Arts and CultureMusicNew YorkSan Francisco

A Survival Guide to Eurovision, Europe’s Magical Singing Contest

Updated: May 15, 2016 10:46
The Bay's best newsletter for underground events & news


The United States is known to be a country of immigrants, many of which originally were broke ass Europeans. Perhaps due to the country’s comparatively recent existence, born and bred Americans will often claim their roots in the Old Country. If, like me, you feel the need to flee towards a continent with an overall economy about as powerful as a bubble bath, in order to survive you have to learn cultural tendencies, history, and new languages.

However, none of these things are remotely as important as the Eurovision Song Contest, the most incredibly ridiculous thing to grace your eyeballs.

As Americans, it seems like we’re kept in the dark about this (probably definitely because of the Illuminati, obviously perhaps). However, every human in Europe knows of it, and their reactions towards it range from white-hot hatred, to tepid meh-ness, to thinking it’s hilarious, to genuinely liking it.

Eurovision is a televised song contest which features mostly European countries (and occasionally countries that have nothing to do with anything, like Australia). What began as a dignified, continent-wide musical celebration has now morphed into a perfect fusion of terrible ballads and terrible Europop, which is just great.  This year, it happened on the 14th of May.


  • It was created in 1956 to lessen Post World War 2 tensions. Now, it is “one of the most watched non-sporting events in the world.”
  • It’s a song competition in which countries submit an original song performed by an entertainer of their choice.
  • Not every European country is in it, and the countries that participate aren’t necessarily European (they simply have to be part of the European Broadcasting Union).
  • Spain, The United Kingdom, France, and Germany automatically qualify (known as The Big Four) because they pay buttloads of money to finance the contest. They were once known as the Big Five when Italy also paid to qualify, but since voting was based less on merit and more on geo-political ties, they dropped out. All the other countries have to make it through two rounds of semi-finals and be legitimately good.
  • Voting is a clusterfuck. In a nutshell, the winner is determined by votes from the countries in the EBU. These votes are a 50/50 combination of televoting and a local panel of experts. Nations aren’t allowed to vote for their own entries, and they can assign a tier of points to the competitors, the highest being 12.One could look at the Eurovision voting tendencies (at least, recently) and be able to draw some pretty accurate conclusions about the political atmosphere. For example, all the Eastern European countries tend to vote for the political powerhouse that is Russia, regardless of whether their act was good or not (spoiler – they’re all equally bad). I was told, however, that beyond Mother Russia, it’s more about physical proximity than political context (prime example, Albania voted for Italy).
  • In mentioning Eurovision to the French, Slovenian, German, and the Spanish alike, the reaction was more or less akin to telling them you were going to watch Jersey Shore while gouging your eyes out with a very boring and irrelevant spoon.
  • The United Kingdom, for some reason, likes it more than any other country. The show darling is Graham Norton, an Irish TV presenter who comments on each act and for all intents and purposes seems to hate everything about anything that ever happens during the competition. He is sassy as hell.
  • In the United Kingdom people will usually (ahem…every year) celebrate Eurovision’s cheesy glory by having a big party and playing drinking games. You pick the name of a country out of a hat and from then on, well, that’s your country. Expected to be deported back there tomorrow.


For some magical reason still unknown to me, I was invited to one of these hootenannies. My night was mainly hours of being yelled at to DRINK NOW while I sat, paralyzed by confusion. By the end of the night, though, I was cheering and screaming at the TV along with everyone. The winner of last year’s Eurovision was Måns Zelmerlöw from Sweden, singing Heroes, an epic club jam featuring an army of plump stick figures wearing overalls and tiny hats.


I had been told that Eurovision would be a lot worse; it seems as though 2015’s edition was simply a collection of lame ballads rather than the kitchy madness that I had been promised. To spare you guys the same disappointment, here’s a list of the best of the best so that you can have your own private Eurovision party (and yes, you are expected to play the drinking game, alone or not).


  • 1958, Nel Blu Dipinto di Blu (Volare), Domenico Modugno (Italy). This is was I think the biggest revelation of the week, for me. Did you know that the infamous song was originally spawned by one of the early Eurovision contests? Do you care as much as I do?? No??? Well, here’s the video, anyway.domenico-modugno-nel-blu-dipinto-di-blu-volare-eurovision-italy-1958.2
  • 2014, Rise Like a Phoenix, Conchita Wurst (Austria). Perhaps heralding the changing times in Europe, the winner of last year’s competition was a drag queen! Video hereconchita-wurst-rise-like-a-phoenix-2014-austria-eurovision.2



For a variety of reasons ranging from total misguidedness, to self-sabotage (the winning country hosts the following year’s contest and we all know Europe’s broke as ever), to shits and giggles, sometimes the country’s submissions are terrible. Therefore, we should all watch them.

  • 2012, Party for Everybody, Buranovskiye Babushki (Russia). Pretty much exactly what it looks like. Enjoy.2012-Party-for-Everybody-Buranovskiye-Babushki-Russia-Eurovision
  • 2006, Hard Rock Hallelujah, Lordi (Finland). A metal-looking and vanilla-sounding performance by the scary northern country, which actually won. Check out the terrifying fun here.2006-hard-rock-hallelujah-lordi-finland-eurovision
  • 2007, Dancing Lasha Tumbai, Verka Serduchka (Ukraine). If a disco ball and your school lunch lady had a baby on an airplane and then took a bunch of LSD and performed at a Bar Mitzva. Curious? Look no furtherdancing-lasha-tumbai-verka-serduchka-ukraine-eurovision-2007
  • 2008, Baila el Chiki Chiki, Rodolfo Chikilicuatre (Spain). Spain decided to dress up like Elvis and play a toy guitar while women flail around him in tiny dresses blurring the line between good ole Mediterranean humor and raging sexism. Judge away here!spain-eurovision-2008-baila-el-chiki-chiki-spain-rodolfo-chikilicuatre
  • 2006, We Are the Winners, LT United (Lithuania). This one is a chart-topping sports anthem (if sports anthems topped charts) announcing “We are the winners of Eurovision” through a gold megaphone, featuring a beautiful moment with a crazy dancing person and an electric violin, herelithuania-we-are-the-winners-LT-United-Eurovision-2006

All credit to Eurovision TV 

Like this article? Make sure to sign up for our mailing list so you never miss a goddamn thing!
Previous post

Off Menu: The Best Places to Eat Organ Meat in the Mission

Next post

North Half of Dolores Park Reopens on June 18th!

Rae Bathgate - Down and Out and Overseas

Rae Bathgate - Down and Out and Overseas

Rae, known also (depending on the country) as Rachelle/Raquel/ Rachele (and often sadly mistaken as Richard, because biblical names are hard you guys) is an aspiring writer and now sort of a dick for having actually defined herself as such. She was born and lived over the first half of her life in Italy; she then moved to the States and lived a good ten years there (including in SF). Currently back in Europe, she is neither a hapless American tourist nor a snobby European jerkyjerk; luckily for you, she is some weird ungodly combination of both. Also, she’s broke and is probably stealing bread crumbs from pigeons.