One of the world’s greatest competitions is Eurovision—but it has nothing to do with sports. Instead, the regional competition (first launched back in 1956) brings the top performers from across Europe together on a single stage. Not only do fans enjoy watching the competition, but some also wager on lines on the hopefuls, and finishing places.
Eurovision artists represent their countries and cultures with the hopes of being crowned the Eurovision winner. Though films with stars like Will Ferrell have covered Eurovision, it remains a relatively unknown quantity abroad. But Australia recently joined the Eurovision ranks despite having a tenuous connection to the continent, which hints that viewership and interest might be growing internationally.
If you’re new to the singing competition and want to explore some of its biggest moments, then keep reading. We’re counting down some of the most memorable acts and moments in Eurovision history—starting with Ireland’s inaugural victory.
Ireland Sets the Stage (1970)
Originally, Eurovision was designed as an experiment in broadcasting. A few Italian event planners were inspired by the successful Sanremo Music Festival and decided to see how a similar contest would pan out on an international scale. In 1970, the reigning Eurovision champs took the stage for the first time.
Ireland won with Dana’s performance of ‘All Kings of Everything’. It kicked off a dominant run for the country, which still holds the record with seven wins—three of which came consecutively in 1992, ’93, and ’94. (More on this below.)
ABBA is Born (1974)
Eurovision has also been the birthing ground for dozens of highly successful artists and groups. While not all have been able to transform their Eurovision hits into long-lasting careers, there are more than a few success stories. ABBA is, of course, arguably the best example.
Back in 1974, the group performed their song ‘Waterloo’ as they represented their home country of Sweden. ABBA then went on to become one of the greatest bands of the 1970s and 80s. In fact, they still tour today, performing their album from 2021.
Meet Celine (1988)
ABBA is often cited as the greatest superstar act born from Eurovision—but let’s not forget about Canada’s Celine Dion. Back in 1988, the Eurovision rules were a bit different. Performers didn’t necessarily have to be a national of the country they represented so long as the song itself came from within its borders.
Thus, Switzerland decided to invite Celine Dion, a Quebecois woman to perform its ‘Ne Partez Pas Sans Moi’ in the contest. She managed to beat out the next runner-up with a single point from the judges. From there, Dion’s international career took off.
Ireland Douze-a-Pointes (2008)
Eurovision performers are encouraged to go all out. So long as songs include a stunning vocal performance, the rest of the act is allowed to take more than a few artistic chances. But few would have seen Ireland—Eurovision’s most-winning nation—decide to nominate a stuffed turkey.
Enter 2008’s Dustin, a fake turkey (officially billed as a puppet act) who sang ‘Ireland Douze Pointe’. Not only did the turkey fail to impress (placing 15th out of 19th), but it seemed the decision also had a bit of political motivation. The idea was to highlight Eurovision’s failing grade system that had recently come under fire from fans and critics.
Tradition Goes Modern (2009)
Modern Eurovision is all about ‘camp’. Camp is a way to describe a type of highly stylized aesthetics, usually preferring something over the top and a bit surreal. However, not all success stories in Eurovision need to take such an OTT route. Back in 2009, Norway’s Alexander Rybak went back to his roots to stand out.
He impressed audiences with his vocals and violin performance. The traditional form of music offered a reprieve from highly produced pop acts and even included an array of traditional Norwegian dancers. Rybak’s win was the country’s third in Eurovision history.