The Eurovision Song Contest: A Beginners Guide

Oh my goodness! That time of year has crept up on us fast. Camp up, Europe; cause the most fabulous party is kicking off in Stockholm, Sweden right now!

So you may have heard of the Eurovision Song Contest before, or maybe this is the first time you’ve ever heard of it? Well you’re in the right place to find out roughly what it is and the kind of things that go down. Therefore, I invite you to take it all in and prepare yourself for the finals of Europe’s biggest music contest!

What is Eurovision?

This is probably a good place to start. Back in 1956, seven countries came together in a contest created by the European Broadcasting Union. The EBU is now comprised of national television broadcasters from countries across Europe. The idea behind the contest was to put to the test the new live broadcasting technology which was becoming ever so popular in the television industry. Although the first ever Eurovision Song Contest consisted of only seven competing countries, it can now include up to 43 countries!

Eurovision is now Europe’s biggest music song contest, with more than 180 million people from all across Europe (and the rest of the world) tuning in each year…that’s enough people to fill Wembley Stadium roughly 2,000 times. Yikes!

The contest works by countries from all over Europe (along with one or two countries from beyond) submitting a song, along with performers, to the show with a vision of entertaining Europe and scoring points from voters.

The location of Eurovision can change from year-to-year, as it is usually hosted by the country that won the previous year’s contest. Last year the contest was won by Sweden’s Mans Zelmerlow, therefore the 2016 Eurovision Song Contest is being held at Sweden’s capital, Stockholm.

You can check out his winning performance below. (This clip contains flashing images)

What happens in Eurovision?

Okay, most competing countries will perform in one of two semi-finals to try and gain a ticket to the final. An order is pre-decided and agreed with broadcasters and organizers of the contest.

During each semi-final, which is usually around three hours long, the countries will perform their songs to the order pre-allocated. After all countries have performed in their relevant semi-final, voting opens. At the end of the televote, 10 countries from each semi-final will be sent through to the final.

So not all countries compete in the semi-finals? Correct. Some countries are granted access to the finals straight away. First an foremost, the host country will be given a place in the final, along with other countries known as the “Big Five.” These five countries are usually the UK, Germany, France, Spain and Italy. These five countries give the biggest financial contribution to Eurovision, and are therefore guaranteed a place in the final.

In the final, all finalist countries compete by performing their song submissions in an order decided by the broadcasters and organizers. Like in the semi-finals, after all countries have performed, a televote is opened to Europe. After the voting has closed, they are counted and a winner can be announced.

How does the voting work? And how is a winner decided?

So each competing country can vote in the Eurovision Song Contest. Details of the televote are announced by the broadcaster, and will run for the duration of some “interval” performances. Countries are instructed that they cannot vote for themselves, and therefore voting and points must be allocated to other competitors.

As the public votes are counted, they are combined with the votes of a “national jury” from each country. Each national jury comprises of music industry experts, and this initiative was introduced to the contest in 2009 to assist with the combat of “political voting”. (i.e. Only voting for your neighbouring or ‘friend’ countries, rather than voting on the merits of each performance).

A change in rules this year means that there will be two sets of points awarded – one set from the national jury, and the other set from the public vote.

This part of the show can be quite lengthy, with dodgy satellite connections to all European countries, where a representative for the country will be stood with a landmark towering the sky, while they freeze their arses off. What troopers. It can also be a particularly long evening if you are one of the countries to receive “nul points”.

After all the points have been announced and distributed, the country with the most points is declared winner! A huge party of cheering, music and confetti cannons explode and the show can come to an end for another year! Phew!

What kind of things should I look out for on Eurovision?

The beauty of the ESC is that literally anything  can happen! Just a quick Google search, or looking though the hashtags on Twitter will give you a good idea that Eurovision is a pretty wacky phenomenon, where some of the most WTF thing happen all the time.

I like to keep an eye out on how ‘normal’ the contestants appear…which is usually not very! A good indication of their wacky factor can also be their costume. Across Europe, the ESC is very well known for producing some of the weirdest costumes and outfits ever. Seriously…I can’t even go into it!

Finally, I should point out that you really won’t need to keep yourself glued to the TV set to try and spot something weird! I mean, where else could you see partying Russian grannies, or spot an astronaut bringing out some killer acrobatics?

Why only Eurovision, of course!

If you’re in the UK, you can catch the next Semi-Final live on BBC 4 on Thursday 12 May at 8pm, and the Final live on BBC One on Saturday 14 May at 8pm.

If you live elsewhere, details of how you can stream the contest live can be found at eurovision.tv.

And, of course don’t forget to join in the conversation #Eurovision

Let’s party, Europe!

Rhysaphine

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