May is for Eurovision
Ah, the Eurovision Song Contest. Love it or hate it, it will take over the social media channels this week. A celebration of music-making across Europe (and Australia), this crazy competition of loud ballads, wacky back-up dancers, and folk music-meets-metal is televised live across 140 countries.
If you grew up in North America, this whole thing may have passed you by. I remember watching my first Eurovision final by accident, sitting on the floor of my flat in London while folding laundry. I texted my husband, who was at the pub, that there was something supremely weird going on. There is a whole history to Eurovision: who will vote for whom, the guaranteed wacky entries, and the politics of the complicated sets and pyrotechnics.
An incredibly short history of Eurovision
What am I even talking about? The Eurovision song contest launched in 1955 by the European Broadcasting Union to bring together the countries of western Europe in a joyful, non-threatening way. It was a big undertaking pre-satellites to broadcast across so many countries. It was so popular, that the countries behind the Iron Curtain started their own televised song contest. Though because so few people had phones for voting, everyone was told to turn on all their lights if they liked a song – the energy company reported which song had the biggest response. In 1994, most of these countries joined the regular Eurovision Song Contest.
What languages do they sing these songs in?
Oh, all sorts! The rules have changed over the years, from insisting on songs in one of the country’s official languages, to today, where countries have free choice. Several entries over the years have involved completely made-up languages! Eurovision really does like to mix things up.
Now, most countries contribute entries in English. This year, only 14 out of 41 entries will sing in a language other than English. Out of these, three will include more than one language.
Using English as the main language of the song doesn’t necessarily mean that’ll help the song win. Some of the most beautiful and emotional Eurovision winners have been sang in the original language. Such as the 2017 Portugese winner, Amar Pelos Dois sang by Salvador Sobral.
Portgual usually sings in their native language, along with Italy, France, Serbia and Spain. This year Poland, Croatia and Iceland will also be singing in their native languages.
The Italian entry has sparked some controversy this year, with the singer, Mahmood, singing parts in Arabic. The language was last heard in the Eurovision back in 1980! We can also look forward to hearing some Turkish in San Marino’s entry and Denmark are really going for it with sections in English, Danish, French and German! Wow, talk about multi-tasking.
Part of the joy of watching the Eurovision Song Contest, is the effort put out by the hosting country. If your country wins one year, you are to host the whole crazy affair the following year.
Ask Ireland how fun that is, they happened to win four times within five years and it nearly bankrupted their national TV network.
Each country has little cultural video montages to introduce their performers, as interpreted by the host country, as well as many little stories about the hosting country itself. Sometimes these even include little language lessons – so look out for those!
At the end of the grand finale as the points are awarded, we get to witness presenters from each country awarding points to their top three songs. The Eurovision points system is complicated and would take an entire post to explain, so I’ll let you read the Wikipedia entry yourself, if you’re really into it. But the maximum number of points one country can award another is 12.
For reasons not entirely clear, presenters from every country announce the points in either English or French, leading to the phrase douze points, ’12 points’, to become a Eurovision in-joke. Since 1997, Europeans have been voting by phone themselves, rather than relying on juries. There are many complicated relationships about which countries vote for each other and why.
Generally neighbours vote for neighbours. I’m sure there are many university papers written on this very subject every year.