Music Reviews
Eurovision 2024

Written by Mark
Host of The Crooked Spire
Wednesday, 5-7 a.m.

Eurovision is slightly better known in the US these days - indeed, St Louis’ own Arkadin Cinema dedicated a night to the greatest performances in its history, last week! But for many decades it was one of the more puzzling aspects of European culture as far as everyone who wasn’t European (or Australian) was concerned. A song contest, among countries who seemed to delight in declaring war on each other? A bubbly bit of fun that has caused real, serious international political incidents? A glorious camp celebration of the most colourful parts of our culture which is the single most watched television event of the year, even in the more “conservative” parts of Europe? Yes to all these!

I first became aware of it when Buck’s Fizz won for the UK with “Making Your Mind Up” in 1981, featuring a sudden costume change which is one of the more enduring images of the entire history of the competition. I’ve watched it ever since, with my mother when she was still around to enjoy it (even just with her at the end of a phone line when I was at university); then with parties of groups of friends, and for the last seven years, at 1 p.m. CST on a Saturday in May, usually on my own, with an occasional assist from my wonderful wife. 

Let’s talk history! It all starts with the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), one of the post-World War 2 efforts to bring us closer together - they didn’t let West Germany join originally, and of course, the countries behind the Iron Curtain were right out, although they maintained a friendly relationship until their organisation merged with the EBU in 1993. There was a technical side of this organisation, making sure frequencies and national airwaves were respected, but a large part of what they did was allow member broadcasters to share knowledge and footage with each other, meaning if there was a news event in, say, Italy, the rest of Europe could just use Italian news footage of it. 

Making this more confusing is it’s not just limited to Europe - Algeria, Tunisia, Lebanon, Egypt, and Morocco are all long-term members, although they’ve never competed in Eurovision; Israel, also a member, has competed since 1973 (more on them later, though). 

This is a horrible mangling of a very complicated part of European history, but the broad strokes are there. During the 1950s, the EBU had a committee tasked with coming up with ways of bringing the broadcasters closer together, they had the idea of a song contest, and 68 years after the first one, it’s still going strong, bigger and better than ever. Whether they’ve brought Europe closer together is a tricky question to answer, though, so here are some of the largest non-musical events in Eurovision history.


The first protest occurred in 1964 when a brave soul got on stage with a banner that read “Boycott Franco and Salazar” (Franco being the fascist dictator of Spain, Salazar the almost equally reprehensible leader of Portugal). Russia has been suspended from the EBU and banned from taking part since it invaded Ukraine, and the presence of Israel in the competition means that the eligible Arab nations refuse to participate. Many parties around Europe have been canceled this year due to the EBU being afraid of anti-Israeli protests, also, and security has been massively increased. 

Portugal’s 1974 entry being used as one of the signals to start what became the Carnation Revolution is also pretty noteworthy, I think. 

Blatant cheating

Franco again! When Spain hosted the contest in 1968, there were strong rumours that Franco sent his agents to other countries to bribe their voting panels, and he forced Spain’s broadcaster to change entrant with only a week to go, as the original singer wanted to sing in Catalan and Franco wanted Spanish. The UK sent Cliff Richard, then (and now) a huge star, and he was the heavy favourite, but was beaten by one point. 

The history of voting at Eurovision is odd and convoluted and worth an article on its own, but it goes something like this. Because European infrastructure couldn’t handle it, until 1998 all voting was done by panels selected by the national broadcaster. This led to the British TV commentator, Terry Wogan, to be openly contemptuous of the voting process - for instance, Greece and Cyprus always gave each other the maximum 12 points, and neither gave Turkey anything. That Greece controls the half of Cyprus where the broadcaster is located is presumably quite important. Similar issues mean Russia and Belarus are often very generous to each other, as are the Scandinavian countries, as are Moldova and Romania. These problems have lessened but definitely not gone away altogether since the advent of phone voting in the late 90s, and indeed scoring is now split between jury votes from each individual country and a Europe-wide popular vote due to worries over member countries not tallying phone votes entirely accurately. 

Is this cheating, or is this just a cultural diaspora meaning the people of those countries are likely to like the same sort of songs? Well, it’s obviously the former, as much as the EBU would like to try and convince you otherwise. But we love it anyway! But, good old-fashioned blatant cheating reared its head again recently - in 2022 the jury votes from Azerbaijan, Georgia, Montenegro, Poland, Romania and San Marino were all scrapped due to “irregular voting patterns”. 

Entrant controversy

Dana International
Dana has a long Eurovision history, having failed to qualify for her country in 1995, winning in spectacular fashion in 1998, writing a song for another performer in 2005, and entering again in 2011, failing to progress past the semi-final stage. She’s also trans and from Israel, a country where more Orthodox and conservative elements tried hard to get her removed from the show. They failed, and Dana has had a long and successful career. 

Conchita Wurst
Conchita is the stage name of drag queen Thomas Neuwirth, and his bearded look seems to have really really upset some people, with one Russian politician, Vitaly Milonov, urging the country’s broadcaster to boycott Eurovision, saying it was "blatant propaganda of homosexuality and spiritual decay" and referring to him as the "pervert from Austria". This was in 2014, by the way. We’ve come a long way, but there’s still a long way to go. 

China and the Middle East agree on something
To its credit, the EBU banned a Chinese channel from showing the contest in 2018 after it blurred rainbow flags and tattoos in the audience; China also censored the Irish entry, where the video showed an LGBTQ+ love story. It appears they haven’t exactly moved much on this issue, and in 2021 their National Radio and TV Administration added a ban on "sissy men and other abnormal esthetics" to its rules. 

Eurovision is shown around the Middle East, and in 1978 Jordan replaced Israel’s entry with a few minutes of flowers; when it became obvious that Israel was going to win, they just ended the broadcast early and claimed that Belgium (who finished second) won. Several countries in that area have laws against promoting Israeli content, so simply don’t show the contest. 

The USA catches a stray
In 1981, at the beginning of Ronald Reagan's presidency, Luxembourg (which has a smaller population than the greater St Louis area) sent a rather scrappy entry, in French, called "Maybe It Isn't America (Because America Isn't the Be-All)".


But it’s not all weird European politics and bad songs! Some mega-hits have been launched thanks to their exposure at Eurovision, and here are a few of them. 

Domenico Modugno - "Nel blu, dipinto di blu"
This came third in the 1958 contest and would go on to top the Billboard charts for 5 weeks, win Grammys for record of the year and song of the year (at the first-ever awards), and go on to sell over 18 million copies. You might not recognise that title, but you’ll definitely recognise its later incarnation when Dean Martin released “Volare (Nel Blu, Dipinto Di Blu)”.
ESC 1958 01 - Italy - Domenico Modugno - Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blu (Volare)

Abba - “Waterloo”
The most famous Eurovision song of all, which launched one of the greatest ever careers in pop music. They’re still going strong today! (in hologram form)
ABBA Waterloo Eurovision 1974 (High Quality)

Brotherhood of Man - “Save Your Kisses For Me”
Remains the biggest-selling Eurovision song of all time in the UK, and was a hit all over the world. Is it kind of cheesy? Yes. Would you pop it on the turntable for fun in this year of our lord 2024? Probably not. But you have to recognise that level of success. 
Eurovision 1976 - United Kingdom

Teach In - “Ding-A-Dong” 
This is the perfect example of a strain of Eurovision mockery that ran rampant for many years - it’s all just gibberish! This is part of a proud tradition of Eurovision songs which are nonsense, joining “Boom Bang-A-Bang”, “A-Ba-Ni-Bi” and “Diggi-Loo, Diggi-Ley”, and is a great song, even making it to no.22 on the Billboard charts in 1975. 
Teach In - Dinge-dong (Ding-a-dong) • TopPop

Loreen - Euphoria
Reached number 1 in sixteen different countries across Europe, more than any other Eurovision winner. There was some criticism at the time as it was seen as too good for the competition like Sweden were cheating by actually putting effort in. A huge favourite before the competition, it pretty much swept the board.
Loreen - Euphoria | Sweden 🇸🇪 | Live - Grand Final - Eurovision 2012

Daoi Freyr - 'Think About Things' (Iceland, 2020)
This was an overwhelming favourite before the competition, an insanely catchy modern pop song that mirrored “Save Your Kisses For Me” by being a love song dedicated to the singer’s infant child (spoiler!) Unfortunately, the 2020 competition was canceled, and as the rules stated a song couldn’t be entered more than once, when they took part in 2021 their entry wasn’t quite as good and they didn’t win. But this is almost perfect and deserves every bit of fame it’s received. 
Daði og Gagnamagnið - Think About Things - Iceland 🇮🇸 - Official Video - Eurovision 2020

Did you watch it on Peacock over the weekend? Let me know if you agree with the result! I liked Switzerland’s entry, but Ireland didn’t really gel with me. Perhaps not the best contest in recent memory, but still a lot of fun. 

I’ll be playing some of my favourite Eurovision songs, and sharing some stories, on Thursday the 16th, at 10 a.m. (if you miss it, it’ll be on the archive for a few weeks). I hope you can tune in!

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