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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Eurovision Song Contest (ESC)

To my non-european readers, here's a short explanation of a European phenomenon. 

The ESC is a three hour TV-program, which is broadcast once a year. It's arranged by the EBU, which is a club of European public service broadcasters, the former TV-monopoly broadcasters.
The region of Europe has grown considerably since communism was defeated in 1989. There used to be some 15-20 contesting countries in the ESC, but now there are many more who would like to take part. There are so many countries in Europe now that their contributions can no longer be fitted within the three hour TV-show. That's why they must qualify for the 25- country final. Due to the qualifying rounds, called semi-finals, four hours have been added to the show, and the broadcast now covers three evenings.
The show is taken more or less seriously in different countries. Some countries sometimes just select some singer and a song behind the closed doors of its national broadcaster. That has been proven to be a good recipe for a disastrous result in the ESC. 
In Sweden we take the ESC very seriously and our scores are among the best in ESC history. We really try to select the best tune. This is done by having our own national competition well ahead of the big European show. Some 40 songs compete in about five qualifying rounds, followed by semi-finals and a final in the national sports arena in Stockholm, our capital. Those who get to the final are guaranteed considerable media coverage and the competition has created many artistic careers.
The songs competing in the ESC have changed a lot in recent years. Back in the 70's winners often came from France or Italy, with typically latin songs. This no longer happens. Recent winners are hard rockers from Finland and I can't really summarize the winning contributions. It seems any genre, except the traditional ones, can win.
The big final ends with the voting. This is the exciting part! Even those who hate the songs may actually enjoy the voting. All the competing countries are allowed to vote through a national jury. A videophone link is established between the program leaders on stage and a national jury representative. The voting part is always held in English and French, and has been the subject of many jokes through the years. There is a certain tension during voting. One reason is of course that the final result is unknowable. Another reason is that sometimes the link is weak and there are miscommunications, misunderstandings and blunders, causing some nervous tension in the program leaders. Everything still ends well and all is forgiven and forgotten.
Then there's corrupt voting or political voting. The existence of this is debated. Does Denmark score well in Sweden, because they're our neighbors or because we like their songs. Do the Greeks really think that Cyprus deserves their top score each and every time? And vice versa. It could be due to cultural similarities. Will we ever know?
At any rate, arranging next year's final goes to this year's winner. This is considered a great honor and an opportunity to promote the country. The TV audience is huge and stretches outside of Europe. The scene look more costly each year. The ESC is growing by any measure.
It has even been remarked that wherever the ESC stretches, the EU soon follows. That has often happened. However Israel, Azerbadjan or Russia seem unlikely ever to join the EU.

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