Finland’s Lordi showed in 2006 that you could win the Eurovision Song Contest with monster rock. (Reuters: Yiorgos Karahalis)
As the name implies, the Eurovision Song Contest is officially about songs.
But in reality that is just the tip of the iceberg.
It’s the biggest TV music show in the world, it also features national alliances and rivalries, a choice of language, controversial voting, outrageous costumes (and reveals), crazy staging, out-there dancing routines, backing performers who think they are the stars, dodgy lyrics and much more.
Of course, the contest has changed markedly from its rather twee early days in the 1950s, so in a time where people are blogging, tweeting and posting the Eurovision rehearsals, never mind the contest itself, it’s no surprise some elements have gone by the wayside.
But there really is, as the saying goes, something for everyone at Eurovision.
So, what attracts you to Eurovision, what type of fan are you? There’s plenty to choose from.
All about the old school
Perhaps you are someone who is a nostalgia buff, and loves the contest as it initially started and then evolved in its first couple of decades.
Even in the early years there were songs that didn’t win, but later became huge hits like Nel Piu Dipinto Di Blu (Volare) in 1958.
Then in the 1960s, Europe began to reach out to the public and attract something popular, with young singers like France Gall for France with Poupee De Cire, Poupee De Son in 1965 and Sandie Shaw for the UK with Puppet On A String in 1967 winning the contest with something more resembling real pop at the time.
All about the craziness
Since the contest rebooted in the 1990s to remove the orchestra, free up countries to sing in any language, and introduce televoting, there has been a whole lot more craziness on stage at Eurovision.
In fact, it’s fair to say the concepts for some of the songs have been off the charts.
There is hardly any idea that is too out-there for the contest at this point — a parody singing turkey puppet? Yep, you can thank Ireland in 2008 for doing that one.
A singing Xena Warrior Woman, complete with whips? Been there already, with Ukraine’s contest-winner in 2004, Wild Dances.
Monster rock? Bring us something EDGY, for goodness sake, Finland has already given us a slice of Metallica meets the Muppets with Lordi’s winner in 2006.
All about the voice
Sometimes a song isn’t really a song, it’s just a vehicle for a performer to show off their knockout voice to impress the juries/televoters.
Exhibit A is a certain Canadian chanteuse, Celine Dion, who turned up for Switzerland in 1988 with a perm in her hair and hope in her heart as she smashed glasses everywhere with her big ballad Ne Partez Pas Sans Moi (Don’t Leave Without Me).
The piece de resistance came last year, however, when the televoters of Europe robbed Dami Im of a deserved win with her incredible performance of Sound of Silence.
If you can watch her final video and not be bowled over, we can’t be friends.
All about the songs
If you actually want the contest to be what it says on the box, you are a true fan of the songs. These numbers don’t rely (mostly) on trickery or staging or backing dancers, it’s all about the performance of the songs themselves.
Nowadays, the song itself is only one small element in a package, but if you want to know how to get the job done in the old days, just watch a bit of Mr Eurovision himself, Frankston’s own Johnny Logan, who won at three times for Ireland as either writer or performer.
In 1987, he won with Hold Me Now, while helpfully providing a white balance for the cameras.
Back in the day, of course, in the old days of the orchestra, it was much more about the actual songs. Case in point, Luxembourg in 1972, whose belter of a ballad, Apres Toi (After You), performed by Vicky Leandros, got the chocolates.
All about the reveal
One element that has endured for many years in Eurovision is the concept of the reveal. Costumes are often movable feasts in the contest, particularly when it comes to female performers.
UK entrant Buck’s Fizz caused a furore in 1981 when the male performers in the quartet, Mike Nolan and Bobby G, ripped the skirts off their female counterparts, Cheryl Baker and Jay Aston, mid-song, to reveal they were wearing mini-skirts underneath.
A reveal was central to Marie N’s winning performance of I Wanna for Latvia in 2002, as her suit was whipped away to reveal a cocktail dress underneath.
All about the Schlager
Schlager, meaning “hit” in German, has become associated with Eurovision for a certain style of song that went big in the 70s and 80s, but has hung around to this day.
It’s a high-energy, up-tempo pop sound that kind of kicked off with ABBA’s Waterloo.
For years and years, if you were trying to describe “that Eurovision sound” to people from another planet, you were probably talking about schlager songs.
Even though it’s a German term, Scandinavia seems to do it better at the contest, like two other winners — Norway’s dames d’un certain age, Bobbysocks, with La Det Swinge in 1985, and then Carola’s Fangad Av En Stormvind in 1991, which roughly translates to “blown sideways by a wind machine”.
All about countries singing in their own language
The Eurovision was all about bringing countries together after World War II and allowing everyone to show off their best — or at least their favourite — music, in their own language.
The French went for chansons, the Italians went for big numbers like Volare, the Irish went for gentle folky songs when they weren’t doing heart-wrenching ballads, etc.
But by the time the 90s arrived, we had Turkey showing you could combine ethnic sounds and pop … and get a hall full of Irish people clapping along like mad things.
And then, of course, we had the ones who invented their own language, just for Eurovision.
Nowadays, most countries sing in English — because they can — but there are still a few rugged individualists in Europe who want to stick to their own native tongue.
All about the visuals
Let’s face it, this is just an excuse to chuck a few more crazy entries at you, but bear with us.
Some countries look at Eurovision as an excuse to drive way past normal and straight to sheer confusion and madness, whether it’s the costume, the performance, the stuff going on in the background, or whatever.
The top example of this is the Ukrainian entry from 2007, Verda Serduchka with Dancing Lashing Tumbai.
It was sort of a Star-Wars polka dubbed in German/Ukrainian with Verda using a tin-foil wrapped costume mixed with a hijacked version of Gina G’s infamous mirror-ball dress from 1996.
In 2008, Russia’s Dima Bilan won with Believe, in part thanks to the inclusion of a figure skater on stage — and not just any figure skater, but dual Olympic champion Evgeni Plushenko.
Thankfully, Plushenko was skilful enough not to lose control and accidentally fillet open Bilan’s artery with an errant skate blade.
Five years later, Azerbaijan brought something dangerous to the table with their song Hold Me, which featured a male gymnast/dancer caught inside a narrow glass box.
All about the orchestra
The classic accompaniment to every Eurovision song until the late 1990s was the orchestra, as the mainly ballads on show got an extra bit of juzhe thanks to the sounds of swelling strings and horn sections.
By 1995, at the height of the Celtic dominance at Eurovision, Norway decided to try and break Ireland’s three-year stranglehold on the contest by almost eliminating vocals altogether, with just 24 words in their orchestral piece, Nocturne.
It worked, as they took the title.
The following year Sweden followed up with a more wordy but heavily orchestral song, One More Time, which came second as Ireland grabbed back the title for the seventh — and most recent — time with The Voice … sadly the atmospheric Celtic-sounding one, not the Farnham classic.
Unfortunately, you can’t see the orchestral phenomenon any more — that is what YouTube is for — but no matter what other element of Eurovision floats your boat, there will be something for everyone in this year’s contest.