Eurovision no contest: From laughing stock to top of the pops

How the Nordics have come to dominate the Eurovision Song Contest

Ahead of next week’s Eurovsion Song Contest in Stockholm, it’s worth remembering that it wasn’t long ago that the Nordics were the laughing stock of the continent.

‘Norway, nul point’ was the reoccurring joke – based on them finishing last in the contest a staggering 11 times, and on four occasions failing to score a single point. As the penultimate decade of the 20th century was drawing to a close, Finland and Iceland had never won it, and Denmark and Norway only once.

New century turnaround
Fast-forward to today and the Nordic countries reign supreme. If you include the Baltics, they have won nine of the last 17 editions, including three of the last four!

Norway and Denmark now have three wins; Finland, Latvia and Estonia have joined the party; and Sweden is now only one behind the all-time record holder Ireland with six wins, while Norway holds the record for the highest points tally (Alexander Rybak, 387 in 2009).

One obvious reason for all of this might be the language restrictions in place between 1966 and 1972, and 1977 and 1998, which required every nation to sing a song in one of their official languages. Historically, English has proven to be an easy language to write lyrics in – compared to Danish for example – and in the 29 contests that took place between the aforementioned years, at least one English-language song (Ireland or the UK) finished in the top two on 19 occasions.

So who would bet against another winner from the region – after all, on the last two occasions the contest has been held in Sweden (2000 and 2013), Denmark has emerged victorious. Well, possibly the bookies, who make Russia and France the frontrunners heading into the semi-finals on May 10 and 12 – with Sweden the most likely Nordic winner of the final on May 14 at 16/1.

Financially vexing
In recent years another theory has emerged to explain the Nordic dominance: the possibility that many countries don’t want to win due to the excessive hosting costs during the financial crisis.

It’s certainly true that fewer countries have been entering – due to the broadcasting costs, most explain. After steadily rising following the break-up of the Soviet Union and Balkans to 43 participants in 2008, only 37 entered in 2013 – and, perhaps significantly, not a single ex-Yugoslav nation made it to the final.

However, this year’s competition will seek the likes of Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H), Bulgaria, Croatia and Ukraine rejoining the party as 42 countries pick up the mic.

Certainly, hosting the song contest has its perks. While the likes of Denmark have demonstrated how it can be held at a crippling loss, it is undoubtedly an excellent chance to showcase the home country’s trade and tourist attractions. Helsinki in 2007 was one such example of a host that was considered a success.

Votes between friends
It is undeniable that there has been an undoubted decline in partisan voting in certain regions of Europe since the onset of the financial crisis. According to research carried out by the Copenhagen Post Weekly, the Balkan quartet of Croatia, B&H, Serbia and Slovenia awarded each other 97 percent of their 10 and 12-point scores between 2004 and 2006 – a figure that fell to below 70 percent between 2009 and 2012.

The Nordics also indulge in neighbourly voting (see ‘The Disgrace of 1963’) – between 2005 and 2009, they awarded each other between 60 and 70 percent of their top votes every single year – but there has been no noticeable drop-off since the start of the financial crisis.

Sweden’s creativity
Leading the way in the Nordics are this year’s hosts, the six-time winners Sweden. And according to last year’s champ Måns Zelmerlöw, the success is no fluke. In an interview last year with Dutch television, he attributed his country’s dominance to the creativity generated on its long, dark

It’s a view also echoed by two of this year’s contestants, Greta Salomé from Iceland and ZOË from Austria, who as well as the creativity cited the lasting legacy of ABBA, the ultimate Eurovision band and winner. Launched last year, the new ABBA museum is expected to be Stockholm’s most visited attraction during Eurovision week.

So much invested
Sweden’s winter/spring music industry revolves around the process of selecting a song: from the finalisation of the line-up for its Melodifestivalen in November, through the preliminary heats in February and March to the final in March and then the song contest in May, the record labels, tabloids and fan websites go into overdrive to get the necessary signings, stories and saturation that the public demands.

Sweden’s success can also be measured in the demand for its songwriters – which along with the home-grown success have enjoyed a few wins with other countries as well – most recently with Azerbaijan in 2011. Even the Danes have entered a Swedish-written entry (2010), while this year’s Norwegian entry is co-written by a Swede.

Crikey! If you include the Azeri win, the Scandinavians have triumphed in four of the last five. It makes you wonder if the rest of Europe should even bother turning up.

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