Soundtracking the Resistance - Settling Scores in Song

The Politics of the Eurovision Song Contest

May 12, 2017 Web Exclusive By Stephen Mayne Photography by Wendy Lynch Redfern (for Under the Radar) Bookmark and Share


In 2012 the Nobel Peace Prize went to the European Union, a reward for bringing calm to a continent with a troublesome habit of engulfing the world in large-scale destruction, not always for reasons anyone fully understands.

The award drew criticism from some who saw it as a way to prop up a failing political project, while supporters cheered welcome recognition. What if the award was misplaced though? Instead of the European Union, perhaps it should have gone to the Eurovision Song Contest, currently in its 62nd edition, with the final on May 13? Who needs grand political projects when light entertainment has already done the job.

So this week we're going to look at the Eurovision Song Contest, especially now its broadcast and receiving attention in the U.S. For the uninitiated (and after you've seen Eurovision you might wish you'd stayed that way), this is a contest drawing in nations across the continent, and inexplicably, some from further afield, for an orgy of crass tunes, garish costumes, and far too much earnestness for something so patently ridiculous.

A song contest lies somewhere underneath all the glitter and political posturing. What started in 1956 as a competition between seven countries has ballooned into a continent-spanning extravaganza. Forty-two countries entered a song for this year's competition, to be held in Ukraine after they won in 2016. Semi-finals are even required to whittle down the number of participants for the big final.

Politics should play no part; a key rule often completely ignored. Russia has withdrawn from the contest this year after their representative was banned from entering the Ukraine for performing in Crimea, the formerly Ukrainian region annexed by Russia in 2014.

Last year's winning song was, despite the rules banning political statements in the music, clearly a jab at Russia as well. "1944" performed by Jamala contains lyrics concerned with the deportation of Crimean Tatars by the Soviet Union on spurious charges of Nazi collaboration. Russia naturally protested, and came third in the competition, winning the tele-vote but losing out after many European countries utilised arcane jury voting rules to raise their middle finger to Vladimir Putin and his expansionist policies.

Yes, voting makes no real sense either in this crazy contest. Current rules see each country assign a number of points to their favorite songs via a combination of popular phone vote and a mysteriously selected jury. National juries in particular tend to give points to preferred countries rather than songs. Thus, Eastern Europe has in the past voted as a bloc for other Eastern European entrants, the Scandinavians like the look of each other, and Malta votes for the United Kingdom (even that bridge might now be burned).

If you're wondering what kind of music Eurovision produces, the answer is likely to be nothing you've heard of. The mix of cheesy and bombastic pop tends not to live long outside the contest itself, though the occasional big name has stumbled through over the years. ABBA won with "Waterloo" in 1974, and Celine Dion even entered, taking home the prize for Switzerland in 1988 with the French language "Ne partez pas sans moi" ("Don't Leave Without Me"). Clearly bringing in the occasional ringer is fine.

Increasingly entrants tend to perform in English, a fact that does cause consternation in a continent with a proud history of fighting over culture. Back in 2008, a French Government Minister weighed in to criticise the French entrant Sébastien Tellier for singing some of the lyrics in "Divine" in English.

If you think winning the contest is an unambiguously good thing as well, think again. The winner has to host the next edition, which turns out to be a highly expensive affair. So much so that it's been spoofed in popular culture. The Republic of Ireland are currently the record winners, having walked away with the top prize seven times, including in 1992, 1993, 1994, and 1996. An episode of the British sitcom Father Ted featured a plot in which two hapless Irish priests were selected to compete for Ireland with a dreadful song in the hope of losing and avoiding having to host again. "My Lovely Horse," co-written by Neil Hannon of The Divine Comedy, would not even have been entirely out of place.

As is ever the case with money, those without struggle, and those with get extra favors. Money can't buy success in Eurovision, but it can certainly get you into the competition. With the increased number of entrants (including Australia since 2015 for reasons that fail to convince), everyone has to first get through a semi-final stage. Except for five countriesthe U.K., Germany, France, Spain and Italywho pump enough money into the organization behind the show to guarantee entry. Not that it helps when it comes to the voting. Germany last won in 2010, the U.K. in 1997, Italy in 1990, France in 1977, and Spain in 1969.

That's a brief summary of Eurovision as it begins to gain popularity over in the U.S. It features music barely anyone wants to listen to outside the contest, an unwieldly number of countries all vying for influence, ridiculous political point scoring, and a system of rules no one seems that bothered about obeying. Still, better the continent settles differences in song form.

Song of the Week: Anastasia Vinnikova - "I Love Belarus" 

Even plucky little Belarus, the last out-and-out dictatorship in Europe, gets to compete in Eurovision. They don't often make it out of the semi-finals, and this entrant from 2011 is no different. When it comes to selecting a Eurovision song, there are too many ridiculous choices, from over-sexualised milk maids to a man dancing naked with a wolf. Just for the sheer patriotism on display from one of the most deprived and repressive countries on the continent, take a look at this flag waving number.

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Morgan
May 17th 2017
7:19am

To manage the volume of sound for different time frame with different tune is little bit hard for un known person.He not handle all these things in easy way.Students need urgent essay order when they need to do some learning tasks.

Yanglish
May 29th 2017
6:20am

Singer ONNUKA was the best this year.

cristycristy
June 12th 2017
6:12am

I watch Eurovision Song Contest every year and I can not understand how the contestants are evaluated.Why did Salvador Sobral get a high score? Seriously? There were other worthy contestants. I am so disappointed((

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