What Is Eurovision? Beginner’s Guide To Eurovision Song Contest

Eurovision is a huge hit in Europe, with nearly an entire continent tuning in — but what does this campy, over-the-top singing contest mean for Americans? A major betting event. Beyond that, we're here to fill you in on all things Eurovision—Consider this 'Eurovision for Dummies'.

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For one night every year, to put it bluntly, Europe loses its damn mind. Amidst the most bizarre display of patriotism, political tension and pyrotechnics on live television, the continent’s greatest powers battle to win the Eurovision Song Contest, a musical competition watched by more than 182 million people annually.

Following the 2020 event’s cancellation due to COVID-19, the 2021 showdown promises to be bigger (but not necessarily better) than ever before.

Make no mistake, Eurovision is so bad, it’s brilliant. If you haven’t watched it before, you’re missing out. The final of the 65th Eurovision Song Contest is set for May 22nd, so clear your diary and read on for a beginner’s guide to Eurovision.

Which Countries Compete in Eurovision?

Following World War II, European nations sought to build bridges and strengthen ties through a series of cross-border television broadcasts. Thus, the Eurovision Song Contest was born. Who’d have thought that in the years since, we’d have witnessed, well… this:

Despite its European roots, countries from all over the world compete in Eurovision. Any country can compete, as long as they apply in time, are willing to contribute financially to the running of the event, and are an active member of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU).

In the past, Israel, Russia, Cyprus and even Australia have competed. That said, the majority of countries which attend regularly are from Europe. In 2021, 39 countries will compete.

How Does Eurovision Work?

The contest consists of two semi-finals and a final, all of which are televised. Each competing nation selects a musical act to represent them. Some choose by committee and some choose by public vote. The songs entered must be under three minutes in length and sung live at the competition.

Six nations are guaranteed places in the Eurovision final — the host country (this year, the Netherlands) and the five highest-paying EBU members (Italy, France, Germany, Spain and the UK). The other entering nations compete for votes in a semi-final. The top ten in each semi-final move on in the competition. Thus, the Eurovision final contains a total of 26 performances. 

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How Does Eurovision Voting Work?

If you’re looking to get involved in Eurovision betting, understanding how the winner is crowned will be crucial. Here are the basics: all countries who enter the contest are given the same number of votes and cannot vote for their own act. The voting process is split into two steps of equal weight.

  1. Each nation’s professional jury awards points to whoever they view as the top ten acts. A spokesperson from each country announces the jury points live on air.
  2. The television audience of each nation votes and points are awarded to their top ten favorites. The results of this vote are announced after all the jury points are in, starting with the country who received the fewest public points.

The professional and public votes can vary hugely, so the true winner of the competition isn’t known until the very last votes are announced!

Which Countries Have Won Eurovision?

Ireland has won seven Eurovision Song Contests, Sweden has won six, and Luxembourg, France, the Netherlands and the UK have won five a piece. There are many countries who have never won, including Malta, Iceland and Poland. However, don’t let past performances cloud your judgement – the results of Eurovision have a lot more to do with culture and politics than with the quality of the musical acts.

Though the contest was designed to promote cooperation amongst competing countries, in recent years, the tensions of global politics have greatly affected the results. For example, when the UK received an embarrassing nul points in the 2003 Eurovision Song Contest, it was widely seen as international backlash following Britain’s role in the invasion of Iraq.

In the last few years, it has suffered similarly dismal results in part due to the Brexit referendum result. Eurovision voting is frequently criticized and in the past countries have even been accused of collusion.

At this year’s competition, watch out for voting patterns. English-speaking countries tend to vote for one another, as do the Nordic nations. Russia often receives a high number of votes from former Soviet nations, and the Balkans stick together too.

Why Are the Eurovision Performers Always Unknown?

Simply put, Eurovision winners are unknown because there’s no money involved. The winner of Eurovision collects a trophy and the right to host the next competition in their home country. Performers are not paid for taking part, and instead hope to earn their paycheck through sales of their song and future gigs.

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Some would argue that Eurovision is a way for budding musicians to kickstart their careers — Celine Dion and ABBA both skyrocketed to fame following their wins in 1974 and 1988 respectively. However, very few other performers have enjoyed even a moderate level of success following Eurovision.

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