The Eurovision Song Contest
All about Eurovision songs


Now that the song contest is being shown in more and more contries outside of the EU, I thought it might be an idea to try to sum up what sort of music the contest offers.


Part one, about the contest

The contests

There are two contests. The first is a semi-final. This is necessary because the number of countries taking part is large - 42 in 2007 - and this would simply be unweildly. The main contest offers around 24 songs.

In the past, songs that did well won a place in the final, while songs that did badly were relegated to skip the next year. The exception being the United Kingdom, Germany, France, and Spain which are guaranteed a place in the final due to their contributions into making the EBU and the Eurovision event possible.
It was decided that this may not have been very fair, given that the process for the selection of which countries were allowed and which weren't was effectively "behind closed doors", so now we have a semi-final, held on the Wednesday before to main contest.

Note: This all looks set to change in 2008.

Ten places are reserved in the main contest, and all of the 'lesser' countries get to battle it out live for a chance of being one of the ten. The televote takes place during an interval act, however unlike the main contest the semi-final results are not disclosed, only who has made it to the final - the presenters are handed ten envelopes containing cards of the winning countries, and these they open in a random order. The order the countries are unveiled determines which of the ten spots that country will take.


The final takes place on a Saturday evening (European time) typically in the middle of May. The songs selected for the final are performed, and then Europe televotes for the songs they liked - the only restriction being that you cannot vote for your own country!
Following an interval act of some sort (the popular Riverdance began life as a Eurovision interval act back in 1994) we then move on to the voting. This, as we call on every country in the contest whether they competed in the final or not, takes longer than the songs, although recent modifications (having the points awards from 1 to 7 automatically shown) have sped things up. A lot of people find this part of the contest tedious, but it is every bit as interesting. You can have lengthy discussions about "political voting" (will Greece and Cyprus ever not give each other 12 points?) or about "how can they vote for that! the whole country is insane!" or simply follow the rise and fall of the song you thought should win it. Often, the winner is fairly obvious by the halfway point, but sometimes life isn't that easy...


Rigged political voting

I can tell you right now - Greece will give 12 to Cyprus, who will return the favour.

The fact of political voting is a favourite whinge among Eurovision critics. A text recently on ITV teletext said that "we [the UK] don't stand a hope in hell as everybody else hates us". Between you and me I'd take a close look at the countries foreign policy instead of just saying "they hate us", but never mind.

The huge problem here is that the accumulated results of past years absolutely prove that it is a big fix and everybody's in it for themselves. The Balkans vote for each other. The Scandanavian countries vote for each other. And nobody votes for the United Kingdom because they're sucking up to Dubyah and waging war on some poor defenceless Iraqis. It's all political, it's a fix.

Likewise, the accumulated results of past years absolutely disprove that it is faked and fixed. Sure, you will get the Balkans and the Scandanavians and Greece/Cyprus awarding higher points to fellow countries. Perhaps that is something to do with a shared culture? Swedish is one of the official languages in Finland. Many people in Norway understand Swedish. So a song in Swedish will probably make sense in these countries.
Likewise - Greece and Cyprus. Similar culture, same language.
In 2006, Lordi won, to the frenzied screams of people accusing them of satan worship and goodness knows what other garbage. Doesn't sound like a fix to me. In 2005 Greece one, with a song sung by a J.Lo wannabe. And it was down to slightly more than the expected '12' from Cyprus. In 2004 The Ukraine won with a psychotic take on Xena the Warrior Princess..

It comes down to the old polician's game. The data set is wide and varied and includes loads of variants. Thus it is not unduly difficult to massage the figures to prove your point.
The only problem, it isn't hard to massage them the other way to disprove that point.

Consider the voting to be a big lump of playdough that you can squeeze into all sorts of cute shapes. And as for the political voting? There may have been a truth to it in the days of the national juries, however these days it is either a countrywide conspiracy exercised by the televote, or it is a plain old conspiracy theory.

I go on about this point as it crops up every year.


The best song wins on the night

Haha! Don't be silly. You'll notice I may use the phrase "insane capriciousness" to describe the European televoters. Some of their choices seem, to me, to be absolutely bonkers stark raving mad. I, personally, like to think that my pick of the best song was "misunderstood", but that's not really much of a consolation prize.


And they win...

Nothing really. Okay, they get a weirdly sculpted glass trophy (each year somebody designs one specifically, so it isn't the same like the Academy Award), and also the prestige of being the winner.
Your country also gets to host the next year's contest "at its own expense", however these expenses are well covered by sponsors, tourism, marketing, etc. It is a Europe-wide (and increasingly world-wide) way to show off your technical ability in holding a live programme of this scale, plus it is a great way to show off your country. You'll notice the periods between songs are little 'postcards' of exciting things that the country has to offer, as well as some cultural things. Turkey gave us whirling dervishes that whirled through an entire act and didn't toss their cookies. The Ukraine showed us life after their revolution brought a while new meaning to the advert catchphrase "the future's bright, the future's orange".


Broadcast and votes

Passive members of the EBU (that's countries such as Australia) can choose to watch the contest, either live or at a time more sociable to their audience. They cannot vote.

Active members of the EBU (that's most of Europe, as well as Russia, Israel, Georgia, etc which are not politically a part of Europe) are required to broadcast the competition live without any alterations if they participate, but they may insert short advert breaks if they're stingy (the German channel ARD1 "Das Erste" shows adverts, but manages to show the contest end to end without cutting to publicity - they're a role model).
The entirety of Europe then, country by country, holds a telephone vote ("televote") or, in some countries, voting by SMS on a mobile/portable/cellular phone. These votes are then tallied and used for the announcement of which country each assigns points to.
How this works, each 'country' is called upon to give points to the entrants. They give 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10, and 12 points - according to the popularity of a song as decided by the televote. Note we skip eight to ten to twelve.

Apart from the very rare screw-up for various technical reasons, there has been no big outcry over the use of viewer voting.
This is somewhat in contrast to 2007 in which many high-profile British television programmes from "Blue Peter" to "Ant & Dec" (some quiz programme? I never watched...) not to mention those late-night phone-to-win competitions that plagued the ITV channels for a while, all reporting irregularities such as impossible-to-guess answers, continuing to accept (and charge for) calls after the vote had finished, and also the old "grab a studio intern and make her the token winner" routine. It got so bad that as I write this addition to this page (2007/12/12), ITV is routinely broadcasting an advert offering to refund moeny to those affected by the fall-out of this.
There are still phone-to-vote shows (like "Strictly Come Dancing" or "The X-Factor") and there are still late-night 'interactive play' shows and those who call in despite on-screen displays saying that the average rate of calls is 300-500 a minute, this being after the presenter has waffled for 2-3 minutes without a single call. You do the maths.
Thankfully, however, the Song Contest has managed to escape the negative stigma that is associated with a number of televote programmes; but more and more British viewers are starting to believe in the rigged "political vote" theory as Sir Terry Wogan (aka that senile cantankerous crustie) seems to be single-handedly pushing the theory on to the British viewers, despite the fact that over recent years the British songs just didn't measure up, and how can we British viewers be expected to enjoy the full benefit of the performance when Sir Terry feels it is acceptable to actually talk during some of the performances?
It is forbidden to mess with the broadcast. There are very few technical hitches now that satellite links and television equipment is reliable. The last intended messing with the contest is that Lebanon did not intend to show the Israeli entry in the 2006 competition (as the country's law does not permit the recognition of the state of Israel) and so the EBU booted them out of the competition for this.
Because of how Israel was formed on stolen Palestinian land, this has happened before. In 1978, the Jordanian broadcaster displayed pictures of flowers during the Israeli entry. Unfortunately for the Jordanians, Israel only went and won that year - so as this was becoming more and more obvious from the votes, the broadcaster pulled the plug on the contest and announced that Belgium had won (Belgium actually came second).
How you feel about this depends largely upon how you feel about Israel; but to be honest it is rather idiotic of the EBU to accept competition entrants from countries that are technically at war with each other, and to than act all shocked when one of the countries makes it known that they plan to not show the entry of the other. It is sad that it should come to something like this, but watch the news for a while and you will see that Israel and the surrounding countries are not exactly stable, nor in any measurable state of 'peace'.


Where's Italy and...

Some countries (Luxembourg, Monaco) are not taking part due either to the cost, or the problems it may cause should they win. Italy, meanwhile, is sulking. Still.


Part two, about the songs

Where's Snoop Doggy Dogg?

I'm sorry, I can't take anybody serious with a name like that. In any case, pop stars and starlets turn up every so often - Céline Dion, t.A.T.u., Las Ketchup, Vanilla Ninja, Cliff Richard, Abba... but generally the song contest relies on the merits of a song rather than a fame factor. That isn't to say that the performers have no experience, it's just the Eurovision contest can be a fatal blow to the ego as a 'respected' performer can go on with loads of confidence, and have Europe turn around and say "who?".
Also, it is well known that stars taking part tend to do so when the country's song is hopeless, so they hope it'll earn some points. It is considered a gimmick, and statistically the song is likely to score less than it should due to everybody knowing that it is a gimmick.
In fact, a bad or badly performed song can be career-ending.
Then again, not winning can be career damaging. Has anybody heard of t.A.T.u. since their Eurovision performance? Julia had a baby so they weren't lesbians, but we knew that - it was just a gimmick to help them stand out. Richard Carpenter (as in The Carpenters) was going to do a new album with them - if it is a 'work in progress', it has been so for a year or two... In short, they've pretty much vanished into obscurity.

This, obviously, does not count for past winners who either shine like the Logans, do okay but only the once like Carola, or crash and burn into total obscurity - the notable exception being the girl from Malta who is Eurovision to that country.

In any event, don't expect it to sound like your favourite hit radio station. And don't expect to see Avril Lavigne representing Switzerland. (shame, but Avril's got Geeky-Girlfriend-In-The-Way issues)



More and more songs are being sung in the universal language. By that I mean English. Whether or not you agree, it is an undisputable fact that songs are increasingly in English.
Some countries are sticking to their own language - so Polish, Greek, Croatian, Russian, Icelandic, German, French... and so on may all feature. Sometimes you'll hear a song in a less well known language - Breton, Ursk, there were plans for the UK to enter a song in Welsh.
Once in a while somebody will do an Enya and devise a song in a completely made up language. The worst thing is, it probably wouldn't sound that out of place!

To my knowledge there has been no song presented in the mother of all made up languages - Esperanto. Likewise: Hobbit, Elvish, and Klingon are not really considered for Eurovision entries - though between you and me I would wet myself laughing if Lordi came on during the introduction to the 2007 contest and gave a fine performance of their song... in Klingon.

Most of the announcements are in English, however important things - this includes the voting - are in French and English both; the primary languages of the EU.


The orchestra

The live orchestra was last seen in 1998. Nowadays the artists sing to a backing track.

Apparently Jonathan King (yes, that Jonathan King) credits himself with implementing this change to the contest. He takes one of the last televised bastions of live orchestral music and gives it the TOTP treatment. B*st*rd!!!

In fact, completely as an aside, can you name me a regular proper as-live musical performance with actual instruments and not just singing to a backing track on British TV (FTA only)? I can - it's Jools Holland's programme. Now, here's the hard part: Name me another...

The music is an integral part of a song. As the emphasis is on 'live', and not a carefully crafted music vid... bring back the orchestra, please!
(If I was in charge of hosting a Eurovision, I'd have an orchestra present)


Types of performance

You can broadly categorise the performances as those who take it seriously, and those who don't.

Within this, we have three categories, which I'll discuss in turn. I'll give six examples of what I'm talking about, from the 2004-2007 contests (as I have pictures of these). I'm sure you'll soon be able to quote loads more examples!

1. The serious vocalist

The first, and smallest, category is the "serious song". There are no gimmicks, perhaps not even backing songers. No, or little, in the way of dance. The singer just stands there and sings. For they know that their voice alone will get the attention that it deserves.

Some examples:


2. The choreographed number

You might think my examples below are a bit weird. The criteria for this song is that it is based upon a dance routine, low on the extra gimmicks, and - importantly - they take themselves seriously.
This obviously discounts serious looking entries performed in a nonsensical language (such a Belgium in 2003).

Some examples:


3. The gimmick

These songs are what Eurovision does best, ranging from the fairly sensible (in comparison) gimmick-based entries right up to that which is totally left-of-centre.

The less weird:


And, the weird, which is plentiful:



Being 'camp' (or out and out 'gay') is not unusual. There is a certain comedic value to camp songs that Eurovision has taken to a fine art...


Not forgetting those who attempt to redefine what it means to be camp:

But campness has always been a part of things. Buck's Fizz were a bit camp. Abba based a very successful career upon it.

And as for Iceland, oh look, Iceland again. It must be those long winter nights and one-beer-per-town alcohol prices...



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Text copyright © 2008 Rick Murray
Images copyright © EBU-UER / BBC / Avril (?)