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Dragging Through The History Of Eurovision Written by on May 10, 2014

With the ascent of Conchita Wurst in all her fabulosity, it seems only fair to give her foremothers—Eurovision’s previous Drag Acts—their due. To date there have been three other drag artists who represented their country as lead artist. Of these one came very close to winning!

With the controversy around Conchita, the ESC Insight team (and pretty much everyone else) has been wondering whether there was any evidence to support the belief of many that Eastern and former Soviet Europe might be less warm to a drag act.

 It stands for Drama Queen, not DisQualified

In 2007 Denmark sent DQ with her song ‘Drama Queen‘. This was an old school, cabaret-style big production drag act: feathers, fans, and key change were all key elements of the act.

In the end Denmark scored 45 points and finished 19th of 28 songs and did not qualify for the Grand Final. Their points came from:

  • 8 Iceland
  • 7 UK
  • 6 Malta
  • 5 Ireland and Israel
  • 4 Norway and  Sweden
  • 3 Serbia
  • 2 Andorra
  • 1 Netherlands

Aside from Serbia and Israel, these were all from Western Europe—mostly from the Nordic bloc. The former Soviet and Eastern European participating televoters awarded no points to DQ (details on how the backup juries voted are not available).

Only Love

On the cusp of joining the European Union, the selection of Sestre (Sisters in Slovene) ‘Samo Ljubezen‘ in 2002 caused quite a ruckus. Parliamentarians mooted the idea of blocking three drag air hostesses from representing Slovenia. When the EBU quietly made it clear that this was both not possible (broadcasters select entrants, not governments…ostensibly), the commotion quieted down.

The response from Europe’s voters was mute rather than moot. Slovenia scored 33 points,  though these came from both Western Europe and the former Yugoslavia:

  • 8 Croatia
  • 7 Spain
  • 6 UK
  • 5 France
  • 2 Austria, Macedonia and Switzerland
  • 1 Bosnia & Herzegovina

Samo Ljubezen‘ was a fun song, but it was never going to challenge for the leader board.

(Very Nearly) Heppy End

Whilst DQ struggled in the semi-final, Ukraine had already pre-qualified for the 2007 Grand Final, thanks to their top 10 placement the year before. When Verka Serduchka won the Ukrainian national final it was very controversial; in fact, the rhetoric was similar to what we found in Slovenia in 2002.

Aside from having a pre-reserved spot on Saturday,  Verka was also an established star in the ex-Soviet states prior to doing the Eurovision. In the russosphere her selection garnered attention: in particular because she ostensibly sang “I want, you see, Russia bye-bye” during the Ukrainian selection. Subsequently she claimed to have sung “I want, you see, lasha tambai” – with lasha tambai meaning “whipped cream” in Mongolian. It does not.

Verka’s impact was massive in Helsinki. ‘Dancing Lasha Tambai‘ scored 235 points, finishing second to another artist who pushed the envelope rather queerly: Serbia’s Marija Serifovic and ‘Molitva‘. Verka’s points were distributed as follows:

  • 12 Andorra, Portugal, Czech and Latvia
  • 10 Belarus and Israel
  • 8 Lithuania, Ireland, Estonia, Russia, and UK
  • 7 Greece, Spain and Moldova
  • 6 Armenia, Finland and Iceland
  • 5 Bosnia, Croatia and Germany
  • 4 Austria, France, Romania, Cyprus and Slovenia
  • 3 Denmark, Serbia, Turkey, Malta, Bulgaria, Sweden and Hungary
  • 2 Montenegro, Norway, Switzerland and Macedonia
  • 1 Belgium and Netherlands

Verka did well within her bloc (points from all 6 members;, 52 points out of a possible 72, average score 8 points), but she was equally popular across Europe. Only one country gave Verka null points: Albania. An excellent reception for an entry in pidgin English, German, Russian and *cough* Mongolian.

For Better or Würst…

It’s worth noting that two of the previous drag acts, Sestre and DQ, featured lead vocals that were very polished…though the songs were somewhat weak. Verka’s nursery-rhyme like entry was a stronger song, but the vocal wasn’t difficult to deliver well. ‘Dancing Lasha Tambai‘ is an earworm that managed to crack the UK top 30 (2007’s winner didn’t chart) and remains a fan favourite. It is a great song.

With less than twelve hours until the Grand Final kicks off, there’s still no conclusive evidence one way or another about the potential scoring ability of Ms Würst with either the public tele vote or the jury rankings. Yes it’s a drag act, but it’s genderfuck drag, not feathers and cabaret drag; yes it’s sung incredibly well but then Eurovision scoring isn’t always about the perfect voice; and yes everyone starts on zero points, but Austria’s cultural voting bloc is limited at best.

Perhaps the only thing of note is this… once the Contest is over, and the full tele vote and jury rankings are revealed we will have a definitive answer.

And we’ll always have ‘Rise Like A Phoenix‘ at the top of our ‘big ballsy ballads‘ playlist.


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