Be it ABBA for the Baby Boomers, Gina G for Gen X or the 2023 Grammy-nominated Måneskin, the Eurovision Song Contest has been a touchstone through televised time. With an audience bigger than the Super Bowl, it is the world’s largest song competition — that most Americans have still never heard of.
“I used to say it’s like American Idol meets the Olympics, but better. Now I feel like I’d have to say it is the Olympics of song for Europe,” said Alesia Michelle, a Eurovision YouTuber in Washington, D.C.
“I mean, the scale is just so grand. The fact that you might not be watching it is crazy,” she said.
Crazy is also what a lot of people have called this contest. Over 67 years and 1,500 songs, it’s gone from the wacky and tacky to the lusty and thrusty, with a liberal dose of diversity and inclusion.
The contest draws 180 million viewers worldwide, and politics has become a part of it, too. Participating countries traditionally vote favorably for their neighbors and allies.
Last year, Ukraine’s entry, Kalush Orchestra, won with a landslide popular vote following Russia’s invasion. This year Ukraine has again qualified for the final, being held Saturday, with producer Andrii Hutsuliak and Nigeria-born frontman Jeffery Kenny, who form the pop duo Tvorchi.
“What’s important is to represent our country in the best possible way,” Hutsuliak told CBS News in Kyiv. “We hope our song can inspire people all around the planet to be stronger. And no matter how bad it is, just hold the good attitude and move forward with a smile.”
Their song “Heart of Steel” is a message of defiance inspired by Ukrainian soldiers who fought to defend the besieged city of Mariupol.
Traditionally, the winning country hosts the following year’s contest. But with the war still raging, this year’s Eurovision is being held in Liverpool, England.
Thirty-seven countries hope to follow the footsteps of past winners who shot to fame, like Céline Dion, who won in 1988 for Switzerland, and even interval acts like Ireland’s then-unknown Riverdance in 1994.
“I think this year, a lot of people are coming with the heat,” Kenny said. “We won last year and I’m sure they don’t want us to win this year. So it’s going to be definitely hard.”
Victory could propel this year’s winner to stardom. So they’ll sing any song, and do any dance, to win.
Ramy Inocencio is a foreign correspondent for CBS News based in London and previously served as Asia correspondent based in Beijing.