Your Eurovision Guide 2018: The best, weirdest, sexiest, most horrifying show on Earth
All around the world people will be tuned in to the most bizarre song competition around. Check out our Eurovision guide on what it all means.
Update: This article was originally published in 2016 and has been updated to explain the continued appeal of the show. So why do people lose their mind over the show? Our Eurovision guide will help to prepare you, body and soul. Check out some of our favorite weird performances HERE to get a sense of what’s in store.
I didn’t find Eurovision. Eurovision found me. In Australia of all places, back in 2007. I had three channels on the old television that came with my exotic apartment in my new foreign home. Out of those three channels, one of them had to have the best reception, right? As it turns out one, the beloved SBS network based out of my adopted city of Melbourne was the winner.
Ed note: Nate abandoned the home of freedom, possibly just ahead of a criminal charge. He fled to Australia where he has, remarkably, not been killed by any of the local flora or fauna yet. – RF
Those were simple times. New country, few friends, three channels. And then one night I stumbled upon Eurovision. So I watched. I cringed, I laughed, I pretended not to stare at the blatantly sexual performances, occasionally I even nodded in appreciation. Then I discovered there would be three days of this. Having experienced the first night, I realized that I would have to witness the next two. I walked to the nearest liquor store and carried a case of beer back to my apartment in preparation for what was to come.
After the three-day extravaganza had finished, I looked back and realized that I enjoyed it in the same way I enjoy a Nacho Supreme from Taco Bell at 2:00 A.M. I lived in the present moment and tried not to think about how I would pay for it later.
ABBA first performed at Eurovision with “Waterloo” in 1974, propelling them to global stardom. Depending on who you are, this is either a wonderful origin story or a misstep that has taken us down the darkest timeline of music.
It’s become a yearly ritual now for me. It’s something people talk about at work. It generates a collective eye roll or meme shared between a few friends. I’ve gone from watching it on a standard-issue TV, with SD images of people in silver costumes throwing fireballs at each other, to watching it in high definition and laughing aloud with friends at parties devoted to the event (always with an ironic demeanor though, God forbid you actually admit that you enjoy it).
Now, once again, Eurovision is nearly upon us, and the four-hour finale will be broadcast in the U.S. on Logo. In practical terms, that means very little to me here in Australia, but it signifies yet another possible bump in popularity for the event as it continues to go global. This once-a-year song and performance contest aims to bring the diverse nations of Europe closer, while giving the British another annual excuse to consider leaving the European Union. It’s like the Olympics of kitsch. First in, worst dressed.
Ed note: Never one to be outdone by foreigners, one of the heads of Eurovision confirmed that they are considering an American adaptation of Eurovision with entries coming from each state because nobody puts America in a corner. – RF
To Europe and its neighbors who are close enough to be considered European for purposes of being in the contest, it’s time to party and everyone is invited – even Australia.
Have you ever wondered where Moldova is? Do you know the difference between Slovakia and Slovenia? Ever pondered why you can’t find Yugoslavia on a map anymore? Has anyone you know aside from Ryan Fleming been to Belarus?
Ed note: Belarus has some lovely foods if you really like dill on everything. – RF
Every country in continental Europe, and bordering nations like Turkey and Russia (who remain kind of ambivalent about its location), are all represented. Israel steps in here and there. The UK, France, Spain, Germany, and Italy are known as The Big Five. This basically means that they can do anything and still make it to the semi-finals. The Big Five also don’t seem to care about Eurovision as much as smaller nations. Mention Eurovision to a Brit and they might laugh at how they threw Engelbert Humperdinck in the ring a few years back just to tick the box of having an annual entry.
Before she became a Quebecois treasure, Céline Dion defected and won the contest not for France, but for Switzerland in 1988.
For the Big Five, it’s a meeting they’re expected to attend. For the smaller nations of Europe, it seems to be everything.
In order to keep the peace among several countries that may be facing open hostility toward each other, Eurovision has well-defined rules against contestants bringing politics into the show. And naturally, contestants ignore those rules and find a way around them.
In 2013, we saw a proxy war at the show where Russia was booed and jeered by every other nation, while the Ukraine was solidly supported by the applause of other nations. The actual leaders of the beleaguered eastern European nation were unable to come to any viable options against Russia, but they crushed them at Eurovision.
In 2014, Austrian drag artist Conchita Wurst won the contest with her song “Rise Like a Phoenix.” For many, Wurst’s win was hailed as a victory for inclusion and equality while simultaneously being derided by Russian Overlord Vladimir Putin as a lack of “traditional values.” Turkey went on to boycott the competition due to the performance, proving that there is actually something Russia and Turkey agree on.
In 2016, Ukraine struck again. The Eurovision rules state that “No lyrics, speeches, gestures of a political or similar nature shall be permitted during the ESC.” It doesn’t, however, say anything about songs that cite historical events. So while Ukraine couldn’t sing about the horrors of Russia’s recent invasion, it could sing about the horrors of Russia’s previous invasion during the Second World War. It’s entry, titled “1944,” went on to win the show both on the merits that it was a good song and because everyone wanted to stick it to Russia.
To twist the knife a little, the winning country hosts the next year’s competition, and Ukraine decided to have a little fun with Russia by barring its contestant, Yulia Samoylova, because she had toured the disputed Crimean area and thus violated a travel ban (after she performed for Russian troops). After plenty of negotiations and “no, you suck” statements in the press, Russia withdrew from the contest.
Ed Note: Samoylova did compete in Eurovision 2018 but was eliminated in the semi-finals, much to the delight of Ukrainian fans on Twitter. – RF
The small proxy wars that take place over a battery of ostentatious musical acts tend to keep the three-day competition interesting if you’re into the whole Geo-Political thing. Often times, it’s a window into how the nations of Europe perceive one another. There is mutual support between some nations, and thinly veiled animosity between others. Sentiments over old conflicts, economic envy, and cultural gestures all mix into an amphitheater that is more or less a flag and sequin-splattered battlefield.
Performance as politics. Given the tragedies of terrorism, EU separation rhetoric from various member countries, and the recent surge of (and controversy surrounding) refugees over the past few years, it’s always interesting to see the coded messages in the performances. I’m hoping for a little levity though.
(Ukraine’s 2007 entry)
Much like the Thunderdome, there don’t seem to be many ironclad rules – aside from the winning nation of the previous year’s Eurovision having to play host to the contest for the next year. This can be a blessing if you’re Azerbaijan, who hosted in 2011 and was able to showcase their little-known nation to the world the following year. It can also be a curse though – case in point: Ireland.
In the middle of an economic downturn in the 90s, Ireland had to play host for several consecutive years for being too damn good at the thing. It eventually gave up the crown, but remained a constant threat – at least until 2008, when Ireland pushed the self-destruct button with a nightmare-fuel animatronic singing turkey named Dustin as its entry. Go ahead and follow the link. You’ll only need to watch it once. It is… haunting.
Sweden is another constant threat after winning twice in four years, most recently with Måns Zelmerlöw’s 2015 win with his song “Heroes.” It was a safe performance if there ever was one, but not as cool as the sweet slab of Euro Techno that was “Euphoria” by Loreen, which won for Sweden in 2012.
For countries to enter a contestant into the Eurovision contest, they have to abide by the following rules:
- Up to two songs can be submitted by each nation.
- The best out of those songs is chosen by secret cabals that operate in each competing country.
- The song must no longer than three minutes.
- The entry must be completely original material, no covers allowed. This puts Australian performers at a disadvantage (more on that later).
- Up to six performers can be on stage, which means we can’t send Slipknot as our contestant when America decides to get a piece of the action. The Polyphonic Spree is right out.
- Contestants have to be 16 years of age or older, but don’t necessarily have to act as such.
- Songs can be sung in any language, although most countries opt to sing in English. English is a very contentious topic in the realm of Eurovision rules. Our Gauloises-loving friends in France don’t have any time for this debate, and refuse to sing English.
Quick aside: when the votes are tallied, every country calls in with an English-speaking representative except for France, who refuses to speak English and always requires a translator to communicate their votes. We get it, France.
When it comes to the style and quality of music you get at Eurovision, it’s the biggest crap shoot of them all. You never really know what a country is thinking year to year. Some sing songs of unity. Others are trying to get some issues off their chests. Finland once gave us GWAR-like power metal, then the next year followed it up with a pop song. Poland gave us a hefty dose of innuendo and cleavage disguised as national pride, then… actually, that’s pretty common.
A few years ago, Belarus offered a dulcimer-laden ear worm so annoyingly catchy that I can still sing the chorus note-for-note despite the fact that I’ve only ever heard the song once (it was called, “I Love Belarus“). Have you ever dreamed of Dracula singing in falsetto? Romania’s got you covered.
Often it’s difficult to separate the music from the performances since equal attention is paid to both. Are we listening to the song or watching the spectacle? Why even think about it? Thinking isn’t essential. Not when six Russian grannies are telling me there’s a party for everybody.
(Russia’s 2012 entry)
The voting system for Eurovision changes. Frequently. Maybe even too much. I’m not a numbers guy and it hurts my brain. Basically, every country has a set amount of points that they award to other countries via a televised American Idol-style phone-in voting system, and voters cannot vote for their own country.
The votes are tallied live over an extremely long period of time complete with very pretty representatives for each country voting reading the results and generally offering a quick note on why their country is the best in the world, and then the winner is eventually announced, much to the delight of the people still sober enough to care. Countries move up and down what I like to call ‘The Death Ladder,” depending on how much their votes increase or decrease throughout the show. By the end, someone at your party will be screaming that Estonia got robbed.
Neighboring countries will almost certainly vote for each other, and various nations in the past have been accused of voting for others based on policy more than music. But sometimes Eurovision is able to cast a much needed grey area.
Do you want to dig through the Julio Iglesias back catalog? Well, have I got a song for you. Check out “Gwendolyn,” his performance for Spain in 1970 where he dressed up in the best damn all green velour suit that I hope is preserved in a museum somewhere.
Are you a Balkan nation that may have been at war with one of your neighbors? No problem. They’ll still have your back when it comes time to vote. Bloody, prolonged conflicts pale in comparison to the annual, top-rated, European-centric song competition. Turkey and Armenia may never agree on matters of genocide, but they’ll almost certainly vote for each other when it comes time (as long as there are no transvestites involved).
Russia is often a wild card and it’s hard to tell who they’ll distribute their votes to (unless they decide to periscope their voting the day before the competition airs and get a jump on the seemingly annual “scandal” category). The Scandinavian countries will most certainly stick together, the Anglo Saxon nations have love for one another, everyone hates the French, and so on and so on.
It’s kind of like when Wheel of Fortune started giving out R S T L N E as a basic set of letters to use during the bonus round – it gives everyone and no one a head start. The thing to look out for is when a country like Switzerland decides it liked Lithuania’s performance more than Italy’s and BAM, the whole ladder changes.
(Poland’s 2014 entry)
Australia! Wait… Australia?
Australians have been long-time fans of the contest, and as such, they’ve somehow managed to invite themselves to the party. We dipped our toes into things in 2014 when we sent former Australian Idol runner-up Jessica Mauboy as a non-competitive entry. It was a nice way of saying we were fans and nothing more, and since Australia is part of the European Broadcasting Union that operates the show, no one objected too hard. Little did Europe know it was the first step in the insidious plan involving stalker-like behavior as a means to become part of the competition FOREVAR.
In 2015 we had an actual entry in the contest – another singer of Australian Idol fame named Guy Sebastian, who has made himself a household name in the country (and nowhere else). His music is about as inspiring as the music you hear on the PA at JC Penny. We somehow managed to finish in fifth overall, and our fangirl like obsession ensures it will be almost impossible to get rid of us without calling security.
The Vatican has been asked to compete several times, but so far the Church nation has yet to respond.
At this point, I’m kind of embarrassed by our involvement all together. I’m also not the only one who feels this way. Technically, Eurovision still doesn’t recognize Australia’s right to be there, but who’s going to ask us to leave? Belgium?
It’s kind of like when your weird cousin shows up at the party and you don’t want to kick him out, but you really don’t want to talk to him either. It was cool when we came over to score weed, but now we’re crashing the keggers. With any luck, people will just confuse Australia with Austria and contemplate it no further. I usually use the time during Australia’s performance to cook nachos.
Ed Note: America is not involved in the competition, probably because that much freedom would make foreign ears explode. ‘Murica! – RF
Eurovision Guide Conclusion: Our Advice
I doubt this Eurovison guide is sufficient to prepare you if you haven’t experienced Eurovision before. Nothing really can.
My only advice would be to call up some friends, make sure you have plenty of adult beverages handy, and try not to make the tweets too snarky. You can also invite friends over and randomly assign them nations to cheer for. Keep an eye on the person that picks Russia, and for the love of God don’t let Greece drink too much.
Have fun. Don’t ask questions, and make sure you have Wikipedia handy in case you want to know where San Marino is located when they blow your mind.
The Eurovision 2018 Finals will be held on May 12.