On Saturday night, Europe will grind to a halt to mark its annual celebration of the cheesy and the saccharine: the Eurovision finals. This year, the singing competition is being held in the southern Swedish city of Malmo, and the field features the typical collection of over-the-top Europop, earnest acts, and strange sub-plots (the bassist in the Swiss act is 95 years old).
The competition was first held in 1956 and conceived as a way of bringing Europeans together around an entertainment program. That hasn't exactly happened, and every year the competition is riven by petty national rivalries. The Scandinavian, Balkan, and former Soviet countries vote for each other, and the Greeks and Cypriots refuse to vote for the Turks.
Politics also tends to rear its head outside the venue. This year, for instance, there were calls to boycott Israel's inclusion in the contest. And last year, controversy erupted when Azerbaijan, that year's host, arrested a group of 50 anti-government protesters hoping to use the competition to draw attention to government abuses.
This year, the hottest political story involves a lesbian kiss in the Finnish act. Finland's parliament recently decided not to take up a bill legalizing same-sex marriage, and Krista Siegfrids plans to kiss one of her dancers on stage as an act of protest (her song, "Marry Me," seems at first blush to be about a woman desperate for a proposal from her boyfriend, but she's now conveniently turned it into a more subversive message).
But let's face it: The real draw isn't politics -- it's the outlandish performances. Without further ado, here are the 10 best (or worst, depending on your perspective) acts this year.
Denmark: One of the favorites to win this year. Note the totally earnest, totally awful tin whistle in the opening (thanks to reader FranzLiebkind for identifying the instrument).
Ukraine: Being carried onstage by a giant is certainly one way to start a performance.
Montenegro: Techno-dubstep astronaut rap, where have you been all my life?! Sadly, the act didn't make the finals.
Ireland: Embodying every bad trend in European music, complete with shirtless, tattooed drummer-dancers.
Latvia: These guys didn't make the finals, but I love them.
Macedonia: Is this the most unlikely looking duet in the history of Eurovision? I'm not sure, but I find it rather endearing.
Greece: Ska lives!
Norway: One of the other favorites to win this year.
Finland: Providing the hot political story of the year via a lesbian kiss protest.
Albania: Just the worst.
JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP/Getty Images