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The logo for the Eurovision Song Contest 2011
Eurovision Song Contest
The logo for the Eurovision Song Contest 2011

On May 14th, in Dusseldorf, Germany, a strange cultural event is taking place which may take some explaining if you’ve not experienced it before. It’s an event which is partly a relic from more innocent times, partly an international in-joke, partly a good-natured cultural joust, and partly a very important diplomatic occasion that you mock at your peril.

That, friends, is the fun of the Eurovision Song Contest. It’s a silly competition, a plainly laughable affair, but also a deadly serious showcase of proper talent that would make the X Factor blush. The participants are of variable ability, they dress in eye-watering costumes, make a series of very strange noises, and sometimes the results seem a little baffling to the casual observer. It is, in short, the professional wrestling of music.

Now, for beginners there is far too much baggage to this competition for us to explain in one blog post. It’s been going for 54 years, after all. That makes it one of the longest running TV events in history. So here’s what we are going to do:

ABBA
ABBA

Over the next few weeks, in the run up to the great event itself, we’re going to explain a thing or two about Eurovision, from the UK perspective: how the songs get chosen, how Britain has got on, notable triumphs, astonishing disasters, winners who went on to fame and fortune (hi ABBA!), losers who were never seen again (hi, er, almost everyone else!), Samantha Janus in her pre-EastEnders days…the works!

As befits such a quirky institution, our coverage will possibly not be the most thorough thing you have ever read, but it will be entertaining, and we will be showing you some of the most bizarre musical endeavors of, well, ever.

But before we start, we should just quickly explain what Eurovision actually is.

In 1950, 23 national broadcasting organizations — including Germany, Belgium, France, Britain, Italy, the Netherlands and Switzerland — had a meeting at a conference in Devon, England, at which they formed the European Broadcasting Union in order to share ideas. They were eager to see if they could set up some big TV events that would be broadcast simultaneously (and live) across the entire continent.

One of their ideas was to have a song contest, where each nation was invited to put forward a song to represent their country. It didn’t have to be a patriotic song. In fact, bearing in mind that every other country would be invited to vote on the best song of the night, expressions of national superiority would have caused nothing but problems. But it did have to represent its people, and not make them look foolish. That was the idea, at least.

In 1955, the first Eurovision Song Contest (or Le Grand-Prix Eurovision de la Chanson Européenne) took place in Lusano, Switzerland. The Swiss also won that year, with a song called “Refrain,” which was sung by Lys Assia. Here it is:

Don’t worry, we’re not going to go through all of the winners.

All you need to know for now, is that the televised show has been on every year since then, there are now 43 countries taking part, and that even if you take into account huge cultural differences, some of the song choices — 1,100 and counting — have been just plain weird. Like this:

The trick to it is, you have to accept that your weird isn’t the same as the weird they have abroad. That’s where all the fun is.

See more:
Why Doesn’t The UK Win Eurovision Every Year?
Eurovision’s Greatest Hits
The Worst Of Eurovision: A Personal Selection
So What Happened In The 2012 Eurovision Song Contest?

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By Fraser McAlpine