The first semifinal of the Eurovision Song Contest (Eurovision) is taking place today. Eurovision is a popular product of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), which is made up of the public broadcasting networks of Europe. Twenty-six countries will compete to win in the grand finale being held on Saturday, May 18, in Tel Aviv, Israel.
Eurovision is the music competition where, forty-five years ago (on April 6, 1974), a relatively unknown band won big with a hit called Waterloo. Yes, you guessed it, the band was ABBA. The year before, in 1973, ABBA performed at the Swedish Melodifestivalen (the qualifier for Eurovision), and finished third with Ring Ring.
Back then, “Abba” was best known as referring to the seafood company Abba being short for AB Bröderna Ameln. The name of the pop group on the other hand is short for Agneta, Björn, Benny, and Anni-Frid, the first names of the ABBA members (Agneta Fältskog, Björn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson, and Frida (Anni-Frid) Lyngstad). Their original group name was actually Björn & Benny, Agneta & Anni-Frid.
The group’s record company Polar contacted Abba in the 1970s, prior to ABBA’s big hit in 1974, asking if the pop group was allowed to use the name – to which Abba responded in the affirmative,
as long as ”the youths behaved and did not tarnish Abba’s good reputation” (translation by author). I must confess that as a child I incorrectly thought the name (of seafood) Abba was borrowed from (pop group) ABBA.
Back to Eurovision. The EBU was formed on February 12, 1950, as an interest organization for European public broadcasters. Today, its mission is to “make public service media indispensable.” It also broadcasts the Eurovision Song Contest (Eurovision).
Eurovision is governed by a number of rules, of
which a summary is publicly available. Five countries automatically qualify for Eurovision (France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom) (Rule 2.2.3). The remaining countries must compete for the 26 slots in the final by qualifying in the semifinals being held today and this Thursday. This year, contestants from 35 countries are participating in the semifinals, following Ukraine’s withdrawal. Only songs that are less than three minutes long and that have not previously been released may be submitted (Rule 2.2.2). For the 2019 contest, the release date cut-off is September 1, 2018. There are also rules on the contestants, limiting the number of participants to six, prohibiting the use of animals, and requiring that all contestants be at least 16 years old on the day of the finale (Rule 2.2.3). The contents of the performance itself are also regulated. For example, there is a prohibition on swearing and political messages in the lyrics of the song (Rule 2.6). Prior to 1973, the songs had to be sung in the domestic language of the participating nation, a rule that had been implicit prior to 1965 when Swedish performers broke it by performing in English. The rule change in 1973 paved the way for ABBA’s hit in 1974, which was performed in English, and today performances may be completed in any language that the participating nation allows (Rule 2.2.2). By tradition, the winner of Eurovision hosts the next year’s event (Rule 2.1). Nineteen of the countries participating in the semifinals have yet to win Eurovision. Ireland holds the record for the most wins, being seven.
Library of Congress resources related to ABBA, EBU, and Eurovision include:
- ABBA & Disco’s Influence on European Dance Music (James Wintle discusses the history and legacy of ABBA, and the group’s connections to disco and European dance music trends)
- Hans Brack, The evolution of the EBU through its statutes from 1950 to 1976 (1976)
- Ivan Raykoff & Robert Deam Tobin (eds.), A song for Europe : popular music and politics in the Eurovision song contest (2007)
- Jan Feddersen, Lied kann eine Brücke sein: die deutsche und internationale Geschichte des Grand Prix Eurovision. [in German] (2002).
- Julian Vignoles, Inside the Eurovision Song Contest: music, glamour and myth (2015)
The Law Library has published several Global Legal Monitor articles related to public broadcasting in Europe:
- Italy: Legislation Amending Public Broadcasting Services (2016)
- Sweden: Public TV and Radio Service Fee System Reformed, New Tax Introduced (2018)
- Switzerland: Voters Reject Proposal to Abolish Public Broadcasting Fees (2018)
- European Union: European Court of Justice Rules on German Public Broadcasting Contribution (2019)
Funding of public broadcasting is a popular issue and members from the blog team wrote a blog post on it last year.