What does the winning singer or band get? Nothing but glory! Oh, and their country is burdened with the job of hosting the whole ordeal the next year (it felt like half of the ‘90s competitions were held in Ireland as a result). Occasionally, Eurovision can be a real springboard for fame, or at least a record deal; at the very least, a winning song will chart very nicely in its home country.
For all its campy weirdness and history of partisanship, Eurovision is a very watchable spectacle. Yes, the whole thing lasts way too long (at least three and a half hours, not excluding the semi-finals and other qualifying events) and yes, you have to suffer through at least a dozen miserable ballads sung in languages you don’t know. But, much like American Idol or any other singing competition, it’s easy to pick favorites and root for them through the voting process, and the whole flag-waving aspect makes everything easy to identify. It’s like the World Cup, but only in Europe, and with singing! Here are some notable past winners.
It’s worth noting that a lot of these videos will begin with a brief video spotlighting the band’s country and feature voice-over from famed Irish broadcaster Terry Wogan, who announced the BBC coverage of Eurovision from 1971 to 2008. His exceedingly droll, sarcastic commentary is part of the reason Eurovision remained popular so long, at least in Britain (he recently retired and was replaced by Graham Norton).
ABBA, “Waterloo” (1974)
This is the one indisputable pop masterpiece to emerge from Eurovision. ABBA launched itself to international fame with this victory and were topping the chats just a year later. Just look at them, looking like beautiful young extras from an Austin Powers movie. “Waterloo” was Sweden’s entry but was of course sung in English—although Eurovision sometimes imposes rules making countries sing entries in their own languages, they are usually swept aside after a few years because they make things boring.
Celine Dion, “Ne Partez Sans Moi” (1988)
This thing sounds like a James Bond theme that half-heartedly gives up in the middle. Celine Dion is French Canadian and in 1988 was still known only as a French-language singer (her English-language debut came in 1990). She represented Switzerland here (the process by which singers represent countries is obscure and largely unpatriotic) and won by only one point over the United Kingdom’s entry, Scott Fitzgerald’s “Go” (I assume he has nothing to do with the novelist). Take a look at that one—it also kinda sounds like a Bond theme.
Dana International, “Diva” (1998)
“Diva” had two things going for it: a decent hook for its chorus and the fact that it was sung by Eurovision’s first transgender performer, the Israeli Dana International. It was another vote close to the wire, with Dana winning on the final ballot of the night over the UK and Malta. “But David,” I hear you asking, “Is Israel really in Europe?” No, not really, and neither is Morocco, or Azerbaijan, but Eurovision is pretty open to anyone participating, as long as you’re in the general vicinity of Europe.