Every year I throw a party for The Eurovision Song Contest. The party itself is called The Blur-o-vision Shot Contest and is a post unto itself for another day. The reason why I mention it is because the big night is tomorrow night and often my American compatriots have no idea what all the hubbub is about. It's not the easiest thing to convey as it's kind of Europe's guilty pleasure but hopefully I can give a bit of a background essay that may be able to help.
The annual competition started in 1956 and was created to be a kind of World Cup of music. Countries from each European country would submit one song to represent themselves, they would be performed on television in a once-off broadcast and then a winner would be crowned. The winner would then host the competition the next year.
Now, as you can imagine, most of the songs entered were quite dull/bland. Everyone wanted to represent their country as "lovely" and sure wouldn't anything but polite pop be a tarnish to their name? This tradition of generic ballads would continue for a long time, even as the number of participants expanded (at this point there are a lot of non-European countries involved) for an example of the kind of music involved here is a rather famous winner from 1967, "Puppet On A String" by Sandie Shaw, the UK's first ever winning song.
Yeah, stirring stuff.
The tradition of this kind of music gave the competition an un-cool label. But despite this, the show always gets a massive audience and has launched the careers of many a musician, none more so than ABBA who were relatively unknown in Europe until they won Eurovision for Sweden in 1974 with "Waterloo", yes THAT "Waterloo". Celine Dion also competed but the less said about that the better. Here is the performance that won it for ABBA.
You'll notice the cheesy (and sexist) intro at the start, the show does this every year (although hopefully not the sexism). There is always a really awkward video montage before performances. And the guy commentating over it is a tradition too. Every country will have their own person commentating on events. Most famous was Terry Wogan who did it for the BBC in the UK for a couple decades. Over the years he took the occasion less and less seriously and would hilariously start making fun of proceedings. It made for great TV . He also started to drink heavily during the live broadcast and was often seen with a full bottle (or two) of Baileys before the show would start. Here is a lovely bit of Terry commentating over the Swedish vote from 2008.
Anyway, as you can imagine, over the years there have been some genuinely good songs and some just bat-shit insane entries. Last year Russia entered a bunch of grannies (no joke, a number of them were in their 80s), Ireland once entered a puppet turkey in a shopping trolley, and France continue to enter in whatever they think is music in their country. No matter what, the night is always a spectacle, good or bad and the show has found a resurgence in popularity due to the world embracing the camp madness. For an example, here is 2006's winner Lordi (from Finland) with their song "Hard Rock Hallelujah".
Yes, you heard me right, these guys won.
Now, it would be remiss of me not to mention that my own little island has won this competition 7 times and are officially the top country in the competition. Despite us winning more than anyone else, we haven't won in 17 years. The glory days were the 90s when we won 4 times (it's also where Riverdance began as we first unleashed it unto the world has a half-time show while people voted). So now that I feel I have imparted a little bit of Eurovision nonsense your way let me leave you with my favourite winning song from Ireland. From all the way back in 1994. (Warning: schmaltz abounds)