The Eurovision Song Contest has been an annual fixture on the global pop calendar since 1956 — except for 2020, when the competition took an enforced Covid-19 gap year — and this month, the competition will be held in Liverpool, England.
Organized by public broadcasters gathered in Switzerland-based European Broadcasting Union, Eurovision is a colorful, tightly contested competition in which each participating country sends an act to perform an original song of no more than three minutes. The winner is decided by voting at the end of the “grand final.”
More than 160 million viewers from around the world watched last year’s contest — for comparison, this year’s Super Bowl drew 113 million viewers — and Eurovision’s popularity continues to grow. Eurovision has even begun to make inroads into the United States, a country typically untouched by the event’s flamboyant pop music celebrations.
Below are rundowns on this year’s hot acts, advice on how to watch from the United States and why the event is being hosted in England this year.
Who can fight?
Only seven European countries competed in first Eurovision Song Contest, staged as an experiment in live, international TV broadcasting.
Today, 52 countries have participated in Eurovision at least once. To narrow the field before the grand final, since 2008 there have also been two semifinals. This year, the top 10 countries in each semifinal will advance to the grand final.
The 2023 edition of Eurovision features a total of 37 entries, including the “Big Five” — France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Britain — which are the leading financial contributors to the EBU. elimination round.
Bulgaria, Montenegro and North Macedonia are not competing this year, officially due to entry-related costs. Belarus has been suspended since 2021, after disputed elections in 2020 and a subsequent brutal crackdown on dissent, including The EBU mentions “the suppression of media freedom” in the country.
Why is Australia participating?
Eurovision has a history of inviting seemingly unlikely participants, if they were members of the EBU Morocco, for example, joined the fray in 1980; Israel has won four times since its first appearance in the tournament, in 1973.
Those two countries are at least closer to Europe than Australia. But Australians have long watched the contest in impressive numbers, even though it is broadcast live at 5 am Sydney time, and have competed in it since 2015. Australia’s current agreement with the EBU is due to expire after of this year, however, so who knows what will happen next.
How can US residents watch?
As in 2022, Peacock hosts livestreams for both semifinals, and will do the same for Saturday’s grand final, starting at 3 pm Eastern.
For the final, viewers can opt to watch with commentary from Olympic figure skater and long-time Eurovision fan Johnny Weir, who made an assured debut hosting the livestream last year.
How has the war in Ukraine affected competition?
Traditionally, the country that wins Eurovision hosts the event the following year. Ukraine won last year with Kalush Orchestra“Stefania’s” track, but because the country was still at war, Britain — last year’s runner-up — stepped in to host. (And not for the first time: Britain has won five Eurovisions but hosted nine, including this year.)
Russia was disqualified from the 2022 edition after it invaded Ukraine. The EBU has suspended Russia, so it will not compete this year.
Since overtly political songs are banned at Eurovision, some acts use generic messages of empowerment, such as Ukrainian duo Tvorchi’s song “iron heart,” about courage. Attracting more courage with disqualification is the Croatian entry, Let 3’s “Mama SC,” a sly, highly theatrical antiwar number that uses one of Eurovision’s favorite creative devices: allegorical satire.
How does voting work?
Eurovision’s notoriously complex voting rules and protocols have changed many times over the decades, and again this year. Previously, each country was awarded points based on a combination of votes from home viewers and the judges in each competing country.
After the contest organizers found the “voting irregularities” of the country’s six juries in last year’s semifinals — many of whom apparently voted for each other — the rules have been changed, with the semifinals now being decided exclusively by the audience and the grand finals which is a result that combines the points from the audience and the judges.
Oh, and all of this voting happens live, which helps explain why the grand final broadcast takes nearly four hours.
Can American viewers vote?
Traditionally, voting was limited to viewers in the contest’s participating countries — who couldn’t vote for their own act — meaning American Eurovision fans couldn’t vote.
But in a change that signals Eurovision’s global ambitions, this year non-participating countries can vote for the first time, via official online hub. That includes viewers in the United States.
Who are the favorites this year?
The bookmakers favorite to take the title is “Tattoos” said Loreen, from Eurovision powerhouse Sweden. Loreen is a well-known quantity, having won the contest in 2012 with “Euphoria” — a 21st-century Eurovision classic. There are no restrictions on acts competing multiple times, and other familiar faces this year are Italy’s Marco Mengoni and Moldova’s Pasha Parfeni.
If Loreen regains the top spot, she will become only the second performer to win twice, after Johnny Logan, who won for Ireland in 1980 and 1987.
Finland is another favorite, with a demented entry, Kaarija’s “Cha Cha Cha,” which is basically electronic body music, set in a glowing thunderdome. For Weir, who presents the Peacock’s Eurovision coverage, it all reflects the bold tastes of Eurovision viewers. “The fact that the oddsmakers think Finland will do well this year surprises me because I don’t know if everyone will get that kind of wild, over-the-top character of Kaarija,” he said in a recent phone conversation.
The competition’s dark horses include Spain, which has not won since 1969; this year the bookies are putting a few euros on Blanca Paloma and her song “EAEA,” which sounds like the Cocteau Twins experimenting with flamenco.
Who is the more surreal act?
Often American-majority countries struggle to find on a map that delivers the most memorable Eurovision performances, even if they don’t make it to the semifinals.
“The response I got last year was how amazing people were that there was an act for Moldova that got them up on their couches and dancing,” Weir said.
This year, catchy numbers include the Austrian song “Who is Edgar?,” where Teya and Salena sing about Edgar Allan Poe’s possession, and Germany’s outré mini-rock opera “Blood and Glitter,” said Lord of the Lost.
The competition for Eurovision’s most awkward lyrics is close, as always, but let’s give a nod to Israel’s Noa Kirel for coming up with a jaw-dropping cry in his song “Unicorn”: “It’s gonna be phenomenon-phenomen-phenomenal/ Phenomen-phenomenal/Feminine-feminine-feminine.”
Classic Eurovision poem.