From velcro skirts to hidden boob glitter, the gimmick is as much a part of the fabric of Eurovision as Balkan vote-trading and unconvincingly flirtatious hosting duos. The sheer range of bizarre attention-grabbing antics that have graced the Eurovision stage has proved something of a double-edged sword;  helping to secure the contest’s unique place in pop culture, but also lending the whole thing an air of ridiculousness that makes it easy for some countries to look down on it. In the UK in particular, whenever the show is discussed it’ll inevitably be the Pump Pumps and the Dancing Lasha Tumbai‘s that make the clip shows, rather than the hundreds of powerful ballads and straight-up brilliant pop songs.

Verka Serduchka

It’s easy to see why a number of countries attach eye-catching contrivances to their performances. Eurovision is a long show, and if you want to stand out you need to be memorable. So if you have a pleasant but unremarkable ballad performing around the halfway mark, it can be tempting to chuck in a couple of fire-eating stilt walkers to throw a few shapes behind you and keep the audience engaged. When it works, your act could become the talk of the contest. Needless to say, the Russian Babushki did not finish second last year on the strength of their song or their vocals – which sounded in parts like the noise the internet used to make in the days before Broadband – but rather because it’s difficult to resist the image of a 103 year old midget grinning toothlessly while wielding a plate of muffins.

Buranovskiye Babushki

Another country that frequently sets the bar for out-of-the-box staging ideas is The Ukraine. Patently desperate for a second win, it’s been years since they seemed content to let the music do the talking. Their back-to-back runners up in 2007 and 2008 hit the nail bang on the head – the frequently imitated but never bettered Dancing Lasha Tumbai is a textbook example of how to make Eurovision lunacy look natural and fun, while Ani Lorak’s glowing box routine blew every other uptempo performer out of the water and really was the moral victor of that year in my book.

However, since then the routines have tended more towards the distracting. Svetlana Lobada‘s hell machine and Mika Newton being upstaged by a woman doing sand doodles while dressed as Eartha Kitt’s character from The Emperor’s New Groove being the two most mind-boggling recent examples. This year their ballad Gravity by Zlata Ognevich is already a strong favourite with the bookies, and if rumours of their stage plans are accurate, the scent of victory seems to have sent them completely off the deep end.

Zlata will apparently be joined onstage by a Ukranian who purports to be the world’s tallest man at 2.5m high. He will, according to reports “Play the role of  a warrior defending Zlata on her way though the magic forest.” I’d kill to have been a fly on the wall when they conceptualised that one.

Zlata Ognevich

Having already apparently spent half their gross national income on a hysterical Avatar-inspired promo video, it’s fair to say the Ukraine are very much in it to win it. This can only have a red flag effect on Russia, who are currently sitting directly behind their neighbours in the betting stakes with a similar Disney-fied power ballad, and have strong form when it comes to surreal stage props – including contortionists emerging from pianos, ice dancers and horrifying ageing screens.

Nothing is yet known about plans for Dina Garipova’s performance of What If, but with no culinary crones to rely on this year,  you can bet the powers that be have got the Russian equivalent of Brian Friedman on speed-dial for something appropriately thunder-stealing.

So where will it end? I must admit I love the idea of an escalating war of gimmick attrition between the two countries. Russia could announce that Dina will sing her ‘save the children’ ballad while bathed in celestial light, descending from above on Europe’s first ever hover-stage. This could goad the Ukraine into hiring Gerard Butler to appear as his character from 300 and stage a full-on fight to the death with Mr Tall. Russia would then of course have to crowd-source some orphan children to kneel in exaltation as Dina flings newborn puppies down to them from her hover-stage, leading to Ukraine researching whether recreating the actual Balrog from Lord of the Rings to join the battle would contravene any Eurovision rules. There’s no upper limit on this thing, basically.

Of course there’s no guarantee that any of this will actually secure them a win. The only songs currently ahead of the competitive former Soviet states are Denmark and Norway, which are both likely to be performed in a fairly straightforward manner that brings the focus onto the strength of their respective songs. This is the most common misconception about the Eurovision gimmick – it might well help you to pick up a few party votes, but the victory almost always goes to the strongest song.

Anyway, as we eagerly await the insanity that’s bound to ensue, I present my top 5 gimmicky Eurovision performances.

5. Linda Wagenmakers – No Goodbyes (Netherlands 2000)

Gosh Linda, even by Eurovision standards that’s quite the voluminous dress you’re wearing. What are you hiding under there? OH MY GOD IT’S PEOPLE!

4. Eva Rivas – Apricot Stone (Armenia 2010)

I actually think this is a lovely song,  but it’s hard to get away from the fact that she’s basically singing to and about a giant pip.

3. Eric Saade – Popular (Sweden 2011)

Sweden’s leading hedgehog-featured teen idol  had a catchy song but not much of a voice, so a spectacular stage show was essential to give him the edge. The glass breaking conceit was certainly memorable, if only for his hilarious “NOT THE FACE!” expression at the critical moment.

2. Bucks Fizz – Making Your Mind Up (United Kingdom 1981)

Often imitated, never duplicated. The skirt-ripping moment is deservedly iconic, but the whole performance is gloriously deranged.

1. Krassimir Avramov – Illusion (Bulgaria 2009)

If it wasn’t for the archiving power of the internet, I would struggle to believe that this performance wasn’t something I dreamed up after accidentally ingesting hallucinogenic drugs.  It’s difficult to pinpoint just one key moment in this absolute freakshow, but Elvira, Mistress of the Night’s decision to SEIZE THE MOMENT in the last 30 seconds would be worthy of a place in this countdown all on its own. Truly, we will never see her like again.