of people. However, at Eurovision, this song finished 16th out of 19 entries that year: to a pan-European audience, it simply came across as very odd and obscure. In addition, its inclusion as our winner owes more to the awkwardness and unintentional humour created by the song’s performance, in particular by the joik singer. I personally do quite enjoy the song, but it cannot be overlooked that – outside of Norway – the performance very much qualifies as a “WTF” moment. This is all cultural and subjective, however, and I do understand that.

    There is no need to start with the whole “all you British people” thing though – for starters, Rory is Irish, and although I was the one who wrote the article, we did compile this list together. I can think of many equally “WTF” moments created by British acts in Eurovision history too – Scooch being an obvious example. However, with that song, they were trying – and failing – to be funny, and it simply resulted in something that was all-round cringeworthy and tacky. In 1980, Norway’s song was meant as a serious piece, and it is more universally funny owing to the fact that it comes across as anything but serious.

    My country has produced some of the most lacklustre and dire contributions to Eurovision that we’ve all had to endure. Sometimes, you need to be able to poke fun at your own country, and look at things from a more international perspective. Something like “Samiid Ædnan” which is domestically lauded for being meaningful and creative can come across as simply ridiculous to a foreign viewer with no background knowledge, and that’s how a lot of these “WTF” moments are created: entirely by accident.

    I fully respect your opinions, and I thank you once again for sharing them with us. Tusen takk!

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