The weird and wonderful history of the Eurovision Song Contest

Banner for Eurovision 2022 in Turin
The Eurovision Song Contest will be hosted in Turin in 2022 after Italian rock band Måneskin won in 2021 | Image: Shutterstock

Since 1956, the Eurovision Song Contest has graced our screens and attracted millions of viewers across the continent and across the world. This wacky, unusual, and undoubtedly European affair has become essential viewing for many households every year, but where did it all begin?

Eurovision is internationally recognised as the world's longest-running annual international televised music competition, and it's also up there with the world's longest-running TV shows. Let's take it back to the very start.


The Beginnings of Eurovision

The first-ever outing of the Eurovision Song Contest was on 24th May 1956 in Lugano, Switzerland. It was started by the European Broadcasting Union and was the idea of its director, Marcel Bezencon, who suggested a TV show based on the Italian Festival di Sanremo. The inaugural show saw Swiss entrant, ‘Refrain’ by Lys Assia, take the prize, and a new hit was launched. The format has changed significantly since its debut, but the contest remains popular today.

The popularity of Eurovision is not limited to Europe, with the show broadcasting around the world and attracting fans in the US, South Korea, Egypt, Hong Kong, Canada, and many others.

Eurovision Format

As more countries have become involved in the show, the format has changed. Over 40 countries now compete, so the show involves several knock-out rounds and semi-finals before the final 26 acts take to the stage on finals night. This is when the televote takes place, and we listen to each country's scores being read out at the end of the show. All 43 countries get a vote, even though only 26 perform.

There has been an apparent trend towards political voting, where countries vote for their neighbours and shun nations they'd had issues with. This has been combatted to a degree by introducing national juries who have their professional judgement added to the public vote.

Some countries get to participate in Eurovision every year, regardless of the previous year's results. Since 2010 there has been a 'Big Five’ as France, Germany, Spain, UK, and Italy always get a free pass into the Grand Final. This is due to them paying the most to the competition organisers. This, too, is not without controversy as other nations don't believe any country should automatically get to perform, and in 2013, Turkey even withdrew in protest.

Notable Eurovision Winners

Eurovision is so popular because of its eccentricity and because audiences never know what is coming next. In recent years, there has been a bit of snobbery around Eurovision (especially in the UK) and we can't imagine any esteemed recording artists getting involved. However, this wasn't always the case.

The most famous and well-known of all Eurovision acts has got to be ABBA, with their 1974 hit ‘Waterloo’ playing a key role in their worldwide ascent to the top. Celine Dion sang and won for Switzerland in 1988, and both Lulu and Bucks Fizz are well-known UK winners from 1969 and 1981. In modern times, the most recognisable and famous acts include Austria's Conchita Wurst in 2014 and Sweden's Loreen with ‘Euphoria’ in 2012.


Five Fun Facts about Eurovision

It's over 60 years old, so Eurovision has quite a lot of history behind it, but we've pulled out five top facts you need to know about this enduringly popular music contest:

1. The longest Eurovision song was five minutes and nine seconds long

‘Corde Della Mia Chitarra’, the Italian entry from 1957, ranks as the longest Eurovision song on record. At five minutes and nine seconds, it is considerably longer than anything you'll hear today. There have since been time limits set on songs allowed in the competition and these days, three minutes is your absolute maximum.

2. Five barefoot winners

The Eurovision song contest has had five barefoot singers take the title. These are Sandie Shaw in 1967, Sertab Erener in 2003, Dima Bilan in 2008, Loreen in 2012 and Emmelie De Forest in 2013.


3. Ireland tops the charts

Ireland still holds the record for the most victories in the competition. They've won the contest seven times in 1970, 1980, 1987, 1992, 1993, 1994, and 1996. They also have the rare success of winning three consecutive years in a row.

4. 44 years to victory for Finland

Finland had 44 years of trying before they finally won the competition in 2006. Since their debut in 1961, they had only won 12 points three times before 2006. The Nordic nation’s maiden victory finally came in 2006, thanks to a group called Lordi. Their heavy metal hit ‘Hard Rock Hallelujah’ was slightly different from the usual Europop at the competition!

5. Australia is in Europe Now

OK, maybe not quite, but they do have entry into the Eurovision Song Contest. It may seem a little odd, but their entry was permitted as a goodwill gesture during the competition's 60th anniversary in 2015. They even came second in 2016, so they may be crowned winners before long.

The Eurovision Song Contest is an unmissable event for millions worldwide. It brings fun and absurdity and makes musical history every year it continues.