Eurovision song contest

This year's Eurovision song contest is being held in Riga this weekend. From Lulu to tATu, all you need to know is here

1. These days, Europe has embraced the euro, the common market, regulation-sized fruit and veg and Big Brother. So do we still need tomorrow night's Eurovision song contest to bring us together?

2. The concept of Europe and nationality celebrated in the annual songfest have always been somewhat hazy. Israel has been a participant since 1973, in 1978, Morocco (as in Morocca, Africa) joined in, Greek chanteuse Nana Mouskouri did the honours for Luxembourg in 1963, Celine Dion (from Quebec) sung - and won - for Switzerland in 1988, and in 1996, the UK's entry, Oooh Aaah Just a Little Bit was sung by Aussie Gina G.

3. And while we're on the subject of who's in and who's not, where's Italy in this year's line-up? And why isn't Europe's smallest country, Vatican City joining in the fun? After all, Father Ted Crilly showed that priests can enter into the Eurovision spirit - remember his inspirational entry My Lovely Horse?.

4. But let's not be picky. Or linger on the recent relaxation of the language rules that mean that participants no longer need to sing in their native language. The Eurovision song contest has been celebrating Europe's musical diversity, the spirit of friendly competition and Terry Wogan's genial broadcasting manner since 1956, when it was established to to promote peace and harmony in a Europe still recovering from the second world war.

5. As is customary, this year's musical extravaganza is hosted by last year's winner. The honour has fallen to Riga, capital city of Latvia. The victorious Marija Naumova has had a giddy year touring eastern Europe and meeting and greeting polar bears. She's one of the evening's co-presenters, and has rebranded herself as Marie N.

6. Cod-lesbian duo tATu have all too predicatably grabbed most of the headlines this year. They're representing their native Russia with a song by US songwriter Mars Lasar. Germany will also be pushing gender boundaries and heading for la-la land, with their chirpy entry Let's Be Happy. 'Let's get happy and let's be gay, all our troubles will fade away' trills the smiley happy Lou.

Guardian Unlimited is particularly looking forward to Estonia's 80s Coming Back (chorus: Those deep synthesizer sounds freak you out / now you wake up in the middle of the night / in terror all you do is cry / cold sweat a cup of tea no nothing seems to help you / my god / it's just the eighties coming back). Greece strikes a similarly nostalgic note with Never Let Go, while brave little Norway goes off message with I'm Not Afraid To Move On.

7. The Maltese entry, sung by Lynn Chircop, is apparently a favourite of British mobile phone users. Britain's official hopes are resting with pretty Liverpudlian duo Jemani. Judges had better make sure they know who they're voting for - are they JemAni, JemIni, or JemEni? (Don't you just hate bands who abuse the Queen's English in some spurious attempt to look yoof and rebellious?)

8. The UK has come second 15 times, and first, five. Those five winners are the barefoot Sandie Shaw with Puppet on a String in 1967, Lulu singing Boom Bang A Bang in 1969, Brotherhood of Man's Save All Your Kisses for Me in 1976, Bucks Fizz's Making Your Mind Up in 1981, and Love Shine a Light, by Katrina and the Waves in 1997. We wuz robbed in 1968 when Cliff Richard, singing Congratulations, lost narrowly to the Spanish entry, called La La La. But we wuz compromised the following year when Lulu had to share her victory with three other countries - equal points meant four winners. The voting system was changed the next year.

9. Other notable winners include, of course, Abba, a Swedish group singing in English about the defeat of a French demagogue. And then there's Dana International, an Israeli transsexual, who sang the aptly named Diva in 1998. A couple of years later, Israel did what many had wanted to do to Dana International, and disowned its official entry. The Tel Aviv group Ping-Pong, had angered Israelis by waving plastic Syrian flags during a rehearsal of their entry, Same-ach (Happy).

9. So how do you win? Analysts reckon that judges have short memories, and the later you perform the better. Six winners have performed last, while on 13 occasions the winners have performed within the last three songs. The odds are stacked against those who are on second, fourth, seventh, 16th, 21st, 23rd and 25th - no-one singing in these positions has ever won. (The UK are on 15th this year). The odds are also stacked against Cyprus, Finland and Portugal, who've competed in 20, 37 and 36 competitions respectively but have never made it into the top three. Belgium has the ignomy of taking last place a record eight times.

10. Along with the cheesy disco music, garish clothes and dodgy accents, another of the competition's most entertaining elements is watching the voting patterns. But if you've really got nothing better to do, you can try and figure out what will happen tomorrow night according to the previous 20 years of voting.

I'll go out on a limb here and predict that Greece will vote for Cyprus and award "nul points" to Turkey, who will return the favour and boycott both Greece and Cyprus; Balkan countries will vote for other Balkan countries, and likewise we might well see a bit of neighbourly back-scratching among Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Iceland.

The UK, of course, will refuse to stoop to such blatant displays of favouritism, and will vote for anyone except Germany. Happy viewing.


Imogen Tilden

The GuardianTramp

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