Do you know what is one of the oldest television shows in the world? You are probably thinking of a soap opera. Well, the singing has a lot to do with it, even if it’s far from being an opera. It’s the Eurovision Song Contest (ESC), which will celebrate its 2022 final this Saturday, watched by around 180 million people worldwide.
This annual show started in 1956. There was only one year when it didn’t take place. Right – 2020. And originally it was a Saturday night event. That’s also how I remember it. It was a family event. An event that a circle of friends could watch together. Bars were televising it for their patrons. It was enjoyable because of the music, the glitz and the glamour. It was suspenseful due to the hour-long televised telephone communication around all the countries of the participants for the scores of the juries. Beginning at eight o’clock in the evening, it often continued after midnight. And from this Sunday, the winning song would be broadcast on all radio stations in these countries.
Originally, the participants were Member States of the European Broadcasting Union. They held national competitions among their most popular musicians. Their songs were written especially for the Eurovision Song Contest. A national winner would enter the contest in the capital of that nation, whose entrant had won the last contest. A wonderful way to celebrate the sights of this nation and enhance tourism at the same time. Over the years, there have also been nations invited to the event. Australia is one of them, for example, because the show is so popular there that the organizers simply had to respond “in kind”. Today, more than 50 nations have taken part in the Eurovision Song Contest at least once. The only ones that have never been are Liechtenstein and… the Vatican.
Now, if you think that was just a European thing, think again. Because some of the winners have become world stars. The Swedish group Abba won in 1974 with their song “Waterloo” and became world famous overnight. Céline Dion represented Switzerland in 1988 with “Don’t leave without me”; allegedly, she didn’t learn English until afterwards. Julio Iglesias, Cliff Richards and Olivia Newton-John also participated in the contest as well as France Gall, Udo Juergens, Vicky Leandros and Toto Cotugno. Between the competition and audience blocks, guest stars performed, such as Madonna or the Cirque de Soleil.
These days, the show goes on even longer. It is divided due to the number of candidates and for fairer reasons or odds. Thus, culturally related nations participate in different semi-finals to avoid rankings based on simple cultural and geographical rivalry. Yet the Eurovision Song Contest has become a barometer of political relations and cultural messages. The LGBT movement has found a voice there as well as the international protest against Belarus and Russia. Unforgettable in my home country is probably one of the political pioneers, Nicole, then 17 years old, with her song “Ein bisschen Frieden” (“A little peace”), which still tops the charts track record of all ESC nations in which it was released. Unlike most of the newer songs, it has all the qualities of a catchy song.
Back then, when I didn’t have a TV, I actually visited my parents for this event and watched it, guessing whose ratings would make them a winner. My life change pretty much coincided with the restructuring of the contest, and I stopped watching. It has become too long an event for my taste. Still, next Sunday, I’ll definitely check the internet for this year’s winner, listen to the song…and probably miss the years when the songs were more “singerish” and the glitz more glamorous.
This year’s European Song Contest takes place in Turin, Italy.
The European Song Contest is known for creating a number of global stars…
German singer Nicole’s contribution to the 1982 ESC is still a bestseller.