What in the World is the Eurovision Song Contest?

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Europe’s aspiring pop stars have been taking tacky to a new level for over 50 years. Mixing camp irony with constant controversy, Europe once again steels itself for the latest edition of the Eurovision Song Contest.

This year’s event is being held in Oslo on Saturday after Norway won the 2009 contest with a record-breaking score of 387 points. The first of two semi-finals took place Tuesday with the second Thursday night. But just what is Eurovision and why should we care?

The idea dates back to the creation of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) in 1950, who wanted countries to participate in a TV show, transmitted simultaneously across the nations (there was doubtless talk about fostering better relations across the continent). Six years later in 1956, in Lugano, Switzerland, a legend was born with, rather sweetly, the Swiss winning (even more sweetly, all the other countries came in second place).  54 years on, Europeans are still sufficiently enthralled by the kitsch nature of the event to tune in, often hosting their own parties, and laugh at the outrageous performances.

But if you only need to know two things about Eurovision, it’s these: the song contest has been a launchpad for artists such as ABBA, Celine Dion (representing Switzerland) and Julio Iglesias and the event is never short of controversy, in the form of nations voting for each other to keep the peace politically (Greece and Cyprus tend to show each other much love) or even the outcry over this performer. But the 2010 event has already generated some unfortunate headlines, with news emerging that some nations have pulled out because of the global economic crisis. Hungary, Andorra, the Czech Republic and Montenegro all withdrew because they can’t afford to take part.

Putting financial woes to one side, we’re still left with the following: 25 nations (10 from each of the semis plus holders Norway and automatic entrants France, Germany, Spain, and the U.K.) battling it out for the honor of being Europe’s best as well as hosting next year’s event. The bookmakers have Azerbaijan as hot favorites with female singer Safura set to become the darling of the event, thanks to the track “Drip Drop.” Watch it below.

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