Campiest Performances

What makes a Eurovision entry a camp classic? Misplaced ambition, a lack of self-awareness, and the slight (or not-so-slight) whiff of failure all help. But most importantly, they have to be funny, not just on the night, but upon repeat viewings. I’ve watched the performances on this list dozens of times and still howl.

“Carry Me in Your Dreams” by Kejsi Tola

Albania, 2009

This list is in no particular order, but there is no doubt in my mind that “Carry Me in your Dreams” is the most kitschy Eurovision entry ever. Staged in front of an old The Price Is Right set, Albania’s 2009 entry features Kejsi in a pink tutu, a rhinestone-encrusted green man who looks like Disco Gumby, and two b-boys dressed like Ben Stiller mimes. Classic, classic magic.

“Help You Fly” by Ivan

Belarus, 2016

Ivan announced before he went to Stockholm for the 2016 Eurovision Song Contest that he wanted to perform his song naked while surrounded by a pack of wolves. And gosh-darned it if he didn’t figure out a way to make it happen. Never mind that he gave the audience the image of a naked man telling a wolf he was going to teach it how to fly. If nothing else, Stephen Colbert talking about Ivan on The Late Show should be a lasting legacy of Eurovision in America.

“Be My Valentine (Anti-Crisis Girl)” by Svetlana Loboda

Ukraine, 2009

There is the top. Then there is over the top. Then there is way over the top. And then there’s Ukraine, where subtlety goes to die. Loboda filled the stage with nearly-naked male dancers sporting 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. When it’s all over, Loboda says, “Thank you so much, [point to the crowd], you are the best.” No, Svetlana love, you are the best.

“Pump-Pump” by Fredi & Friends

Finland, 1976

There is so much going on in “Pump-Pump” it’s hard to know where to begin. The piano player mugging to the camera? The back-up singer who looks more like an Open University economics professor than a singer? The increasingly hammy back-up singers violently bumping Fredi’s hips? The lyric “Let your hips go hippety pump pump/That’s the way we dance till we die/Ay ay ay?” It’s all pure gold.

“This Is Our Night” by Sakis Rouvas

Greece, 2009

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 writhing like he was hit with a defibrillator. The set piece is a moving walkway that has zero gravity properties and transforms into a gigantic Greek stapler.

“Flying the Flag (For You)” by Scooch

United Kingdom, 2007

Intentional camp usually fails because it’s the lack of self-awareness that makes camp delightful. Scooch is trying very, very hard to be kitschy and over the top, and it doesn’t really work. And yet, and yet, and yet… it’s so catchy and so ridiculous, I can’t help but admire their gumption.

“Butterflies” by 3+2 featuring Robert Wells

Belarus, 2010

This song was terrible. The singing was terrible. The enunciation 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 second to last because it really was terrible).

“Papa Pingouin” by Sophie & Magaly

Luxembourg, 1980

Ralph Siegel has had a distinguished Eurovision songwriting career. He wrote Germany’s winning 1982 entry “Ein bißchen Frieden,” and has contributed a number of solid Eurosong-style numbers throughout his 40-plus year career. But he has also contributed three of the most legendary kitsch entries in Song Contest history: “Dschinghis Khan” (Germany, 1979), “The Social Network Song” (San Marino, 2012), and of course “Papa Pingouin.” While his other two camp entries are painful to watch, “Papa Pingouin” is kind of charming in its utter ridiculousness.

“Minn hinsti dans” by Paul Oscar

Iceland, 1997

Bruce McCullough in a lost Kids In the Hall sketch? No, Paul Oscar celebrating S&M chic. Added bonus: Terry Wogan’s commentary about his own “quiet favorite.”

“Solayoh” by Alyona Lanskaya

Belarus, 2013

Alyona Lanskaya won Belarus’ national final in 2013 with “Rhythm of Love.” Shortly after, she switched songs to “Solayoh.” At first I thought it was a mistake, but when I saw how Belarus staged it in Sweden, I understood. Alyona emerges from a giant disco ball in a dress from Nomi Malone’s collection. The choreography is strangely stiff and yet weirdly delightful. (Yes, I do the upside down clap-clap along with her.) It is so cheesy, but so irrepressibly fun.

“Mata Hari” by Anne-Karine Strøm

Norway, 1976

Ever wonder what the theme song to a 1970s sitcom about an infamous Dutch spy would sound like? Anne-Karine Strøm provides the answer in a hideous sequined jumpsuit and ridiculous Brett Somers sunglasses that she seems indecisive about wearing. She finished last.

“It’s My Life” by Cezar

Romania, 2013

When “It’s My Life” begins, it’s not clear where it is going. Cezar sings, “Love is so bright, like a diamond in the light” (extra aspiration on the word “bright”) and you’re like, what is this, this is lame. Then the song hits the :40 second mark, and you find out Cezar is a countertenor. That’s when you realize: This. Is. Awesome. The Eurovision performance was unbelievably over the top, yet Cezar was in complete control and his voice stood out above all. Literally. Glorious, I tell you. Glorious. Romania finished 13th.

“Forever” by Alekseev

Belarus, 2018

In 2018, singer Alekseev and his team created a three-minute art film that went quite awry in its execution. Alekseev hands a rose to the camera operator, who holds the rose in the shot while panning over to the backup dancer, who takes the rose and shoots it through Alekseev’s hand, flower side first. The performance ends with Alekseev looking like he had been shot with a dozen roses (stem side first, this time). Did I mention there were CGI rose petals that looked like blood droplets? There were CGI rose petals that looked like blood droplets. “Forever” may have died in the Semifinals, but it gave me a little something to warm up my viewing party for the main event.

“Baby, Baby” by Nicole & Hugo

Belgium, 1973

Whenever you see a segment about Eurovision kitsch, Nicole and Hugo turn-turn-kick-turn their way into the clip package. There is so much to love here: Nicole and Hugo’s matching purple bell-bottomed jumpsuits, the ridiculously high-heeled boots, and of course, the classic choreography that pulls it all together. On top of all that, there are the little details: Hugo sings his part of the first verse uncomfortably close to Nicole, and the three female back-up singers all sport the same white-blonde perm wig. The passage of time has added an extra layer of awesome, as Hugo looks a lot like Will Forte.

“Run Away” by Sunstroke Project and Olia Tira

Moldova, 2010

When your Eurovision performance causes a worldwide meme, then you qualify for the Camp Pantheon.