Updated: Jun 24
You might have seen the hit 2020 film Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga starring Rachel McAdams and Will Ferrell, but did you know that it was based on a real European music mega-competition?
The Eurovision Song Contest began in 1956 after World War II to unite Europe once again through music. Television was still in its infancy during the early years of Eurovision, so the competition is revolutionary in that it was one of the first events broadcast across a vast range of countries. (The Olympics were not internationally broadcast until 1960.) The contest is one of the longest-running television programs in the world, with this year being the 65th broadcast, and is a major European cultural event, accruing more annual viewers globally than the Super Bowl. Every year, contestants from all over Europe represent their home countries and compete against one another. Several competing artists have been catapulted into the spotlight following their performances on the show, including Swedish pop icons ABBA and French-Canadian pop legend Celine Dion. The show features catchy and anthemic three-minute musical entries, quirky costumes and stage setups, and even some very unexpected choreography, making it the can't-miss event of every year.
But how does the Eurovision Song Contest actually work?
First, each of the performing countries hosts a national contest to determine which artist's original song will represent the country at the big competition. The rules each of the songs are as follows: there can be six people maximum on the stage at a time, all vocal parts must be sung live at the Eurovision contest, and the entries may not be longer than three minutes. This year, there were 39 countries participating in Eurovision. The United Kingdom, France, Spain, Germany, Italy, and the country hosting the contest automatically qualify to be in the Grand Final each year. The winners each year host the competition the next year. Last year, Eurovision was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so the 2019 contest winner, the Netherlands, hosted the event this year. The countries (excluding those above mentioned) are then divided into two rounds of semifinals. The top ten performers from each semifinal group perform in the Grand Final (26 countries competing in the Grand Final total).
The winners are determined both by public and professional jury voting (50% televote and 50% jury votes). The public can text or call in to cast their votes for any country. Each participating country has a five-person jury of music industry professionals, which judges all countries excluding their own in the Grand Final. The juries evaluate performances based on the vocal performance of the singer, the originality and composition of the song, the on-stage elements, and the overall experience. The scores of the jury members are averaged to a top 10 countries, and the rankings are then turned into points to be awarded to the countries (1-7, 8, 10, and 12).
The initial results are given by each of the juries; a representative from each country reveals remotely how they will be awarding points. Next, the public televotes are revealed and final scores are revealed one country at a time. The winning contestant(s) win a trophy and bragging rights, in addition to the honor of hosting Eurovision the next year.
Why do so many people watch Eurovision every year?
Neil McClure, who watched the contest from the UK, shared with Intersect:
"We watched Eurovision for as long as I can remember, in fact over 7 million people from the UK watched the broadcast this year, which is pretty amazing from a population of 60 million, when you consider that the UK scored nil po