Performers from 37 countries are coming together May 9-13 in Liverpool, England, for the 67th annual Eurovision Song Contest. The winner gets the trophy and their country gets the right to host next year’s event, produced by the European Broadcasting Union (EBU).
From its humble beginnings in 1956, the contest has grown over the years to become one of the most anticipated live entertainment broadcasts, drawing a television audience of about 200 million viewers.
Each year, singers and groups from each participating country perform their song in one of two semi-finals. Viewers in the participating countries vote for their favourite acts, and the 10 highest scorers from each night will move to the grand finale. They are joined by the host country and the “Big Five” – comprising France, Germany, Spain, Italy and Britain – who are the largest contributors to the EBU.
After all the performances in the grand final, votes from the viewers and a jury panel from each participating country are combined to select the winner. This year, viewers from non-participating countries will also be allowed to vote for the first time as part of a “Rest of World” block.
Last year, Ukraine won by an overwhelming public vote, but because of the ongoing war with Russia, responsibility to host this year’s competition fell to the runner-up and eight-time host, the United Kingdom.
Swedish pop group ABBA debuted at the 1974 Eurovision with their winning song “Waterloo” and went on to enjoy lasting international success. Several famous singers have performed on the Eurovision stage with varying levels of success.
While Julio Iglesias and Celine Dion performed well at the contest and went on to have successful music careers, British singers Bonnie Tyler and Engelbert Humperdinck represented their country several years past their heyday, and didn’t fare quite as well in the contest.
Illustration of seven of the most famous performers in Eurovision history. In chronological order:
- Julio Iglesias got 4th place for Spain in 1970 with the song “Gwendolyne”
- ABBA won 1st place for Sweden in 1974 with “Waterloo”
- Olivia Newton-John got 4th place for Britain in 1974 with “Long Live Love”
- Katrina and the Waves won 1st place for Britain in 1997 with “Love Shines A Light”
- Celine Dion won 1st place for Switzerland in 1988 with “Ne Partez Pas Sans Moi”
- Engelbert Humperdinck got 25th place for Britain in 2012 with “Love Will Set You Free”
- Bonnie Tyler got 19th place for Britain in 2013 with “Believe In Me”
Some of the most famous songs in the Eurovision catalogue didn’t even need to win to have a global impact. Domenico Modugno’s Volare (Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blu) got third place for Italy in 1958, but won Grammy awards for record and song of the year, and was one of the first songs to make it to the top of the Billboard Hot 100. The song has since been covered by popular international musicians such as David Bowie, Paul McCartney and the Gipsy Kings.
In more recent years, some Eurovision contenders have enjoyed viral Internet fame. Moldova’s 2010 entry ranked 22nd out of the 25 participating countries, but their saxophonist became a meme dubbed “Epic Sax Guy”. Though the 2020 contest was cancelled due to COVID, Iceland’s song “Think About Things” by Dadi og Gagnamagnid became a viral dance challenge on TikTok and other social media.
BY THE NUMBERS
Seven countries participated in the first Eurovision Song Contest hosted by Switzerland in 1956. It was the only iteration when countries performed two songs, and the winner was determined by a secret jury vote. The contest was broadcast on radio as well as on television, as few Europeans had access to televisions at the time.
Infographic of the seven countries that participated in the first contest: Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Switzerland. Every country sent in two songs, and Switzerland won with the song “Refrain” by Lys Assia.
The number of participants has grown over the last six decades to represent more than 40 nations from all over Europe. A select few countries from outside the region, such Israel and Australia, have also become recurring participants. The largest number of participating countries was 43 - in 2008, 2011 and 2018.
Bar chart showing the growing number of participants in the contest over time. The contest started with seven countries in 1956, increasing to 13 in 1960. Turkey joined the contest in 1975, and Morocco participated just once, in 1980. The modern semi-final stages were introduced in 2004, allowing more countries to participate. Australia debuted among 40 countries in 2015, and the 2020 contest was cancelled due to COVID-19.
This year, 37 countries are participating: Albania, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Moldova, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, San Marino, Serbia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Ukraine and the United Kingdom.
To the finish line
Of all the Eurovision winners, Germany has made it to the most finals as part of the “Big Five” –the largest contributors to the EBU –who automatically qualify for the last round. Sweden has made it to the final almost every time it has participated, except for the 2010 contest in Norway where it placed 11th in the second semi-final.
Andorra is the only country that has never qualified for the finals, and last participated in 2009.
Bar chart showing the number of finals each winning country has qualified for. Sweden has made it to the finals 60 out of the 61 times it has competed. Latvia has qualified for the finals 10 times –the least of any winning country.
Glory and victory
With seven wins – four in the 1990s alone – Ireland holds the title for the most successful Eurovision contestant, closely followed by Sweden with six.
Eurovision saw a shift in the winning trends in the decade following the fall of the Soviet Union. Seven of the winners in the year 2000-2010 were Eastern European –Estonia, Latvia, Turkey, Ukraine, Greece, Serbia and Russia.
List of countries with the most wins:
- Ireland: 7 wins
- Sweden: 6 wins
- France, Luxembourg, Netherlands and Britain: 5 wins each
- Israel: 4 wins
- Italy, Denmark, Norway and Ukraine: 3 wins each
- Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Spain: 2 wins each
- Belgium, Monaco, Finland, Yugoslavia, Portugal, Greece, Turkey, Estonia, Russia, Latvia, Serbia, Azerbaijan: 1 win each
Though Ireland has the most wins, Ukraine has the highest ratio of wins to participation, having won in 2004, 2016, and in 2022 with “Stefania”, an ode to a mother performed by Kalush Orchestra.
Ukraine won 439 of the maximum possible 468 points, thanks to the overwhelming support of the viewing audience, and the win came just three months after Russia invaded the country. It is also the first Eurovision winning song to feature a rap.
Bar chart showing the number of times each country has won or reached the final as a percentage of the number of times they have participated in the contest. At 15%, Ukraine has the highest share of wins for their participation. Belgium has the lowest share, having won 0.016% of the times it has participated.
SETTING THE STAGE
The modern Eurovision is synonymous with a flashy audiovisual spectacle, but had more modest beginnings. The competition has grown over the decades to accommodate technological advances in set design and live broadcasting, along with the larger number of participants.
Illustration of a single singer on a small stage, with a live orchestra and a manual scoreboard.
The contest started with a small stage where countries were represented by just one singer or a duet. The contestants were accompanied by a live orchestra and sometimes by backup singers, and the show was broadcast on radio and television with a physical scoreboard that was updated manually.
Illustration of a singer on a stage with a 3-dimensional geometric backdrop, with a camera operator to the side.
The EBU began broadcasting the show in colour in 1968. Several contests in the 1970s and 1980s featured 3-dimensional stage backdrops with moveable geometric shapes that could be rearranged to give each performer a unique set. In 1971, the rules were changed to allow groups of 1-6 performers onstage, and ABBA claimed victory just 3 years later.
A group of five singers on a large stage, illuminated by colourful spotlights. The backdrop of the stage is decorated with an LED display, and there is a digital scoreboard to the left side of the stage.
Eurovision went digital in the 1980s – LED backdrops became more common and in 1988 a digital scorecard was introduced. The live orchestra was retired in 1999 as performers switched to using pre-recorded backing tracks.
A singer stands on a stage with an LED backdrop, lit by multiple spotlights from the ceiling and fireworks onstage.
The semi-finals were introduced in 2004, and by the 2010s the Eurovision Song Contest had become a massive light and sound show. The contest is often hosted in stadiums to accommodate the large audience and scale of the production.
SONGS OF EUROVISION
Reuters compiled all the Eurovision songs available on Spotify to create an audio archive for each country. We also analysed these archives to compare how each song measures against the rest using the six metrics Spotify assigns to each song.
Spotify’s metrics measure:
- acousticnessSongs primarily backed by acoustic rather than electronic instruments score high.
- valence Songs that are emotionally positive – happy, cheerful, euphoric sounding – score high.
- tempo Songs that are fast-paced score high.
- danceability Songs that have a beat you can dance to – often with consistent tempo and rhythm – score high.
- energy Songs that are typically fast, loud and noisy score high.
- loudness Songs that hit the highest decibel levels score high.
The values were normalised to a range where 0 is the minimum value for any Eurovision song and 1 is the maximum.
Spotify’s metrics measure:
Click on a country flag to explore their Eurovision entries.
Choose a country and then read the table below to see who represented them in each Eurovision contest, how their song fared in the competition and listen to the track on Spotify.
Eurovision entries: 18
Eurovision wins: 3
|Year||Artist||Song||Rank at finals||Winner||Event||Listen on Spotify|
|2023||TVORCHI||Heart Of Steel||Listen|
|2022||Kalush Orchestra||Stefania||1||Yes||Turin 2022||Listen|
|2018||MELOVIN||Under The Ladder||17||Lisbon 2018||Listen|
|2014||Mariya Yaremchuk||Tick - Tock||6||Copenhagen 2014||Listen|
|2013||Zlata Ognevich||Gravity||3||Malmö 2013||Listen|
|2012||Gaitana||Be My Guest||15||Baku 2012||Listen|
|2011||Mika Newton||Angel||4||Düsseldorf 2011||Listen|
|2010||Alyosha||Sweet People||10||Oslo 2010||Listen|
|2009||Svetlana Loboda||Be my Valentine! (Anti-crisis Girl)||12||Moscow 2009||Listen|
|2008||Ani Lorak||Shady Lady||2||Belgrade 2008||Listen|
|2007||Verka Serduchka||Dancing Lasha Tumbai||2||Helsinki 2007||Listen|
|2006||Tina Karol||Show Me Your Love||7||Athens 2006|
|2005||Greenjolly||Razom Nas Bahato||19||Kyiv 2005||Listen|
|2004||Ruslana||Wild Dances||1||Yes||Istanbul 2004||Listen|
|2003||Olexandr||Hasta La Vista||14||Riga 2003|
An earlier version of this story incorrectly said Celine Dion performed in the 1998 competition. She performed in 1988.
European Broadcasting Union (EBU); Spotify; Tanya Shapiro via github.com; Country flags via flag-icons.
Jon McClure, Bernadette Baum