At the age of 66, the Eurovision Song Contest suddenly became a magnet for young people despite – and because of – ridiculous songs, fancy costumes and outstanding performances.
The annual TV extravaganza has become a youthful earthquake for the European Broadcasting Union and members of public broadcasters who struggle as their main audience gets older. If voters are quiet about the EU’s political project, Eurovision’s success is curious evidence of a European audience for complex voting and emotional pronouncements in more than a dozen languages. Leaders in Brussels may envy that the show does not define Brexit and the UK continues to participate, and there is no problem with eastern expansion into the former Soviet bloc and even Australia.
“There is no other cultural project that unites Europeans like Eurovision,” said Dean Voltik, a Eurovision historian at the University of Vienna who has devoted the last ten years of his career to the study of musical performance.
Nearly 200 million people watched last year, a massive audience for live TV in the age of Netflix. More than half of 15-24-year-olds who were watching TV during showtime in 2021 switched to a public media channel to watch the final, four times what BBC or France TV would normally attract. Eurovision even attracted audiences online, with about 50 million people viewing the official YouTube channel last year. Online viewers are young: about 70 percent of viewers watching the live show were between the ages of 18 and 34.
Vuletic notes that the show has moved into “greater linguistic diversity” in recent years with more artists singing in their native languages. Last year, Måneskin’s superb number in fast Italian swept the popular vote to become “the most successful product to come out of Eurovision since Céline Dion in 1988,” he said.
Eurovision is also a progressive crusade with songs calling for action on climate change, criticizing unrealistic beauty standards and championing LGBTQ rights.
“This year… men sing a lot of songs that play with sex and sexuality in very creative ways and I think this highlights a new gender and fluidity in content,” Voltic said.
The visuals are important to Europeans watching a show in 16 languages from 40 countries. Artists pay more attention to the appearance and attitude of the performer, perhaps more than he does to the music as most listeners do not understand the honest lyrics. Posts are subject to intense scrutiny by the Eurovision fan community.
This visual focus and wide fan base make the show a good fit for the TikTok short video platform. The Chinese social media site had 1.4 billion views on its #Eurovision videos last year and is such a fan of the show that it became a special social media sponsor this year. Sam Ryder, this year’s British entry, started singing on TikTok during the pandemic and now has 12.4 million followers on the platform.
And like every great European gathering, there must be a grand conclusion. Eurovision voting at the national level has always made it a competition where politics rules. Friends and allies usually donate twelve point to each other.
But the introduction of the popular vote helped put some of that aside. In the past year, the traditional effort by Swiss and French artists has been to select national professional juries before the results for mobile TV viewers and apps come out. The winner was a true pan-European pop vote for Italian rock on Francophone chansonwith Måneskin building on that to have radio play and fully hauled gigs outside of Italy.
This year, how can Ukraine not win? The people have already voted. The song has garnered more than 6 million views on YouTube. Twelve Points of the European General Jury.