Good evening Europe, Good evening Greece! In its 68th year, the Eurovision Song Contest to take place on May 11 in Malmo, Sweden, is once again stirring controversy among fans, officials, music lovers, and even politicians.

Love it or hate it, Eurovision has managed to establish itself as a major event not only in music but also in politics and marketing. And in Greece, Eurovision is much more than just a song contest.

So though there may be those who look down on the annual event, there are at least 162 million people worldwide who tune in to watch singers from across Europe plus Turkey, Israel and Australia vying for the win.

Add to this the millions of euros that go into its production, the money generated by tourists and fans who pay to attend, the unique opportunity for country, culture, and artist promotion, and the hundreds of jobs and you definitely have a winning product.

“Eurovision is also a chance to spice up your life,” DJ and former OGAE Greece president Antonis Karatzikos tells To Vima, adding that “music is the best nourishment for the soul.” OGAE is the largest Eurovision fan network and in addition to serving as president of the Greece and international club, Karatzikos has been a member for over 20 years. There is so much more to the Eurovision contest than meets the eye, he notes.

According to EBU (European Broadcasting Union) data, revenues generated through advertising for articles about the event last year came to some 795 million euros.

The event itself is non-profit, funded through fees from participating national broadcasters, host city contributions, and revenues from sponsorships, ticket sales, televoting, and merchandise.

So a contest that started with just seven countries in 1956, now offers some 43 countries the chance to take the stage, reach out to the world, and do wonders for tourism.

‘Zari’ Causes Commotion in Greece

Greece’s entry this year: “Zari” with Marina Satti, has caused commotion since it was announced.

The song, an addictive rhumba-style potpourri of musical genres with influences from the East and the Balkans, is accompanied by a video featuring modern-day Greece. It starts off with cheerful travelers suitcases in hand arriving at Athens Airport and then zooms in on Satti holding a traditional ‘welcome’ sign with “Eurovision tour” on it.

The video then follows Satti on a TikTok-style tour of the Top 12 places in Athens to visit, including stops at the Acropolis, Plaka and Monastiraki, Lycabettus Hill, Herodion Theater, Omonia Square, the Panathenaic Stadium, Hadrian’s Arch, Syntagma Square, the National Garden and a brief but clear allusion to the Parthenon Marbles (and the call for their return to Greece).

Many Greeks were not happy with the song or the video. But at the same time, “Zari” went viral right after its release, moving up European rankings and prompting dozens of trending parodies on TikTok.

According to Karatzikos, most of the fuss was due to the accompanying video clip “which is a portrayal of Greece that many do not like or accept and which has affected people’s reaction to the song,” he tells To Vima.

In interviews to local media, Satti said the video portrayed Greece as it is. “I don’t think we altered or distorted anything,” she said. “At least this is my lifestyle.”

“In the contest there are songs of all styles and trends and sounds going back to past decades,” says Karatzikos. And that’s exactly what this year’s entry “Zari” is all about. A genre-bending song which “some people may simply and understandably not like”, says Satti.

Karatzikos adds that “reactions have no meaning, we can’t vote for our own song but international approval is important and fortunately we have enough of that”.

Put Your Hands Up!

Marina Satti, representing Greece, performs “ZARI” during the Grand Final of the 2024 Eurovision Song Contest in Malmo, Sweden, May 11, 2024. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger

Satti’s Eurovision video ends with a postcard from Greece to Europe: “Dear Europe, I am sending love from Greece: the birthplace of democracy, philosophy, philoxenia and a bunch of other long words. See you soon in Malmo. Filakia (kisses)”

Despite the bickering and reactions, Karatzikos expects Greece’s entry to fare well in Malmo and make it into the Top 10.

Before heading to Sweden, the 37-year-old Satti presented “Zari” in an unplugged version. The classically trained performer born to Sudanese and Greek parents is also the first Greek artist to be singled out by Germany’s Colors show, that introduces emerging talent in “all music, all colors, no genre”.

Commenting on the reactions, Satti said that Eurovision is not so much about the musical composition as it is about the spectacle. “People will be experiencing the song through cameras and on screens,” she says, adding that for her the choreography is a key component of success.

Greece in Eurovision: The History

In the 68 years of the Eurovision Song Contest, Greece has participated 43 times, winning only once in 2005 with Gothenburg-born Elena Paparizou and her hit “My Number One”.

But before that in 2001, Paparizou and her childhood buddy Nikos Panagiotidis as duo Antique were responsible for changing attitudes. The 19-year-old Paparizou took the contest by storm coming in third with the song “Die for You” and with no national support. This was the highest-ever ranking after the 1977 “Mathima Solfege” which came in 5th.

The song’s success turned a page for Greece, which began to take the contest seriously investing greatly in its participation. So much so that in 2004 and ahead of the Athens Olympic Games, Greece’s entry “Shake it” performed by pop star Sakis Rouvas enjoyed the backing of the Greek Tourism Ministry and the Athens Municipality. Rouvas came in third that year.

Greece’s first participation in Eurovision was in 1974 with Marinella and a song that has since been connected with all the things travelers love about Greece: “A Bit of Wine, A Bit of Sea, and My Boyfriend”.

In 2006, Athens hosted the 51st Eurovision Song Contest at the Olympic Stadium with Greece’s very own Madonna – Anna Vissi – representing the country.

Eurovision, Greece, and Nostalgia

For many Gen X Greeks, Eurovision has always been a big thing. In the 1970s and 1980s you could hear televisions blaring if you happened to take a stroll with most of Greece tuning in to the show.

From the 1990s onward, hundreds of Eurovision parties are held at homes and bars and although many claim there is no interest, Karatzikos begs to differ. “The Eurovision fan base is bigger than ever before,” he says. “Mainly younger ages thanks to the music of the contest which is now closer to today’s hits with new sounds and styles.”

“If you go to any venue in Greece on Eurovision Saturday, you’ll see people starting to come after 2 a.m., when the contest is over,” he adds.

And the question everyone will be asking this week: Will Greece make it into the Eurovision final this year?

* Marina Satti and her team of dancers to the choreography of Fokas  Evangelinos will be competing in the second semi-final on May 9 at the Malmo Arena with hopes for Greece’s participation in the grand event on May 11 with “Zari”. Tune in to ERT1 at 10 p.m.