Are you ready for Eurovision? An annual celebration of music, culture and questionable fashion choices, the Eurovision Song Contest is a live broadcast international song competition in which members of the European Broadcasting Union – plus Australia! – compete each year.
Since its establishment in 1956, over the years Eurovision has been known to create some major pop music icons. For example, Swedish band ABBA won in the 1974 contest with Waterloo, which would go on to sell over five million records. Eurovision also gave us Celine Dion, Olivia Newton-John and, in more recent years, Italian rock band Måneskin.
Whether you’re an avid Eurovision party host or you prefer to watch it on the sofa with a bottle of wine and many, many snacks, it’s guaranteed to deliver some unforgettable moments. To help you prepare, we’ve compiled 15 words and phrases to get the Eurovision party started, broken down into four categories: the music, the voting, the technical stuff, and the inside scoop.
Eurovision has been the home of some weird and wonderful songs for almost 70 years. These musical words will help you sound like you know what you’re talking about when talking over the official commentary on Saturday night.
Traditionally, an anthem is defined as a song which is used to represent a particular nation, society, or group, sung on special occasions. In Eurovision, an anthem is designed to inspire the crowds and whip the voters into a frenzy. They can be stirring, powerful or bombastic, but the one thing anthems have in common is that they’re always delightfully dramatic. Choreography is limited, and the singer is often striking a defiant power pose.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, we have the ballad. Eurovision Ballads are often slow and dripping in romance, designed to evoke a heartfelt sigh with a melody that will be stuck in your brain for weeks. While a ballad entry can kill the party vibe pretty quickly if it’s over- sincere, it’s also an extremely popular choice. According to one fan site, ballads usually account for about 40% of the total Eurovision entries each and every year.
Nothing beats a good bop. A truly great Eurovision bop is one that transports you to a sticky dancefloor in a European club you’ll never remember the name of. A bop is up-tempo and usually full of synth or some other kind of electronic influence and has a thumping bassline. Interestingly, the word comes from bebop, a form of jazz that originated in the 1940s. Now it’s shorthand to refer to a catchy song.
Of course, it wouldn’t be Eurovision without Europop. Europop tunes are usually a bop, and it is defined as popular music from continental Europe with simple melodies and lyrics usually sung in English. Famous examples of Europop include anything by ABBA and the 1997 hit Barbie Girl by Danish-Norwegian dance-pop group Aqua, which became Europop’s greatest global success to date – it’s been streamed over 1 billion times on YouTube alone.
This one spans both music vocabulary and Eurovision insider vocabulary. Fast-food music means pop music, and this term was coined by the 2017 Eurovision winner Salvador Sobral, who said during his winning speech: “We live in a world of disposable music; fast-food music without any content. I think this could be a victory for music with people who make music that actually means something. Music is not fireworks; music is feeling.” A bold move in a competition revered for its bubble-gum pop aesthetic.
With a European contest comes some German vocabulary. Schlager refers to a type of pop music that contains catchy instruments and sentimental lyrics. Schlager songs are typically non-confrontational, keeping things light-hearted, i.e., no politics. Long-term fans of Eurovision will recognise schlager: it first appeared in the 1970s and continued well into the early 2000s, when it integrated with Europop, Eurodisco, and Eurodance.
The technical stuff
Whether you’re a first-time Eurovision watcher or a lifelong devotee, there are some key technical terms that are worth knowing if you want to understand the Contest and, most importantly, the voting system.
Given that the Eurovision Song Contest was initially established as a way to bring together the countries of Europe after World War II, it’s probably no surprise that both Eurovision entries and Eurovision voting is occasionally influenced by politics. A well-known phenomenon in Eurovision voting is bloc voting, in which countries in a bloc will give each other the most posts in order to preserve political relationships, since they are neighbours.
The most persistent Eurovision earworms tend to come from the voting portion of the evening. Douze, meaning ‘twelve’ in French, is the highest possible number of points a country can award and this has been the case since 1975. The exclamation ‘douze points!’ is often accompanied by jubilant screaming in the Contest’s green room. Regardless of which country says it, it’s often announced in French, a tradition that has stuck after Luxembourg were awarded the first 12 points in 1980.
If douze is the maximum number of points a Eurovision contestant can earn, then nul is the worst result. Nul points is considered the ultimate humiliation, as it means that a song has failed to win a single point from both the professional national juries AND the viewers voting from home. The first instance of nul points happened in 1962 when Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands and Spain all failed to score a single point. Quelle horreur!
Some years, we find ourselves faced with an embarrassment of Contest riches. In 1969, four countries tied for first place, including the UK’s very own Lulu. Hence, in 1970, the powers that be introduced the tiebreak rule. When two countries or more receive the same number of points, the country that received the most 12-point votes wins. If it’s not possible to declare a winner on that basis, this will continue with 10 points, 8 points and so on. If there’s still no clear winner, the win goes to the country that performed the earliest in the Contest.
A relic from the past. Once upon a time, Eurovision viewers all over the continent would be continuously invited after every song to vote for their winner by dialling a number. This was first introduced in 1997 to a select number of countries. Now, viewers can vote via SMS, the Eurovision website or the dedicated Eurovision app.
The inside scoop
You’ve got the basics down and you’re confident you can hold a decent conversation on the night. Ready to learn some more fan terminology you won’t find in the dictionary?
The Big Five are a group of participating broadcasters who make the largest financial contribution to the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) and the Contest itself. To date, the Big Five includes France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK. While it doesn’t mean much in terms of the actual Contest, it did grant them immunity from relegation regardless of their placement in the early 2000s and now means they don’t have to compete in the semi-finals.
Curse of song 2
It’s a truth universally known the country that plays the second song of the night at Eurovision will never win. No, it really is. The curse of song 2 is an infamous and well-documented phenomenon that the country that performs the second song of the night will either do so poorly they come in final place or they’ll get nul points.
Barbara Dex Award
Did we mention that Eurovision is home to some truly bizarre fashion choices? Famous weird and wonderful costumes in the Eurovision hall of fame include Ukraine’s Verka Serduchka, whose bright silver space-inspired outfit accompanied with an eye-catching star headdress and, most famously, Barbara Dex, who wore a memorable handmade dress in 1993. In honour of Dex, fan site House of Eurovision created the Barbara Dex Award, annually given to the worst-dressed artist of the year.
Last but not least in our bumper crop of Eurovision vocabulary, we have the Founding Seven. This is a name which honours the group of countries who appeared in the very first Eurovision Song Contest in 1956. The Founding Seven are Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Switzerland. Of the original seven, four are among the most decorated of all time, with France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and the UK all winning the Contest five times. Happy Eurovision weekend to all who celebrate it!
By Rachel Quin
Rachel Quin is a freelance marketer and copywriter with a love of language, books and cats.
All opinions expressed on this blog are those of the individual writers, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or policies of Collins, or its parent company, HarperCollins.