Australia will send a representative to this year's Eurovision Song Contest, but not everyone is happy about it. While fans are overjoyed, critics are crying foul play.
It's the most popular television event in the world: when the final of the Eurovision Song Contest (ESC) is on TV, around 150 million people all over the world tune in to see singers perform pompous ballads or sugary pop songs in crazy costumes.
So far, most participating performers have come from European countries. Exceptions include Israel, which is geographically close to participants like Greece and Turkey, Georgia and Azerbaijan, all countries that are more or less close to Europe.
But this unwritten rule of Eurovision's geographic borders is about to change. In May 2015, at the 60th edition of the ESC, Australia will be represented as well, even though - geographically speaking - the country couldn't possibly be any farther from Europe.
For the fans - or for the money?
Officially, the move is being marketed as a special one-off event for the ESC "birthday party" in Austria. "We wanted to do something special for the anniversary," ESC Executive Supervisor Jon Ola Sand told DW. "We thought it was a good idea to invite them to the party."
New participant Australia will go straight to the ESC finale, without having to compete in the semi-finals. Should the Australian singer win, the show would not take place in Australia next year, contrary to the contest's traditional way of determining where the next event is hosted.
Critics have said that it wasn't just Australia's long-standing love for the ESC that led to the country's participation but that money played a role as well. After all, the so-called "Big Five" countries that get to skip the semi-finals - Germany, the UK, Spain, France and Italy - are also the ones whose broadcasters contribute the most money to the European Broadcasting Union (EBU).
"This was not a financial decision, but a content decision," Sand said, adding that all rules were followed. Nowhere in the ESC rulebook does it say that participating countries must have a close proximity to Europe. They only have to be EBU members. And Australia is an associate member.
Close connections to Europe
"At first I was surprised, but then I thought it was the right decision," Jan Feddersen, ESC expert for the German broadcaster ARD told DW. The journalist, who blogs about the contest at Eurovision.de, said Australians first started to watch the kitschy song contest when Australian singer Olivia Newton-John competed for the UK in 1974.
Australians also have close connections to Europe. White settlers first came to the one-country continent from Great Britain in the 1780s to establish a penal colony. Today, there is still a great cultural proximity between Australia and the English-speaking European countries. Queen Elizabeth II is Australia's head of state. "People from Ireland and the UK have relatives in Australia," Feddersen, pointed out.
But what is an argument for Australia's participation in the ESC for fans is a point of criticism for skeptics. They see the decision as a tactical move to gather more votes for a "pro-Western European" contingent.
'Voting blocks' in the ESC
The ESC winner is determined by the TV audience and the jury. The residents of all participating countries give points to their favorite singers which are then added up for a national distribution of points between 1 and 12.
This process has come under fire, because countries with close cultural connections sometimes seem to award more points to each other, regardless of how well singers performed. Critics have claimed that "voting blocks" have formed among the countries of former Yugoslavia and the post-Soviet states as well as Scandinavian countries.
Perhaps Australia was recruited to join a western European "voting block?" This speculation is especially relevant after bearded drag queen Conchita Wurst won last year's ESC in what many perceived to be a jab from Western nations against homophobic Russia, which also participates in the contest.
"That's conspiracy-theorist talk," Feddersen said. He doesn't see any reason for Australia's participation other than the inclusion of a nation with long-time ESC-enthusiasts.
Viewers can witness Australia's debut at the Eurovision Song Contest on May 23, 2015. That's when the world's biggest TV event will air live from Vienna, Austria.