Least Self-Aware

We like a lot of the songs on this list. It’s just… where do we begin? We don’t think it is an exaggeration to say that these folks were performing like they think star performers should perform, and they didn’t quite keep it real. So much the better for us.

“Angel in Disguise” by Musiqq

Latvia, 2011

This is a great example of a song we like paired up with a performance without any sense of perspective. Singer Emīls Balceris was only 18 when Eurovision rolled around so perhaps his Latvian music career up to that point hadn’t prepared him for the size of the live and television audience. Their performance felt like two buddies sitting on their parents’ bar stools at home. The shit-eating grins said, “Look Ma, I’m on international television!”

“What For” by Aisha

Latvia, 2010

Bless her heart, Aisha really wants you to understand that she’s asking tough life questions. She even asked her Uncle Joe, but he can’t speak. In fact, these questions are so tough that she can’t ask them and sing in tune at the same time. What for do people live until they die? What for are we living? What for are we crying? What for are we dying? Only Mr. God knows why.

“Make My Day” by Martin Vučić

North Macedonia, 2005

North Macedonia offers us this important cautionary tale: make sure your crew has rhythm. The dancers aren’t good, but we don’t get around to noticing because we can’t take our eyes off of the backup singer on the right. We never get tired of watching this one. Little known fact: this song was so good that Spain reentered it in 2009.

“Northern Girl” by Prime Minister

Russia, 2002

Oh Prime Minister. They have captured the secret formula for boy band success, but something went wrong in the lab. The guys are not particularly cute and look a bit pudgy in their over-sized wardrobe. The vocals are off. The lyrics–“northern girl, frosty eyes, I want to melt you baby”–speak for themselves. They concentrate a little too hard on hitting their dance moves, which leads to a particularly special moment of choreography a minute into their performance. In spite of it all, we love this song. Our fave is Lance.

“Illusion” by Krassimir Avramov

Bulgaria, 2009

We’ve done enough music and theater to know that every group has its share of backstage drama. Most set the drama aside when it’s showtime. With “Illusion,” the issues were so significant they could be hid from no one. Oh, to have been a fly on the wall during those rehearsals. We don’t know the story, but we amuse ourselves by filling in the blanks. The name on the card says Krassimir Avramov, but it’s easy to see that several alpha personalities are sharing the stage (because the camerawork spends a lot of time showing the supporting cast). In particular, watch Petya Bouklieva, the woman with the inappropriate Elvira wig. By golly she was going to wring everything she could out of her moment. Throughout she just performs bigger than everyone else (including the lead singer). Vocally she starts to stick out by 1:45, and any singer can tell you that this happens when you aren’t listening to others. Doubt what we’re saying? She even has the last word–the final “thank you”–after Krassimir.

“Love Unlimited” by Sofi Marinova

Bulgaria, 2012

If you really want to see someone without a clue, look no further than Sofi Marinova and her performance of ”Love Unlimited.” “No no, I don’t need back-up singers or back-up dancers or anything. I will not share the stage! I’LL DO IT ALL MYSELF!!!!” She probably designed her costume and lighting as well.

“Didai Didai Dai” by MFÖ

Turkey, 1985

The perfect time capsule from the mid-1980s, “Didai Didai Dai” looks like a musical number from a lost Miami Vice episode. Singer Mazhar Alanson’s mugging gets more and more silly and more and more enjoyable as MFÖ’s performance goes on.

“Teenage Life” by Daz Sampson

United Kingdom, 2006

The thing about hip hop is that it is primarily rooted in the idea of authenticity. See if you can spot any authenticity here.

“Let Me” by Donny Montell

Lithuanian National Finals, 2011

Okay, he didn’t actually make the contest in 2011 (he would first find his way to the Eurovision stage the following year). But humor us for a minute because Donny is special. We’ll begin with his semifinal performance in the 2011 Lithuanian song contest. “Let Me” is a bedroom ballad, where Donny asks us to “let me love you twice.” It’s all Luther Vandross. Donny is dressed in a shiny suit and tie. He got a haircut. He looked at a language translation, and he really thought about the meaning of the lyrics. He even does a key change. I mean, he’s asking nicely here. Let me love you… twice. Please?

Shortly after the semifinal, Donny reworked the arrangement and his approach to song. At the final, “Let Me” was an upbeat dance number intended for the clubs. Determined to fit a square peg into a round hole, he breaks it down for us and gives us his Michael Jackson dance moves. He is the sexiest beast around. He ditches the suit for a white shirt, black crew top, and suspenders (which give him trouble during the performance). Who knows what the scrolling green arrows are doing there, but they feel masculine. And for us, a legend is born.