LONDON — The Eurovision Song Contest began in 1956 as a friendly musical competition between public service television stations and has since grown into the world’s biggest, and perhaps quirkiest, live music event.
This year, the competition takes place while there is a war in Europe; in February, event organizers announced that Russia would be banned from competitionciting “the unprecedented crisis in Ukraine”.
This week, 35 other countries, including Ukraine, played in the semi-finals ahead of Saturday’s final, which draws more than 180 million viewers worldwide. The event, held in Italy this year, rewards live viewers, with snippets of performances and reactions spreading quickly on social media.
Below are recaps of the hottest acts, tips on how to watch from the US, and opinions on how the war in Ukraine is likely to affect the competition.
How does the Eurovision Song Contest work?
Each country selects an act with an original song to be performed live on stage. The song is chosen either by the national broadcaster or by some sort of competition. (For example, Sweden has the “Melodifestivalen” to choose one’s entry.) There are a number of rules participants must follow, including a three-minute limit on song length and a ban on lyrics or gestures considered by the organizers as political. .
Despite its name, countries beyond the traditional geographical borders of Europe also participate in Eurovision. Israel debuted in 1973, for example, and Australia have been competing since 2015. This year, Armenia and Montenegro return to the contest after not competing in 2021. Smaller nations are also represented, such as San Marino, a landlocked enclave in Italy. with a population of just over 30,000. Last year’s San Marino entry, performed by singer Senhit, featured an appearance by American rapper Flo Rida.
The Eurovision winner is chosen by a combination of votes from viewers at home and by national juries in each country. The scores of the national juries are tallied first, then the fan votes are announced, act by act, starting with the countries that received the fewest points from the jury. This part of the show can be tense and even uncomfortable to watch, with cameras last year showing participants from Britain, Germany, the Netherlands and Spain each receiving the dreaded ‘zero points’ from the audience. .
Once the two semi-finals have reduced the participants, the qualifiers join the participants of the “big five” countries – Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Spain – who have an automatic pass for the final as they contribute most financially to the operation of the competition. Twenty-five countries will take part in the final this year.
Traditionally, the contest takes place in the country that won the previous year. Turin, Italy is hosting this year after rock band Maneskin triumphed in 2021.
How can Americans watch the competition?
The Peacock streaming service will air the final on Saturday starting at 3 p.m. ET. The service also broadcast the semi-finals of the competition. Figure skater Johnny Weir will commentate on the show.
Commentary can often add a bit of humor to the many long hours of televised competition. In Britain, comedy host Graham Norton became famous for his reactions and jokes.
“We have a real lineup of music tonight,” Norton said when presenting the 2021 competition from the Dutch city of Rotterdam. “Brilliant staging, excellent lighting, wonderful vocalists and more – well, some as flat as Holland.”
How has Russia’s invasion of Ukraine affected the competition?
Initially, the European Broadcasting Union, which organizes Eurovision, said Russia could continue to participate because the contest was an “apolitical cultural event”.
The day after the invasion, however, as Ukraine and other countries threatened to pull out, the broadcasting union backtracked. Russia could not participate, the union said in a statementbecause the inclusion of the country “would bring the competition into disrepute”.
Sentimentality, friendly bias and politics can affect voting. This year, Ukraine is favorite to win, with rap and folk group Kalush Orchestra representing the country. Her song, “Stefania”, is an ode to the mother of one of the band members. The act received special permission from the Ukrainian government to travel for the competition and performed throughout Europe to raise money for the war effort.
Ukraine won the competition in 2016 with “1944”, by Jamala. The song was a memorial to the Crimean Tatars during World War II, but it has also been interpreted as a commentary on the Russian invasion of Crimea, which took place two years earlier.
What if Ukraine wins this year?
If Ukraine wins the title, the war and humanitarian crisis in the country will most likely present challenges for hosting the competition in 2023.
In the past, when one country was unable to host, another stepped in. The last time this happened was in 1980, when Israel refused to host after winning for the second straight year. The competition took place in the Netherlands instead.
If Australia wins the competition, the logistical difficulties of staging a mainly European competition on another continent means that a European country and broadcaster will co-host the following year’s competition alongside the Australia, according to the European Broadcasting Union.
What other acts do I need to know?
Sweden have won Eurovision six times (second only to Ireland), with ABBA one of the acts to claim victory for the country. This year’s Swedish entrant is Cornelia Jakobs, who sings “Hold Me Closer,” a warm and soulful pop track that builds with each subsequent verse.
The Spanish entry, performed by Chanel, was also predicted to do well in the finale, with a catchy song, “SloMo,” accompanied by a high-energy dance routine.
The outlook for Great Britain, after last year’s zero points, is looking up. The country’s entry, “Space Man,” is performed by TikTok star Sam Ryder and has been gaining momentum.
There was also praise for Australia’s entry, “Not the Same”, performed by Sheldon Riley. The song reflects his childhood experiences, including being diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome when he was 6 years old.
Maneskin has risen to worldwide fame since winning the 2021 competition, performing on “Saturday Night Live” and at the Coachella festival this year.
Are there any surreal acts this year?
Eurovision contestants have a tradition of using surreal staging, lyrics and costumes to stand out.
This year’s Norwegian entry, by pop duo Subwoofer, caught the eye. Their song, “Give That Wolf a Banana”, has the pair wearing wolf masks, with supporting dancers in yellow morph costumes.
The Moldavian entry, “Trenuletul”, by Zdob si Zdub and the Advahov brothers, has built a following by combining traditional instruments such as the accordion with the electric guitar. Their song’s upbeat lyrics are matched by the band’s enthusiastic choreography.
What about North American versions of Eurovision?
NBC’s “American Song Contest” reinvents Eurovision for the United States, with 56 entries from 50 states, five territories and the District of Columbia. Instead of airing over a week, like Eurovision does, the contest has aired weekly on the network since March.
The final took place on Monday, when AleXa, representing Oklahoma, won with “Wonderland”. The song received 710 total points from the jury and public vote, 207 ahead of runner-up, Colorado.
But disappointing ratings suggest “American Song Contest” failed to capture the excitement of Eurovision. In an interview with The New York Times, show executive Audrey Morrissey suggested that American audiences might need time to get used to the format. “It’s a very different kind of mechanism – there’s no other show where the performance happens and there’s no criticism right after,” she said.
Next year there will be a Eurovision Canada, where entries from the country’s three territories and 10 provinces will compete in an offshoot of the original. International expansion has been an ambition for Eurovision. Martin Österdahl, Executive Supervisor of the contest, recently said in a podcast: “We are shifting our focus slightly in our strategy from running a contest to running a brand, and that brand will be a global entertainment superbrand. .”