A Newbie’s Guide To Eurovision — Because A Will Ferrell Movie Cannot Be Your Only Reference

Photo: Courtesy of Netflix.
The new Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams Netflix comedy Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga takes place at the titular European singing competition that's like American Idol but more popular and frankly far better. In the movie, Ferrell and McAdams play Lars Erickssong and Sigrit Ericksdottir respectively. They want to represent Iceland on the world stage at Eurovision, and plenty of catchy musical numbers and hilarious hijinks ensue.
The film is already being touted for how well it captures the "unironic, chaotic joy of the real song contest," as Esquire put it, so Ferrell and Co. clearly did their research when putting the movie together. Ferrell, who stars and also co-wrote the screenplay, said on SiriusXM that he's been planning the movie for 20 years, after first seeing Eurovision in the late '90s. 
As Ferrell knows, Eurovision is no secret, so if this movie is your first foray, you have some catching up to do. Nearly 200 million people from around the world tune into the competition every year. The wildly popular Eurovision competition started way back in 1956 when only seven countries competed. Now that's ballooned to 26 countries that compete in the finals every year.
But now that you're here, let's get one thing straight: It was about time that mainstream American pop culture acknowledged the singing competition sensation, because it's discovered a few of the world's biggest international pop sensations over the years.

ABBA & Other Artists Who Started At Eurovision

Most Eurovision winners go on to have success in European music industries, but several winners have gone on to true international fame. In 1974, ABBA won the competition for Sweden with "Waterloo" and we all know what happened for ABBA next. They produced a bunch of hit songs and had a play and two movies based on those tunes.
Also in 1974, future Grease star Olivia Newton-John performed for the UK, coming in fourth. 
Fast forward to 1988, when Celine Dion won for Switzerland with the French-language tune "Ne Partez Pas Sans Moi." She was just 20 years old, but the win helped set her on the path to becoming the best-selling artist we know her as today.
Not every American may not know his name, but Alexander Rybak, Norway's winner from 2009, gained international success with his winning song "Fairytale." He scored 387 points with his performance, the highest ever under the scoring system used at the time. 
And in 2014, drag queen Conchita Wurst took home the top prize for Austria and the LGBTQ+ community with her performance of "Rise Like a Phoenix."

Which Countries Qualify For Eurovision?

The "Euro" in Eurovision is self-explanatory, as the competitors are primarily from European countries. According to the Eurovision website, the UK, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain are always pre-qualified for the finals. The previous year's winning country is also pre-qualified since they host the following year's event. Outside of those six countries, other hopefuls must participate in two semi-final events and the 10 best from each semi-final will advance to the Grand Final.
But it's not only European countries that have a chance to compete in those semi-finals. According to Metro, any country that's part of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) is allowed to enter, which is how countries like Armenia and Israel have participated. Australia is not part of the EBU, but the country broadcasts the competition and the citizens are big fans, so they're invited as special non-EBU guests to compete.

How The Eurovision Rules Have Changed

Since its inception in 1956, the Eurovision rules have undergone many changes. Initially, all songs had to be sung in the country's native language. That's since been changed, and many countries now choose to perform in English. Beginning in 1990, contestants had to be at least 16 to perform. The youngest winner is Sandra Kim from Belgium, who was just 13 when she won in 1986.
Like many American reality shows do today, Eurovision instituted televoting beginning in 1997 to allow audiences to weigh in on their favorite acts. The current points system combines one set of scores from a jury with the scores from the televotes. The competition gained more traction over the years and in 2008, a second semi-final was introduced to handle the sheer volume of countries applying. Now those two semi-finals determine the 20 nations to join the pre-qualified six in the finals. 
And, beginning in 2015, the idea of special guest countries from outside the European Broadcasting Union was introduced, which is how Australia was first invited. It was originally intended to be a one-off event, but Australia has returned each year since, and it's possible other guest countries will be invited in the future.

So, When Is The Next Eurovision In 2021?

The 2020 Eurovision Song Contest was understandably cancelled, which just gives everyone (including any new recruits) plenty of time to plan their viewing party for 2021. The contest will be held in Rotterdam in the Netherlands since the country's participant Duncan Laurence won in 2019. According to the Eurovision site, the semi-finals are being held May 18 and May 20 with the Grand Final airing on May 22.
In the past, the Viacom channel Logo has aired Eurovision live for American viewers, but Logo didn't air Eurovision in 2019, so it's possible the network won't air the 2021 contest. Eurovision had previously reported that Netflix would air the 2020 contest, but it's unclear if that deal will remain in place with the move to 2021. Netflix was also not going to be showing the competition live, but rather as a recorded version released after the competition concluded.
The Eurovision YouTube channel offers a livestream which could be available to American viewers depending on whether or not the stream is geographically restricted. In 2019, it wasn't available in some countries, including the US. But as next May gets closer, the competition may be picked up by an American broadcaster. Stay tuned on that one, and start preparing any necessary costumes, snacks, and playlists for a future Eurovision viewing party now.
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