At the start of the first Semi-Final of the 2017 Eurovision Song Contest.
At the start of the first Semi-Final of the 2017 Eurovision Song Contest. Photo: Andres Putting

What is Eurovision: How to explain it to the world

Do you have a friend, family member or colleague who is completely unaware of the Eurovision Song Contest? You want to explain it to them but don't know where to start? Let us help you to describe the amazing, the wonderful and the sometimes wacky Contest we know and love.

Here is a quick step-by-step guide that you can use to explain to others what the Eurovision Song Contest is.

Step 1: Use a little song and dance

Finding it difficult to use the right words? From time to time, all you need is a bit of song and dance to show others exactly what you mean. At the second Semi-Final of the Eurovision Song Contest 2016 in Stockholm, presenters Måns Zelmerlöw and Petra Mede gave the audience a little summary of what you can expect to see at the Eurovision Song Contest. Let's start with showing this video to anyone who doesn't know about the Contest:

Step 2: Deliver some cool facts

Fact #1

Let them know that Eurovision is the world's largest live music event and has made it into the Guinness World Records for the longest running annual TV music competition - a record which it still holds to this day!

You might like to mention that the first Eurovision Song Contest was held in 1956 in Lugano, Switzerland and was ironically won by...well, Switzerland. In 2020 the Contest experienced a bit of a hiccup due to Covid-19 but it flexed its resilience muscle and battled on by presenting an alternative broadcast and several online shows for their viewers instead. You can also watch these videos together, find them here: Eurovision: Europe Shine A Light, Eurovision Song Celebration Part One and Eurovision Song Celebration Part Two.

If your Eurovision learner wants to know more about the Contest's 'bumps-in-the-road' you can also take them here.

And if they're eager to learn more about the history of the Contest, then send them no further than here.

Fact #2

A total of 52 countries have participated in the event over the years including Australia and Morocco, who's one-time-only entry can be viewed below:

'But they aren't European countries?' We hear your Eurovision student say.

Correct, they are not.

You can explain to them that active member broadcasters of the European Broadcasting Union (who produce the Contest) are eligible to compete. Australian broadcaster SBS is an associate member of the European Broadcasting Union, and was invited for the first time to the contest in 2015. Since then, they have been participating in all editions of both the Eurovision and Junior Eurovision Song Contest and recently got permission to take part at the contest until at least 2023.

Your listeners might like to know where Eurovision has been. With all these countries competing in the past, the Contest has travelled a lot. Let them know that the winning country from the year before (usually) becomes the host country for the Contest the following year. The competition has been as far west as Portugal, as far east as Azerbaijan, as far north as Norway and as far south as Israel!

To get an idea of some of the countries that have participated in the past, you can also show them this video below:

Fact #3

The Contest usually reaches around 200 million viewers every year and has attracted talent from all over the world, including participations from Celine Dion, Cliff Richards, Olivia Newton-John and guest performances from Madonna, Justin Timberlake and Boyzone.

Justin Timberlake at the Eurovision Song Contest 2016

You can also direct your soon-to-be Eurovision fans to the official videos of participants from the past who have gathered up to millions of views online. For example, Israel's 2018 entry, Toy by Netta, became the most watched video on the Eurovision YouTube channel. Another example is Russia's 2020 entrant Little Big and their song Uno which has reached 105 million views and still counting.

Don't forget to mention that the competition has also helped catapult artists to international fame, including ABBA and more recently, Loreen.

Step 3: Tell them how it works

When in doubt, keep it simple:

  • Each participating broadcaster that represents their country chooses their performer and song through a national televised selection or through an internal selection.

  • They must select their entry before mid-March. Any song with a release date after September 1 can be a potential entry into the Contest.

  • When it's time to compete, there are two Semi-Finals and a Grand Final where the artists must all sing live!

  • Both the Semi-Finals and Grand Final have the same voting system - but one cannot vote for their own country (out of fairness).

  • When the voting is complete and the winner is announced, the next Contest is hosted in the winning country.

To give your new-to-Eurovision friend just a taste of the exciting live voting experience, you can watch this video below together:

For a quick, but more extensive description you can show them this article which discusses how the competition works in a bit more detail.

Step 4: Explain the experience

To truly capture Eurovision in all its glory, one must try to describe the experience it provides to so many.

Maybe try to explain that, despite serving to entertain, the Eurovision Song Contest is also an event where different cultures, nationalities and languages come together and connect with their audience through live music. It really has something for everyone.

Again, why not show your Eurovision students a variety of different songs from the past to highlight some of the musical genres Eurovision has offered, like this:

Or this:

Or this:

Or, even this:

It's also a wildly entertaining competition, particularly when things don't always go to plan. Take a look at when things got a little bit weird:

The Contest isn't just about the Semi-Finals and Grand Final either! People from around the world gather together to host parties in anticipation and celebration of the Contest as well! From pre-parties to post-parties, it really is a week-long event (sometimes even longer)!

To allow others to understand the Contest and the impact it has, perhaps you could quote Eurovision entrant SuRie, who said: "Eurovision is all about sharing cultures through songs, diversity, and being able to feel all sorts of emotions through music."

We couldn't have said it better ourselves!

To finish your Eurovision mini-tutorial, perhaps you could share this video, which highlights some of the unforgettable moments of Eurovision in this performance by Måns Zelmerlöw and Petra Mede at the Eurovision Song Contest 2016 in Sweden.

If your Eurovision student would like to quickly learn a little bit more about the Contest, take them here. Or better yet, take them to Rotterdam 2021!

How do you explain the Eurovision Song Contest to others? Let us know in the comments below!

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