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The Eurovision Song Contest, Explained For Americans

It's the best night of the year and you're not invited.

Good evening, America! If you're planning on spending any time on the internet this weekend, you're going to see a lot of talk about Eurovision.

Well, we're here to give you answers.

Beautiful, ballad-heavy, rainbow-filled answers.

The ~basic~ explanation: Every May a European city plays host to an incredibly divisive, yet glittery, singing competition.

But to fully ~understand~ what Eurovision is and, more important, what it represents, we're going to have to take you back to 1956.

A little more than a decade after the end of the second world war, Europe was still in a state of recovery and needed a reason to ~bond~.

The first contest took place in Switzerland, with just seven countries competing.

Since then the list of participating countries has expanded to include countries such as Italy, Poland, Norway, and...Australia.

"Australia???" Yes, Australia. We Europeans find this weird too.

teacher: okay class, name some european countries! class: france, poland, australia,

Eurovision has always had a massive fanbase in Australia. So, as a goodwill gesture, Australia was invited to take part in the show's 60th anniversary edition. But because the Australians were great and entered into the spirit of things, we let them stick around. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Back in the day, Eurovision basically had no rules. But then everyone took the piss, so now there are loaaaaaads of rules.

The same show gets broadcast in every country, but we all have our own commentators. In Britain the job was Terry Wogan's, but in the last few years it's been hosted by the incredibly sassy Graham Norton.

These days Eurovision is basically split into two halves: a singing competition in the style of The Voice, followed by an incredibly tense, politically volatile voting system.

Before the competition even begins, 43 European (and, tbh, non-European) countries select an act to represent them.

Unsurprisingly, some countries take the process of selecting their representatives more seriously than others.

Some countries run televised selection processes whereby the public decide who will represent them, whereas others just send whoever came fifth in their version of The Voice last year.

Because a contest featuring 40 acts would take forever, there are two semi-finals in the week of the contest. A maximum of 26 finalists make it to the real thing.

But the previous year's winning country, as well as France, Germany, Spain, Italy, and the UK, are always guaranteed a place in the final.

On the night of the final, every country performs one song and the host country's tourist board plays a lot of promotional material for that country.

Most of the songs are ballads.

But sometimes a country will absolutely fail to give a flying fuck and will enter someone like this:

Or this.

And who could forget these Russian grandmothers who literally baked a loaf of bread on stage in 2012?

The key thing to note is that no one claims to take Eurovision seriously (except Sweden) until it looks like they're going to win. And then they all take it very seriously indeed.

It is also interesting to note that basically all Eurovision entries have been written by one guy called G:Son. He's written a massive 75 entries, including 2012 winner (and the best song of all time including all songs, not just Eurovision entries) "Euphoria" by Loreen.

OK, so despite what the name says, the Eurovision Song Contest is not actually a singing contest.

It's an opportunity to vote for the countries who border you, regardless of how much you enjoyed their songs.

As in the semi-finals, the result is determined half by the voting public, and half by the jury.

This bit often turns into a contest to choose the weirdest vote announcer.

The whole point-giving process used to take quite a long time, but they've changed the system, making it longer, meaning all chances of getting to bed early are out the window.

Everyone has a lot of feelings about this change, even though it's not that new any more.

(and remember, if you're confused by the voting in eurovision, ain't we all, babes. It's all part of the magic.)

Ireland has won Eurovision seven times, making it the most successful country. And Norway has scored the dreaded "nul points" four times, making it the biggest loser.

Aaaand the winner of the contest gets their country to host it next year...unless it can't afford to.

So rest assured this will all happen again next year, and you still won't be invited.



Lordi won Eurovision for Finland in 2006. An earlier version of this article got the year wrong.