At the age of 66, the Eurovision Song Contest is suddenly a magnet for young people in spite of — and because of — silly songs, extravagant outfits and over-the-top performances.
The yearly TV extravaganza has become a youthquake hit for the European Broadcasting Union and its struggling public broadcasting members as their main audiences grow older. If voters are cool on the EU’s political project, the Eurovision’s success is strange proof that there’s a European audience for complicated voting and passionate declarations in more than a dozen languages. Perhaps to the envy of leaders in Brussels, the show knows no Brexit and the U.K. continues to take part, and there’s been no problem with eastern expansion to the former Soviet bloc and as far as Australia.
“There is no other cultural project that unites Europeans as much as Eurovision does,” said Dean Vuletic, a Eurovision historian at the University of Vienna who has devoted the last 10 years of his career studying the music show.
Nearly 200 million people tuned in last year, a massive audience for live TV in the age of Netflix. More than half of 15-to-24-year-olds watching television during the 2021 showtime switched to a public media channel to watch the final, four times what the BBC or France Televisions usually attract. The Eurovision even pulls the crowds online, with some 50 million people watching the official YouTube channel last year. Online viewers are young: About 70 percent watching the live show were between 18 and 34.
Vuletic points to the show moving to “greater linguistic diversity” in recent years with more artists singing in their native languages. Last year, Måneskin’s rock number in rapid 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 crusader with songs calling for climate change action, criticizing unrealistic beauty standards and championing LGBTQ rights.
“This year … a lot of songs that are playing with gender and sexuality in very creative ways are being sung by men and I think this highlights a new gender and sexual fluidity in the content,” Vuletic said.
Visuals matter for Europeans watching a show with 16 languages from 40 countries. Artists pay huge attention to the look and attitude of the performance, maybe more so than to the music where most listeners won’t understand heartfelt lyrics. Entries get obsessive scrutiny from a devoted Eurovision fan community.
That visual focus and vast fan base make the show a good fit with short-form video platform TikTok. The Chinese social media site got 1.4 billion views on #Eurovision videos last year and it likes the show so much that it has become a special social media sponsor this year. Sam Ryder, the British entry this year, started singing on TikTok during the pandemic and now has 12.4 million followers on the platform.
And like every great Euro-gathering, there’s got to be a grand denouement. Eurovision’s national-based voting has always made it a contest where politics rule. Friends and allies usually dole out douze points to each other.
But the introduction of a popular vote has helped knock some of that aside. Last year, the Swiss and French acts’ more traditional efforts were the choice of national professional juries before the results from TV viewers came in via phone and apps. The winner was a genuinely pan-European popular vote for Italian rock over francophone chanson, with Måneskin building on that to gain radio play and sold-out gigs outside of Italy.
This year, how can Ukraine not win? The people have already voted; the song has had more than 6 million views on YouTube. Twelve points from the European public jury.