Douze points: All you need to know about the Eurovision
Ed Power explores the wacky world of the song contest as Ireland prepares for battle tonight
The annual riot of kitsch, glitter and questionable rhyming that is Eurovision is upon us. But there's more to the competition than silly lyrics and bonkers costumes. As Ireland's Kasey Smith prepares for her semi-final battle tonight, here are 10 Eurovision facts of which you may not be aware.
1 The running order matters
The later you appear on Eurovision, the higher your chances of success. No country appearing second has ever won. Furthermore, every winner since 2004 has gone on 17th or later. It's estimated that appearing in the second half of the broadcast could raise the odds of victory by 5pc – a potential clincher in a tight contest.
2 It's the Eurovision Song Contest – not the European Song Contest.
You don't have to be in Europe to enter, as Israel, Armenia and Azerbaijan have demonstrated (part of Armenia is considered to be in Europe but Azerbaijan sits squarely in Asia). To be eligible for Eurovision, a country's national broadcaster must be a member of the European Broadcasting Union, meaning Qatar, Morocco, Lebanon, Libya, Tunisia and Jordan could theoretically enter – indeed, Morocco participated in 1980.
3 Eastern Europe doesn't always win
Since the end of the Cold War, there is a perception that Central and Eastern Europe have dominated Eurovision. However the facts don't back it up – the last five winners are Denmark, Sweden, Azerbaijan, Germany and Norway. None of them is in Eastern Europe. Also, in the 1990s, English-speaking countries had the upper hand. Ireland won in 1992, 1993, 1994 and 1996, with UK taking the title in 1997.
4 Eurovision isn't Kryptonite to pop stars
The Eurovision is regarded as the preserve of musicians desperate for a break. Actually, many high-soaring artists have entered, at varying stages of their career. Abba were introduced to the world after winning with Waterloo in 1974 and Celine Dion brought home first prize for Switzerland in 1988. Meanwhile Cliff Richard has entered twice, Olivia Newton-John has represented the UK and Ireland twice sent actual pop stars (a scary thought, we know) Jedward. Johnny Logan, Dana and the UK's Brotherhood Man had varying degrees of success outside Eurovision too.
5 Norway isn't the biggest loser
Eurovision folklore has it that Norway is the resident whipping boy. True, it has come last the most times (11) and finished with zero points on four occasions. However, it actually won the competition in 2009, more than can be said for Portugal, which has never made the top five since first entering in 1964. In fact, Portugal has already been eliminated from this year's events
6 Politics actually matter
Russia's Tolmachevy Twins (below) were booed when they qualified for the Saturday final on Tuesday night – confirming music and politics are a potent mix. Before stepping down as BBC Eurovision commentator Terry Wogan had railed against block voting – and the figures support his complaint. Turkey never votes for Cyprus and always supports Armenia, while Spain and Portugal consistently score one another highly. When Jedward were crashing and burning at the 2012 Eurovision, Britain was the only one to give them a top five score. In 1978, Jordanian TV showed a picture of some flowers instead of the Israel entry. When Israel proceeded to win, Jordan insisted that Belgium had actually seized the gong. All of which promises to add spice as Ukraine and Russia go head to head in the competition proper on Saturday night.
7 Yes, the lyrics really are that silly
Jedward's Lipstick doesn't exactly rate as a high point for Irish music – and yet was Leonard Cohen-esque in its profundity compared to previous Eurovision entries. The Netherlands once put forward a song called Ding-A-Dong, Spain has entered with La-La-La and Britain tried to conquer Europe with a ditty entitled Boom-Bang-A-Bang. Count on the Germans to push against the trend – they hold the record for the longest ever song title, 1974's Man Gewöhnt Sich So Schnell An Das Schöne (You Get Used To Something Beautiful So Quickly").
8 No live animals are allowed
This year's Eurovision has already featured a man in a giant hamster wheel, twins singing from opposite ends of a seesaw and an iceskating backing dancer. However, competitors can only push the theatrics so far – Eurovision rules prohibit the appearance of live animals in a performance. Moreover, songs cannot last more than three minutes and a maximum of six people are permitted on stage.
9 Nobody says 'nuls points'
The iconic words have never been uttered at Eurovision. Instead, the preferred terms are 'zero points' or 'pas de points'.
10 Age is no barrier for entrants
The youngest Eurovision entrant was Sandra Kim from Belgium. She was just 13 when she won the competition in 1986. The oldest was 95-year-old Swiss singer Emil Ramsauer, participating in 2013.