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What Is Eurovision? A Guide For Confused Americans As The Contest Heads To The U.S. Next Year

Topline

This Saturday, hundreds of millions of Europeans are expected to tune in to the Eurovision Song Contest, resuming an annual tradition that consumes the region in an enthusiastic fervor culminating in a high-energy musical extravaganza so utterly bizarre in nature that it leaves the rest of the world scratching its head.  

Key Facts

As a basic concept, Eurovision is an annual song contest where the countries of Europe—alongside, confusingly, several non-European countries like Israel and Australia—duke it out with often extravagant, political or utterly unexplainable productions.   

26 countries make it to the grand final: 20 from the semi-finals and six who qualify automatically made up of the previous year’s winner alongside the big financial backers Spain, France, Italy, Germany and the U.K. (the “Big Five”), with the winner being the country to receive the most points from its competitors. 

This year’s contest is taking place in the Dutch city of Rotterdam after the pandemic forced an unprecedented cancellation in 2020.

Of the 41 countries originally slated to compete in 2020, 39 are competing on Saturday after Armenia withdrew amid ongoing political strife and Belarus being disqualified for repeatedly breaching rules restricting political content in songs.

26 of the countries have elected to send the same performer planned for 2020’s competition before the contest was canceled, though all must perform a new song.

Even with reduced capacity and strict testing and isolation for competitors, the contest marks one of Europe’s biggest live events since the pandemic began.

Key Background 

Eurovision is the world’s largest musical event and a serious cultural force in the region. Scandinavian countries are particularly fond, with 95% of viewers in Iceland tuning in to watch a 2016 final that it had not even qualified for, while in host country Sweden, 85% of viewers tuned in that year. The contest has helped launch the careers of some of the world’s biggest stars, including past winners ABBA, who won for Sweden in 1974, and Céline Dion, who took the crown for Switzerland in 1988 (singers do not have to be from the country they represent). While the competition, now in its 65th year, is known for bringing countries together, the purportedly apolitical contest has been the cause of a number of high profile political controversies. Ukraine’s 2007 entry, a disco ball-clad drag queen named Verka Serduchka, sparked controversy in Russia, for instance, and Iceland’s 2019 act was booed for unfurling Palestinian flags at the final in Tel Aviv. 

What We Don’t Know

What the final show will actually look like as, despite stringent protocols, a number of performers have tested positive for Covid-19 in recent days. This includes Iceland’s popular entry, who will air a recording of a dress rehearsal, and 2019 winner Duncan Laurence

Big Number

182 million. This is how many people around the world tuned in to watch the 2019 contest in Tel Aviv, Israel, according to the European Broadcasting Union. For context, the Super Bowl has a record high of 114 million, which was set in 2015. 

Crucial Quote

Martin Österdahl, Eurovision’s executive supervisor, told the BBC that “cancelling again was never a consideration” for 2021. He described getting one of Europe’s most popular television fixtures back as “all a part of getting back to normal.” 

What To Watch For

Eurovision is actually heading stateside in 2022. The concept for the European spectacle will be transformed into the American Song Contest and showcase performances from all 50 states, 5 U.S. territories and Washington, D.C. In the meantime, streaming platform Peacock has acquired the rights to Eurovision’s 2021 and 2022 contests in the U.S.

Surprising Fact

Many Americans have experienced Eurovision through Netflix’s pandemic hit Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga, starring Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams. The film happens to be Ferrell’s most successful in years

Further Reading

Netflix’s ‘Eurovision’ Is Will Ferrell’s Most Successful Movie In Years (Forbes)

Eurovision Song Contest is coming to America (CNN)

13 times Eurovision got super political (Politico)

How it works (Eurovision)

A Brief History of Eurovision Being a Political Hot Mess (Vice)

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