Most Americans don’t know the Eurovision Song Contest exists. Most Europeans have watched at least a bit of it.
Eurovision is a singing contest started in 1956 and is one of the longest-running television programs in the world. It’s a bit like a schlocky, international American Idol in which each country gets to put forth a contestant and they compete against each other.
Developed by the European Broadcast Union, on the belief that music (along with sports) could unite a multi-lingual continent, Eurovision was content for a new technology of television. Today, participants are broader than just the European Union countries; 43 countries take part. Switzerland participates although it is not part of the EU. Former Soviet republics and even Israel participates. The contest is broadcast further Europe, Arab countries, Hong Kong, India, Canada, Australia, Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa, South Korea, and Vietnam all can watch it. In fact, the Eurovision Song Contest is one of the most watched events in the world with audience between 100 million and 600 million internationally.
Each country chooses a singer or band to represent their country and they compete against each other. Residents of a country cannot vote for their own country. For example, Swiss cannot vote for the Swiss entrant.
Before the days of internet and cable, Eurovision was huge. Today, it faces increased entertainment competition has lost some of its luster. Nevertheless, it is still popular enough that he has learned all about it at work.
Famous Eurovision contestants include:
- Sweden’s ABBA, who won with Waterloo in 1974. Olivia Newton John placed 4th that same year.
- Julio Iglesias placed 4th for Spain in 1970.
- Israel’s Dana International was the first transsexual to win in 1998.
- Celine Dion won for Switzerland in 1988 with “Ne Partez Pas Sans Moi.“
- In 1997, Katrina and the Waves won with “Love Shine A Light” they are best remembered for their 1985 smash hit “Walking on Sunshine.”
- Scottish singer Lulu won in 1969, with ‘Boom Bang-a-Bang‘. I can’t explain how France, the Netherlands and Spain also won that year.
- The English group Bucks Fizz won in with the song “Making Your Mind Up” and their whip-off skirts.
- Sandie Shaw who sang “Puppet on a String” (we’d never heard of it).
- Engelbert Humperdink‘s “Love Will Set You Free” is the UK’s entry this year. I think my dad may have an album of his from the 60’s tucked away somewhere.
Songs with overtly political messages are banned. Notable songs that premiered at Eurovision include:
- “Nel blu dipinto di blu,“ better known as “Volare“ (it didn’t win)
- Toto Cutugno‘s “Insieme“, is a song that many Germans still know by heart.
- You might remember Gina G’s 1996 dance-pop entry for the United Kingdom, “Ooh Aah…Just a Little Bit.”
- Luxembourg’s France Gall‘s 1965 song “Poupée de cire, poupée de son” was a sensation. Written by famous French singer Serge Gainsbourg, it became in international hit. It was one of the handful of Eurovision songs that radio stations played and people bought.
Some countries tend to do well:
- Ireland holds the record for the highest number of wins with seven. The even won three consecutive times in 1992, 1993 and 1994.
- France, Luxembourg and the United Kingdom are joint second with five wins. Nevertheless, Brits have generally prided themselves on not taking Eurovision seriously and often strike out. It was still poplar viewing in the UK, due in large part to the Terry Wogan‘s cynical commentary. He barely suppressed guffaws over the quality of the acts/presenters and the kitsch. Outraged at the politics behind the scoring system he stopped in 2008 and vowed never to return.
The scoring/winner is likely to change as blocs of countries have started banding together to vote one of their region a winner. This has lead to frustration about the winner’s worthiness. Andrew Lloyd Webber even visited Moscow met Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to ask him to call on all East European countries to refrain from block-voting for each other.
Partisan voting doesn’t seem to be a new phenomenon, Cliff Richard‘s second-place finish in 1968, its now attributed to direct intervention by Spain’s then-dictator, General Franco.
Historically, some countries have done poorly:
- Until Finnish band Lordi won with their rock song “Hard Rock Hallelujah” in 2006, Finland had participated since 1961 but never even made it into the Top 5.
- Norway has scored no points in four separate contests.
- Austria, Finland, Spain, Switzerland aren’t far behind with three null’s.
Many self-respecting musical acts stay away to preserve their dignity. Garish outfits are mandatory and gimmicks used in the contest include:
- In 2008, Russian entrant Dima Bilan sang “Believe” while Olympic gold medalist and three-time world champion Evgeni Plushenko ice skated.
- Ukraine’s Kseniya Simonova‘s sand-painted clouds, planets and angels in sand while singer Mika Newton howled into a wind machine.
- A Moldovan act once included a woman dressed as a fairy on a unicycle and digital gnomes flying across the stage’s LED screen.
- Sweden’s Eric Saade smashed through a glass door onstage.
- Boy band Blue (kind of like the Backstreet Boys) was big in the 90’s. They staged a comeback in Eurovision, while it brought them some attention, it didn’t result in the desired comeback.
- Turkey’s Sertab Erener sang “Every Way That I Can” (a song about a woman in a harem in the 19th century, who wants to win back a Sultan that had expelled her) with a troupe of belly dancers performing enthusiastically.
- This year, Russia’s song is from Buranovskiye Babushki a girl band whose name translates to the Buranovo Grannies. These singing grandmothers from the Udmurt Republic have an average age in the 80’s. Two years ago, they failed to qualify with the hip hop produced track “Dlinnaja-Dlinnaja Beresta I Kak Sdelat Iz Nee Aishon.” This translates into “Very Long Birch Bark And How To Turn It Into A Turban”.
- Austria’s entry this year is by Trackshittaz. I’m not kidding. That’s really their name. They have dancers with their buttocks highlighted with fluorescent paint. Again, I’m not kidding. I couldn’t make that up. They have promised to “learn a little bit of English” before the contest. Will this lead to a name change?
- Montenegro’s Rambo Amadeus‘ (no joke) song has a video in which he surprises two topless women with a donkey.
Azerbaijan won the contest last year so they have to host this year. Countries have been known to put forward a lamentable contestant to avoid the expense of putting on the contest the next year. Yes, Ireland I’m looking at you.