In exactly two months — May 16, 2009 — it is once again time for the world’s largest musical competition, the Eurovision Song Contest (ESC). Following Russia’s win of last year’s competition, it will be held in Moscow this time around. The contest has been broadcast every year since 1956, which makes it one of the longest running television programs in the world. The ESC is also one of the most watched non-sporting events in the world, with an international audience in the hundreds of millions. (More about the ESC: External Link)

Countries that are active members of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) are eligible to participate. A participating country submits a song to be performed on live television, competing with all other participating countries. The winner is determined by televoting (you cannot vote for your own country). Sweden has participated in the contest since 1958, with the exception of three years: 1964, 1970, and 1976.

Despite the “Euro” in “Eurovision”, eligibility is not limited to the countries of Europe. As an example, Israel, an Asian country, has participated since 1973 (with the exception of 1980, 1984, 1994, 1996, and 1997). Morocco, an African country, participated in 1980.

Exactly how a country selects which song to submit is left up to the participating country to decide. Sometimes, the responsible national broadcaster makes an internal decision, although most countries opt for a national competition.

The national competitions are sometimes, relatively speaking, just as big as, if not bigger than, the ESC itself. Sweden’s national final, Melodifestivalen (“The Melody Festival”), is one of the biggest national contests. A total of 32 songs are pre-selected and compete over the course of four semi-finals and one grand finale. The popularity of Melodifestivalen has grown over the years, making it the most popular television program in Sweden since year 2000, beating out Disney’s “From All of Us to All of You”.

To give you an idea of just how popular Melodifestivalen really is … Each of the semi-finals are watched by around 35% of the population. The final itself boasts an audience in excess of 45% of the population. Compare this with the Super Bowl, the biggest single sports event in the USA (and frequently topping the charts as the most watched television program of the year), which has an average audience of around 30% of the national population. If comparing raw numbers, the Super Bowl is naturally much bigger than Melodifestivalen. Then again, the population of the USA is over 33 times greater than that of Sweden. The Eurovision Song Contest, however, has the Super Bowl beat five times over in terms of international viewers.

It is important to note that both the national and international versions of the contest usually serve to boost a musical career. Many internationally successful artists saw their humble beginnings in the Eurovision Song Contest. Cannot think of any? Well, how about names like ABBA or Céline Dion? Yes, their break-through came after winning the international contest. Many other winners include well-known artists who won the ESC mid-career, such as Katrina and the Waves — famous for the 1985 hit “Walking on Sunshine”, and their 1997 ESC win with “Love Shine a Light”.

Although Sweden has won the international contest four times¹ (tied with the Netherlands; beat by Ireland [7], France [5], Luxemburg [5], and United Kingdom [5]), I have personally been unimpressed by the Swedish entries the last several years. However, this year’s winner, Malena Ernman with “La Voix“, really strikes home with me!

Malena is an internationally acclaimed opera singer, and is today one of Sweden’s most sought after opera performers. The song itself is a pop/opera mix, sung in English and French.

For those of you who do not speak French …

Je t’aime, amour, quand j’entends la voix
Je t’aime, ma vie, c’est jamais sans toi
Je vis ma vie pour toi, c’est l’universe pour moi
Je t’aime, amour, quand j’entends la voix

Translated (quite literally) to English …

I love you, love, when I hear the voice
I love you, my life is never without you
I live my life for you, the universe for me
I love you, love, when I hear the voice

In two months we shall see how Malena and Sweden fares in the Eurovision Song Contest. Go Malena!

How do you like the Swedish entry? Care to join me in May for an ESC fest at my house?

¹ I should mention that Louis Herrey, author of the A Good Life blog, and his brothers (collectively, the pop group Herreys) won the Eurovision Song Contest in 1984 with the marvellous song “Diggi-Loo Diggi-Ley”.

“Opera is when a guy gets stabbed in the back and, instead of bleeding, he sings.”
Ed Gardner (1901-1963)