Though most Americans have never heard of it, the Eurovision Song Contest is the longest-running international televised competition, and one of the longest running TV shows in the world. It’s been held annually since 1956, and has an international viewership as high as 600 million. For context, that’s about six times the average number of people who watch the Super Bowl every year. For Europeans, and many other countries, this is like World Cup of pop music. This year, I discovered the joy of traveling for Eurovision, which is held in a different host city annually.
How Eurovision works
Generally at least 50 European countries are eligible to compete in the spring singing competition. Early in the year, countries start hosting their own singing shows and televised competitions to decide which artist and song will represent them at Eurovision that year. It’s like the primary before the main election. Then the host city, typically from a country that won the previous year, starts organizing the big Eurovision week, which is made up of two semi-finals and one final along with satellite events.
The winner is chosen by a panel of experts from each country along with a public vote from all participating countries. The catch is that you can’t vote for your own country, which leads to more people voting on the merit of the song and performance rather than nationalist instinct. It’s really the most Democratic thing I’ve seen in the past 10 years.
Traveling for Eurovision
Like many Eurovision fans, I was a little hesitant to go to Tel Aviv, where the competition was held this year, because what a lightning rod it would be for politically motivated violence or terrorism. I was personally also hesitant about attending because I didn’t want to feel like the old person who snuck into a Justin Bieber concert.
I decided to go anyway, and I discovered an atmosphere of fun, dancing, and togetherness for people of all ages.
On the day of the final, there were two people heading to a watch party at a bar fully decked out in Sweden superhero outfits. I was convinced they were much younger than me, but when I got a good look their faces, I was shocked to discover that they looked to be about my mom’s age. Eurovision fans grew up with this. They saw Celine Dion and ABBA perform on the Eurovision stage, and they love the contest to death, many traveling every year to see it live. Fittingly, my mom also enjoys watching the Eurovision contest, which is probably the only reason she wasn’t terrified of me being in Israel.
At the massive viewing party in Charles Clore Park for the final, there were people as old as my grandmother on their feet watching the contest from 9 pm when it started until almost 2 am when it ended. Some people, even men, cried when their country’s performer came on stage. There’s a palpable sense of pride that you can see as people wave flags, don face paint and colorful clothing representing their home country. But mostly, everyone is there to support each other and have a good time.
In the end, the biggest threat to our safety and well-being in Tel Aviv was the cost of accommodations. Naturally, no nation wants to let disaster befall an event like this when all of the world is watching. So everything went off without a hitch. However, it does take some planning ahead of time to avoid getting price gouged on flights and hotels.
Eurovision events in the host city
Attending the actual competition requires that you book the concert tickets months in advance. Typically, tickets are sold for the live shows as well as rehearsals and jury shows which take place in the days before the contest kicks off. Each year, a local ticket agency is in charge of organizing the event and selling tickets. Typically it’s not impossible to see at least one of the shows for less than $40-50, even if your seat is not so good. If you see one of the rehearsals, it can be as low as $20. For the Israeli edition of Eurovision, the tickets were impossibly expensive. As a general rule, I won’t pay more to see anything than I would pay to see the Rolling Stones, so we decided to skip the live show.
But traveling to the Eurovision host city without actually going to the live show is just as fun. The Eurovision Village, set up somewhere in the host city, is open all week featuring performances from some of the Eurovision contestants, DJs, food, and a generally relaxed festival atmosphere. You can watch the live shows there with thousands of other fans, or go to other local bars which host parties for the event. Most host cities are ecstatic to bring in the tourism and they’re nothing but welcoming and accommodating.
Traveling for Eurovision is a great way to discover different cities and countries in Europe while celebrating the power of trashy pop music to bring people together. Next year, the contest will be held in the Netherlands, who just took home the big prize in 2019. Here’s hoping they choose a city with a lot of flowers.