Monday, May 11, 2009

The Eurovision Song Contest

Hey, it's almost over. A week from now, and it'll be a whole year till the next one. ;-)

So, I said a while back that I was going to write a post about the ESC and explain a little about its history and rules and so on. Even though it may be of limited interest to some. ;-) I'll try to keep it brief, but, well, you know me ... ;-)

The ESC is a songwriting contest for the members of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU). There is a lot of confusion out there about that last part - various whining will be heard every spring about how Israel shouldn't be allowed to compete, they aren't even in Europe, how long do we have to go on feeling sorry for them, etc. I do agree that Israel perhaps should not be allowed to take part. But their geographical location is neither here nor there. Any nation state can compete that has a national broadcasting corporation which is an active member of the EBU. China could compete if they wanted to ... all they'd have to do would be to gain membership, select an entry and pay the fee. So ignore the geography. And stop wondering why Legoland wasn't allowed to participate. ;-)

The ESC has been taking place since 1956, and has been broadcast live on TV every year since then. It's the biggest show on earth, with an audience of at least one hundred million viewers. o_O The contest was originally conceived partly as an experiment in live broadcasting, and partly as a way of bringing together nations still smarting from half a decade of a brutal and disturbing war. The nations of Europe speak many different languages, but music is a language that we all share. Aww. :-) Only seven countries competed that first time. But since then, throughout more than five decades during which the contest's popularity has waxed and waned, the number of participants has constantly grown. Now we're up to more than forty. (Altogether, 51 countries have competed.) As a result, the rules have been altered many times over the years.

But what's interesting is mainly how we're doing it now. And the basic idea hasn't changed. Each competing nation submits a song; all the songs are performed during a live broadcast; viewers vote for their favorite entries and when the points have all been counted, we have a winner. :-) Originally the points were awarded by a jury of professionals. This was changed, and for about a decade now the votes have been cast by the viewers at home via phone or internet. The professional juries, the so-called jury groups, never went away, though ... each country has such a group, and they evaluate all the songs, so that if anything should go wrong with the televote, that unfortunate nation will still be able to awards its points.

Which are 58 in number, divided as follows: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10, 12. The twelves are, naturally, the most coveted - partly because they're the coolest, and partly because in the event of a tie the entry with the most twelves wins.

This year, however, the jury groups will have a much bigger role to play - starting this year, only half the points will come from the televotes, and the other half will come from the juries. Each nation's points will be decided half and half. It'll be very interesting to see how, and if, this new system will change anything.

There are some rules that apply to the entries: they must be selected in a way that fulfills the EBU's criteria, they must be 3 minutes long, they cannot be instrumental (although only a few words may be sufficient; say, 25 ;-) and the lyrics cannot be, by an EBU definition, 'political'. As Georgia has learned to their chagrin this year. Only a maximum of six people can participate in the performance, and the songs must be selected, submitted and approved before a certain deadline. Each participating broadcasting corporation can choose its own method of selecting the entry, and there are a lot of different ways of picking one. And a lot of different results! :-D The ESC has a bad rep - people who don't watch it tend to think that all the songs are the same, etc ... but that is not true these days. Check it out, and you'll see. ;-)

The winner basically gets nothing but honor and glory. Well, they get a trophy, usually designed by some artist from the host country. The winner, you understand, is whoever wrote the song. It's not a singing contest; it's the songwriter that competes. And they don't really win anything. :-) There's the trophy; there's the honor, which is dubious; there is the guaranteed place in the following year's final for the country the winner represents; and there's the biggest prize, and the biggest bother, of all - the winner's organization receives an invitation to host the contest the next year. They don't have to accept, but they always do. :-) And there are some safeguards in place in case one of the really poor countries should win. The chance to host the contest means that the winning nation will have to spend a total shitload of money ... but will also get the chance to show itself off to all the rest of Europe. We'll all be watching Russia with a smile on our faces this week. And that doesn't happen all that often. ;-)

OK, this is long enough already ... and it's late enough, too. Maybe more some other time ... about bloc voting and the Eastern dominance that isn't actually real but just in people's minds. Good night. :-)


KAS said...

Germany clearly deserves to win this year (if we don't, I mean).

Trill Trall said...

Rybak rules!

Then one of these countries may follow (in no particular order): Switserland, Iceland, Germany, Azerbaijan, Montenegro and Estonia

Moldova is way coool! HORA DIN MOLDOVA!!! HEY HEY!!

Sadako said...

I LOVE Eurovision song contest!!! Well, I don't really watch it, not living in Europe. But there's this hilarious Father Ted ep where Ted and Dougal are trying to write a song for the contest--ever since I have had a soft spot for it.

Leisha Camden said...

ITA, the German entry rocks. Unfortunately I don't think it'll do very well. But it's a v. cool song. :-)

I agree about Moldova too, they have a great song this year, they will definitely be in the final. I will be totally shocked if they aren't. But Iceland ... !! I really like their song this year. But imagine the total disaster it would be for them if they won ... !! :-o :-D

Sadako, hi! Nice to see you here. :-) Always happy to meet a non-European ESC fan. But are you aware that you can watch it online? Go to and you can watch all three shows live there. :-)