What is Eurovision, and why?

Eurovision is a song contest in which the nations of Europe (as well as a few in Asia and the occasional one in North Africa – hey Morocco!) each send a song to represent them. Then everybody votes for the best one, and whoever receives the most votes hosts the whole shebang next year. Simple, right? Yes? Ha.

“So it’s basically American Idol, right?”

Erm…not quite. In terms of scope, it’s more like the Olympics but for songs and with a geographical restriction. The Eurovision Song Contest is one of the most watched television programs in the world, drawing around 200 million viewers every year. For comparison’s sake, the last Super Bowl drew about 120 million viewers.

I know. It’s sad. You got your arse handed to you. Wait, was this guy in the Super Bowl last year?

Eurovision has been an international career springboard for folk such as ABBA, Celine Dion, and Gina G (of “Ooh Ahh Just a Little Bit” fame – also known as “that song in every yogurt commercial ever”). It’s also been used by artists such as Bonnie Tyler and Cascada as a career revival technique. Since the late 1990s, the contest has lost most of its dignity in much Western Europe but has grown even more popular in Eastern Europe as countries have fought to say “Hey! I exist!” and prove that they’re more than just ex-Russia. Oddly enough, Eurovision is huge in Russia.

Across the continent, Eurovision has a huge gay following, even in Western Europe. The 2014 winner was the Austrian entry, a bearded drag queen with a killer set of pipes by the name of Conchita Wurst. Wurst eventually became one of Eurovision’s most well-known performers; “the one with the beard” recurs when I mention Eurovision over here.

“What’s the format?”

Before the show, the competing countries are divided into two semifinals that take place on Tuesday evening and Thursday evening of Eurovision Week. Each semifinal gives ten tickets to the final, where the twenty victors join France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the UK, and the host country in the final. At both the semifinals and the final, each country gives out 12 points to their favorite song, 10 points to their 2nd favorite, and 8-1 to their 3rd-10th favorite, with the winner being the song with the most points in the final.

“How does the voting work?”

50% of the points are determined by a televoting of any and all residents in each country who wish to vote, while the other 50% are determined by 5 music professionals from the voting country. The televoters vote for their favorite, while the juries provide a ranking, so the ultimate goal is to present an entry that will garner both the most love and the least hate rather than only one or the other. You also can’t vote for your own country, which is why a lot of the songs eschew the national language for English. Boundaries and diasporas have a massive impact on who receives points from whom; Greece and Cyprus almost always exchange 12 points, as do Romania and Moldova. There are a whole host of voting partnerships, so I’ll do a full post explaining them all at some point.

“So what’s the music like?”

I split the entries nowadays into six categories. In the next six posts, we’ll go into each in more detail:

1. Stand there, shut up, and sing ballads

2. Happy, uncynical europop

3. Positively ridiculous spectacles

4. Artsy hipster tracks

5. Slick, well-produced, American-style pop

6. Selling out your folk traditions to pop music

So if any or all of those six sound enticing, stick around! There really is a lot to Eurovision, so I hope to have you. And it’s not for another ten and a half months, so “I don’t have time!” isn’t going to cut it as an excuse. I’ll leave you today with my favorite Eurovision winner ever, the Ukrainian performer from the 2004 contest, Ruslana. Enjoy and anon!

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