Ballads and big hair, Europop and patriotism: Eurovision Song Contest celebrates its 60th anniversary this year
Don glitter hotpants? Get a Swede to pen your song? CNN takes a look at what it takes to win Europe's favorite song contest
It may be the brashest, brassiest, hardest partying 60-year-old anyone knows.
Europe’s beloved song contest, Eurovision was first broadcast in 1956 and it has been sharing its unique blend of ballads and big hair, politics, patriotism and Europop every year since.
That makes it one of the longest-running TV shows in the world – and with estimated annual audiences of 180 million according to broadcaster the European Broadcasting Union, arguably one of the best loved.
If you have been living off-planet and don’t know Eurovision, just imagine American Idol backcombed its hair, put on some silver spandex and flung open its doors to entrants from half the world.
Recent contestants have included a troupe of tuneless Russian grannies and some chesty Polish milkmaids who provocatively churned their way into the imaginations of a generation of middle-aged men.
Winners have included Lordi, a Finnish metal band dressed as Orcs and, last year, a glamorous bearded lady from Austria.
It’s weird. It’s wacky. It’s definitely camp. And it has awesome soft power. Up-and-coming nations on the periphery of Europe scramble to host the show to raise their profile on the world stage.
As Eurovision celebrates a very significant birthday what does it take to win at Europe’s favorite song contest?
1. It’s not that much of a big deal if you aren’t European
Azerbaijan hosted in capital city Baku in 2012. Israel has won it three times. And this year Australia will be competing.
This oddity is down to the fact that members of the European Broadcasting Union, Eurovision’s host broadcaster, can all enter if they want to. Members come from 56 countries including some that are probably a surprise like Egypt and Lebanon.
This still doesn’t explain Australia, which Eurovision says is a one-off in honor of the Aussie’s love of the camp glitterfest.
2. But, if you can, be Irish
The small country nestled next to Britain is the most successful Eurovision country ever – it’s won the competition seven times.
It also spawned the whip-legged global Irish jigging phenomenon “Riverdance,” which made its debut as the 1994 interval act.
Of course, the less we say about Jedward, the surprise-haired twins who represented Ireland in 2011 and 2012, the better.
3. Failing that, get someone Swedish to write your song
While some might see Eurovision as a bit of a joke, the glacially cool Swedes take it very seriously indeed.
Each year they choose their Eurovision entrant in a six-week American Idol-style contest, Melodifestivalen, that is like the Swedish equivalent of the Superbowl.
Eurovision’s most successful act ever, ABBA, is from Sweden and its composers have been behind many winners over the years.
Within the Swedish music industry, the joke is that their composers are as successful as Ikea.
4. Remember kids, age means nothing
In 2012, Russia sent out a chaotic but smiling troupe of grannies – and that same year the United Kingdom reanimated the career of 1970s crooner Engelbert Humperdinck.
The record for the oldest contestant in Eurovision’s history, however, goes to 95-year-old Emil Ramsauer, a double bass player with Swiss balladeers Takasa who competed in 2013.
At the other end of the scale, the youngest ever winner of Eurovision was just 13.
Sandra Kim representing Belgium in 1986 won with “J’aime la vie” after she hoodwinked producers into believing she was older.
5. Drag the votes out of them
Guys, if you want to win, look out that dress because Eurovision loves a drag act.
Last year’s winner was “bearded lady” Conchita Wurst and a few years earlier, Israeli transgender singer Dana International took home the top prize dressed as a woven mermaid.
Eurovision’s love of the camp sometimes exposes the divisions in Europe.
Meanwhile, in Vienna, where this year’s competition is taking place, they have put up gay-themed pedestrian-crossing lights.