Every May, half the world tunes into a little song contest called Eurovision, ready to lose their minds over a flurry of smoke machines, eye glitter and obscure Baltic disco-pop. And every May, the rest of the world wonders why everyone is so obsessed with smoke machines, eye glitter and obscure Baltic disco-pop.
Welcome to the Eurovision Song Contest — the world’s biggest, best and downright strangest TV event. This year it’s kicked off with a bang (we’ve lost our first favorites and we know the first countries through to the Grand Final) and it’s only going to get more epic from here.
You can check out the first contestants through to the Grand Final here. (Hell yeah, Australia!)
If you’ve never heard of Eurovision, you’re officially out of the loop. This year, Madonna is set to perform at the show (there are rumours she’ll debut a new song) and Will Ferrell is even working on a film about Eurovision for Netflix. Not to mention the fact it’s the world’s longest-running song contest and an event treated with sheer reverence across Europe.
Get out your sequins and your sexy chicken coop dancing cage, because we’ve got your full low-down on the Eurovision 2019.
Eurovision is like the Avengers of pop-singing contests: the world’s biggest heroes (of European pop) unite to destroy the forces of darkness (by singing fabulously). And just like Avengers, there’s normally someone wearing a bejewelled glove.
First held in 1956, the Eurovision Song Contest is an annual competition that brings together nations from the European Union (plus honorary countries like Israel and Australia) to show off their amazing local singers, B-Grade Ukraine’s Got Talent winners and wildly-thrusting saxophone players (cannot unsee). It rakes in as many as 600 million viewers worldwide.
But it’s also more than just a frivolous way to keep the European fireworks industry afloat. The competition gave us ABBA and Waterloo (Sweden, 1st place, 1974). Celine Dion blew away the competition in a highly-questionable drop-waisted tutu (Switzerland, 1st place, 1988). And the song Volare? The song that kept Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin playing in lounge bars for decades? That was originally a Eurovision entry (Italy, 1st place, 1958).
Not only that, despite the fact rules state that songs can’t have a political message, it’s often a hotbed of geopolitical drama. In 2016, Ukraine’s haunting song 1944 referenced the ethnic cleansing of the Crimean Tatars by the Soviet Union in 1944. It was a strong political statement that went on to win, and was particularly poignant considering Russia’s annexation of Crimea just two years prior, in 2014.
And Portugal’s entry in 1974? That song was seen as a secret signal to the Portuguese people to start Portugal’s Carnation Revolution.
How many other song contests do you know that have started a revolution? (Katy Perry’s outfits in American Idol don’t count).
How it works
Each country’s act sings a song, always live and normally chosen through that country’s local equivalent of American Idol. Over two semifinals and a bumper grand final, they compete to win… pretty much nothing. No cash prize. Usually no massive international touring career. Nothing except the prestige of vaunting over their fellow European nations while high-kicking in their spangly pants.
This year’s contest is being held in Tel Aviv, Israel (the country won last year and so gets the honor of hosting this year). Forty-one countries will compete across two semifinals on May 14 and 16, with the 26 best (and weirdest) competing in the grand final on May 18.
It wouldn’t be a European tradition if there wasn’t some needlessly complex and byzantine voting process to go with it!
Here’s the basic rundown: The countries in each of the two semifinal brackets get to vote on the other contestants in that bracket (but not for entries in the other semifinal group). During the final, all the countries from the competition can vote.
But Eurovision is kind of like the United Nations Security Council — there are four permanent members who have automatically qualified for the grand final since 2000 because they contribute the most financially to the European Broadcasting Union (the event organizers). Those four countries (France, Germany, Spain and the UK), plus the host country (Israel this year) get to vote in one semifinal each, and they get a spot in the grand final regardless of how terrible their performance is (ahem, I’m looking at you, Great Britain).
Points are awarded by countries in two pools. First, each country has a jury of respected music industry types and their verdict makes up half of that country’s vote. Each national jury allocates points to their 10 favorite entrants: 12 points for the best, 10 points for second, and then a run down of 8, 7, 6 points and so on down to 1. The other half of the country’s total point allocation comes from a popular vote (done via televoting back home). The most popular acts according to the general public are ranked, with the top act given 12 points, and the next given 10 points and then 8 points down to 1 for their remaining picks.
Alright, still with me? Good. Because the scores are read in French. And “Douze Points” is what you want!
Countries can’t vote for themselves, but this is Europe so there are old allies who always vote for each other, like the UK and Ireland, the Nordic countries and so on.
The US can’t vote, but boy howdy can it watch it all go down.
How to watch
In the US
After airing the competition in 2018, LogoTV did not renew the rights to broadcast for 2019 so that means Eurovision is currently without a home in the US. There were rumours Netflix could air Eurovision to generate buzz for its upcoming Will Ferrell film. But that would be an unusual move into live broadcasting for Netflix — the company would not comment on the record about its Eurovision plans but we’ll update here if we hear anything.
In another blow for Eurovision fans Stateside, the official Eurovision YouTube channel looks to be geoblocked for US viewers, which seems like a tough blow considering it’s not available through any US providers.
One eagle-eyed Techhnews reader pointed out that Semi-Final 1 is available on the website for Swedish broadcaster SVT, so for now that’s a good bet to get the stream legally. We’ve reached out to the European Broadcasting Union for clarity on broadcast in the US, and we’ll update here as soon as we hear something. For now, here are the local times for the finals.
- Semi-Final 1 — Tuesday May 14, 3 p.m. ET (12 p.m. PT)
- Semi-Final 2 — Thursday May 16, 3 p.m. ET (12 p.m. PT)
- Grand Final — Saturday May 18, 3 p.m. ET (12 p.m. PT)
In the UK
We all miss the perfectly-scathing commentary of Terry Wogan, but this year Graham Norton will head up the Grand Final commentary on BBC1.
- Semi-Final 1 — Tuesday May 14, 8 p.m. GMT on BBC4
- Semi-Final 2 — Thursday May 16, 8 p.m. GMT on BBC4
- Grand Final — Saturday May 18, 8 p.m. GMT on BBC1
Superfans can get up early in the morning to watch on SBS or SBS On Demand (that’s the time to vote!) or watch a primetime replay on the same channels. Australia’s entry, Kate Miller-Heidke, will be in Semi-Final 1.
- Semi Final 1 — Wednesday May 15, 5 a.m. AEST
- Semi Final 2 — Friday May 17, 5 a.m. AEST
- Grand Final — Sunday May 19, 5 a.m. AEST
- Semi Final 1 — Thursday May 16 at 8.30 p.m. AEST
- Semi Final 2 — Friday May 17, 8.30 p.m. AEST
- Grand Final — Sunday May 19, 8.30 p.m. AEST
The entrants to watch in 2019
You can see the full list of entrants here, but that’s a lot of Scando-ballads and Shawn Mendes-esque pop to get across in a short time. If you’re having a Eurovision Party (and you should), you’ll need to drop some knowledge over your borscht and strudel about the best contestants.
Arcade by Duncan Laurence (Netherlands)
If Eurovision in the 1970s was all ABBA and cape-twirling, then the Netherlands’ song in 2019 is Eurovision all grown up. This song is perfectly produced and it has a killer hook — “Loving you is a losing game” is a line you could definitely imagine on the next Bond song. This entry is the favorite to win on the betting sites (yes, you can truly bet on anything), and it’s radio-play ready.
Spirit in the Sky by KEiiNO (Norway)
This is Eurovision by the numbers at the start: sequins, smoke machines and off-duty liturgical dancers. But just as you’re about to get up for a cup of tea, Norwegian Vin Diesel busts out from the back and drops some phenomenal vocals that are part guttural chanting, part rap, all awesome. At first I thought it was a synthesizer — kind of like the yodel-goat synth in Justin Bieber’s Let Me Love You — but it’s actually chanting known as “joik” and it’s the traditional music of the Lappland people in northern Norway. This is why I love Eurovision: old folk music blended with banging pop. This. Song. SLAPS!
Soldi by Mahmood (Italy)
R&B in Italian? Yes please. Mahmood won the Sanremo Music Festival this year with Soldi and went to shoot a film clip that looks like it was recorded at his nonna’s place. Mahmood also sings one of the verses in Arabic (his father is Egyptian), noteworthy considering this year’s competition is being hosted in Israel.
Zero Gravity by Kate Miller-Heidke (Australia)
Australia? In Eurovision? You’d better bloody believe it! The Aussies have been in Eurovision since 2015 (the competition is like a second religion in Australia, which has a strong history of European migration). Kate Miller-Heidke’s offering is weird, operatic and crystal-encrusted. Douze Points s’il vous plaît.
Scream by Sergey Lazarev (Russia)
Just look at these lyrics: “Though my throat is on fire / My eyes will be liars / And they try to stay drier” — Russia is second favourite to win but that’s some first-rate phoning it in right there.
She Got Me by Luca Hänni (Switzerland)
The hook in this song is “She got me dirty dancing” which my friend insists is about that feeling when your crush gets you a Patrick Swayze DVD on sale.
The best and weirdest Eurovision entries of all time
How do you choose your favorite child? How do you catch a moonbeam in your hand? After 63 song contests, there is SO. MUCH. GOLD. Let’s relive the hands down, without a doubt, must-watch songs from Eurovision history… as a drinking game.
Hard Rock Hallelujah by Lordi (Finland, 1st place, 2006)
Let’s start with the esoteric shall we? Finland’s Lordi melted the faces of the entire Eurovision crowd in 2006 with their half-death-metal, half-praise-music hit Hard Rock Hallelujah. Oh, and they were cosplaying as demonic hellbeasts. Drink: When lead singer Mr Lordi opens up his demon wings.
Rise like a Phoenix by Conchita Wurst (Austria, 1st place, 2014)
Thomas Neuwirth might have a breathtaking voice, but his stage persona Conchita Wurst is a cut above anything we’ve seen at Eurovision in years. When she took the stage in Eurovision 2014, she wasn’t a campy drag queen in a beard and a dress — she was transcendent. Drink: When you start rethinking your perceptions of gender.
Dancing Lasha Tumbai by Verka Serduchka (Ukraine, 2nd place, 2007)
It has been 12 years since Verka Serduchka exploded the Eurovision stage and they’re still prying pieces of disco ball out of the rafters. This song is unexplainable, the costumes are impossible and it is still the best — the BEST — example of Eurovision you will ever see. Drink: All the liquor on the table and then start dancing on top of it.
Euphoria by Loreen (Sweden, 1st place, 2012)
This will always be the best Eurovision song, accept no substitutes. When it’s 3 a.m. and you get a bigger response to a Eurovision track than you do for Darude’s Sandstorm you know you’ve got a beat that drops and a song that slays. Drink: A shot of tequila when the chorus hits.
Party for Everybody by Buranovskiye Babushki (Russia, 2nd place, 2012)
Look, it’s just a group of Russian nanas on stage, baking cookies in their oven while — what’s this?! Oh you better BELIEVE the beat just dropped! It’s a party for everybody and these Babushki are ready to get lit. Drink: Your best vodka.
Let’s raise a toast to Eurovision, in all its fabulous glory.
This story was originally posted May 13, 2019 at 10:50 p.m. PDT.
Updated on May 14, 2019 at 7:00 p.m. PDT to include details about US stream availability.