In 56 years the Eurovision Song Contest has provided so many entertaining moments that we see on television. It has a reputation of being “naff” or “tacky”. It also however attracts anything between 100 million and 600 million viewers and has been the launch pad for many artists, such as ABBA, who went on to become one of the biggest selling bands of all time after their win in 1974.
But what about what goes into Eurovision? It has changed and evolved so much and more than half a century later it is still growing. Where did it come from and who’s idea was it?
The 1950s saw a Europe that was still recovering from World War II, rationing was still in use in the UK for instance. So the Switzerland based European Broadcasting Union began seeking ways in which to bring together and maybe unite in friendship a divided Europe. The song contest was the brainchild of the Swiss Television Director General, Marcel Bezencon, who thought that the contest could be broadcast by all participating nations at the same time.
The first contest was held in Switzerland in on May 24th 1956, in which just 7 countries participated: Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands and Switzerland. It was won by the host nation. Since then it grew each year, with the United Kingdom taking part in the second year.
Over the years 51 countries have participated. Since the year 2000 though the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Spain have automatically qualified for the following years competition regardless of their placement. They are known as the ‘Big Four’. These countries fund the majority of the competition and without such funding, the contest wouldn’t take place. As of 2011′s contest, Italy re-entered for the first time in 14 years and joined the big four in their special status of auto-qualification, thus becoming the ‘Big Five’.
Eurovision in the new millennium has seen many countries winning the contest for the first time, particularly Eastern European countries like Latvia and Ukraine. Finland however have been in the competition since 1961 but had never won it until 2006, in which they broke traditional ‘bubble-gum pop’ and entered with Lordi’s “Hard Rock Hallelujah”.
Up until the 21st Century, more ‘traditional’ European countries mostly won the Contest. The country with the most wins is Ireland, who have won it 7 times in 1970, 1980, 1987, and four times in the 1990s (’92, ’93, ’94 and ’96).
Countries now can sing in any language they choose, this is how the contest started out in 1956. However from 1966 to 1973 and 1977 to 1999 the EBU decided that countries must sing in their native language. Since the year 2000 some countries have even experimented with artificial languages,such as the Belgian entry ‘Sanomi’ in 2003. The 2011 Norwegian entry was the first in Eurovision history to use an non-European language, when the song was sung in a mixture of English and Swahili.
The voting has always been an area of controversy and in many cases it is almost predictable which countries will receive points from which. The current awarding of points has been in use since 1975. Countries award points 1 through 7, which from 2006 is automatically placed on the screens to save time. From there a representative from the awarding country reads out the 8th, 10th and 12th point. Again predictable voting patterns show countries giving the most points to their closest neighbours or allies, for example the Scandanavian nations, the Eastern European nations, Spain and Portugal. Even the UK and Ireland are guilty of it.
Throughout Eurovision history, there are many acts that have gained international status as a result of taking part. The most notable being ABBA, who won with ‘Waterloo’ for Sweden in 1974; they used Eurovision as a platform and went on to sell over 375 million records and still sell about 2 million records a year now. Other acts who used Eurovision to launch their careers include Celine Dion, who won the contest for Switzerland in 1988, Brotherhood Of Man (UK 1976), Dana (Ireland 1970), Bucks Fizz (UK 1981) and Dana International (Israel 1998).
Whatever people’s perception of the Eurovision Song Contest, it has continued to grow for more than half a century and it does, at least if only for one night, unite Europe as Marcel Bezencon originally intended.