Key Dates in the History of the Eurovision Song Contest

Adrian Kavanagh, 18th May 2015

1956: First ever Eurovision Song Contest was held in Lugano, Switzerland. Seven countries took part (the six founder members of the EEC and Switzerland – Austria, Denmark and the United Kingdom would all enter the contest in the following year). For the only time in the contest’s history, each act performed two songs. Jury members were, for the only time, allowed to vote for their own country and only the winning song was revealed by the jury – Refrain by Lys Assia – and no further voting details/places were revealed. Only solo artists were allowed to take part, although duos were permitted in 1957. The songs were limited in terms of time to three and a half minutes (with this being reduced to three minutes for the 1958 contest).

1958: The first year in which the contest was hosted by the country that had won it in the previous year. Cory Brokken (The Netherlands) became the second act (after Assia) to defend her title the year after winning the contest – well over half a century would pass until another Eurovision winner (Germany’s Lena Meyer-Landrutt at the 2011 contest) would do so.

1961: Fascist Spain and Communist Yugoslavia both entered the contest for the first time – the inclusion of Spain and Portugal would result in protests at the 1964 contest in Copenhagen.

1962: France became the first country to win the contest on three different occasions.

1965: Ireland entered the contest for the first time.

1968: Cliff Richard lost the contest by just one point to Spain’s Massiel and La La La. The singer originally lined up to sing La La La, Joan Manuel Serrat, was replaced because she wanted to perform the song in Catalan.

1969: Controversially, four countries tied for first place at the Madrid contest and, with no rules in place to decide a winner in the case of a tie; these four countries all shared the prize. The furore over this result placed the future of the contest in jeopardy and a number of countries withdrew from the following year’s contest, leaving just 12 participants (the smallest number since the 1959 contest).

1970: A credible and popular winner in Dana’s All Kinds of Everything, as Ireland wins Eurovision for the first time, acts to safeguard the contest’s future.

1971: At Dublin five countries returned to the contest and another country (Malta) took part for the first time. Groups were allowed for the first time in contest history.

1973: Israel became the first non-European country to enter the contest. The native language rule was relaxed temporarily until 1976.

1974: Taking advantage of the (temporary) relaxing of the native language rule, Sweden’s ABBA won the contest with Waterloo and the song/band would become the highest profile winners in contest history. For the fourth time in the contest’s history, the United Kingdom stepped in to host the contest when the country that had won in the previous year (Monaco) was unable to do so. The playing of the Portugese entry, E Depois do Adeus, was used as a signal for the start of the Carnation Revolution in that country.

1975: The current voting system, in which countries award points for their ten favourite entries, was introduced for the first time. Countries were to award twelve points (douze points) for their favourite entry, ten points for their next favourite entry and then go from eight points down to one point when awarding points to the other entries ranked in their top ten.

1978: Norway’s Jahn Teigen, with Mil Etter Mil, became the first act to get the dreaded nils points under the new voting system.

1980: Israel became the last country not to host the contest after winning it in the previous year (admittedly for the second year in a row) and The Netherlands stepped into to host the contest instead. When it was decided to stage the contest on the same day as Holocaust Memorial Day, Israel also withdrew from that year’s contest and became the first, and only, country not to defend their title. With Israel’s absence, Morocco became the first – and to date the only – African country to take part in the contest but withdrew after just one year’s participation.

1986: Thirteen year-old Sandra Kim (Belgium) became the youngest winner of the contest with J’Aime La Vie. A rule change after the 1989 contest limited participation to entrants who were at least sixteen years old in the year that a contest was being held.

1987: Ireland’s Johnny Logan became the first – and only to date – person to win Eurovision on two separate occasions with Hold Me Now. He would go on to attain a third win, this time as song writer, in 1992 with Linda Martin’s Why Me?

1988: Céline Dion (Switzerland) became the last act to win the contest with a song performed in the French language (Ne Partez Pas Sans Moi). She would go on to become one of the contest’s most famous winners.

1991: Two countries, France and Sweden, tied for first place after the voting was completed for the first, and only, time since 1969. This time a procedure was in place to decide on a winner and Sweden’s Carola was deemed the winner on the basis of having won the largest number of ten points (with both France and Sweden having won a similar number of douze points).

1993: Millstreet in Ireland (referred to as a “small city” on the official Eurovision website) became the smallest place ever to host the Eurovision Song Contest, with a town population of just 1,300 at that time (based on the 1991 Census). The political changes in eastern and central Europe lead to a mushrooming in the number of countries looking to take part in the contest. As a result, the first ever Eurovision prequalifier, Kvalifikacija za Millstreet, took place in Ljubljana in Slovenia in which seven countries entering Eurovision for the first time vied for three places in the Millstreet contest. Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Slovenia emerge from this prequalifier (which was a precursor of the present day semi-finals) to make their contest debuts at Millstreet.

1994: Ireland became the first – and to date, the only – country to win Eurovision on three consecutive occasions – in the following year Ireland would become the first country to host the contest on three consecutive occasions. The interval act at the 1994 contest, Riverdance, went on to be one of the biggest commercial successes associated with the Eurovision Song Contest. A relegation system was used for the first time with the Bottom 5 at the 1993 contest missing out in 1994 to allow for the participation of seven debuting countries, Estonia, Lithuania, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Poland and Russia. Various forms of this relegation system were to be used over the following decade (with the exception of 1996) in order to address the problems associated with the increased number of countries wishing to take part in the contest. Poland finished in second place, making this one of the strongest ever performances in the contest by a debuting country.

1996: Ireland won the contest for a record seventh time with Eimear Quinn’s The Voice. A controversial audio prequalifier is used to whittle 29 entrants (but excluding the hosts, Norway) down to 22. Germany, one of the leading financial contributors to the contest, was one of the countries to miss out due to this prequalifier (the only time in the contest’s history that a German act would not perform at the contest). It would be later revealed that Sweden’s One More Time won this prequalifier with Ireland in second place and the United Kingdom’s Gina G in third place. Portugal’s Lúcia Moniz and Croatia’s Maja Blagdan both came with a few points of being eliminated in this prequalifier, but then went on to achieve their countries’ best ever results at the contest in the actual final.

1997: Growing unease about the lack of commercial success for the contest winner and the conservative tastes of the Eurovision juries resulted in the introduction of a televoting system, with five countries (Austria, Sweden, Germany, United Kingdom and Switzerland) trialing this at the 1997 contest. Ireland, finishing in second place, won the most votes from these televoting countries (47 points) although this was mainly because the contest winners, the United Kingdom’s Katrina and The Waves (with Love Shine A Light), could not win points from the United Kingdom televote! Paul Oscar (Iceland) won nearly all (18) of his twenty Eurovision points from the televoting countries. (Televoting would be extended to all other Eurovision countries at the following year’s contest.)

1998: The contest is hosted for a record eight time by the United Kingdom.

1999: The “Big 4” system (later becoming the “Big 5” in 2011 with the return of Italy) was introduced, meaning that the countries making the largest financial contributions to the European Broadcasting Union – Germany, France, Spain and the United Kingdom – could not miss out on the Eurovision Final. The rule stating that all countries must perform their songs in one of their national languages is finally abolished (having been temporarily relaxed in the mid-1970s) and yet again Sweden becomes the first country to benefit from this, winning the contest with Charlotte Nilsson’s Take Me To Your Heaven. It was also decided that the use of an orchestra would be optional and from this year on – after the 1999 hosts, Israel, decided not to use an orchestra – orchestras would disappear from the contest to be replaced instead by backing tracks.

2001: The largest ever audience for a Eurovision show (35,000 at the Parken Stadium in Copenhagen) was recorded. Estonia, with Tanel Padar and Dave Benton’s Everybody, became the first of the “new” central and eastern European participants, which had joined the contest for the first time during the 1990s, to win Eurovision.

2003: One of the closest results in the contest’s history with only three points separating the top three countries, Turkey, Belgium and Russia, at the end of the voting. The United Kingdom’s Jemini became the last act (to date) to get the dreaded nils points in a Eurovision final – also making this statistically the least successful act in a Eurovision final given that a record 26 countries were taking part (and voting) in this final.   

2004: Introduction of a Eurovision semi-final, allowing a lot more countries to take part in (and also to vote in) the contest. Four countries would make their Eurovision debuts (Serbia and Montenegro, Albania, Belarus and Andorra) while Monaco would return (briefly) to the contest after a twenty-five year break. The Top 10 countries in the previous year’s contest along with the Big 4 countries were guaranteed a place in the final, with ten other qualifiers to come through from the semi-final. Switzerland’s Piero and the MusicStars (ironically with Celebrate) earned nils points in the semi-final, making this the statistically least successful act in any Eurovision contest, given that 33 countries were voting in this semi-final (France, Poland and Russia took part in this year’s contest and all voted in the final, but did not vote in the semi-final).

2006: Every Song Is a Cry for Love by Ireland’s Brian Kennedy became the 1,000th song to be performed at the Eurovision Song Contest.

2007: Serbia became the first country (since Switzerland in 1956) to win Eurovision at their first attempt with Marija Šerifović’s Molitva. This also becomes – to date – the only song, not sung in the English language, to win the contest since the abolition of the native language rule back in 1999. 28 countries take part in the semi-final, making this the largest ever contest in the history of Eurovision. With no western countries qualifying from the semi-final or finishing in the Top 15 in the Final, the contest results are met with some level of (not entirely justified) controversy in the “old Eurovision” countries.

2008: A record number of participants (43) were involved (to be equaled only by the number of participants at the 2011 contest), with San Marino and Azerbaijan becoming the most recent countries (at this present date) to make their debuts at the contest. With only the Hosts and the Big 4/5 now being guaranteed a place in the final, the Eurovision semi-final was split into two contests for the first time with ten countries to qualify from both of these. In order to reduce the impact of bloc, or neighbourly/diaspora, voting, countries were allocated to six different pots based on their recent voting histories, with roughly half the number of countries in each of these pots being allocated to different semi-finals. Juries return to the contest on a limited basis with the back up juries have the power to decide one of the qualifiers from each of the two semi-finals. The Macedonian act loses out due to this rule change in the second semi-final, with previous winner, Sweden’s Charlotte Perelli (née Nilsson), qualifying for the final instead despite having only finished 12th in the semi-final televote.

2009: A 50-50 jury vote/televote system was introduced for the final, with this also being used for the semi-finals from the following year onwards. Each country’s points are to be based on a combination of the top ten scores from that country’s jury vote and televote/public vote.

2013: It was decided that for this year the 50-50 jury vote/televote system would involve each country providing a ranking of their jury vote and televote/public vote for all of the (other) countries taking part in a Eurovision final or semi-final. The overall scores/points would now be based on a combination of these and not just the ranks for the top ten countries in the jury vote and televote. No draw is held to determine the running order for the semi-final and final (with the exception of the final draw position for hosts, Sweden) and positions in the semi-final and final running orders would be determined instead by the show producers, SVT. (The same process is subsequently used for 2014 and 2015 also.) The economic crisis in Europe impacted on the contest, with a number of countries, including Bosnia, Portugal and Slovakia, being forced to withdraw from the contest due to financial constraints.

2014: Allegations of voting irregularities and cheating in the wake of the 2013 Final leads the European Broadcasting Union to tighten up its voting procedures and also to promise a greater level of transparency in relation to the voting process and the actual voting figures. The economic crisis continues to impact, with Serbia, Cyprus and Croatia withdrawing from the contest. After years/decades of poor performances at the contest, Austria and The Netherlands go on to fill the top two positions in the 2014 Final.

2015: Politics again impacts on the contest, as the ongoing war in The Ukraine forces that country to withdraw from the 2015 contest. Australia are invited to take part in the 2015 Eurovision contest as a once-off initiative to mark the 60th anniversary of the song contest, meaning that 40 countries participate in that year’s contest.  The late addition of Australia (announced in February 2015) means that the 2015 Final is to include 27 different countries, making it the longest ever final in Eurovision history. Finland’s Pertti Kurikan Nimipäivät will perform the contest’s shortest ever song/entry (running to just 1 minute, 25 seconds).

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