The ultimate guide to watching Eurovision like a pro

Image: Reuters/Gleb Garanich
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For one night only, Europeans can put Brexit, creeping nationalism, and the euro zone’s economic woes behind them to “celebrate diversity,” as the official slogan for this year’s Eurovision Song Contest in Kyiv calls for.

Or, not really. Politics and populism are never far from the spotlight in the annual camp-travaganza—particularly this year, with the contest held in Ukraine amid a tense geopolitical-turned-musical spat with Russia. The Russian delegation pulled out of the competition altogether as a result.

If you’re seeking more details of the geopolitical intrigue and obscure economics at work in Europe’s least penetrable event for outsiders (founded 1954), Quartz is here for you. We’ve compiled a guide for Eurovision novices and superfans alike to arm themselves with crucial background intel and killer factoids to drop on friends while watching the competition.

The Eurovision final airs on Saturday (May 13) at 10pm local time in Kyiv (8pm in London, 3pm in New York, 12pm in Los Angeles, and 3am on Sunday in Hong Kong). After the finalists from 26 countries perform, the winners are announced in a nail-biting sequence in which votes from a jury and viewers in 42 countries are added up (you can’t vote for the country you live in).

Bloc parties: The politics of Eurovision

Ukraine and Russia aren’t the only two countries that have used Eurovision as a platform to air their enmity.

In 2012, Armenia pulled out of the competition, which was being hosted in Baku, Azerbaijan—its bitter rival. “We refuse to appear in a country that is well known for mass killings and massacres of Armenians, in a country where anti-Armenian sentiments have been elevated to the level of state policy,” a group of Armenian singers said of the boycott.

Georgia, which fought a war against Russia in 2008, pulled out of the contest in 2009 after organizers banned its entry, “We Don’t Wanna Put In,” on the grounds that it was too political because the name sounded like a certain Russian leader.

With Russia out of the competition this year, countries that have close cultural ties to Moscow will find themselves in the position of having to cast their Russia-bound votes for someone else. According to Wiwiblogs, a site dedicated to Eurovision news, former Soviet countries have consistently awarded a high number of points to Russia in every single Eurovision, as well as Israel, which also has a large Russian diaspora. That bodes well for the likes of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, and possibly even Ukraine.

There are other voting blocs too, namely the Balkan countries, Greek-speaking countries, Nordic countries, and the “random English-speaking countries” which include Ireland, the UK, and Malta—although Australia didn’t award the UK any points in 2016.

And yes, you read that right.  As of 2015, Australia has been allowed to participate in Eurovision. And for a country that gave the world one of the greatest hits of the 1990s, “Ooh Aah… Just a Little Bit” by Gina G, some might say that’s fair dos. (A performer doesn’t have to be from a country to represent it in Eurovision.) In fact, in 2016 Australian contestant Dami Im came second overall in the competition. Denmark’s representative this year, Anja Nissen, is also an Aussie-born Dane.

Talk about an identity crisis for Europe.

How to sound smart about all 26 countries competing in the final

(In order of appearance)

1. Israel 🇮🇱

Artist and song: IMRI, “I Feel Alive
Bookies’ odds: 200 to 1 (0.5% probability)
Lyrics out of context: “It’s like an hourglass / And you like trouble”
“Fabulous!” in the local language: !נֶהְדָר
Random economic factoid: Speaking of feeling alive, the average life expectancy in Israel is now 82 years, according to the World Bank. It was 72 when the country made its Eurovision debut in 1973.

2. Poland 🇵🇱

Artist and song: Kasia Moś, “Flashlight
Bookies’ odds: 125 to 1 (0.8% probability)
Lyrics out of context: “You call the dogs off, I got them hypnotized”
“Fabulous!” in the local language: Fantastyczny!
Random economic factoid: Poland was relatively unscathed by the global financial crisis—it was the only EU economy to grow in 2009.
Bonus trivia: Last year, the BBC asked whether there might be a “migrant effect” benefiting countries like Poland in the competition, after it received a much larger amount of telephone votes compared to jury votes, particularly from countries where there are many Polish migrants like Germany and the UK.

3. Belarus 🇧🇾

Artist and song: Naviband, “Historyja majho žyccia (Story Of My Life)
Bookies’ odds: 200 to 1 (0.5% probability)
Lyrics out of context: “Hey! Hey! / Hay-yay-yay-a-ho!”
“Fabulous!” in the local language: Ўзрушаюча!
Random economic factoid: Belarus claims to have an unemployment rate of 1%. Though, they have some dubious counting methods that are set to change this year.

4. Austria 🇦🇹

Artist and song: Nathan Trent, “Running on Air
Bookies’ odds: 150 to 1 (0.7% probability)
Lyrics out of context: “See, I can’t stand them talkers / All pretending that their lives’ a mess”
“Fabulous!” in the local language: Fabelhaft!
Random economic factoid:  Austria is still among the countries with the highest gender pay gaps. In 2015, women’s pay was 21.7% lower than men’s. The EU average was 16.3%.
Bonus trivia: It’s been all downhill for Austria since Conchita Wurst’s triumph in 2014. The country, which hosted Eurovision in 2015, scored nul points that year, the first host country to fail so spectacularly in Eurovision history

5. Armenia 🇦🇲

Artist and song: Artsvik, “Fly with Me
Bookies’ odds: 50 to 1 (2% probability)
Lyrics out of context: “Hee… hee… / Over deeps, over hills”
“Fabulous!” in the local language: առասպելական!
Random economic factoid: Armenia has a vast diaspora—up to 10 million people of Armenian descent live outside the country, versus 3 million inside it.

6. The Netherlands 🇳🇱

Artist and song: OG3NE, “Lights and Shadows
Bookies’ odds: 50 to 1 (2% probability)
Lyrics out of context: “What’s with the universe, why you?”
“Fabulous!” in the local language: Geweldig!
Random economic factoid: The Dutch score the highest in a measure of English proficiency among non-English-speaking countries. It’s no wonder they are a big trading nation, with annual merchandise trade worth well over 100% of GDP.
Bonus trivia: The Dutch entry is a three-piece girl group that sounds and looks a bit like Wilson Phillips, En Vogue, Destiny’s Child, and the Dixie Chicks by way of Amsterdam. They’re three sisters, including a pair of twins.

7. Moldova 🇲🇩

Artist and song: Sunstroke Project, “Hey Mamma
Bookies’ odds: 50 to 1 (2% probability)
Lyrics out of context: “Hey, hey you / It’s your girl and maybe should sleep at home”
“Fabulous!” in the local language: Fabulos!
Random economic factoid: The average mother in Moldova has 1.2 children, according to the World Bank.

8. Hungary 🇭🇺

Artist and song: Joci Pápai, “Origo
Bookies’ odds: 150 to 1 (0.7% probability)
Lyrics out of context: “Ezrek könnyei folynak a gitáromon” (“Tears of a thousand people are played on my guitar”)
“Fabulous!” in the local language: Mesés!
Random economic factoid: Hungary recently cut its corporate tax rate to just 9%, below just about every country except the most notorious havens.

9. Italy 🇮🇹

Artist and song: Francesco Gabbani, “Occidentali’s Karma
Bookies’ odds: 11 to 8 (42.1% probability)
Lyrics out of context: “L’evoluzione inciampa / La scimmia nuda balla” (“Evolution stumbles / The naked ape is dancing”)
“Fabulous!” in the local language: Favoloso!
Random economic factoid: Since 2000, Italy’s economy has grown by a measly 2%.
Bonus trivia: In what might be a case of art imitating life, Europe’s northern countries have lorded over the south for decades at Eurovision—that might change this year with Italy one of the favorites to win. Italy hasn’t won the contest since 1990, though it qualifies for the final every year automatically as one of the five biggest financial contributors to the competition.

10. Denmark 🇩🇰

Artist and song: Anja, “Where I Am
Bookies’ odds: 80 to 1 (1.2% probability)
Lyrics out of context: “Putting up my walls so I last better”
“Fabulous!” in the local language: Fabelagtig!
Random economic factoid: In March, Denmark paid off all its foreign-currency debt for the first time in at least 183 years.

11. Portugal 🇵🇹

Artist and song: Salvador Sobral, “Amar Pelos Dois (For The Both Of Us)
Bookies’ odds: 2 to 1 (33.3% probability)
Lyrics out of context: “Ouve as minhas preces / Peço que regresses” (“Hear my prayers / I ask you to come back”)
“Fabulous!” in the local language: Fabuloso!
Random economic factoid: Portugal has one of the highest emigration rates in the EU after the region’s debt crisis severely hit the southern European nation. Youth unemployment is still 25%.
Bonus trivia: Portugal is on the longest Eurovision losing streak in history, having made its debut back in 1964. The bookies give Sobral a good chance this year, and he almost couldn’t make it to the final because of a medical condition. His sister stood in for him in earlier rounds.

12. Azerbaijan 🇦🇿

Artist and song: Dihaj, “Skeletons
Bookies’ odds: 200 to 1 (0.5% probability)
Lyrics out of context: “Now I’m into daydreams, amazed by thorn jeans”
“Fabulous!” in the local language: Inanılmaz!
Random economic factoid: Azerbaijan’s banknotes are the work of Austrian Robert Kalina, who also designed the euro’s banknotes. They look very similar, but the manat has lost about 40% of its value versus the euro since the notes were introduced in 2006.

13. Croatia 🇭🇷

Artist and song: Jacques Houdek, “My Friend
Bookies’ odds: 66 to 1 (1.5% probability)
Lyrics out of context: “There’s a miracle my friend / And it happens every day”
“Fabulous!” in the local language: Nevjerojatan!
Random economic factoid: More than 55% of young Croatians between 25 and 34 years old still live with their parents, according to Eurostat.

14. Australia 🇦🇺

Artist and song: Isaiah, “Don’t Come Easy
Bookies’ odds: 200 to 1 (0.5% probability)
Lyrics out of context: “But can we be much more beyond these sheets?”
“Fabulous!” in the local language: Bonzer!
Random economic factoid: Sydney is more than 10,000 miles away from Brussels, the capital of the European Union.

15. Greece 🇬🇷

Artist and song: Demy, “This is Love
Bookies’ odds: 250 to 1 (0.4% probability)
Lyrics out of context: “There’s an echo in my head / There’s a story still unread”
“Fabulous!” in the local language: Υπέροχο!
Random economic factoid: Greek government bonds, the cause of so much grief for the bailed-out country and its beleaguered creditors, are back! Rumor has it that Athens is preparing its first new bond sale in several years.

16. Spain 🇪🇸

Artist and song: Manel Navarro, “Do It For Your Lover
Bookies’ odds: 400 to 1 (0.2% probability)
Lyrics out of context: “Clap your hands and do it for your lover”
“Fabulous!” in the local language: ¡Fabuloso!
Random economic factoid: Around 56% of Spaniards are married—the average age of first marriage has jumped from 25 in 1981 to 33.

17. Norway 🇳🇴

Artist and song: JOWST, “Grab The Moment
Bookies’ odds: 250 to 1 (0.4% probability)
Lyrics out of context: “Gotta pocket full of prose, while I’m walking on my toes”
“Fabulous!” in the local language: Fabelaktig!
Random economic factoid: It cost Sweden roughly $15 million to host Eurovision last year. That’s 0.00002% of Norway’s massive $940 billion sovereign wealth fund.
Bonus trivia: Norway has been awarded nul points and finished last more times than anyone else in the history of the contest.

18. United Kingdom 🇬🇧

Artist and song: Lucie Jones, “Never Give Up On You
Bookies’ odds: 33 to 1 (2.9% probability)
Lyrics out of context: “There’s magic / It’s inside of you”
“Fabulous!” in the local language: Fabulous!
Random economic factoid: More than 40% of Britain’s exports go to the EU. For now.

19. Cyprus 🇨🇾

Artist and song: Hovig, “Gravity
Bookies’ odds: 250 to 1 (0.4% probability)
Lyrics out of context: “Attached inseparably, like gravity”
“Fabulous!” in the local language: Υπέροχο!
Random economic factoid: Foreigners can become Cypriot citizens by investing at least €2 million ($2.2 million) in local property, or €2.5 million in government bonds or domestic companies.

20. Romania 🇷🇴

Artist and song: Ilinca featuring Alex Florea, “Yodel It!
Bookies’ odds: 40 to 1 (2.4% probability)
Lyrics out of context: “Get another coffee, get another one to make it through”
“Fabulous!” in the local language: Fabulos!
Random economic factoid: A yodel-rap number is perhaps not that weird—Switzerland is one of the top 10 foreign investors in Romania.
Bonus trivia: The last time yodeling was performed at Eurovision—by Austria in 2005—it crashed and burned (the country didn’t get out of the semi-finals), probably because it was missing the rap element.

21. Germany 🇩🇪

Artist and song: Levina, “Perfect Life
Bookies’ odds: 200 to 1 (0.5% probability)
Lyrics out of context: “I’ve been walking asleep / Dreaming awake”
“Fabulous!” in the local language: Fabelhaft!
Random economic factoid: Not as perfect as it used to be—Germany fell from first to fourth in a socio-economic ranking of the world’s “best country” earlier this year. (Switzerland took top spot.)

22. Ukraine 🇺🇦

Artist and song: O.Torvald, “Time
Bookies’ odds: 300 to 1 (0.3% probability)
Lyrics out of context: “Let’s take time to find a place without violence”
“Fabulous!” in the local language: казкові!
Random economic factoid: The host country for this year’s Eurovision isn’t in great financially—the economy is 12% smaller than it was before Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 and set off separatist violence across eastern Ukraine.

23. Belgium 🇧🇪

Artist and song: Blanche, “City Lights
Bookies’ odds: 20 to 1 (4.8% probability)
Lyrics out of context: “All alone in the flame of doubt / Are we going to lose it all?”
“Fabulous!” in the local languages: Geweldig! Fabuleux! Fabelhaft!
Random economic factoid: The lights burn bright in Brussels, with GDP per capita of €63,000 ($68,800) in the capital region, more than two times above the EU average.
Bonus trivia: With Belgium deeply split between its French- and Flemish- speaking regions, it was only natural that the country’s 2003 song, “Sanomi,” was sung in a made-up language, and almost won the contest that year. This was best summed up by legendary British Eurovision commentator, the late Terry Wogan: “They’ve got four languages in Belgium… and they’re singing in an imaginary one. The very essence of the euro.”

24. Sweden 🇸🇪

Artist and song: Robin Bengtsson, “I Can’t Go On
Bookies’ odds: 30 to 1 (3.2% probability)
Lyrics taken out of context: “Wanna go OH! / Yeah I wanna go OOH!”
“Fabulous!” in the local language: Fantastisk!
Random economic factoid: In Sweden’s peculiar mortgage market, borrowers often pay only the minimum required for fixed-rate “bottom loans,” and don’t have to repay the principal as long as they keep paying the interest. As a result, it would take the average Swede well over 100 years to pay back their principal, if they cared to.
Bonus trivia: The birthplace of ABBA (1974’s winners with “Waterloo”) has, unsurprisingly, won the Eurovision contest six times, more than any other except Ireland.

25. Bulgaria 🇧🇬

Artist and song: Kristian Kostov, “Beautiful Mess”
Bookies’ odds: 7 to 2 (22.2% probability)
Lyrics taken out of context: “Water so deep / how do we breathe”
“Fabulous!” in the local language: страхотна!
Random economic factoid: Bulgaria’s banking system is a not-so-beautiful mess—20% of the system’s loans are behind on payments.
Bonus trivia: Bulgaria could get a boost from Russia sympathizers since singer Dima Bilan, who won Eurovision for Russia in 2008, told his Instagram followers to cast their votes for Kostov. Kostov was born and raised in Russia, and visited Crimea in 2014, after it was annexed from Ukraine by Russia.

26. France 🇫🇷

Artist and song: Alma, “Requiem
Bookies’ odds: 66 to 1 (1.5% probability)
Lyrics taken out of context: “Les étincelles deviennent des flammes / Les petites filles deviennent des femmes” (“Sparks become flames / Little girls become women”)
“Fabulous!” in the local language: Fabuleux!
Random economic factoid: A unique mix of temperatures and rainfall has made for what some consider the best Bordeaux wine vintage in years. Prices for the 2016 Bordeaux will likely be 10% higher than the previous batch, and could best the all-time mark set in 2010.