All about Eurovision

Norway heads to Europe’s biggest song contest

Alexander Rybak

Photo: Pontus Lundahl / Scanpix
In 2009, Alexander Rybak won Eurovision for Norway with the largest number of points to that date with his performance of his hit song “Fairytale.”

Synneva Bratland
Editorial Assistant
The Norwegian American

The Eurovision Song Contest, more commonly referred to as Eurovision, is one of the most highly anticipated events in Europe and across the globe. The televised program, organized by the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), is a songwriting competition composed of participants representing their nation from across Europe and beyond.

According to the contest’s official website, “the Eurovision Song Contest began as a technical experiment in television broadcasting: the live, simultaneous, transnational broadcast that Europe has now been watching for nearly 70 years was in the late 1950s a marvel.” Contrary to popular belief, the event does not have any connection to the European Union, and the competition was originally established in an attempt to make the EBU’s programming “more entertaining and spectacular.”

The basis of the contest is simple — networks that are members of the EBU can each submit one song, and the best song is chosen as the winner.

The first Eurovision contest took place in 1956 with only seven countries competing: the Netherlands, Switzerland, Belgium, Germany, France, Luxembourg, and Italy. In 2024, 37 countries will participate in the competition. Over the years, countries such as Australia and Morocco have joined the ranks – creating a global competition and not just a European one.

All about Eurovision

Photo: Inge Gjellesvik / NTB
In 1985, the Norwegian group Bobbysocks with singers Hanne Krogh (left) and Elisabeth Andreasson (right), were the Eurovision champions.

Norway first entered Eurovision in 1970, and has won the competition three times in the years since. In 1985, the group Bobbysocks, composed of Hanne Krogh and Elisabeth “Bettan” Andreasson, won with their song “Le det svinge.” A decade later, in 1995, the group Secret Garden won with their song “Nocturne.” Most recently, violinist and singer Alexander Rybak took home the crown for Norway in 2009 with his song “Fairytale.” Rybak won with the largest ever margin of victory, being awarded nearly 80% of the total votes cast. Despite these victories, Norway also holds the record for the most competitors who have come in last place in the competition, with 11.

Leading up to the contest, each participating country nominates one song from their nation to be performed on the international stage. The process of selecting what artist or group will represent a country at the international competition varies from one country to the next. The majority of countries have a televised national selection to pick their competitor, while others have a private panel select their performer. Regardless of how the act is chosen, all countries’ entries are subject to the same set of rules.

Norwegian group Secret Garden

Photo: Per Løchen / NTB
In 1995, there was a Norwegian victory at Eurovision with Secret Garden with Fionnuala Sherry (left) and Rolf Løvland (right), both dressed in white.

All songs performed at Eurovision must be originals and cannot have been released or publicly performed before a certain date (in the case of this year’s contest, Sept. 1, 2023). Each song must also be no more than three minutes long. All lead vocals must be performed live, and no more than six performers may be on stage during any one performance. All of these performers must be at least 16 years old on the day of the final. Performances cannot include any live animals.

Many of these rules have changed over the years, and perhaps the most prominent example is the use of a participant’s native language. Eurovision’s website explains that it originally seemed obvious for participating artists to sing in their mother tongue. As the event has grown more popular and the world has become more globalized, however, many songwriters have come to believe that “the more universal the lyrics, the more likely the song [will] resonate with juries.”

The 2024 competition will take place in early May in Malmö, Sweden. Traditionally, the country that wins one year will host the next—Swedish artist Loreen won in 2023 with her song “Tattoo.”

All about Eurovision

Photo: Ole Martin Vold / NTB
This year, the progressive rock-folk group Gåte will compete for Norway at this year’s Eurovision contest in Malmö, Sweden.

Representing Norway this year will be Gåte, a folk band with metal and electronic influences. Their song “Ulveham” won Melodi Grand Prix, Norway’s national competition, and is the country’s entry for this year’s competition. Translating to “he who gives the appearance and behavior of a wolf,” the song is the first Norwegian entry since 2006 to be sung entirely in Norwegian.

“Ulveham” tells the story of a young woman who is punished by her evil step-mother, and is turned into a wolf. She is ultimately able to break the curse, triumph over evil, and destroy her stepmother. Originally, the text was drawn from a ballad from the middle ages, but it was rewritten to qualify as an original song for the contest.

Gåte is not the only Norwegian group in the competition though, as Norwegian duo Marcus og Martinus and their song “Unforgettable” are Sweden’s entry into the competition. This will mark the first time an all-Norwegian group will represent Sweden in the competition, though individual performers from Norway have competed for Sweden before. Notably, “Bettan” Andreassen of Bobbysocks fame performed for Sweden in 1981.

Sweden is tied with Ireland for the most Eurovision victories over time, with seven each in the competition’s 68-year history. Coincidentally, 2024 also marks the 50th anniversary of perhaps the most well-known Swedish winners, ABBA, with their song “Waterloo.”

The winner of this year’s competition will be chosen during the Grand Finale on May 11. Votes are cast by both a professional jury and viewers watching at home, sending between one and 12 votes to their favorite entries. At the end of the night, the entry with the most votes is crowned the winner and performs one last time.

How can you participate in the fun? If you’re near the Twin Cities, head over to Norway House in Minneapolis for a series of classes on “Eurovision for Newbies.” Ethan Bjelland Hagberg, resident “Eurovision Nerd” at Norway House in Minneapolis, will spend the first three Saturdays in April explaining what Eurovision is, some of the contest’s wackiest moments, and how to host your own viewing party. Participants are welcome to attend the entire course or pick and choose the topics they find most interesting.

If you can’t make it to Norway House, check for events in your local area. Many communities host lectures, celebrations, or viewing parties, so see what is happening near you!

Eurovision will be broadcast in the United States on Peacock, so you will be able to watch the festivities from the comfort of your own home.

Also see: Norway going to Eurovision—for Sweden!,The Norwegian American, April 5, 2024.

This article originally appeared in the April 2024 issue of The Norwegian American.

Avatar photo

Synneva Bratland

Synneva Bratland is the Editorial Assistant for The Norwegian American. Born and raised in Minnesota, she attended folkehøgskole outside of Oslo before receiving a dual degree in Norwegian and Mathematics from St. Olaf College. She currently lives in St. Paul, where she can be found playing Nordic folk music, instructing Norwegian language courses, and making art at her kitchen table.