You may have never heard of the Eurovision Song Contest* but did you know it’s been a part of European culture for generations? The annual music competition for Europe’s best original song only happens once a year which, to many fans, is like waiting for Christmas. From ballads to campy songs, fans find a favorite new song to sing along to, even if it doesn’t win.
Eurovision was first created by a Swiss man named Marcel Bezençon, who was inspired by the Italian Sanremo Music Festival. Bezençon wanted to help lift the spirits of his fellow Europeans after a devastating war. His vision was to unite Europe for one night to celebrate music.
The first Eurovision Song Contest was held on May 24, 1956 in Lugano, Switzerland. The winner was the host country, Switzerland, with a song called “Refrain” by Lys Assia. The contest was deemed a success, and has been held nearly every year since. Starting in 1958, it was decided that the winning country would host the next year’s competition and so forth.
Over the years, rules were made and changed, such as the voting system. At the beginning it was a small jury of 10 people who decided the winning song. In the late 90s, telephone voting opened to the European public. The point system is currently divided by jury vote and public vote. The only voting rule that’s stayed the same is that you cannot vote for your own country.
There had also been a language rule which was created in 1965 after one of the entries sang their song in English. Each entry had to sing in one of their countries’ official languages until 1973 when the rule was lifted to allow entries to sing in any language. The rule was reinforced in 1977 but lifted once again in 1999 after it was clear English songs were popular winners.
As more countries divided up to form new ones, more countries made their Eurovision debuts. The 1990s had an influx of debuting countries due to the breakups of Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union. Soon there were more countries who wanted to enter than available slots in the final. Finally, it was decided in 2004 that the Eurovision Song Contest would have semi-finals to determine who would move onto the grand final.
Most recently, the US has had several tastes of Eurovision years before the ASC with previous showings and even a movie. Finally, the American Song Contest made its own debut in March 2022. 50 states and 6 US territories battled it out to determine whose original song was the best. (spoiler alert, Oklahoma was the winner). Maybe the US is the next country to debut at Eurovision?
A few fun facts about Eurovision:
Ireland currently has the most victories at 7. One winner actually won twice!
You may be confused to see Australia competing in Eurovision. This is because the contest has been broadcast in Australia since 1983, helping to build a fanbase down under. In 2015, Australia was invited to compete in the contest as a guest and then later allowed to compete until 2023.
The Eurovision Song Contest has been held nearly every year except for 2020, which was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
There are several famous names who have won Eurovision such as Celine Dion, ABBA, and most recently, Måneskin.
Although there are semi-finals, the Big Five countries France, United Kingdom, Spain, Germany, and Italy (originally the Big Four before Italy made its return after a long absence) are guaranteed a spot in the final. This is due to them being the biggest financial contributors to the ESC.
As of this writing, Croatia is the only country to host Eurovision despite never having won. This was because they were still part of Yugoslavia which won the 1989 contest. Zagreb was later chosen to host the 1990 contest.
*Written with permission from the European Broadcasting Union.