United Kingdom rehearsal 2017
Lucie Jones (UK 2017) brought a 1500 kilo prop to Kyiv Photo: Thomas Hanses

Things you might not know about the Eurovision Song Contest

We take a look back over the years to find some little known facts, from backstage preparations to lyrics and props, in search of some things you might not know about the Eurovision Song Contest.

Playing with lyrics

There are strict rules in place for Eurovision competitors. One such rule is that every country must enter a song with lyrics. However, there are no strict rules to describe how many lyrics are enough to qualify for the Contest.

For example, Norway’s 1995 winning song, Nocturne, had just 24 words and Spain’s Massiel won in London in 1968 with the song, La, La, La, which was filled with no less than 138 ‘La’s.

Secret Garden 1995 winnerNRK

But then there is the question of: what constitutes a lyric? Technically, a lyric can include ‘discernible vocals’, meaning vocals that are noticeable.

One could argue that Belgium took advantage of this in 2003 and 2008. In those 2 years - despite the country having 3 official languages (French, Dutch and German) - the country represented itself with a song in an imaginary dialect.

Their 2003 entry almost went on to win in a nail-biting Grand Final thriller. Turkey, however, was given 10 points in the last vote, which nudged them 2 points ahead of Belgium to win the contest. Belgium's 2008 entry wasn't as successful and finished in 17th place in the First Semi-Final.

Perhaps it's better to use a real language after all!

Massiel 1968 winnerEric Koch

If you want to learn more about the Eurovision rules, you can find them here.

Bonus fact:

The 1968 Eurovision Song Contest had a nail-biting finish when the United Kingdom entry and fan favourite, Congratulations by Cliff Richard, was beaten by just 1 point by the previously mentioned Massiel.

Originally Massiel's song, La La La, was supposed to be sung by Spanish singer Joan Manuel Serrat who wanted to perform the song in Catalan. At the request of Spanish officials, Juan Manuel was replaced by Massiel at the last minute, who sang the same song in Spanish.

Unlucky Number 2

From superstitions to particular rituals, many fans have searched for that winning touch - even looking for what costume colour is the most successful. But, what about the performance order of the Grand Final?

It turns out that the country that performed second in the Grand Final has never gone on to win the Contest. Those performing second over the years have, in fact, ended up last 9 times — and 3 of those times with nul points.

Corry Brokken, who won in 1957, was the first victim of this supposed phenomenon when she performed second in the 1958 Contest and finished last.

Corry Brokken won the 1957 Eurovision Song ContestHR/ARD

Famously, the UK's 2008 entry, Andy Abraham, performed second in the Grand Final and finished last, which is rumoured to have prompted renowned BBC commentator Sir Terry Wogan to resign.

While there doesn’t seem to be a perfect formula for winning the Contest, perhaps there is one to losing it? Not so fast! Performing second on the final night isn't all doom and gloom. Albania performed second in the Grand Final in 2019 and finished 17th out of 26. In Düsseldorf 2011, Bosnia & Herzegovina performed in second place in the Grand Final but finished in 6th place overall.

So, it turns out that there are no particular rituals or set of circumstances that decide who wins and who loses. Ultimately, the best performance finishes on top.

When the UK gave ABBA nul points...

The 50th anniversary of the Eurovision Song Contest was celebrated in 2005. Naturally, ABBA’s Waterloo was chosen as the most popular song from the past 50 years. Although, in 1974 in Brighton, the United Kingdom apparently did not agree and gave the Swedish representatives zero votes. Yikes!

Bonus Fact:

Sweden not only has worldwide phenomenon ABBA, but they also have Loreen. Her 2012 song, Euphoria, went on to become a global hit, reaching the number 1 position in multiple countries and selling more than 2 million copies.

It was also the first time a Eurovision Song Contest entry reached the number 1 spot in the UK since Gina G entered in 1996 with Just a Little Bit.

Will a Swedish representative go on to win the most popular song of the next 50 years? Only time will tell.

0 to props in 40 seconds

Technicians and behind-the-scenes staff have just 40 seconds in between the live acts to remove any props from the stage and set up again before the next live act appears. A 2015 interview with Senior Floor Manager, Alexander Zupan, gave fans more insight into how these props were arranged so quickly on stage.

Before the show starts, the team builds a line of all of the props in the order they are required to go on stage. It takes no less than 20 staff - 10 on either side of the stage - to manage this task. The props enter on stage right and exit on stage left and they use a laser tracking system to ensure they are put in the right place.

Sometimes they are moving a garden hosepipe (Switzerland, 1979) but sometimes they are moving a prop like the one used in the United Kingdom’s performance in 2017 which weighed more than 1500kg and consisted of two parts.

Lucie Jones - Never Give Up On You (United Kingdom 2017)Andres Putting

The challenges tend to increase when successive artists include props. Alexander said that Australia's 2015 entry was the most difficult that year. The performance required several street lamps requiring at least 10 more seconds to complete the set-up.

"All these big props are challenging, but that is also the fun part of it. Especially if we manage to get it up in time," said 2017 Technical Manager, Robert Roos.

Bonus Fact:

The Contest has seen some spectacular and, at times, quirky props over the years. We have highlighted some of them below:

The first prop to ever be used on stage at Eurovision was a telephone, back in 1957 when Margot Hielscher performed Telefon Telefon for Germany.

Margot Hielscher, with her telephone, representing GermanyHR/ARD

In 2017 Robin Bengtsson performed for Sweden using treadmills as a part of his stage performance.

Remember that time Ukraine's Mariya Yaremchuk involved a hamster wheel in 2014?

Or when Austria incorporated a burning piano in 2015?

The Makemakes represented Austria in 2015Elena Volotova (EBU)

Other memorable Eurovision highlights include Russia's 2012 performance with a bread oven and Ireland's 2009 entry which involved a hot air balloon.

What are your favourite props of the Eurovision Song Contest?

Practice, Practice, Practice… and more Practice

What does it take to make one of the largest TV productions in the world?

Sietse Bakker, the Executive Producer of the Eurovision Song Contest 2020 event at NOS, says, “To get an enormous production like this...you need to rehearse”. In fact, somewhere close to over 100 hours of rehearsals are put in for the Contest.

Belarus' performance in 2018 required a steadycam shot of a rose, which had to be rehearsed several times.Andres Putting

The country's delegations prepare stage shows in collaboration with the host organizers during the months preceding the event. Before the officially scheduled rehearsals have even started, some artists are known to have practised for at least 6 months prior.

Once in the host city, each country is allocated 50 minutes of rehearsal time split across 2 days, and then there are 3 full dress rehearsals for each Semi-Final and for the Grand Final.

Artists end up with 7 show performances before the Grand Final - not including the preceding open rehearsals.

And that’s just the artists; let’s not forget about the technical teams who need more time to perfect the performance before it goes live.

Weeks before the artists set foot on the stage, the camera operators and other crew members start their rehearsals in the host city. Sometimes the voting procedure is rehearsed, at other times there are stand-ins for the artists performing on stage, acting as reference points for the cameramen.

What are your favourite Eurovision facts? Let us know in the comments below!

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