Do you know which is one of the longest running TV shows in the world? You probably think of a soap opera. Well, singing has a lot to do with it, though it’s far from an opera. It’s the Eurovision Song Contest (ESC), which will celebrate its 2022 finale this Saturday, watched by approximately 180 million people all over the world.
This annual show started in 1956. There was only one year when it didn’t take place. Right – 2020. And originally it was a one-Saturday-night event. That’s also how I remember it. It was a family event. An event a circle of friends might watch together. Bars would televise it for their customers. It was enjoyable because of the music and the glitz and glamor. It was suspenseful because of the hour-long televised phone communication around all the participants’ countries for the juries’ ratings. Beginning at eight at night, it would often run past midnight. And as of that Sunday, the winning song would be played on all radio stations in these nations.
Originally, participants were member states of the European Broadcast Union. They held national competitions amongst their most popular musicians. Their songs were written particularly for the Eurovision Song Contest. A national winner would participate in the contest in the capital of that nation, whose participant had won the last competition. A wonderful way to celebrate the sights of that nation and to enhance tourism at the same time. Over the years, there have also been guest nations to the event. Australia is one of them, for example, because the show is that popular down under that the organizers simply had to respond “in kind”. Today, over 50 nations have taken part in the Eurovision Song Contest at least once. The only ones who never have are Liechtenstein and … the Vatican.
Now, if you think that this was only a European thing, think again. Because some of the winners have become world stars. The Swedish band Abba won in 1974 with their song “Waterloo” and became world-famous over night. Celine Dion represented Switzerland in 1988 with “Ne partez pas sans moi”; allegedly, she learned English only 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 blocks of contest and ratings, guest stars would perform, such as Madonna or the Cirque de Soleil.
These days, the show lasts even longer. It is split up because of the number of contestants and for reasons or fairer ratings. Thus, culturally related nations are participating in different semi-finales to avoid ratings based on mere cultural and geographical rivalry. Still, the Eurovision Song Contest has become a barometer for political relationships and cultural messages. The LGBT movement has found a voice in it as much as the international protest against Belarus and Russia. Unforgotten in my mother country is probably one of the political pathbreakers, Nicole, back then 17 years old, with her song “Ein bisschen Frieden” (“A little bit of peace”), which still tops the single charts of all ESC nations in which it was released. Unlike most of the more recent songs it DOES have all the qualities of a catchy song.
Back in the day, when I didn’t have a TV set, I actually visited my parents for that event and watched it, guessing along whose ratings would turn them a winner. My change in life pretty much coincided with the re-structuring of the contest, and I stopped watching. It has become too long-winded an event for my taste. Still, come Sunday, I will definitely check the internet for this year’s winner, listen to the song … and probably yearn back for the years when the songs were “songier” and the glitz more glamorous.
This year’s European Song Contest takes place in Torino, Italy.
The European Song Contest is known to have created quite a number of world stars …
German singer Nicole’s contribution to the 1982 ESC is still a top-seller.