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The annual Eurovision song contest is underway in Sweden

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

OK, now some very serious and important news - the annual Eurovision Song Contest kicks off tonight in Sweden. Every year, dozens of nations, including some far beyond Europe, submit their entries. And for all the camp and pathos in the songs, some of the greatest drama happens offstage, where international politics are hard to ignore. Willem Marx reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MONTAGE)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Live from Rotterdam...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Live from Liverpool...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Live from Turin, Italy, this is the Grand Final of the Eurovision Song Contest.

WILLEM MARX, BYLINE: For more than six decades, the Eurovision Song Contest has seen entrants from countries across Europe sing to win. In Sweden this year, 37 nations will take part, from Albania, the small Balkan state that's not yet a member of the European Union, to Australia, on the other side of the planet. The semifinals start this week, with 15 and 16 countries respectively, followed by the grand final on Saturday night.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HANNAH WADDINGHAM: The country with the most points overall will be the winner.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: Who is going to sweep the board tonight? Let's find out.

MARX: Voting takes place as songs are performed, with an expert jury and viewers at home taking part, as well as fans worldwide who can vote online. Songs must be original, shorter than 3 minutes, with live lead vocals. Last year's winner was a Swedish singer, Loreen - the second time she's come out on top.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LOREEN: (Singing) When the stars align, then I'll be there.

MARX: And so this year, as tradition dictates, the previous nation to win is hosting Eurovision in the Southern Swedish city of Malmo.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ABBA: (Singing) Waterloo - I was defeated, you won the war.

MARX: It's Sweden's seventh time hosting. Fifty years ago, a local group called ABBA won with a song that kick started their superstardom. Up to 100,000 visitors will descend on the Malmo arena over the next several days for what may be the world's largest live music contest. Entrants are often colorful and occasionally controversial. Ireland this year is sending a self-described Ouija pop star called Bambi Thug, who's often outfitted like a witch, while Finland's representative, real name Teemu Keisteri, goes by the name Windows95Man and tends to emerge from a giant egg before his dance routine begins.

Eurovision was founded to develop dialogue - even a chance for fun - between European nations devastated and distrustful after World War II. It's meant to be apolitical, though that's often hard.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

EDEN GOLAN: (Singing) This hurricane, this hurricane.

MARX: Israel's entrant, Eden Golan, has had to change the lyrics of her song, "Hurricane." Originally titled "October Rain," it seemed at times to focus on Hamas' attacks last fall, and organizers threatened to ban it. But the same organizers have ignored calls to expel Israel over the conflict in Gaza. Two years ago, Russia's invasion of Ukraine, though, prompted its expulsion from the competition. Ukraine's entrant, "Stefania," swept the contest weeks later.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: The winner of the Eurovision Song Contest 2022 is Ukraine.

MARX: But besides the brash trophy and cultural bragging rights for contestants, there can be a local boost for the host cities, too. Last year, the English city of Liverpool enjoyed an economic shot in the arm worth almost $70 million.

For NPR News, I'm Willem Marx.

(SOUNDBITE OF BEHANI SONG, "COMFORTABLE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Willem Marx
[Copyright 2024 NPR]