The History of the ESC
After WW II a pan-European movement developed, meaning that many European countries wanted to cooperate in several ways. Politically, economically as well as socially. Therefore, the European Broadcasting Union ( = EBU) was founded.
Originally the ESC was called “Grand Prix Eurovision de la Chanson” and it was organized by the EBU. Today it is one of the longest-running televised competitions in the world. The first broadcast of the EBU was the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. in 1953. In 1954 “Te deum” composed by Marc-Antoine Charpentier was chosen as the signature melody for every Eurovision broadcast and it still is today.
The ESC first took place in 1956. Only seven nations participated, every nation had to sing in their country's national language. At first the songs were simple sing-alongs but accompanied by a live orchestra. The strict rules about the music and the language of the songs were first relaxed in 1973. In 1974 ABBA won the ESC with “Waterloo”. Today, the music has to be play-back, the singing has to be live and there can only be six persons involved on stage. Also, the song text cannot include political messages or content that damages the competition or any other country. The song has to be an original song, covers are not allowed. In addition to that, the performance cannot be longer than three minutes and the artist has to be at least 16 years old (there is also the Junior Eurovision Song Contest for younger children, which started in 2003).
The Voting systems also changed over the years. The point counting system as we know it today was introduced in 1975, but back then, it was just internal juries in every country that made the decisions. In 1997 the first experiments with televoting took place in five countries. The public could first vote for their favorite song over the phone. This experiment was a great success, so in 1998 all countries were encouraged to use televoting wherever possible. Despite all those changes, there is one rule, that has not changed since the beginning: No country can vote for its own artist and song.
After the end of the Cold War in the early 1990s more and more eastern countries were able to join the competition. Due to the increasing number of participants, a semi-final was introduced in 2004 that limited the number of artists for the Grand Final. Since 2008 there have been even two semi-finals. In order to qualify for the Grand Final, each country has to be in the Top-10 of one of both semi-finals, unless the “Big Five”. These are France, Germany, Spain, Italy and the United Kingdom. If you are part of the “Big Five” your place in the Grand Final is safe. Do they have special qualifications to get this special treatment? Well, they simply make the largest amounts of financial contributions to the EBU, so their advantage was introduced in the year 2000.
Calculating all of these factors together, there are now 26 participants in the Grand Final: 10 from each semi-final, the “Big Five” and the artist of the host country. There only have been two exceptions in 2011 and 2016.
“Open up” in Rotterdam
In 2002 the competition first got an own motto and a small logo from the host country. 2020's Eurovision Song Contest in Rotterdam had to be cancelled for the first time ever. The competition in Rotterdam got postponed to 2021 but is still staying in Rotterdam. The slogan this year is “Open up”. Open up for what exactly? The intention is, that everyone can choose how to complete the slogan individually. They wanted a theme that reflects the Dutch mentality, something the Dutch can identify with. This was the outcome: A slogan that represents an openminded country, with people that speak their mind directly and respect each other. In addition to that, the slogan is a statement against increasing polarization, an unfortunate spirit of our time. The logo accompanying the slogan represents Rotterdam as the beating heart of Europe, being connected to all the capitals there are. “Come together” was the slogan of 2016’s ESC in Stockholm but is again linked to this year’s theme.
What do you think about the Eurovision Song Contest?
“Overdrawn”, “Cheesy” or “Unnecessary” are words I often hear when mentioning the ESC. I need to admit, some performances really are over the top. The songs are either very profound or non-sense. In 2016 the Swedish hosts Petra Mede and Måns Zelmerlöw (winner of the ESC in 2015) created a guide to the “perfect” ESC performance. The whole song is called “Love, love, peace, peace” and in my opinion it is the perfect sarcastic answer to the whole discussion: The overly emotional performances as well as the critics referring to those performances.
There have also been a lot of public discussions over the voting system. Some people suspect countries from an overarching cultural space to prefer their neighbor countries. They are demanding a new voting system in order to focus on the performances and leaving the nationalities aside in order to prevent alliances. If there could be an even fairer voting system is to be questioned as well as if a change would be truly necessary. In my opinion there are just Europeans choosing their favorite song in this competition.
When I was younger, I once watched a video where Americans reacted to the ESC and one man said: “What is this? Country idol?!” I found it so funny that he didn’t know Eurovision. Later I realized how special Eurovision actually is, because Europe is perfect to host this diverse competition. We are able to celebrate all cultures and varieties our continent has to offer and everyone can watch. That’s what I always enjoyed the most about it. I need to admit that I do not like most of the songs or performances there are and the success of my home country has also been very modest ever since it started. Still, I like the show and the effort organizers as well as artists put in it. In my opinion the competition was not created to be overly competitive, but to enjoy and appreciate the variety we have.