What am I describing? It regularly brings in twice as many viewers as the Super Bowl each year, and is even a contender for the most watched television show on Earth. It usually features around 40 countries, but America is not one of them. It is also one of the cheesiest things on the planet.
If you answered "Eurovision," then give yourself a croissant and a pat on the back. If you didn't answer AND you're American, well that's fine too, since despite the fact it's been going on over half a century, it's only something you've very recently been exposed to.
What Is The Eurovision Song Contest?
The Eurovision Song Contest has been an annual staple of Europe (and a little beyond) for 61 years, and has collectively featured over 1,500 songs. To put it simply, it's basically a massive party in which most of the European countries enter a musical act and then vote to decide which is best.
Generally, any country that is part of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) can enter, even those that lie beyond the traditionally defined borders of Europe. For example, Israel, Cyprus and Armenia frequently compete, while in 1980 even Morocco got in on the action. In fact, since 2015, Australia has also been invited along to the shindig as associate members of the EBU, primarily due to the sheer popularity of the show over in Oz.
Although everyone gets to enter (bar the occasional controversial banning — more on that later), not everyone makes it to the final, and before the big event on Saturday, May 13th, there have been two qualifying rounds. This has whittled the number of finalists down to a still pretty huge 26 countries. Included in that number are the so called Big Five — European countries that foot most of the bill for the event and therefore gain entry straight to the final. These consist of Germany, France, Italy, Spain and the UK. The host, and winner of last year, also gets an automatic appearance in the final.
Just How Big Of A Deal Is Eurovision?
Well, that depends who you ask. My native UK has a bit of a love-hate relationship with Eurovision (and, I suppose, Europe in general), firstly because we constantly do awfully and secondly because the bright, big and bold attitude of Eurovision does sometimes slightly offend our reserved, tea-sipping sensibilities.
However, Eurovision is certainly one of the biggest events in the European calendar, with the event drawing anywhere between 200–600 million viewers (depending on who you ask).
It's true that many people, especially in the UK, enjoy it rather ironically (Graham Norton of the BBC's Graham Norton Show provides some rather scathing commentary) and don't take it particularly seriously — especially compared to sports events. Despite this, it's also fair to say the show does deliver some absolute musical belters that you'll be humming for weeks to come. And lots of cheesy moments.
The wide variety of countries that enter means the show is a cavalcade of the weird and wonderful. Some countries opt for a sombre ballad from a talented vocalist, while others go absolutely mental, dress up their star in gaudy costumes and dance suggestively around the stage for three minutes to some throbbing Euro-pop. One year, Finland entered a rock band dressed as latex demons... and won.
Where Is It Being Held This Year?
The winner of the previous year's Eurovision receives the honor (and not insignificant financial burden) of hosting the next year's Eurovision. The 2016 competition saw Ukraine taking the prize, meaning this year's Song Contest is being held in Kiev.
This has already caused a bit of a stir and highlighted another interesting facet of Eurovision: the politics.
Although obvstentively a fun get-together where all political matters are put aside in favor of a big sing-song, Eurovision is overflowing with subtle and not so subtle politics. In one of the most flagrant political moves, Russia's 2017 entry, Yulia Samoylova, was withdrawn from the competition after she gave a performance in the Crimea — a region recently annexed from Ukraine by Russia. This is illegal under Ukrainian law and she was therefore refused entry.
This could shake up the competition quite a bit, since traditionally Russia does quite well, especially thanks to votes from the former Soviet bloc countries. And that conveniently brings us on to:
How Does Eurovision Voting Work?
The voting system for Eurovision has changed a lot over the years. Until 1997, the voting was done purely on the basis of a professional jury. Then, after several countries experimented with televoting, it was introduced wholesale. However, this was seen as overly biased and predictable, as countries would often simply vote for their neighbors or nations they had strong connections to (e.g. Greece usually gave Cyprus 12 points, the Baltic countries voting for each other, etc.).
To combat this, a new system was introduced which combined both the traditional jury and the mass participation. Now a country's votes are split into two categories: Public and Jury.
The Public Vote is conducted via phone votes from all the competing countries. Obviously, you are not allowed to vote for the country in which you geographically reside, so someone in Germany cannot vote for the German entry and so on and so forth.
Each country then tallies their votes for the other countries and distributes 10 different amounts of points to the 10 top-scoring countries for their vote: 12, 10, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, and 1.
The Jury system uses the same set of 10 point amounts, but they are decided by five professional music experts from each nation.
This was introduced to at least limit the effect of political voting, while maintaining the mass public participation. Check out a short video showing off Australia's voting from the 2016 contest — complete with typical awkward banter between host and vote announcer — below:
How Long Is Eurovision?
In terms of length, Eurovision rivals the Super Bowl. If you're going to watch it, you certainly want to stock up on booze, snacks and head around to whichever of your friend's has the biggest TV/sofa.
Although the qualification rounds are shorter (about two hours), the final is usually around four hours long. However, unlike the Super Bowl, the vast majority of this is "action" of sorts. Each nation presents their song in turn — often separated by a short sequence/tourism commercial showing off the finer points of their country. There is then a musical interlude from a non-competing musical group or troupe (think the Super Bowl half-time show) and then, finally, it's into the grueling vote counting. The show ends with the winner performing their song again (usually while bawling their eyes out).
Eurovision is certainly a marathon and not a sprint, but with the right group of friends it's a great night in.
Who Is Competing In 2017 Eurovision?
After the semi-finals concluded on Thursday May 11th, there are now 26 countries competing for the coveted trophy. Below is the full list, in the order they will compete, with the artist and song.
- Israel - IMRI - "I Feel Alive"
- Poland - Kasia Moś - "Flashlight"
- Belarus - Naviband - "Story of My Life"
- Austria - Nathan Trent - "Running on Air"
- Armenia - Artsvik - "Fly with Me"
- Netherlands - O'G3NE - "Lights and Shadows"
- Moldova - Sunstroke Project - "Hey, Mamma!"
- Hungary - Joci Pápai - "Origo"
- Italy - Francesco Gabbani - "Occidentali's Karma"
- Denmark - Anja - "Where I Am"
- Portugal - Salvador Sobral - "Amar Pelos Dois"
- Azerbaijan - Dihaj - "Skeletons"
- Croatia - Jacques Houdek - "My Friend"
- Australia - Isaiah - "Don't Come Easy"
- Greece - Demy - "This Is Love"
- Spain - Manel Navarro - "Do It for Your Lover"
- Norway - JOWST5 - "Grab the Moment"
- United Kingdom - Lucie Jones - "Never Give Up on You"
- Cyprus - Hovig - "Gravity"
- Romania - Ilinca and Alex Florea - "Yodel It!"
- Germany - Levina - "Perfect Life"
- Ukraine - O.Torvald - "Time"
- Belgium - Blanche - "City Lights"
- Sweden - Robin Bengtsson - "I Can't Go On"
- Bulgaria - Kristian Kostov - "Beautiful Mess"
- France - Alma - "Requiem"
Who's The Favorite For Eurovision 2017?
According to some sources, Italy is the bookie's favorite this year with "Occidentali's Karma." However, Bulgaria, Sweden, Portugal, Moldova, Belgium and Belarus are also expected to do well. If you want my tip, I'm going for Romania's "Yodel It!" Who doesn't want a combination of rap and yodeling? Oh, they also have two big glitter cannons on stage too.
What Are The Rules Of Eurovision?
Like everything else with Eurovision, the rules have changed a lot over the years. Currently, they can broadly be defined as the following:
All vocals must be live: Eurovision does not allow for any pre-recorded vocals, although pre-recoded instrumental backing tracks are now allowed. If you're ever dubious if this is true, just listen to the UK's 2003 zero-point-earning-entry "Cry Baby" by Gemini. There's no way that was pre-recorded.
You can sing in any language: Originally, performers were required to sing in their native tongue. Then it was changed so performers must sing in an official language of the EU. In 2017, you can sing in any language you like, with most performers choosing English. In the 2017 finals, only three entries are singing in their own languages, Belarus, Hungary and Portugal. The rest are singing in English, or English combined with another language.
Performers do NOT have to be from the country they represent: Despite popular belief, Eurovision itself does not stipulate rules dictating you can only represent the country you hold citizenship for. For example, Celine Dion won for Switzerland in 1988, launching her international career. However, some national committees may have rules that apply to the performers and the songwriters.
Songs should be around three minutes long: There is some leeway with this rule, and commercially released versions of the songs can be longer.
Maximum of six performers on stage at any one time: This applies to singers as well as musicians and dancers.
Songs "must not bring the Contest into disrepute": This means no swearing, commercial messages or overly sexual or political lyrics. In 2009, Georgia withdrew after they refused to change the lyrics of their entry "We Don't Wanna Put In," which was seen as critical of Putin following the 2008 Russo-Georgian War. In fact, last year's winner, Ukraine's "1944" was also accused of politicization as it referred to the deportation of Crimean Tatars by Joseph Stalin.
All performers must be above 16 years of age.
No live animals on stage.
All songs must not have been performed before September 1 of the previous year: Some countries have their own rules that songs must be written specifically for the contest and not be performed except to qualify for selection. This means we can't simply dust off Paul McCartney and get him to sing "Hey Jude" or something.
How Are Eurovision Acts Selected?
This also depends on the individual broadcasters in the competing nations. Some acts, especially from smaller countries, are extremely famous singers in their native lands. However, increasingly, countries send performers who have won an America's Got Talent/X-Factor-esque televised competition in their own country. For example, in Sweden the selection show, the Melodifestivalen, is arguably more popular than the actual Song Contest. Due to this, many performers are unknown, amateurs or former stars. Several comedians have also performed over the years.
This amateurishness is certainly one of the charms of the show.
Where Can I Watch Eurovision In The USA?
Despite going since 1956, the Eurovision Song Contest was only first officially broadcast last year in the US. Logo, part of Viacom’s Music & Entertainment Group including VH1, MTV and Comedy Central, will broadcast this year's show live at EST: 3pm.
You can also likely watch it on European providers received via satellite, with that nation's specific commentary.
Who will you be rooting for at this year's Eurovision Song Contest?