EUROVISION SONG CONTEST
Running since 1956, the Eurovision Song Contest is an annual televised song contest with participants from numerous countries whose national television broadcasters are members of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU). The Contest is broadcast on television and radio throughout Europe, in selected countries around the world, and on the Internet.
The Contest's name comes from the EBU's Eurovision TV distribution network. Because it is the highest-profile event distributed by the network, the Song Contest itself is often simply called "Eurovision" (especially in the United Kingdom, which transmits fewer Eurovision Network broadcasts than most continental countries). ESC is an abbreviation used when referring to the Contest on websites and in forums.
The structure of the Contest is as follows:
The programme can reach a potential television audience of more than one billion. Any member of the EBU (even those outside Europe) may participate in the Contest. Of these non-European members, only Israel and Morocco have participated in the Contest. Lebanon had planned to enter the 2005 Contest, but they were forced to withdraw because they admitted that they could not be sure the broadcast wouldn't be cut whilst Israel were performing.
The theme music played before and after the broadcasts of the Eurovision Song Contest (and other Eurovision broadcasts) is the prelude to Marc-Antoine Charpentier's setting of Te Deum.
In the event of a tie it used to be the song with the most twelve points which won (as was the case in 1991) however it is now the song which received any points from the most countries which wins the tiebreak
The official rules of the Contest are long, technical, and ever-changing. Many of the rules cover technical aspects of the television broadcast itself. However, a few of the more important rules affecting the conduct and outcome of the Contest follow. (Link to the full rules for the 2005 Contest)
Number of Songs
Each country is entitled to enter just one song. The Contest final is limited to 24 songs. For the 2006 Contest in Greece, the countries that will take those places fall into three categories.
At the first Contest, each country was allowed to submit two three-minute (or less) songs. All songs must still be three-minutes or less in length, although many artists record the song in a longer version, simply performing a shorter version at the Contest. The number of participating countries has grown throughout the Contest's history, and since 1993 the rules have been changed several times to both limit the number of finalists and to allow for participation by former Soviet and Yugoslav republics, Warsaw Pact nations and others.
The entering song is also not allowed to be a cover version, and is not allowed to sample another artist's work. All songs must be completely original in terms of songwriting and instrumentation.
Current rules state that countries are allowed to have up to six performers on stage. Performers must be aged 16 or more, on 31 December in the year of the Contest. This is generally perceived to be due to Sandra Kim's winning in 1986, despite being only 13 at the time. No restriction on the nationality of the performers exists, which has resulted in countries being represented by artists who are not nationals of that country. One of the most well-known winning artists, Canadian Céline Dion represented Switzerland in 1988 (It seems to be a Swiss tactic, as their 2005 performance was by Estonian group Vanilla Ninja and their 2006 performance is by the multinational group Six4one with performers coming from Israel, Bosnia Herzegovina,Sweden,Malta and Portugal as well as from Switzerland). To place a restriction would be difficult in that, in Northern Ireland for example, some may wish to enter, who would consider themselves Irish, and therefore prefer to enter for Ireland, rather than the UK. It should also be noted that the performer only needs to be 16 when the event takes place, and not when they are selected, as proven in 2005 when Triinu Kivilaan was selected to represent Switzerland, despite only being 15 at the time.
From the first Contest in 1956 until 1965, and again from 1973 until 1976 there was no restriction on language. From 1966 until 1972, and again from 1978 until 1998, songs were required to be performed in a national language. The national language rule was actually instituted shortly before the 1977 Contest, but some countries had already selected non-national language entries, and they were allowed to enter without any changes.
As of the 1999 Contest, the restriction was again lifted, and songs may be performed in any language. As a result, many of the songs are performed partially or completely in English. In 2003, Belgium made full use of the so-termed free language rule, and entered a song in an artificial language created especially for the song. The same tactic is being used in 2006 by the Dutch entry Amambanda which is partially sung in an Imaginary language.
Dialects & Rare Languages
Sometimes dialects of a language or a very rare language is used in a song. Some Examples are:
The Language Issue
Because many European states were founded on ideas of linguistic unity, and because of the sometimes unwelcome dominance of the English language in modern pop music, the language of a country's Eurovision entry can be a contentious issue. Some entries are performed in English to reach broader audiences, though this is sometimes looked upon as unpatriotic. In recent years the number of non-English language entrants has decreased, with mostly Eastern European and French language countries performing in their native language. In terms of recent Contest performance, most non-English songs have been far less successful than those in English (with the last non-English language winner being Israel's Dana International, who performed Diva in Hebrew in 1998).
In some cases, the lyrics are written and recorded in two different versions (usually English and a national language) or a single multi-language version. Examples include:
Currently, the Contest winner is selected by means of a modified version of the Borda count. Each country ranks all the entries and assigns 12 points to their favourite entry; 10 points to their second favourite entry; and 8 down to 1 point to their third to tenth favourites. Countries are not allowed to vote for themselves.
The current method for ranking entries is by a telephone vote (televoting) among the viewers. In the past, small demographically balanced juries were used to rank the entries. Juries are still used when televoting malfunctions or is impractical. For example, in 2003 Eircom's telephone polls system ceased to operate normally. The Irish broadcaster, RTÉ, did not receive the votes on time and instead used a panel of judges. (Later, the Russian entry t.A.T.u. held Ireland responsible for Russia losing the Contest. Just three points separated Russia and winners Turkey. The Russian act insisted that had Ireland used a phone vote they would have been awarded more points and taken the title; however, no evidence exists to back up this claim.)
The 1956 Contest did not have regional voting. The BBC had used the idea of contacting regional juries by telephone in their national competition to choose their 1956 song. Bizarrely, the UK's song was chosen after the date of the international final but the EBU adopted the idea of contacting the international juries by telephone and this was introduced in 1957 and used until 1993. In 1994, the Contest saw the first satellite 'vision' link-up to juries. See below.
The presenters of the Contest connect by satellite to each country in turn, inviting the spokesperson to read out that country's votes in French or English. The presenters then repeat the votes in the alternate language, following the formula: "Country name, number points. Nom du pays, nombre de points" (but putting French first if the spokesperson is reading the points in French). For example: "United Kingdom, twelve points. Le Royaume-Uni, douze points." Due to time contraints in 2004 and 2005 (as 36 and 39 countries took part) the voting was only translated from English to French and vice-versa istead of repeating the votes that were said; for example, if a country's spokesperson annouced their votes in English, the presenters would not repeat the English vote but instead they would instantly translate into French. To offset the extension to voting time caused by the increased number of participating countries, from the 2006 Contest, each country's 1- to 7-point votes will simply be all added to the scoreboard as that country's spokesperson is introduced, with only the 8, 10 and 12-point scores being read out.
In the event of a tie for first place after all the points have been announced, there is a tie-break procedure. It was realised that a tie-break procedure need be predetermined following the 1969 Contest, where France, the Netherlands, Spain and the United Kingdom tied for first place. In 1969, since no tie-breaking system had been previously decided, it was determined that all four countries be jointly awarded the title.
As the rules currently stand, the first tie-breaker is to count the number of countries who assigned any points to each entry in the tie. If there is still a tie, the second tie breaker is to count the number of countries who assigned 12 points to each entry in the tie. Tie-breaks continue with 10 points, 8 points, and so on until the tie is resolved. Ties for other places are only officially resolved if they matter for qualification purposes (see below).
In 1991, the tie-break procedure was put into action when Sweden and France both scored 146 points after the voting had finished. The two songs had been voted for by the same number of countries, and they also had the same number of twelves. Only when the number of 10 point scores had been counted, Sweden, represented by Carola with the song "Fångad av en stormvind" (Captured by a Love Storm), could acclaim its third victory. Thus, the French song, "C'est le dernier qui a parlé qui a raison" (It's he who speaks last that is right) performed by Amina, came second with the smallest margin ever to spare to the winner.
In the past, a number of different voting systems were used, with varying degrees of success. See Voting at the Eurovision Song Contest for more details.
Null (nil) Points
Since each of the participating countries casts a series of votes, it is rare that a song fails to receive any votes at all. Under the modern rules this means that the song failed to make the top ten most popular songs in any country. When it does happen, it is known as nul points (pron. nool pwa'), from the practice of reading results in French as well as English during the broadcast. It should be noted, however, that the phrase nul points is never actually read out during the presentation of the Contest.
Entries which received nul points, since the introduction of the current scoring system in 1975 are as follows:
Political and Regional Voting Patterns
Some viewers claim that politics and international relations dictate a lot of the voting. There is little empirical data to back up these claims, however. Some academic studies are quoted in the links section.
Very strong anecdotal evidence does suggest that some regional voting blocks do exist though. Cyprus and Greece have exchanged maximum points (i.e. Greece gives 12 points to Cyprus and Cyprus gives 12 points to Greece in the same Contest) eight times (1987, 1994, 1997, 1998, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005) since they first competed together in 1981. Additionally, Cyprus gave no points to Turkey until 2003, when it awarded 8 points to the Turkish entry (which went on to win the Contest). The next year, Turkey awarded a single point to Cyprus for the first time.
Some people (including BBC commentator Terry Wogan) have theorised that Britain scored nul points in 2003 because Britain had entered the war on Iraq. However, it should be remembered that as viewers only vote for one song, this issue would only have affected the voting if a substantial number of people had had the British entry as their favourite but decided not to vote for it because of the war. Given Jemini's mediocre performance on the night, the possibility of this seems unlikely.
The Nordic and Baltic countries are perceived to vote as a block for each other, although careful scrutiny of the votes doesn't always bear this out. For example, Estonia won the 2001 Contest while earning 12 points each from Latvia and Lithuania and 10 points each from Iceland and Norway. Denmark finished second with 12 points each from Iceland, Norway, and Estonia. However, Norway and Iceland finished tied last with just three points each.
Similar patterns have been seen in (among others) the states of the former Soviet Union, former Yugoslav republics, the Balkan States, Ireland and Britain, and the western Mediterranean.
The counter-argument to these perceived patterns is that it is natural for people of similar cultures within Europe, sharing common borders where the TV and radio stations of a number of countries can be received, and speaking similar languages, to enjoy similar styles of music. This argument has been weakened at recent Contests, with many competing countries choosing to sing in English.
Voting has also shown that Europe's main powers may not popular in the European community, with the United Kingdom, Spain, France and Germany making up the bottom four of the results table in 2005, despite paying for the event.
It has been suggested by the EBU that a change to voting may come into place in the next few years. Whether this is to protect the "big 4" subsiding nations, or trying to even out the population/neighbour issue is not clear. However "sources" at the EBU imply that changes may be necessary to keep the bankrolling countries happier.
Hosting the Eurovision Song Contest is an honour accorded to the winning country from the previous year. Many people believe that host countries have experienced financial difficulties through having to host. Particularly Ireland which won 3 years in a row. This situation was famously parodied in the Father Ted episode "A Song for Europe" (although the Contest was simply referred to as the 'Eurosong Competition').
However, most of the expense of the Contest is covered by event sponsors and contributions from the other participating nations. The 2004 ESC was allocated a budget of some €15 million and was the most expensive edition ever. The Contest is considered a unique showcase for launching the host country as a tourist destination. For example in the summer of 2005, Ukraine abolished its normal visa requirements for tourists to coincide with its hosting of the ESC.
The entertainment provided by the host nation between the competitors' performances and the scoring is sometimes used as the launch of a successful career. The Irish dancing show Riverdance was first seen internationally at the 1994 Contest. The Hothouse Flowers had a successful career after their interval appearance in 1988. The Danish band Aqua also performed the interval act when Copenhagen hosted the competition in the year 2001 as a farewell to the music industry just before their split.
Occasionally, the host nation wins for a second year in a row. This first happened in 1969 when Spain (in its four-way tie with the Netherlands, France, and the United Kingdom) won the Contest in Madrid. The hosts also won the Contests in 1973 (Luxembourg), 1979 (Israel), 1993 (Ireland), and 1994 (Ireland again).
Ireland is the only nation to have won three times in a row; in 1992, 1993 and 1994. It also holds the title of most wins - with seven, in 1970, 1980, 1987, 1992, 1993, 1994 and 1996.
Whilst having won the Contest five times, two fewer than Ireland, the United Kingdom have the highest cumulative points total by some distance. This is largely courtesy of the country placing second an incredible fifteen times.
Although other countries had opportunities to host the event twice in a row, the first country to do so was Ireland, which actually hosted the Contest three times in a row, as they won the Contest in 1992, 1993 and 1994 and hosted the event in 1993, 1994, and 1995.
The United Kingdom holds the record for hosting the Contest the most times - eight in total - 1960, 1963, 1968, 1972, 1974, 1977, 1982 and 1998 — having hosted four times after winning the Contest (the Netherlands were given the honour after the 1969 tie) and taken the reins four other times when other broadcasters declined. Ireland has hosted the competition seven times, following its seven wins.
In the United Kingdom the Contest is taken less seriously than in many other countries. Many blame this on broadcaster Terry Wogan who adds light humour to his voice over commentary on UK Television. Others, however, argue that he is what has kept it so interesting for UK viewers for so many years. Wogan tends to make light of the alleged regional voting blocks e.g "Greece gives Cyprus douze points, quelle surprise!"
The maximum duration of each song is three minutes, and although musicians of any genre can play, the musicians and songs selected for the Contest tend towards very commercial pop. Some viewers of the Contest view the event as a combination of camp entertainment and a musical train wreck (a fact played upon in the UK broadcast with the sardonic BBC commentary of Terry Wogan) and a subculture of Eurovision Song Contest drinking games has evolved in some countries.
It's worth noting that the voting system used for the Contest was originally designed to select a single compromise winner from a large field of candidates. A number of countries use this same system to select their entries, some of them going through several rounds of voting before selecting a winner. After repeated iterations of the system, variations from middle-of-the-road pop music tend to be eliminated.
Often the winner of the Eurovision gets largely forgotten after their win: however there have been notable exceptions like ABBA and Céline Dion. Usually the winner becomes a massive star in their home country and eventually in neighbouring countries. The 2004 winner Ruslana became a superstar in her home country Ukraine, yet has failed to make a major splash in most of Europe, except for Belgium and Greece. The 2005 winner Elena Paparizou achieved even more fame in Greece, Cyprus, Turkey and Sweden yet failed to reach success outside of these four countries. Sertab Erener, the only Turkish winner of the Eurovision Song Contest, achieved a lot more fame in Turkey, Greece and Germany, and became more well known. However, she wasn't as successful outside those three countries.
The credibility of the show has been called in to question in some countries - (UK for example sees it as a comedy show but nonetheless keeps good viewing figures, Italy has declined to enter since 1997); conversely "new Europe" nations see it as a chance to showcase their nation and culture. This may or may not have a bearing on "Political and Regional Voting Patterns" as described above.
Participating nations use a number of different methods to select their entries. Many of them mimic the final Contest with big stage productions, telephone or jury voting, and a selection of songs to chose from. Others follow different paths.
For the 2002 Contest, the Spanish TVE created a reality show Operación Triunfo that showed the selection and training of unknown singers. At the end, one of them would be elected by the public to represent the country in the Contest. The format was initially an enormous success in Spain, ran for two more years there and was swiftly exported to other countries. One example was the Irish You're A Star, a Pop Idol clone run by RTÉ from 2003 to 2005, which carried the ultimate prize of representing Ireland at Eurovision. The original Spanish show was quietly dropped for the 2005 Contest after the three previous entries had disappeared into mid-table obscurity in the international contests. The Spanish reverted to a conventional national pre-selection competition. The Irish show was not dropped; however the prize of representing Ireland in the Eurovision was.
In recent years, more and more countries have used this "reality show" method of selecting their singing entrants and choosing the song at a later stage, with mixed results. Twelve of the participating countries in the 2004 Song Contest were winners on a reality show.
More successful has been the system where the national broadcaster privately selects one singer and a selection of songs from which the national public votes. This method was used for Turkey, Ukraine, and Greece in the years when these countries won the Contest.
In the United Kingdom the entry is chosen by the public during the programme "Making Your Mind Up", which took its name from UK group Bucks Fizz's winning entry in 1981.
Countries with many very successful international artists tend not to enter them as it unlikely they would choose to compete, for example it is considered unlikely Ireland would enter U2 or the United Kingdom would enter The Rolling Stones. Several countries have used their most famous export in previous years, however, with the most recent being TATU's participation for Russia in 2003, or Las Ketchup (of 'The Ketchup Song' fame) competing for Spain in 2006.
For more information on each country's selection procedures, visit the country-specific links at the bottom of the page.
Spinoffs and imitators
There are a number of other contests and events that are either spun off from the Eurovision Song Contest or resemble it closely.
The Junior Eurovision Song Contest
Denmark originally held a song contest for children in 2000: then it organised a Nordic Children's Eurovision, in which children from Denmark, Norway, and Sweden competed in 2002. The EBU saw clips of the show and liked it so decided to create an official Children's Eurovision.
Thus, starting in 2003, an annual children's version of the Contest was established, called the Junior Eurovision Song Contest. As originators of the concept, Denmark were given the honour of hosting the first running of the event, which was won by Croatia.
In the Junior Eurovision Song Contests the performers always compose their own songs.
Even though the Junior Eurovision Song Contest was approved by the EBU, it hasn't been very successful, and has generally had unsatisfactory audience ratings, particularly in the United Kingdom, where from 2004 it was only shown on digital channel ITV2.
An American Eurovision Contest?
In 2006 the format of the Eurovision Song Contest was sold to an American Broadcaster in order to compete with American Idol in the ratings. The member countries of the EBU will be replaced by the different States and territories of the United States.
Intervision Song Contest
Between 1977 and 1980 the countries of the Eastern bloc had a song contest of their own, known as the Intervision Song Contest. Organised by the Intervision Network and held in Sopot, Poland, it replaced an earlier event — the Sopot International Song Festival.
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