In just a few days’ time, Tel Aviv will play host to the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest. Things kick-off with the two semi-finals, leading up to the Grand Final on Saturday 18 May.
This year’s contest will be the 64th edition since it was inaugurated back in 1956. Here, we will take you back to the very first contest and highlight some of the most important changes, facts and moments in the history of Eurovision. But first, check out all the latest Eurovision betting odds.
1956: the inaugural contest
The first contest was held in Switzerland in 1956. There were just seven countries in the inaugural contest, which was held in the Teatro Kursaal in Lugano. Those seven countries had to perform two songs each, with Switzerland and Luxembourg opting for the same artist performing both songs, while the remaining nations chose two different artists.
There was no public vote for this edition, as each country had a two-member jury to cast votes. The countries which participated were: Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and hosts Switzerland, who were victorious. The following year’s contest was held in Germany and since then, the winner has always hosted, barring five occasions between 1960 and 1980, usually down to financial constraints.
1970s: rules on language
Originally, it seemed obvious for participants to sing in their native languages, but there were no rules in place restricting which language(s) songs could be sung in. However, Sweden bucked this trend in 1965 when Ingvar Wixell’s song Absent Friend was sung in English. He finished 10th, but after that, the EBU became strict on the rules and national languages had to be used in all lyrics – including Maltese when Malta made its debut in 1971.
In 1973, the rules became relaxed after countries realised that they’d only be successful if the jury knew what they were singing with songs such as Boom Bang-a-bang and La La La being successful; and the following year, ABBA won the contest with Waterloo. In 1977, the rules regarding language were re-imposed – and this was enforced until 1999. Since then, songs can be sung in any language and even some fictional and non-existent languages have been used! Sanomi, by Belgian band Urban Trad, came second in the 2003 contest; see what you think of the below.
1990s: an increase in performers
As we mentioned, the inaugural contest saw just seven countries take part and while this number reached double figures the following year, it didn’t regularly exceed 20 until the late 1980s. The end of the Cold War in the 1990s saw a sudden increase in participants, with many of the ‘Eastern Bloc’ countries competing for the first time. In 1993, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Croatia and Slovenia made their debuts; while in 1994, Estonia, Hungary, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Russia and Slovakia joined the contest. An increase in countries wishing to participate has meant the next change needed to be implemented
2004: the need for a semi-final
2004 saw a semi-final introduced, while four years later, a second semi-final was added. As a result, in 2008, a record number of countries entered, with 43 vying for a place in the Grand Final – a number that has been matched twice, but never beaten. As of 2008, all countries, except the ‘Big Five’ (France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom) as well as the host nation, must be in a semi-final top-10 to qualify for the Final.
2016: Europe, your votes please
The rules on voting have changed over the years, but the most recent format was introduced in 2016. The number of points awarded for each country’s favourite 10 songs has been in place since 1975 and sees the favourite receive 12 points, second-favourite 10 points, and the remaining eight songs awarded 1-8 points.
Advancements have seen the public televote added to the jury votes of each country, thus giving the winner a potentially higher score, while also reducing the likelihood of a country receiving ‘nul points’. The jury votes are still read out country by country; but the overall public votes for each country are added together and the sum is awarded to each one, from the lowest total to the highest. Still, don’t understand? This video explains it: