Let’s jump back to 2007, when Ukraine’s Verka Serduchka served Eurovision realness.
Song Title: “Dancing Lasha Tumbai”
Artist: Verka Serduchka
Semi-Final: No semi-final this time since Ukraine finished in the Top 10 in 2006.
Grand Final: 2nd place! More on that in a bit.
Last year’s entry: “Show Me Your Love” – Tina Karol (7th place)
If you have ever attended a Eurovision viewing party, chances are you played some version of Bingo. Squares might have included “backup dancers,” “military costumes,” “fake languages/words,” “Eurovision is not a political Contest1,” and “drag queens.” Ukraine’s 2007 entry “Dancing Lasha Tumbai” by Verka Serduchka would get you a win without having to use the free square.
Verka Serduchka is a character played by Ukrainian performance artist Andriy Danylko. Drag performances aren’t typically associated with Eastern Europe, particularly in 2007, which shows Ukraine fully embracing everything that’s fabulous about Eurovision.
The song was originally titled “Danzing,” which would have been fine by itself. However, the phrase “lasha tumbai” within the song caused some problems. Aside from the fact that it’s not a real phrase in any language, when someone with a Ukrainian accent sings it, it kinda sounds like “Russia goodbye.” It’s at this point in recent history that diplomacy between Ukraine and Russia has broken down and a bit of a rivalry has developed at Eurovision. To sidestep concerns that the song contained political messages2, the title was changed to “Dancing Lasha Tumbai.” Let’s look at the video of the performance to get the rest of our bingo:
“Dancing Lasha Tumbai” is one of the most internationally popular songs in the Contest. It received points from every other country except Albania.3 Only six songs since then, before the scoring mechanism changed in 2016, could claim such a feat.4
Verka Serduchka has also become a bit of a mascot for Eurovision. She presented Ukraine’s results at the 2016 Contest and will pop up in pretaped segments and postcards for the Contest and national finals. Andriy Danylko was also instrumental in Ukraine’s national selection for 2016, serving as one of the judges alongside 2004 winner Ruslana. His critique of Jamala’s performance included detailed notes about art direction and storytelling, which were much more nuanced than any notes other competitors received. That turned out well, don’t you think?