Sprinkle the sequins and turn up the volume: The annual Eurovision Song Contest reaches its climax on Saturday with a grand finale broadcast live from the UK city of Liverpool.
There will be catchy choruses, a kaleidoscope of costumes and tributes to the spirit of Ukraine in a competition that since 1956 has captured the changing spirit of a continent.
Last year, 161 million people watched the competition, according to the organizer, the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), making it one of the most watched events in the world.
This is what you can expect as artists from across Europe – and beyond – compete for the continent’s pop crown.
Who is competing?
This year, 37 countries submitted an act to Eurovision, selected through national contests or internal broadcaster selections. The winner of the previous year’s event is usually the host of the contest but, as Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine It goes on, the UK is doing the honors this year on behalf of 2022 winner Ukraine.
Six countries automatically qualify for the final: last year’s winner and the five countries that contribute the most funds to the contest: France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom.
The others must perform in the semifinals with 20 acts chosen by public vote on Tuesday and Thursday.
The qualifiers are: Albania, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Israel, Lithuania, Moldova, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Serbia, Slovenia, Sweden and Switzerland.
The final is played on Saturday at the Liverpool Arena.
Eurovision is not just geography. Eurovision is very popular in Australia and the country was allowed to join the competition in 2015. Other entrants from outside Europe’s borders include Israel and Azerbaijan.
Who are the favourites?
It’s hard to predict the winners in a contest whose previous winners range from ABBA to Finnish metal band Lordi, but bookies say Swedish diva Loreen, who won in 2012, is the favorite with her power ballad Tattoo.
Finland’s Käärijä pleased the crowd in the semi-finals with his pop-metal party tune Cha Cha Cha and Canadian singer La Zarra, who is competing for France, is also ranking highly for her Edith Piaf-esque song Évidemment.
And never underestimate left field entries like Croatia’s Let 3, whose song Mama ŠČ! it’s pure Eurovision camp: an anti-war rock opera that sounds like Monty Python meets Dr. Strangelove.
What happens in the end?
Some 6,000 people will attend the final, hosted by BBC Eurovision presenter Graham Norton, Ted Lasso and West End star Hannah Waddingham, British singer Alesha Dixon and Ukrainian rock star Julia Sanina.
Each competing act must sing live and stick to a three-minute limit, but is otherwise free to create their own staging: the flashier the pyrotechnics and the more elaborate the choreography, the better.
Russia’s war in Ukraine will strike a solemn note at a pageant famous for celebrating cheesy pop.
The show will begin with a performance by last year’s winner, folk rap band Kalush Orchestra, and singer Jamala, who won the contest in 2016, will pay tribute to their Crimean Tatar culture. Ukraine has won the competition three times since the country began participating in 2003.
One person who will not appear is Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. He asked to address the final by video, but the EBU said such talk would violate “the apolitical nature of the event”.
How is the winner decided?
After all acts have been submitted, viewers from participating nations can vote by phone, text or app, but are not allowed to vote for their own country.
This year, for the first time, viewers watching from non-participating countries can also vote online, with the combined “rest of the world” votes carrying the weight of an individual country.
National juries of music industry professionals also assign between one and 12 points to their favorite songs, with a broadcaster from each country appearing to declare who has been awarded the coveted “douze points” (12 points).
The votes of the public and the jury are combined to give each country a unique score. Finishing with “null points” (zero points) is considered a national embarrassment. The UK has suffered that fate several times, most recently in 2021. It bounced back last year, however, when Sam Ryder came in second and is hoping this year’s contestant Mae Muller will also put in a strong performance.
Where can I look?
Eurovision is being broadcast on national broadcasters belonging to the EBU, including the BBC in the UK, and on the Eurovision channel on YouTube. In the United States, it is shown on NBC’s Peacock streaming service.