We all know Eurovision – it’s that major talent competition decided by a long, slow fight to the death which guarantees a full night’s entertainment and geography lesson to millions of people all over the world once a year. But with this year’s edition kicking off in Vienna next week it’s time to bring back our guide to the competition for those who maybe aren’t as familiar with the whole thing as we are.
The Eurovision Song Contest is essentially a massive performing and singing competition held each year in May. All songs represent a country (usually European but not always) and must be no more than 3 minutes long. Generally winners try to entertain with a good song performed well live, although occasionally they will rely on other gimmicks (novelty lyrics, interesting stage props, outlandish costumes) in order to get more attention.
Any country that is a member of the European Broadcasting Union may send a song to the competition. These may be selected through national, televised competitions or privately selected by a group of experts in that country. This year 40 countries have entered the competition and 33 of them will compete in the televised semi finals, of which 20 will continue to the final. The Big 5 countries (France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the UK), last year’s winners Austria and special guests Australia all qualify directly to the final meaning 27 songs will be performed on the big night.
There are two televised semi finals on Tuesday (May 19th) and Thursday (May 21st) with 10 songs from each qualifying for the final on Saturday (May 23rd). Qualification (and the eventual winner) depend on the results of a 50/50 public and jury vote. The public vote is decided by televoting with lines open for about 15 minutes after all the songs have been performed. Each country also elects a five-member expert jury panel (songwriters or journalists for example) who vote privately during the dress rehearsal. Voting is only allowed from countries that have sent a song to the competition and you cannot vote for your own country.
To determine a winner the jury & public votes from each country are combined and the Top 10 songs are given points; 1st place = 12, 2nd = 10, 3rd = 8, 4th = 7, 5th = 6 etc until 1 point is won for 10th place. During the semi finals these points are kept hidden but for the final each country will announce their results one by one, in both English and French, until all 40 countries have spoken. This is seen as a major part of Eurovision and the results can take well over an hour to get through! Since the introduction of jury voting the results have been slightly less predictable but you can still pick up on a bit of European history by seeing which countries vote for each other. And with the table of points updated as you go be sure to keep en eye on the bottom right corner in case any country is left with the dreaded ‘nul points’!
Once all the votes are in, the winner is simply the song with the most points. In the case of a tie, the song that received the highest number of 1st place (12 point) rankings will take the prize. The winning country gets to host the next year’s competition and automatically qualifies for the final. The show will close with the winner performing their song again, just in case you managed to forget what it sounded like after all that time spent voting!
What else do I need to know?
The divas, OTT costumes and general leaning towards better LGBTQ inclusion make Eurovision fairly popular within the gay scene (although it’s lovingly embraced by other ‘scenes’ as well). Some years this is reflected more obviously than others (see photo above) and occasionally this leads to homophobia-driven ultimatums from participating broadcasters. In recent years, the governments of Russia and Turkey have tried to make a big deal of this (with threats to boycott or edit the broadcast), but their complaints are generally ignored and often only lead to greater and more overt LGBTQ inclusion from the other countries in defiance.
On a completely different note, most fans (even the Europeans) have learnt the basics of the continent’s geography and politics through the competition, mainly due to the “who-votes-for-who” effect whereby allies and neighbours tend to send a few points to each other during the results. And of course, the bilingualism of the announcements has taught millions of people the numbers 8, 10 and 12 in French!