Every year in spring, millions of Europeans gather in front of their TVs and cheer for their Chosen One. This year, 43 countries are sending their representatives to DÃ¼sseldorf/Germany, where they will compete for the big prize.
Some of you might have already guessed that I’m talking about the Eurovision Song Contest (ESC). For all the rest: This is your introduction. I know from friends that it is a really weird experience to watch the ESC for the first time if you didn’t grow up with it. The songs are often, well, let’s say weird. The outfits as well. The rules are really complicated. And why the hell are we actually doing this?
Well, where else would you get a German country band (Texas Lightning) and a Finnish hard rock band on the same stage? Lordi, the Finnish band, won that year (2006). They’re a charming bunch:
A couple of years earlier, the winner was the Ukrainian Ruslana:
As you can see, this is something that you’ll just have to watch. At least once in your life. This year, I’ll be your ESC correspondent, hopefully with the help of the Euro-Persephoneers on here. I’ll start today with writing about the ESC in general, the history and rules, and after that I’ll introduce all the songs on here, and I’ll write updates on the two semi-finals (May 10 and 12). And then, May 14 is the big day of the finale – and I’ll be here with my bottle of red wine and hope that you will join me in my live blog!
But now to the basics. Why are we doing this? After WWII, Europe was a torn continent. To get the European people closer together again, the Swiss-based European Broadcasting Union (confederation of broadcasting organizations) developed the ESC based on an existing Italian concept. In 1956, seven nations came together in Lugano/Switzerland for the first ESC. Back then, the whole thing was a huge technical challenge. Nobody had ever broadcasted something like this live before. But it worked, and since then more and more countries joined in. This year will be the year of the 55th ESC, a big success.
The basic setup is as follows: the show is hosted by two or three local hosts (in English and French), and during the evening, all songs are performed live and then all of Europe votes. During the voting, the host countries are responsible for putting up a show. Riverdance, for example, had its first international presentation as voting show at the ESC in Ireland in 1994.
Until 1997, a jury was responsible for the votes in each country. But that year, Austria, Switzerland, Germany, Sweden, and the United Kingdom tested a televoting system for the first time. It was a big success, and since 1998 most countries have adopted it. One cannot vote for their own country. After the voting time has run out, the points are read up. This means that the local hosts will call all participating countries, e.g. Poland. A Polish host will then read up the points. If most Poles have voted for Iceland, then Iceland gets 12 points. If Serbia was second in the votes, they get 10, and so on (after 10, the awarded points are 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1). In the end, the song with the most points wins.
Voting can be very political. The Scandinavian countries usually give each other a lot of points, and Germany always sends a lot of points to Turkey. After the fall of the Iron Curtain, many of the Eastern European countries joined the contest, and they won, a fact that annoyed the rest of Europe. A lot of people complained that these countries just voted for each other and didn’t give the Western European countries a chance. In my opinion, that is that’s a myth – just goes to show how Eastern Europeans are still treated like a second class by many Western Europeans. But, it did end in a rule change; now when countries vote, the final points are determined 50/50 by the viewers and their votes and an official jury. This is supposed to guarantee the quality of the winning song.
A lot of other the rules have changed over the years as well. When I started watching, the singers had to sing in the country’s official language but didn’t have to be citizens. That is why Celine Dion could win for Switzerland in 1988. Now, however, the singers/songwriters can decide on the language. It was said that Ireland and the UK had an advantage by singing in English, a language that is widely understood.
The songs have to be original; that means you cannot participate with a song that was a huge success two years ago. Only songs that have not been released before a certain date can be entered in the contest. So, if you have been hiding the best song in the world somewhere for the past five years, you’re good to give it a try.
As more and more countries joined the contest, it was not possible to just do one big show anymore. So a few years ago, the organizers introduced two semi-finals. This means that most countries have to pass through this before going on to the finale. Additionally, there are the “Big Five,” the UK, France, Germany, Spain, and Italy. These countries are the biggest financial contributors and therefore don’t have to go through the semi-finals. They are automatically qualified for the final, just like the winner from the last year and the top ten.
What else do you need to know? The ESC gave ABBA its international breakthrough, and it gave us Dana International (who will be a contestant again this year!). The music can be questionable. And the lyrics. And the performance. And the outfits. Which is a perfect mix for a fun evening!
And to get you started, here’s the first song of the ESC 2011, Albania’s Aurela GaÃ§e with “Feel the Passion.”
Albania has been in the contest since 2004, and the contestants are the winners of the popular Festivali i KÃ«ngÃ«s.
PS: I’ll post the songs in alphabetical order (I’m going by country).
Image credit European Broadcasting Union