INSIDE EUROVISION: Europe's Totally Insane Multinational Song Contest

Eurovision 2012

Eurovision, one of the longest running television shows in the world, will see its first 2008 semi-final held tomorrow in Baku, Azerbaijan.

Over 30 nations from all over the continent (and further afield) will be competing to see who will make it to the final on Saturday, 26th of May.

The winner will be crowned the best song in Europe.

But, of course, its about more than that.

The show has become a strange mixture of campy fashions, regional rivalries, shadowy alliances and oblique voting structures — way more complicated than it is on paper.

The event was founded in 1956 by a Frenchman, Marcel Baison.

Designed by the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), the competition was designed to 'help foster European unity after the Cold War and to test the limits of live television broadcast technology.'

(Source: Eurovision)

While the event started with just 6 contestants, 50-one countries have now competed at least once.

The format was based on the Sanremo Music Festival in Italy.

In essence, it's a simple format. Each country submits a song, its performed and voted upon by other countries.

According to the current rules, viewers can vote on other countries' songs via telephone. Votes are also taken from each country's 'National Jury', which the rule book says include only people in the following professions 'radio DJ, artist, composer, author of lyrics or music producer.'

The country that receives the highest number of votes receives 12 points, while the 10th receives 1 point (below that they receive no points).

Overall. Ireland has been the most successful nation, winning the show 7 times.

They even won three times in a row in 1992, 1993, and 1994.

This map shows you all the different cities that have hosted the event.

The show is now thought to be watched by an estimated 125 million people world wide.

(Source: AFP)

In recent years its become clear that Eastern Europe dominates in terms of viewers.

One estimate suggests that in some Eastern European countries, 90 per cent of total TV audience watch the shows.

(Source: BusinessWeek)

Some famous names have appeared in the history. For example, ABBA, winners in 1974.

Here's Julio Iglesias performing for Spain in 1970

And look, it's Celine Dion competing for Switzerland in 1988.

As you might have guessed, the music has generally been middle-of-the-road pop.

Sometimes, such as with last year's Irish twin duo 'Jedward', it might be better described as 'campy'.

The music, however, is arguably secondary to the political aspect of the competition.

One academic journal noted that the 'ESC has been more inclusive than, and arguably ahead of, the parallel economic and political movement to European union in the post‐World War II era'.

There's been a variety of political controversies over the years. In 2009, Georgia's entry was pulled after it was alleged the lyrics were about Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The offending lyrics for the song 'We Don't Want A Put In':

'We don't wanna put in

Cuz negative move

It's killin' the groove

I'm gonna try to shoot in

Some disco tonight

Boogie with you.'

Things were somewhat tense between the nations at the time.

(Source: Time)

In 1978 Jordan (not a contestant) refused to air Israel's performance.

Jordan also cut out the final announcement as Israel had actually won, complicating matters.

In Jordan, runners-up Belgium became the winners.

(Source: Time)

Some events are even thought to have been rigged.

Dictator Francisco Franco is thought to have rigged the 1968 Eurovision Song Contest to boost Spain's flagging tourism.

(Source: Time)

This year's host, Azerbaijan, is not only the most Eastern host yet, but perhaps the most controversial too.

The country, riding high on a natural resource boom, is keen to impress Western Europe.

For example. they recently announced its plans to build the tallest building in the world.

Critics, however, argue that the country is systematically violating human rights.

Human Rights Watch has accused the Azerbaijan government of forcibly evicting people from their homes to make way for Eurovision-related construction.

Senior presidential administration official Ali Hasanov has even accused Iran of spreading rumours that they were holding an gay pride march.

'Actually there is no word in the Azerbaijani language for a gay parade, unlike in their language,' he added.

(Source: AFP)

Current favourites to win the controversial contest are Sweden, according to Paddy Power.

Here's the Swedish entry — Euphoria by Loreen. A winner?

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